One of the many reasons why I'm curious about the tv show Versailles and hope it will show up either in dvd form or on Netflix in my part of the worlds is that the audience favourite is Philippe d'Orleans, aka Monsieur, brother to Louis XIV. This surprised me, to put it mildly, until I realised that a) played by Alexander "Mordred" Vlahos, and b) openly gay male relation of powerful person striving to be with his (male) true love = audience favourite, of course.
The reason why I was at first surprised at first is that Monsieur has had a terrible press, as far as historical novels I've read are concerned, and a not much better one in non-fiction I've read. (The only positive film depiction of him I can recall is as a minor supporting character in Alan Rickman's last movie, A Little Chaos, where there's a lovely little scene between the middle aged royal brothers as played by Alan Rickman as Louis and Stanley Tucci as Philippe.) Not because he was gay, though of course one can never discount homophobia in older sources, but because he was a terrible husband, and that is the context in which I mostly encountered him. When I say "terrible", I don't mean "cheating because arranged marriage and gay", I mean "using his social power over his wives to humiliate them on a regular basis, strip wife I. of all her friends in their household, act incredibly jealous of every man (including her brothers and nephew) who comes near her while simultanously making it clear he despises her and loves only his favourite" and "unable to stand the idea of the children loving either wife I or wife II better, tries to get the kids to hate their mothers at various points".
Wife II was Liselotte von der Pfalz, aka Charlotte Elisabeth of the Palatine, whose thousands of letters to her German relations through the decades of her life at Versailles provide a tremendously entertaining glimpse at the era and the people. Wife I , the first Madame, was Henriette Anne, aka Minette, Charles II.'s favourite sister. I'd read Liselotte's letters before (where Monsieur mellows down somewhat as they grow old together, and the last three years of their marriage are downright harmonious, and also the only ones she later describes as happy), but I hadn't read Minette's, other than what gets quoted in Antonia Fraser's biographies of Charles II. and of Louis XIV. This I've now rectified:
Ruth Norrington (editor): My Dearest Minette: Charles II to the Duchess of Orleans.
Despite the subtitle, it collects all of Minette's stille existing letters as well and isn't a one sided correspondance. Technical notes on the editing: Ruth Norrington provides context not with footnotes but with explaining texts in between letters, which is sometimes very helpful even if you're familiar with the era (like yours truly, though not an expert), and sometimes feels redundant, as when she's essentially just repeating what then gets said in the next letter. She's also unabashedly partisan in her descriptions: both Charles and Minette often get described as "charming" and "delightful", the Chevalier de Lorraine (Philippe's favourite boyfriend) hardly shows up without the moniker "evil". (To be fair, I haven't yet found any one, either in memoirs or letters, who had anything good to say about the Chevalier aside from his looks, and he comes across as both obnoxious and vile, as when he's boasting of having gotten rid of Minette's governess and confessor and being powerful enough to get Philippe to divorce her as welll; not surprisingly, this was when Minette and the English ambassador did their level by lobbying with Louis XIV to get rid of the Chevalier instead.) Occassionally, you wish that Norrington when stating something as fact that's actually still hotly debated would at least indicate with a footnote that hers is not the only interpretation out there, as with the question as to whether or not Charles II. actually meant to convert to Catholicism in the Treaty of Dover. Norrington taking it as granted that Charles meant to and totally would have announced it, too, had Minette not died made me raise my eyebrows in scepticism because given what actually happened (Charles pocketing the money Louis XIV provided him with for that promised conversion but not actually converting & announcing it until he was on his death bed, which is how he technically fulfilled the terms of the Treaty but certainly not the spirit) and given Charles II.'s life long pragmatism and dislike of dogma and clear awareness that the country wouldn't stomach a Catholic monarch ("I'll not go on my travels again"), I very much doubt that had Minette lived, he'd have done anything else than what he did. (I.e always arguing that he'd love to, sure, but the political situation right now won't allow it, in the meantime, how about some more cash?)
Despite her open dislike for Philippe ("a vainglourious narcisisst and bully"), Norrington actually provides a more interesting interpretation for his jealousy re: Minette than I've seen so far, which makes it about more than ego, by pointing out that Philippe's relationship with his brother was other than the one with the Chevalier the central one in his life, and both the supposed Louis/Minette affair early on (whether or not they actually had sex or just engaged in an intense flirtation, it was serious and public enough to make both their mothers remonstrate with them) and the fact that Louis took Minette later seriously as a politician in a way he never did Philppe (who wasn't privy to the secret negotiations between Louis, Minette and Charles about the Treaty of Dover, presumably because he wasn't trusted to keep it secret) were interfering with that relationship. Hence Phiippe retaliating by using his status as Minette's husband to delay her journey to England as much as he could, then forbid her to stay longer than three days etc.
