4th November 1696

4 November 2011

In one of those marvellous moments of serendipity that sometimes strike when one is writing, I’ve just noticed that the chapter that I’m currently wrestling with, which describes the arrival of the Princess Marie-Adélaïde of Savoy at Montargis where she met her dread uncle, Louis XIV for the first time is about something that happened on this very day in 1696. How peculiar is that?

This is handy actually as I am now aflame with thoughts of crisp autumn leaves under the horse’s hooves and the brisk hint of coming winter in the air. It’s also helpful (although annoying) that due to boiler malfunction we’ve been without hot water and heating for the last six days so I can easily imagine how uncomfortable my seventeenth century characters must have felt as they stamped their feet to combat the chill that crept up through their shoes to freeze their toes and breathed into their cupped hands to warm them up.

I just hope that I don’t smell as bad as they must have done.

I’m a bit in love with Adélaïde actually and am loving Louis’ own description of his first meeting with her that day, which he faithfully wrote down for the benefit of Madame de Maintenon:

I got here before five o’ clock; the princess arrived just before six. I went to receive her at her coach. She waited for me to speak first and then she answered very well, with a hint of shyness which would have pleased you. I led her through the crowd to her room, from time to time I had the torches brought nearer so that their light fell on her face and she could be seen. She endured this walk and these lights with graceful modesty. At length we got to her room where the crowd and the heat were enough to kill one. From time to time I showed her to those who came up and I was watching her from all points of view in order to tell you my impression.

This is the only one of Louis’ letters that Madame de Maintenon, always thinking of posterity, did not destroy – a testament to her love both of him but most particularly, Marie Adélaïde who she frankly adored as if she were her own daughter.

Incidentally, my favourite ever Madame de Maintenon quote is from a letter in which she describes a visit from Tsar Peter the Great to her retirement at Saint Cyr after Louis XIV’s death.

The Tsar arrived at seven o’ clock. He sat down beside my bed and asked me if I was ill. I said yes. He asked me what was the nature of my illness. I told him great age and a weak constitution. He didn’t know what to say to that… Oh yes, I forgot to say, he pulled back the curtains at the foot of my bed so as to get a better look at me. Naturally, he was perfectly satisfied!’

I’d better get back to it. I went to Montargis once actually, when I was about nine or ten years old and remember being sorely disappointed that a place that pops up so often in history books is so lacking in, I don’t know what, charisma? Such a shame. It DOES have a sickly sweet almond in boiled hard caramel mixture going for it though, which they sell, becomingly, in small decorative tins. So that’s something.

I’m really getting back to it now.

(I’m not doing NaNoWriMo by the way – I really wanted to but then decided that I need to READ more so this is NaNoReMo round these parts with a healthy side dose of working on the Ripper and Minette books at the same time. Good luck to all the hopeful NaNoers out there though!)

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