The good man who showed a “preferential option for the nobility” towards Madame de Maintenon when she was a child

May 30, 2011

After becoming a widower, Louis XIV secretly married Madame de Maintenon, a lady of the court, in 1686. Although from a noble family, hers was a life of great hardship in her youth, because of an armed insurrection of many nobles against the Throne, known as the Fronde.

One day, while in the antechamber to her private apartment at Versailles, an elderly man approached her with respectful boldness, and said: “I saw you forty years ago, and suppose you will not recognize me now. Certainly, you will remember, that when you returned from the Islands, you would come every Thursday to the door of the Jesuit house in La Rochelle. I was assigned to distribute soup to the poor, and noticed a child who stood apart from the crowd of beggars. I perceived the nobility of your features, completely out of place in those surroundings. I saw your shyness in having to receive alms, and I felt pity.”


Painting by Giovanni Battista Moroni

—“So then it was you who brought me soup where I stood on the side, to spare me the shame of being confounded with those poor people, and even apologized a thousand times over that the assistance was so meager. In giving me that nourishment, you saved my life, but also in having pity on me, seeing that I was obliged to beg publicly.”

Madame de Maintenon then gave the gentleman some money she had with her and promised to renew her alms on other occasions.


The Soup Kitchen by Fedinand Georg Waldmüller

Jacques Necker, Galerie de l’ancienne cour (Maestricht: J. E. Dufour, 1787), Vol. I, p. 338. ( translation.)


Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 79

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