"Monsieur Is A Villain!"

Phillipe Duc D’Orleans

“Monsieur is a villain!” These are the words that Charles II is said to have shouted when he received the news of his sisters death. But why did he say those words? Rumours came from the French Court that Madame, Minette, had been poisoned by her husband Phillipe; and in a fit of grief and rage at the thought of this Charles locked himself away in his bedroom for 5 days.

Henrietta Anne “Minette” Stuart by Sir Peter Lely

So far, I haven’t read too much about Minette and her life. But yesterday I finished the fantastic “My Dearest Minette” by Ruth Norrington and from reading it I have developed an immense dislike for Phillipe Duc d’Orleans, more commonly known as Monsieur.

Minette married Phillipe on 30th March 1661 but the marriage was not a happy one. It became more and more evident towards the end of Minette’s life, especially when Monsieur began to spend more and more time with his favourite, the Chevalier de Lorraine. Monsieur and Lorraine were inseparable, and Monsieur ended up falling head over heels in love with him. It is said that the two were also sexually involved with each other, and Monsieur rather enjoyed showing his favourite off in front of his wife, and the court.

Phillipe, Chevalier De Lorraine

The relationship between the two men is what finally ruined the relationship between Minette and Monsieur. Previous to Lorraine showing up, Monsieur seems to have been at least a little bit interested in Minette, even doting on her in the first year of their marriage. But Monsieur would soon begin to show his true colours, becoming increasingly jealous of Minette and any relationships she developed with others. He believed that Minette was having an affair with Louis XIV, even going so far as to complain to his mother Queen Anne of Austria who reprimanded both Louis and Minette. It was also said that Minette began an affair with Phillipe’s old lover the Comte De Guiche which sparked more jealousy from Monsieur. Not only that, but when Charles II sent his illegitimate son James, Duke of Monmouth, over to France in 1668; Phillipe began to grow very jealous of all the time that Minette was spending closeted away with her nephew. And Lorraine began to fan the flames, rumours sparking that something was going on between Minette and Monmouth. When Minette complained of Monsieur’s behaviour towards her, his jealousy and his anger, Louis XIV reprimanded his brother and in anger Monsieur took Minette away from the court.

It is the events of 1669-70 that really made me dislike Monsieur. This ended up being the final year of Minette’s life, and Monsieur’s treatment of her just got worse and worse. After Madame de St. Chaumont was dismissed from court (she had been the governess of her children), Monsieur had his way in appointing her replacement. Minette wanted her friend Madame de La Fayette as the new governess but Monsieur appointed one of his minions, the Marechale de Clerembault. And at this point Lorraine began publicly bragging that he was the one responsible for getting rid of all of Minette’s friends, and began to spread rumours that a divorce was on the cards for the couple. After Monsieur went to the King to beg that Lorraine be given the lands of a recently passed away friend, of which the King refused, Monsieur lost his temper. He ended up telling Lorraine what the King had said about him – that he was not a fit person to hold Church benefices – Lorraine made offensive remarks about the King. Of course at the French court news spread quickly and the news reached the King, who promptly dismissed the Chevalier in disgrace. Monsieur blamed his wife and began acting terribly towards her, even though she had very little to do with it. He refused to sleep with her, which of course caused huge scandal at court, and the two barely spoke. Was there violence? So far I have read nothing to suggest this but that’s not to say there was none. And as the two spent their time away from court at Villers-Cotterets, Monsieur refused to return to court unless his favourite was restored. He was eventually persuaded to return, and Minette had a huge part to play in the negotiations between France and England.

Minette as Minerva, holding a portrait of Monsieur by Antoine Mathieu

When they returned, everyone noticed how pale and unwell Minette looked.

It was vitally important that Minette visit England to secure the secret treaty between the two countries and when it was mentioned to Monsieur he lost his temper, saying he would never let her go. Charles of course resented this behaviour hugely and his feelings were reported to Louis by the French Ambassador. It was the Ambassadors brother Jean Baptiste who persuaded Monsieur to let her go for a short visit as long as he went with her. Monsieur begrudgingly allowed her three days, but then began making a fuss and saying that he should go with her – Charles was the man to come up with best excuse to keep Monsieur out of England; it would be unseemly for Monsieur to go to England unless James Duke of York could visit the French King at the same time. Was it a coincidence that James could not go? Probably not.

