The Poet's Princess

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Not exactly a happy ending

Anne de Longueville’s halcyon days are short lived. She is burdened with another grief. Her first-born son, the Count de Saint-Paul, ordained so that his peculiar manners would not compromise the reputation of his family, returns from Rome. Under the name of Abbot d’Orléans he continues his life of scandal. His spite is so apparent, even amidst his fits of madness, that his mother feels more sorry for herself than for him. His excesses oblige Madame de Longueville to make him renounce his title of Count de Saint-Paul and, with that, his entire fortune, in favour of his brother, the Duke de Longueville, the fruit of her love with La Rochefoucauld, a handsome man of outstanding qualities.

Rather than revolting against her destiny, Anne de Longueville endures her doom bravely. She retreats to the Monastery of White Friars and then to Port Royal. Her renewed friendship with Armand de Conti makes her feel even more deeply the bitterness of his death and her tender affinity to her brother’s wife is brutally cut off by the premature demise of the Princess de Conti at the age of thirty-six years. Anne reveals her torment in a letter to Mother Agnès:

“Seldom passes a day without afflicting me with deep sorrow or when I do not have to look into a chasm whose depth I cannot bring myself to penetrate. I have just light enough to see that I live amidst nebulous abysses. Above all I fear that God might look on my whole life as a hypocrisy.”

Six months after the death of the Princess de Conti, a new adversity weighs her down: her beloved son, the Duke de Longueville, is killed during the crossing of the Rhine in the Dutch war. Yet she is spared the last hard blow: her death occurs before demise of the Prince de Condé.

On April the 15th 1679, after fifty nine years and seven months, she is relieved from the “dark prison” of her life. During her funeral at the Carmelite Order, on this one and only occasion, the Duke de La Rochefoucauld knows how to perform unfailingly the role of a crestfallen lover, he listens to the funeral oration pronounced by the famous orator Monsieur d’Antan “who spoke of her beauty and of all those past wars in an inimitable manner. And as for the rest, judge for yourselves if the penitence of twenty-seven years is a beautiful way to lead a beautiful soul to Heaven,” writes Madame de Sévigné in one of her letters.

This funeral oration survived the Princess just shortly. Its interdiction to be printed prevented the “beau monde” from the pleasure of savouring it in the balmy atmosphere of their homes and restore Anne de Longueville in her glory.

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