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Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


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Newsletters by Monsieur de Saint-Frique
 and Monsieur de Sainte-Mesmes

In the Medici archives at the Archivio di Stato of Florence we came upon some letters sent from Paris to the administrative officers of Grand Duke Cosimo III, in the 1670s and 1680s. Quite a few letters were written by Monsieur Bault de Saint-Frique, who signed with a fermesse, that is, a capital S with a line connecting the ends of the letter. (Unfortunately for visitors to this website, I copied out only a few excerpts from his correspondence.)

Saint-Frique’s name crops up in the circle around Gaston d’Orléans and his family: for example, in the mid-1650s he was Gaston’s emissary to the Grande Mademoiselle. And a notarized act signed by Mme de Guise in 1676 bears Saint-Frique's signature and proves that these letters were written by Henry de Bau, chevalier, seigneur de Saint- Frique, baron de Romainville, Gaston's premier chambelan. During the 1670s Saint-Frique clearly become quite close to Carlo Antoino Gondi, resident in Paris for the Grand Duke of Tuscany; and when Gondi returned to Florence, to be the prince’s secretary, Saint-Frique kept his friend informed on a variety of subjects.

The other letters came from Anne-Alexandre de l’Hôpital, Count of Sainte-Mesmes, who likewise "belonged" to Gaston, and then to his widow (as her écuyer) and daughters. For example, when everyone else refused, Sainte-Mesmes agreed to carry the train of Gaston’s teenage daughter, the future Mme de Guise, so that she could participate in Louis XIV’s wedding procession; and when one of Gaston’s other daughters, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, returned to France in 1675, Sainte-Mesmes was appointed to be what amounted to her jailor – although he was officially described as Mme de Toscane’s chevalier d’honneur. The job was not without its frustrations, as Sainte-Mesmes’s letters show.

All letters are in the Archivio di Stato of Florence, in the Mediceo del Principate collection. The number of the specific busta (volume) is shown in italics and within parentheses, at the end of each letter: (4783), (6265), and so forth.

Bault de Saint-Frique

The earliest letter from Saint-Frique that caught my attention is dated 31 May 1677. He first alluded to the Poison Affair, because arrests were being made and suspicion was falling upon Italians or persons somehow connected to Italy or Italians (Ranum, Portraits around Marc-Antoine Charpentier, p. 467). His attention then turned to court festivities, and to Mme de Guise:

The next letter that I copied a passage from is dated 20 November 1682. It is addressed to Gondi. Saint-Frique’s summary of Mme de Guise’s charitable activities is tinged by his characteristic biting wit:

Saint-Frique included a poem about Lully’s homosexual transgressions:

On 9 April 1683, Saint-Frique expressed some thoughts about wittiness and friendship; and in the process he revealed the depth of their friendship:

"Un demy serieus enjolivé des Agreementz de vostre belle humeur tousjours spirituelle est asseurement une conversation bien plus agreable et plus sortable à vostre ministere qu'un franc galimastias qui ne peut convenir entre gens aussy esloignés que nous sommes, pleust à Dieu que la proximité des lieus plus grande nous permit un entretien plus effectif et plus solide. Je ferois convenir les espritz les plus prescautionés que sans aucunne innovation considerable et sans bruit on pouroit faire de augmentations justes et sans bruit dans le revenu ordinaire, mais puisque vous y soyés des oppositions formelles dans les esprits des ministres, il n'y fault plus penser, et l'on doit se rettrancher sur l'estat de vostre presente situation, qui est assés tranquile et qui peut par la suitte devenir plus considerable par les cognoissances que vous avés des chozes, et par les lumieres plus eslevées pour les interestz des cours dont vous estes tres esclairé. Le tems fera faire ce discernement au maisitre qui apres cela ne manquera pas pour ses propres interetz de vous placer où vous devés estre. Il faut ce dit-on laisser venir le Boitteus, c'est Mr le temps; avec lequel on vient à bout de toutes choses...." (4783)

On 5 June 1684 Saint-Frique informed Gondi that Mme de Toscane was visiting Monsieur de Sainte-Mesmes at his country house:

And a month later came a few words that seemed to be praising the Grand Duchesse, dated 26 (?) July 1684:

On 12 November 1685, Saint-Frique filled Gondi in on the last moments of Chancellor Michel Le Tellier, who – unable to breathe and therefore unable to lie in bed, would sit in a chair, his arms on a table, gasping for air:

Saint-Frique’s letter dated 14 January 1686 again talks of Lully:

On 16 February 1686 Louis XIV and Lully were grist for Saint-Frique’s gossip mill. The king had been spending vast sums to reward Nouveaux Convertis, he noted; and he added:

