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The phrase ‘tous les jours’ means everyday in French. Well, at least that is what I have been taught. Apparently though it means ‘everyday but Tuesdays.’ You see I chose a Tuesday to visit the beautiful village and chateau at Maintenon and found it closed, despite the fact that the website happily implied ‘ouverte tous les jours!’ No bother, I figured I would go to the chateau at Malmaison whose website also touted ‘ouverte tous les jours!’ Apparently the chateaux of France have not learned how to accurately use their websites because Malmaison was closed, too.

After I uttered a few choice swear words in French and English, made my way home, had wine and a nice dinner, I decided to tackle Maintenon again the next day. The chateau was open, the gardens (designed by none other than Le Notre) were closed. I can accept that. I am pressed for time before I leave for the US and know from my numerous visits to chateaux throughout France that you can usually get a pretty outstanding view of the gardens from the upstairs windows. Maintenon did not disappoint as you can see from the pictures. The most amazing part of the gardens at Maintenon is that at the far end is Louis XIV’s aqueduct that he built to bring water to his beloved chateau at Versailles. Unfortunately, when Versailles was built there was no water source to supply its numerous fountains and waterfalls. As such they were only turned on as the king approached and walked by and then were immediately turned off. Louis hoped to rectify this issue by building a series of aqueducts to bring enough water to supply his over the top garden. Unfortunately Louis’ project was never completed due to funds being redirected towards the War of the League of Augsburg. But, I get ahead of myself. Lets first find out why Louis XIV expressed any interest in this small country estate at Maintenon at all.

The chateau at Maintenon had been in existence for 400 years before it was sold to Francoise d’Aubugine in 1674. Francoise was also known as the Widow Scarron who eventually became the governess to Louis XIV’s illegitimate children with Athenais de Montespan. She initially lived with the children at 25 Boulevard Montparnasse, now in the middle of Paris, at the time considered the country! I actually live not too far from Boulevard Montparnasse and can promise you I very much live in Paris and there is no hint of the country anywhere near here unless you count Parc Montsorris down the street.

Athenais de Montespan, the king’s chief mistress (yes, he had levels of mistresses) had seven children with Louis and therefore the Widow Scarron had a very busy job as their governess, especially when you consider that their Mother and Father spent most of their time at court in Versailles. It was after giving birth to their fifth child that Athenais began to be concerned with the amount of time Louis and the widow were spending together. The widow, by all accounts, was ‘a spirited, attractive, virtuous and inaccessible woman…’ At one point the widow actually encouraged Louis to be more faithful to his Queen, Marie-Therese.

To reward the Widow Scarron (Francoise d’Aubugine) Louis provided her with a generous sum to purchase the chateau, lands and surrounding farms at Maintenon. He also gave her the title, Madame de Maintenon. She went back and forth between the court in Versailles and her beloved chateau. In 1683, months after the Queen’s death, Louis secretly married the Madame de Maintenon, surely one of the most bizarre stories in Louis fabulous life. Because the Madame de Maintenon had no aristocratic upbringing Louis never formally made her Queen and their marriage was never announced publicly.

By all accounts Louis, for the most part, was a successful king as France thrived under most of his reign. He was unfortunately pre-deceased by all of his legitimate children and was succeeded onto the thrown by his great-grandson. He died on September 1, 1715 just days before his 77th birthday. Louis was buried at the Basilica Saint Denis, our first stop in the blog and on these adventures, but as you may recall all the monarchs bodies were disinterred during the revolution, the period of French history we will visit next, and last.

Next stop – Paris!

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