Another technical observation: as Norrington says, most of Charles' letters are written in English, not least because he wanted Minette, who'd lived in France since she was two years old, to practise the language, while all of Minette's letters but one were written in French and thus are translated in the present volume, and come across as a bit more formal due to this fact. The one exception is a letter not directed at Charles but at Sir Thomas Clifford, written just a few days before her death, and its conclusion gets across what people, not just Norrington, mean when they talk about Minette's charm:
This is the ferste letter I Have ever write in english. you will eselay see it bi the stile and tograf. prai see in the same time that i expose mi self to be thought a foulle in looking to make you know how much I am your frind.
re: the correspondance in general in terms of content, even given the more emotional language of the time, it's very affectionate on both parts, with the siblings clearly adoring each other, which doesn't mean they always agree. Minette doesn't hesitate to chide her older brother when she thinks he's in the wrong, as when he made his mistress, Barbara Palmer, Lady Castlemain, a lady of the bedchamber to his wife Catherine of Braganza over the later's understandable anger and hurt:
But to speak seriously, I beg you to tell me how the Queen has taken this. Here people say that she is in the deepest distress and to speak frankly I think she has only too good reason for her grief.
(After this, Charles made a point of mentioning spending time with his wife in his letters to Minette, though he's a bit defensive on the subject of his mistresses: If you were as well acquainted with a little fantastical gentleman called Cupide as I am, you would neither wonder, nor take ill, any sudden changes which do happen in the affaires of his conducting.) They also confide some pretty intimate details to each other; in a sadly lost letter Minette seems to have told Charles that on her wedding night she had her period and hence there was no sex until a few nights later (and then it wasn't , because he references both when telling her that Catherine, too, had had her period on their wedding night:
"(A)and though I am not as furious as Monsieur was but I am content to let those pass over before I go to bed to my wife, yet I hope I shall entertain her at least better the first night than he did you.
The letters are usually a mixture of family and friends gossip, state affairs - Charles talked politicis to Minette long before the Treaty of Dover was in anyone's min; he basically treated her as the inofficial English ambassador to France, which was a good thing because his first two official ambassadors were lousy at the job - and the occasional interesting oddity, like the meteor which fascinated Charles. He more often than not ends his letters by remarking he's off to the theatre. His irreverent sense of humor also often comes through, as in this reply to Minette's swearing that her newborn daughter resembles her uncle:
I hope it is but a compliment to me, when you say my niece is so like me, for I never thought my face as even so much as intended for a beauty.
("Oddsfish", he famously said on another occasion, "I am an ugly fellow." You wouldn't have caught Louis XIV. allowing anyone to think that.)
As for religion: "I am of those bigotts," writes Charles to Minette, "who thinke that malice is a much greater sinn than a poor frailety of nature." Minette, otoh, was a passionate Catholic, with one of her main childhood memories being when her mother, Henrietta Maria, threw out her brother Henry (who was to die young, not long after Charles was crowned) for not converting. But she doesn't talk dogma often in her letters (even the Treaty of Dover letters are mainly concerned with possible political percussions of Charles converting).
An interlude with contemporary resonances comes when early in the Dutch-English war Minette to her horror hears about French sailors getting tortured by the crew of an English frigate (France at this point was peripherally involved in the war, though with opposite alliances to those it would have later): It is also reported that your people have made some Frenchmen prisoners, and tortured them cruelly, to make them confess they were going to Holland, but I maintain that this cannot be true, or at least that it is done without your approval, and that so generous a soul as yours would never allow such treatment of your enemies, far less of Frenchmen who are your friends. Write me word, I beg, of what has happened and whether, if this is true, you have taken care it should not happen again, since nothing is more worthy of you than to use your power to make yourself at once beloved and feared, and to provent all the horrors which too often accompany war.
Sadly, Charles found the story to be true, but promised Minette the perpetrators would be punished: "I do assure you I am extreamly troubled at it, there shall be very seveare justice done."
Having read the biography of Charles' oldest illegitimate son, James, the Duke of Monmouth, recently, I was struck by how many loving (and funny) references to him there are in the letters (he visited Versailles repeatedly, which Monsieur took offense to; one of his conditions for finally letting Minette visit England was that she was not to meet Monmouth on that occasion, which Charles promptly ignored). He's invariably referenced as "James", which made me wonder what they called his uncle James, the Duke of York, when talking about him, other than "brother", which is the designation from the letters. Anyway, some typical Monmouth references: "Your kindnesse to him obliges me as much as tis possible, for I do confesse I love him very well", "I (...) only desire you to have the same goodnesse for James you had the last time, and to chide him soundly when he does not that he should do. He intendes to put on a perriwig againe, when he comes to Paris, but I beleeve you will thinke him better farr, as I do, with his short haire, and so I am intierly yours".
The letters Charles sent by way of his son are also more detailed than the ones by courtier couriers (which could presumably be intercepted). When Minette's marriage goes from bad to worse, the siblings at first alludes to it only indirectly and discreetly, but then there's one letter which discusses it in detail:
I take the occasion of this bearer to say some thinges t you which I would not send by the post, and to tell you that I am ver glad that Monsieur beings to be ashamed of his ridiculous fancyes; you ought undoutedly to oversee what is past, so that, for the future, he will leave being of those fantasticall humours, and I thinke the less eclairecissement there is upon such kind of matters, the better for his friend the Chevalier. I thinke you have taken a very good resolution not to live so with him, but that, when there offers a good occasion, you may ease your selfe of such a rival, and by the character I have of him, there is hopes he will find out the occasion himselfe, which, for Monsieur's sake, I wish may be quickly.
