Françoise d'Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon : religion, power and politics : a study in circles of influence during the later reign of Louis XIV, 1684-1715
The thesis examines the career of the marquise de Maintenon at the court of Louis XIV, to whom she was secretly married in 1684. Maintenon has traditionally been depicted either as a scheming religious bigot, or as a powerless and dutiful wife whose only concerns were her finishing school at Saint-Cyr and the king's salvation. This study demonstrates that Maintenon was a collaborator rather than a conspirator. It contends that Louis was compelled to share the burdens of monarchy with his discreet and astute consort, who became the king's chief confidante and counsellor as his age increased, his troubles mounted and his confidence diminished. The thesis charts the erratic and unpremeditated evolution of the marquise's métier primarily using the vast, largely unpublished, correspondence she transacted with French and foreign dignitaries, including popes and sovereigns. It investigates her private and public works, preoccupations and relationships, illuminating her clandestine clientage and patronage networks, exposing the mechanisms and balance of power at court, and unveiling the complexity of her unofficial position entrenched next to Europe's most powerful monarch. It concludes that she made a dramatic impact on the religious, political, social, cultural and ritual life of the court, the royal family and the king, and that she profoundly affected the increasingly personal and informal monarchical system that Louis adopted in his later rule. An investigation of Maintenon's initial activities reveals that she was principally concerned with charitable and pious projects. She reformed the king's religion and forcibly converted her Protestant relatives, but subsequently attended ministerial meetings,interfered in ecclesiastical appointments and became embroiled in doctrinal controversies. From 1700 Maintenon assumed a more influential political position, participating in conciliar discussions,receiving and naming ambassadors, mediating between courts, intervening in crises, levelling factions, monopolizing nominations to benefices, selecting ministers and modifying government policies.