The Poet's Princess

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Hard times

This marriage is not the only calamity to strike Anne in 1642. During the following autumn, she catches smallpox which brands her beauty less than the marriage her heart. She endures both of these misfortunes with the serenity worthy of a précieuse. During the magnificent feasts, given in her honour at the Hôtel de Longueville, she shows a smiling face. She pretends to be happy and succeeds in it so well that it is impossible to see her without falling in love with her and without aspiring to do one’s best to please her.

Her encounter with her in-laws is the only occasion when Anne meets with spite and open hostility. The Duke’s daughter from his first marriage contemplates her stepmother with a cold, suspicious eye. They are of the same age, though not of the same beauty, and the meagre charms of Mademoiselle de Longueville cannot compete with the luxuriance of Anne de Bourbon.

The Duke remains one of Madame de Montbazon’s many gallants and lets nobody in doubt who is the real woman of his heart. When his mistress and her minions play a foul trick on Anne, concocting a sham love-letter and letting it circulate as proof of an affair between Anne and her handsome cousin, Maurice de Coligny, the Duke maintains an offensive impartiality.

Giving birth to a sickly girl who dies on April 1645, brings Anne’s misfortune to its climax. Her need for affection, not satisfied in her burdensome marriage, drives Madame de Longueville into a tender friendship with her little brother, Armand de Conti.

She has returned from Münster in triumph. He has finished his studies and brilliantly so, as he likes to stress. He is seventeen years old and his hunched back makes him vulnerable and shy. She is gleaming with her blond, ripe beauty. He remembers the warm-hearted devotion with which she nursed him during his childhood-illnesses and his gratitude, blended with admiration, grows into a friendship more passionate than tender. He is at her feet and, incapable of considering himself her equal, longs to be her slave. Never has a lover been more submissive to an imperious mistress than this brother to his sister. She drives him into all her adventures. He moves like a puppet in her beautiful hands. There is nothing he would not do to please her. In order to satisfy his sister’s ambitions, he is even willing to become cardinal so that his older brother, Prince de Condé, receives his part of the heritage and will be, consequently, willing to take part in Madame de Longueville’s plots against the Court. She wants Conti completely under her command to use him for any scheme that suits her best. Defeated, betrayed and sold short in her marriage, Anne needs to prove that she is not lacking in personality. This yearning leads her into the revolts of the two Frondes, her act of bravery, the affirmation of her supremacy in her search for the sublime. More and more clearly she sees the impossibility of any understanding between her and the feeble and superficial Conti. Bitterly she states that their “particular friendship” failed to turn her little brother into a man. If her stronghold is to be more solid than a castle in the air, she needs another ally.

The time is ripe for François, Prince de Marsillac, the future Duke de La Rochefoucauld, to step in.

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