That turned out to be wishful thinking on both Charles' and Minette's part. Instead, it was the Chevalier who got rid of Minette's allies in the Orleans household. Because the correspondance between Charles and Minette from the last year of her life is not preserved, it's paradoxically a good thing the Chevalier caused the governess of Minette's children to be replaced, because Minette then kept up a correspondance with her old governess and confidant, Madame de Saint-Chaumont, and Ruth Norrington includes these letters near the end of her book. At this point, the English ambassador (not one of the two incompetent ones mentioned earlier, but the first good one, Montagu), had already written an alarmed letter to Charles about how bad things truly were, Charles had remonstrated with Louis, and the Chevalier finally overreached himself when Philippe asked for the income from two abbeys being given to him, which Louis refused to do, which caused the Chevalier to speak out against the King. Cue banishment to Italy, for which Philippe blamed Minette, at first refusing to let her travel to England at all, hoping to blackmail both Kings into letting the Chevalier return. Writes Minette to her governess:
The King has worked hard to bring him to reason, but all in vain, for his only object in treatin gme so ill is to force me to ask favours for the CHevalier, and I am determined not to give in to blows. This state of things does not admit of any reconciliation, and Monsieur now refuses to come near me, and hardly ever speaks to me, which, in all the quarrels we hae had, has never happened before. But the gift of some traditional revenues from the King has now osftened his anger a little, and I hope that by Easter, all may yet be well. (...)
Fat chance. For:
I have indeed wished to see the King my brother, but there has been no question of the Chevalier's return in all Monsieurs opposition to my journey. Only he still declares he cannot love me, unless his favourite is allowed to form a third in our union. Since then, I have made him understand that, however much I might desire the Chevalier's return, it would be impossible to obtain it, and he has given up the idea, but, by making a noise about my journey to England, he hopes to show that he is master, and can treat me as ill in the Chevalier's absence as in his presence. This being his policy, he began to speak openly of our quarrels, refused to enter my room, and pretended to show that he could revenge himself for having been left in ignorance of these affairs, and make me suffer for what he calls the faults of the two Kings.
Charles tried to help by offering to give the Chevalier an honored place at his court in England, but again, no such luck. (Otoh he refused to invite Philippe himself along with Minette, using the excuse of protocol - the King of France's brother couldn't visit England without the King of England's brother visiting France, and since his brother the Duke of York was absolutely needed elsewhere. Writes Minette to her friend the governess:
This refusal has renewed Monsieur's irritation. He complains that all the honour will be mine, and consents to my journey with a very bad grace. At present, his chief friends are M. de Marsan, the Marquis de Villeroy and the Chevalier de Beuvron. The Marquis d'Effiat is the only one of the troop who is perhaps a little less of a rogue, but he is not clever enough to manage Monsieur, and the three others do all they can to make me miserable until the Chevalier returns. Although Monsieur is somewhat softened, he still tells me there is only one way in which I can show my love for him. Such a remedy, you know, would be followed by certain death!
This line took on an entire new meaning when after her return from England Minette died after drinking some chicory water. She believed herself poisoned; Philippe said if that was what she suspected, they should give some of the water to the dog to test it (in one version of the story, he also offered to drink himself), and today historians largely think Minette died of natural causes, but either way, she died in horrible agony which lasted for hours. She had asked for the banished (thanks to the Chevalier) Bossuet to give her the last rights, and he was sent for, but before he arrived, the bigoted M. Feuillet even added spiritual agony to the physical one. When she cried out "My God, will not these fearful pains be over soon", he said "What, Madame, you are forgetting yourself; you have offended God twenty-six years, and your penitence has but lasted six hours; rather say with St. Augustine, cut, tear, destroy, let my heart ache, let all my limbs thrill with anguish, let dung flow in the marrow of my bones, let worms revel in my breast!"
Minette even in this state still had the gift of irony she shared with her brother Charles, and replied: "Yes, sir, I hope so; in case God were to restore me to health, and I were so wretched as not to practise them, I entreat you to remind me of them."
When the English ambassador asked her, in English, whether she had been poisoned, Feuillet interrupted and warned her not to think of recriminations but the plight of her soul. Minette told the ambassador: "If this is true you must never let the King, my brother, know of it. Spare him the grief at all events and do not let him take revenge on the King here for he is at least not guilty."
"The King here", Louis, later told the second Madame, Liselotte, that Minette had been poisoned but not by his brother, otherwise he'd never have let Philippe marry again. Otoh he also ordered an autopsy of Minette's corpse, where the doctors found no traces of poison. Charles when the news reached him had no doubt she was poisoned. He cried out "Monsieur is a villain! at the unfortunate messenger", retreated in his bedchamber and didn't leave for five days. All in all, it had taken Minette eight hours to die, and only at the end when Bossuet had arrived and replaced the odious Feuillet was she comforted. To read about it makes for a harrowing ending to what is mostly a very endearing book about a brother-sister relationship.