Marie de Mancini. History in France, part 7.
The walled town of Brouage was founded in 1555. Its economy depended on salt and its access to the sea. The fortifications were built between 1630 and 1640 byCardinal Richelieu as a Catholic bastion in order to fight against the neighbouring Protestant town ofLa Rochelle. Gradually the harbour silted up in the last part of the 17th century, leaving the town stranded and useless as a port. It fell into ruin.
When I first saw it, around 1995, it was a smelly backwater with dull half-derelict buildings, cats and dustbins. Today it is a very pretty, and most interesting museum-town with a population of around 1000 inhabitants, lots of little shops (built in to what were once stables) and several restaurants.
The towen has two claims to fame. One is that it was from here that Samuel Champlain set off to found Quebec, and the second that it was for some years the home of Marie de Mancini, one-time lover of the French king Louis XIV, nicknamed The Sun King.
Marie de Mancini was Italian, born in Rome in 1639 and died in Pisa 1715. She was brought to France as a young girl, and was introduced to the French Court by her influential uncle, a French-Italian cardinal close to the King Louis.
Marie and Louis fell in love and, to all intents and purposes, Marie was the first of many of Louis’ passionate love affairs. It seems Marie was also the only one Louis ever truly loved – though this may be the result of French romanticism. Certainly, the King, barely a year older than Marie, was just at that tender age when love seems to be forever.
We do know that they hoped to marry because these plans were fiercely opposed by the King’s mother, who was the Queen of Austria, and Cardinal Mazarin, as well as the French Court in general.
Louis was instructed to ban Marie from Court, and for a while she lived in La Rochelle, and then moved to Brouage, which was the last place the unhappy lovers ever met. Convinced that Louis would one day return for her, Marie waited several years in Brouage before finally marrying an Italian prince. She had three children by him but abandoned both him and the children (ostensibly because he was violent) and return to Italy, where she died.
Marie de Mancini is the subject of Racine’s tragedy “Berenice”, whence came the famous words:
“Vous etes Empereur, Seigneur, mais vous pleurez”. (You are emperor, sire, yet you cry).
Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist. Her books are available on Amazon and Kindle, or can be ordered from most major book shops and libraries. More of her work, to include entertaining blogs and short stories from around the world, on http://turquoisemoon.co.uk