Sunday, March 6, 2011

Louis I and Louis XIV

Few Princes of Monaco and Kings of France have been as close as Prince Louis I of Monaco and the “Grand Monarch” King Louis XIV of France. It had been only recently that Prince Honore II had taken Monaco out of the Spanish sphere of influence and into the orbit of King Louis XIII of France and he was very anxious for close and friendly ties between the two countries. When Prince Louis was born in 1642 to then Hereditary Prince Hercule (son of Honore II) King Louis XIV of France stood as his godfather and the little prince was named in his honor. As he grew up, the goals of his grandfather could not have been lost on him. The court of King Louis XIV was the most grand and glamorous in the world and the highest possible place in that court was to be aspired to. Louis XIV and his Kingdom of France set the example to follow and as the protecting power of Monaco the House of Grimaldi had every reason to be the best possible friends to the “Grand Monarch” and his kingdom. Prince Louis I would be somebody at the court of Louis XIV, he would gain fame fighting in his armies, he would make the Princely Palace follow the fashions of Versailles and do his best to surpass all others who sought to bask in the glow of the “Sun King”.

It was ensured that Prince Louis, best known as the Duc de Valentinois before his accession, married someone well placed at the court of the French king and that choice was, of course, the famous Charlotte-Catherine de Gramont, daughter of the Marshal of France Antoine de Gramont and Marguerite Duplessis de Chivre, a great niece of Cardinal Richelieu. She undoubtedly helped her husband remain in the favor of the French monarch if only because he himself was so smitten by the young beauty and for a time she joined the ranks of the many mistresses of Louis XIV. Prince Louis fought in the armies of Louis XIV in his wars against England and Spain, gaining the approval of the King but few others at court where he was secretly made fun of for his ‘provincial’ ways, wearing the wrong clothes, wigs and such terribly important things. It was, however, the dramatic love life of Princess Charlotte-Catherine that was to prove the ruin of Grimaldi aspirations at Versailles. Before her arranged marriage to Louis I of Monaco she had been ardently pursued by the Duc de Lauzun -who never relented, even after she went to Monaco to give birth to the future Prince Antoine.

After that mission was accomplished the Princely couple returned to Versailles where King Louis cast his covetous eye on the wife of his godson. The Princess was more than willing to accommodate the King (finding the role of primary mistress to the King of France more attractive than being Princess of Monaco) but a jealousy-enraged Lauzun thwarted their rendezvous and King Louis was left frustrated, furious and rather embarrassed. The Princess of Monaco never looked good to him again (he possibly assumed she had been responsible for locking him out whereas Lauzun had actually made off with the key) and her chances of becoming the King’s official mistress evaporated. One can only feel sorry for Prince Louis I. He and particularly his grandfather had fought for the King of France, worked for the King of France and did all possible to gain his good graces ever since abandoning Spain for France in pursuit of the title of prince étranger at court. Louis XIV had promised to give it, yet, because of his wife’s jealous beau, through no fault of his own, Prince Louis I was denied this ultimate prize for another twenty years when his son, Antoine Duc de Valintinois, married Marie of the Imperial House of Lorraine in 1688, a match King Louis XIV himself arranged.

When the marriage of Prince Louis and Charlotte-Catherine broke down she left her husband in Monaco and retreated to Paris where Louis XIV was at least friendly enough to join her in laughing at the jealously and ‘provincial’ temperament of her husband. However, the business between the two monarchs named Louis was not quite done. To the surprise of many, during all of the tumult over the Spanish succession, Louis XIV named the Prince of Monaco his ambassador to Rome. The elites at court may have made light of Prince Louis I but his devotion could not be questioned, he had fought for France on numerous fields of battle, and it was hoped that his Grimaldi family connections in Italy would give him a stronger position than some other ambassador might have had. Prince Louis took up his position with zeal and so did his utmost to woo and influence the Roman aristocracy and clergy that he all but bankrupted Monaco in the process. However, it was in no small part due to his efforts that Louis XIV won his case at the Vatican which saw his grandson ascend the Spanish throne as King Philip V.

Still, the pair could not finally end on a completely high note. After the death of Pope Innocent XII, Prince Louis had campaigned for the election of his successor Pope Clement XI. Nonetheless, the new Pontiff did not favor the Prince of Monaco who went to Paris to complain to King Louis. Some accounts say that the “Sun King” embraced the Prince, rebuking him, “only for his zeal” while others say he snubbed him completely before ordering him back to Rome. Whatever the actual situation, this last drama seemed to take something out of Louis I who died in 1701 at the age of almost 58. The King would continue until 1715 as the quintessential absolute monarch and the dominant figure of his age. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of Louis XIV. He did not succeed in all of his goals as King of France, yet throughout his entire reign he was the sun around which all else revolved. Practically everything that was done in western Europe at that time was a reaction by the other powers to the actions of Louis XIV and, even if he had not totally triumphed, he did survive -which was quite an accomplishment. For his godson and namesake, Monaco remembers Louis I mostly for his legal code and his rather colorful private life, a significant figure to be sure in the story of the Principality. At the time, however, godson or not, he was one more star in the firmament dominated by the “Sun King” as far as Louis XIV was concerned. Still, he had at least fulfilled all of those tasks entrusted to him and he had finally achieved that long sought after goal for his family; that of a prince étranger at the court of Versailles, which was, for that time and place, as good as the center of the world.

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