The Marquise de Maintenon and Saint-Cyr

The Marquise de Maintenon and Saint-Cyr

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Françoise d'Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon (1635-1719), and her niece Françoise d'Aubigné, future Duchess of Noailles

© Palace of Versailles, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Christophe Fouin

Publication date: March 2019

University of Evry-Val d'Essonne

Historical context

The King's Secret Wife

From a family of Protestant origin, Françoise d´Aubigné (1635-1719) is the widow of the poet Scarron. It is revealed with the education of the royal children born of the illegitimate love affair between Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. It prefigures that of Saint-Cyr.

In 1684, a year after the death of Queen Marie-Thérèse, she became the morganatic wife of the king (wife from a lower rank, who was excluded from the inheritance prerogatives of her husband). By her status of "Almost Queen" (Alexandre Maral), the Marquise is the subject of many portraits, like that carried out by Louis-Ferdinand Elle (1612-1689), known as the Elder or the Elder, circa 1688. Co-founder of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, and painter to the king, he responded to an official commission for the Saint-Cyr school, in order to pay homage to its founder.

Image Analysis

A pedagogue at court

This large canvas is made up of two main planes, with an effect of depth produced by the drape of the black velvet decoration. Represented in an armchair, the Marquise de Maintenon wears a loose black dress linked to her status as Lady of the Dauphine. The two figures are shown in real size, facing the artist and staring at the viewer. The Marquise holds out her left hand and seems to welcome her niece who was also her pupil. This is Françoise Charlotte d'Aubigné, born in 1684, future Duchess of Noailles and heir to the Marquise. In her right hand, she holds a bouquet of roses and orange blossoms which symbolize the Saint-Cyr model of devotion to God. The set is placed on a cushion which surmounts a classic-style golden table.

On the left of the work, a trompe-l'oeil window reveals the facade of the Saint-Cyr establishment to which the Marchioness devotes a large part of her time and the largesse distributed by the king. After the Court moved to Versailles, Louis XIV acquired the domain of Noisy not far from the palace. The site is intended for the royal house of Saint-Cyr, built in 1685-1686 on the plans of the architect Hardouin-Mansart. This designed a large closed establishment where the course space is located at the back, with a chapel, a refectory and an infirmary.


The founder of Saint-Cyr

Influenced by the Marchioness, Louis XIV officially founded the Royal House of Saint-Louis in Saint-Cyr on June 18, 1686. The school holds a special place, because it is a boarding school and not a convent. fortiori of royal creation. Its operation involves the maintenance of a hundred residents from the nobility. The king assures his protective role of the order with the blue blood, a few years after the foundation of the Invalides in Paris in 1670. In France of the Ancien Régime, the schools for girls are few, but the establishments follow one another during the reign. of Louis XIV. At the same time, educational treatises for the education of girls are multiplying, like that of Fénelon.

The numbers quickly increased to 250 young ladies, with scholarships distributed until the age of 20 and the obtaining of a dowry for the wedding or entry to the convent. The residents are divided into four classes identifiable by colored ribbons. Four times a year, parents can speak in the visiting room with their daughters. Initially, supervision was provided by 40 secular ladies, with Madame de Brinon as superior for life. It was dismissed in 1688, when devout critics attacked the teaching deemed too modern, to the point of transforming it into "a veritable conservatory of the taste and manners of the Grand Siècle" (Bruno Neveu). In 1692, teaching duties were assigned to the nuns of the Order of Saint Augustine. The 36 nuns are helped by 24 convicts in charge of domestic tasks. In 1715, three days before the sovereign's death, the Marchioness retired to Saint-Cyr and took the habit of novice. She kept it until her death on April 15, 1719.

  • Saint-Cyr
  • education
  • girls
  • Maintenon (Françoise d´Aubigné, Marchioness of)
  • Louis XIV
  • Montespan (Madame de)
  • wedding
  • official portrait
  • royal mistress
  • childhood


Hélène JACQUEMIN, Books and noble girls at Saint-Cyr (1686-1793), Angers, Angers University Press, 2007.

Alexandre MARAL, Madame de Maintenon: In the shadow of the Sun King, Paris, Belin, 2011.

Bruno NEVEU, "From the cult of Saint Louis to the glorification of Louis XIV: the royal house of Saint-Cyr", Scientists' Journal, 1988, p. 277-290.

Jean de VIGUERIE, The institution of children: Education in France (16th-18th century), Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 1978.

Agnes WALCH, Duel for a king. Mme de Montespan against Mme de Maintenon, Paris, Tallandier, 2014.

To cite this article

Stéphane BLOND, "The Marquise de Maintenon and Saint-Cyr"

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