When Minette returned to France on 3rd June (meeting with her husband on 18th June at St Germain – her journey had taken over two weeks!), relations with her husband were still very strained. When Minette met her husband and the King at St Germaine, he sulkily refused the offer for he and his wife to go and stay at Versailles. Upon her return she apparently looked stunningly beautiful but in reality she was very unwell and spent the day of her arrival in bed at St Germaine. Despite being most graciously received by the King, Monsieur really ruined her happiness by constantly reminding her that with her influence with the King, she could very easily get Lorraine recalled from his exile. And when, after the couple and their children had removed to St Cloud, they were invited to Versailles Monsieur yet again began to get exceptionally jealous. The reason for this one was that Minette became involved in a secret conference with the King to discuss the treaty she had been to England for. When Monsieur entered the room, they broke off their conversation and refused to continue it whilst he was there. And at dinner that evening a member of the court infuriated Monsieur by mentioning how attentive Monmouth had been to Minette during his visit. Not only that but Monsieur was starting to turn his eldest daughter against Minette, teaching her to hate her mother. Minette was of course deeply unhappy with this, and her health was failing fast.

In the June of 1670, Minette began to complain of searing pains in her side and people began to comment on how unwell she looked, including Monsieur! The next day she asked for some chicory water, which she had been drinking in the warm evenings since her return to St Cloud. As soon as she drank it she gave a cry and collapsed. Her maids put her to bed, and people began to talk of the water being poisoned. The pains in her stomach got worse and a doctor was called, who diagnosed Colic and said she would recover. But Minette knew she was dying as she called for Monsieur and said to him:

“Alas Monsieur, you have long since ceased to love me, but you have been unjust to me. I never wronged you.”

It was suggested, by Monsieur, that to prove the water had not been poisoned that they should give some to the dog. Two of Minette’s maids offered to taste it, as did Monsieur however it must be noted that they did not drink out of the same cup as Minette had, it was missing. When it was found it had been thrown into a fire to clean it. When Monsieur finally realised his wife was dying, he appeared very upset and rounded on the doctor, blaming him for his incompetence. But as Monsieur sat with her, she found his lamentations too much and sent him away again. Was he putting it on? And at three o clock in the morning on 30th June, Minette passed away.

The death certificate was signed after a post mortem was performed, the cause of death being stated as “cholera morbis”, but the English doctors were not entirely satisfied with that, saying that the junior doctor who performed the post mortem was incompetent and it seemed as if he were covering up the truth. The post mortem however did not stop the rumours that flooded France and England – that she had been poisoned by the Chevalier Lorraine and his cronies. Monsieur however was not blamed for it. After her death, many confirmed that Minette had been poisoned, including Monsieur’s second wife. Louis never believed that Monsieur had any part in it however, saying that if it were the case he would never allow Monsieur to marry again. It was the Orleans Maitre d’Hotel that said she had been poisoned but not by Monsieur. It had been Lorraine who hatched the plot in Italy with two of his friends who were living in the household of Monsieur. However, Louis tried hard to keep the poison theory hushed up, it was a politically sensitive time and even went so far as to recall Lorraine from his exile and allow him to live back in Monsieur’s household. And despite the grief that wracked the French Royal Family, Monsieur’s grief was incredibly superficial – he ended up dressing himself and his children in preposterous mourning clothes.

And as mentioned at the start of this post, when Charles II heard of his sisters death he cried, “Monsieur is a Villain” and locked himself away for 5 days in his grief, unable to bear the thought that his dearest Minette had been poisoned by her husband.

Whilst I do not believe that Monsieur had a hand in his wife’s death, he certainly treated her terribly during her life. His showing off of his favourites and having open affairs with them was despicable, and more so when Lorraine began to use his place with Monsieur to try and ruin Minette, Monsieur did nothing to stop it. Indeed it seems to me that he encouraged it. Is it any wonder that Minette ended up sinking into sadness and illness that everyone commented on? The story of Minette’s relationship with her husband makes me feel so sad, she did not deserve to be treated so badly by her husband. And from the little reading I have done on Minette, I have begun to dislike Monsieur hugely…and it’s not often I feel so strongly about people from history (except for Oliver Cromwell, because well…he deserves it). I fully intend to do more reading in and around Minette’s life, although I doubt very much my feelings on her nasty piece of work husband will change.

Further reading

Bevan, B, 1979, Charles II’s Minette, Ascent Books: London
Norrington, R, 1996, My Dearest Minette, Peter Own Publishers: London

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