Constant Reader knows I love history.
One of the (many) reasons I didn’t major in history was because I really couldn’t pick a period to specialize in; there are so many different periods of history that fascinate me. I talk on here a lot about the sixteenth century, but I am also interested in the seventeenth. I’ve actually been toying with a book idea set in that century for going on ten years now; periodically I will read some history of that century as background, but there is still so much I don’t know. I am reading Royal Renegades right now, about the children of Charles I of England–fascinating stuff; I knew basics about the English Civil War but not a lot–and the Stuarts of that period were particularly entwined with France. Charles I’s wife was Henrietta Maria, youngest sister of Louis XIII and aunt to Louis XIV; she fled to France for safety and some of the royal Stuart children also made it over there at some point. Henrietta Anna, Charles I’s youngest daughter, grew up at the French court; she eventually married Louis XIV’s brother, Philippe, the Duc d’Orleans.
And therein lies a tale.
My interest in Louis XIV–and Versailles–led me to discover that the Sun King’s younger brother, Philippe (whose existence, for that matter, completely invalidated the plot of Dumas’ The Man in the Iron Mask, although I’ve always loved that story), was, if not a gay man, then bisexual: he had children by both his first wife, Henriette Anna Stuart, and his second, Elisabeth Charlotte, Princess Palatine. In fact, Philippe is called the Father of Europe because all of European royalty in the nineteenth century were his descendants.
As a small child reading history, I picked up on the homosexuality that most historians always tried to gloss over (Edward II and Piers Gaveston; James I and first Robert Carr, later George Villiers; Richard the Lion-Hearted; Henri III of France; etc) but there was never any real attempt to gloss over Monsieur’s (Philippe was known throughout his life as Monsieur, after the death of his uncle Gaston, from whom he inherited that particular title as well as the title of duc d’Orleans) sexuality. He had a long term relationship with the Chevalier de Lorraine, which started when he was a young man and lasted until the Chevalier’s death. Monsieur’s first wife put up with it but didn’t care for it; his second wife didn’t care one way or the other.
The story goes that his mother, Anne of Austria, made him that way–which is, in modern times, a laughable thought (a domineering mother, etc etc etc)–by dressing him as a girl when he was a child, and continuing to do so after he was of an age to start wearing male clothing. Apparently, Queen Anne was concerned that Louis XIV and his younger brother would have an adversarial relationship the way her husband Louis XIII had with his own younger brother, Gaston. The troubled marriage of Louis XIII and his Spanish wife is also fascinating; they were married very young, she had two miscarriages, and he blamed her for the second one and they became estranged, not living together as man and wife for a very long time afterwards (the second miscarriage was around 1619, I believe; Louis XIV was not born until 1638 and his younger brother in 1640)–this estrangement between King and Queen–and the way George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham shamelessly flirted with Queen Anne when he came to Paris to negotiate the marriage of Charles I to Henrietta Maria–were the seeds from which Dumas also wrote The Three Musketeers.
Since so much time had passed (almost nineteen years) since Louis XIII last slept with Queen Anne, there were lots of rumors and talk that her two sons were not Louis XIII’s; there are many who believed Cardinal Richelieu fathered the boys with the Queen (fictionalized in Evelyn Anthony’s The Cardinal and the Queen); but there was never any question that the two boys were Bourbons. (Like the Hapsburgs with their genetic ‘jaw’, the Bourbon ‘nose’ was also relatively famous; both Louis and Philippe had the nose–but then that could simply mean that their father was a Bourbon rather than confirmation that Louis XIII was)
Monsieur often dressed as a woman for court functions, even as an adult; despite this proclivity he was a great soldier and commander of the French army–he was so successful in the field that his brother was jealous of his successes and often removed him from command.
His second wife was a diarist and a compulsive letter writer; her memoirs and letters are one of the best sources for information about life at the court of Louis XIV.
I’ve always been a little surprised that, while there are scores of biographies of Louis XIV (who, despite his incredible ego, wasn’t as great a king as he thought he was; he accomplished a lot but he also succeeded in planting the seeds for the French Revolution and creating the court system that also played a big part in the downfall of his dynasty. He also wasn’t successful militarily and diplomatically; his wars were expensive and ruinous–although all of Europe had to unite against him in order to beat him.) there are very few, if any, of Monsieur. I would think a biography of him would be something a gay historian would be interested in writing, because of the ability to look at his sexuality, his difference from the others at court, and how, as a prince, he was able to be himself–despite his own religious mania, Louis XIV never seemed to care about Monsieur’s proclivities–and on his own terms. Not to mention how incredibly difficult and strange it would have been to be the younger brother of the egomaniacal Sun King.
Was Monsieur gay? Bisexual? Transgender? Was this a result of his mother dressing him as a girl when he was young or was that just a coincidence?
As I said, the seventeenth century is interesting. And a lot was going on as well–the Thirty Years’ War was the last European war over religion; there were civil wars in both France and England; the colonizing of North America by the British, French, and Spanish truly got into full swing; and it was also the time, of course, of Cardinal Richelieu, the first great modern statesmen.
I hope to write this book someday. But in the meantime, I am having a great time doing the background research.
And now, back to the spice mines.