His letter of 16 February 1686 reveals that Saint-Frique was close to the royal princesses who lived in the Luxembourg Palace (also called the "palais d’Orléans"). Again, he said laudable things about Mme de Toscane::

A few days later, on 22 February 1686, he again evoked Lully and how poorly the Florentine was taking Louis XIV’s piety:

Anne-Alexandre de l’Hôpital de Saint-Mesmes

Sainte-Mesmes’s letters – which focus on Mme de Toscane and her circle – are characterized by a very different tone. One of the earliest I read was sent to Vittoria della Rovere, Cosimo III’s mother (and Mlle de Guise’s close friend from her days as an exile in Florence). Dated 20 March 1671, it informed her that Mme de Guise had miscarried:

A few months later, 7 August 1671, he sent still more doleful news to Florence:

The bulk of Sainte-Mesmes’s correspondence dates from the years when he was part of the Grand Duchess of Tuscany’s household. (He received the appointment on or about 30 August 1675.) These letters provide glimpses into what life at the court of Louis XIV was like for courtiers and their householders.

One of the earliest letters about Mme de Toscane is dated 20 September 1675. Louis XIV had visited his first cousin at Montmartre and had tried to make her understand the conditions agreed upon prior to her return to France. Now, the King and the Abbess decided that an entirely new household must be set up for her. These changes would also affect Mme de Guise (the other "princess" to whom Sainte-Mesmes refers), because several of her ladies-in-waiting were fomenting dissension:

In a letter written in June 1676, not long after Sainte-Mesmes and his wife had taken up their responsibilities as "chevalier d’honneur" to the Grand Duchess, he comments that his makeshift quarters at Montmartre were a former orangerie! Scarcely a suitable reward for his two decades of service to the House of Orléans! Although he was trying to disregard these physical hardships, Sainte-Mesmes could not overlook the disputes that kept breaking out between Mme de Guise and Mme de Toscane:

Despite Grand Duke Cosimo’s intention to keep his estranged wife a virtual prisoner at Montmartre, Louis XIV relented early on, and he was soon allowing Mme de Toscane to attend court entertainments. For example, on 10 July 1676, Sainte-Mesmes wrote from Paris that the Grand Duchess had been at Versailles for a week, to see "les illuminations"; and that she was thinking of going to Villiers Cotterets for a week in October, after the Duchess of Orléans’s confinement:

On 4 October 1676 Sainte-Mesmes informed Gondi that the Grand Duchess had visited his country house at Sainte-Mesmes, and that, no sooner had they returned home than they began preparing for a trip to the chateau of Saint-Cloud, the residence of Louis XIV’s brother, Philippe d’Orléans. The little Duke of Chartres and his sister were to be baptized. (According to the Gazette de France, the festivities included an "opera," almost certainly a "little pastorale" by Marc-Antoine Charpentier (H. 479):

A month later, in a letter dated 20 November 1676, Sainte-Mesmes told of Mme de Toscane’s presence at other court festivities:

On 14 January 1677, Sainte-Mesme wrote Gondi from Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where he expected to spend eight or ten days keeping watch over Mme de Toscane, who had been granted permission to attend Mardi Gras festivities there. (The Grande Duchess had been dancing and riding; and , not surprisingly, she continually delayed her return to Montmartre.)

In a letter dated 28 March 1677, Sainte-Mesmes poured out his frustrations to Gondi. Financial commitments were not being kept:

By 22 October 1677 Sainte-Mesmes was sounding desperate:

A revealing letter dated 26 February 1678 details how Mlle de Guise (and doubtlessly Mme de Guise) entertained. It also reveals the strained relations among the three Orléans sisters – the Grande Mademoiselle, Mme de Guise, and Mme de Toscane:

Sainte-Mesmes’s letters continue into the 1680s. On 3 July 1682 he feigned ignorance about the reasons behind the Grand Duchess’s refusal to visit the Little Carmel on the rue du Bouloir; and he commented on the tight quarters where Mme de Toscane and her householders lodged at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. With one sister literally on top the other, disputes were inevitable:

On 23 April 1683 Sainte-Mesmes summarized the politicking that went on after the death of the Abbess of Montmartre in 1682. He depicts Mlle de Guise as playing a major role in the transmission of this abbey to a young princess of the House of Lorraine:

A few details about the princesses’ social life are conveyed by a letter dated 18 August 1683. Mme de Guise had journeyed to Fontainebleau from Alençon to express personally her condolences to Louis XIV over the death of Queen Marie-Thérèse. She returned to Paris on the evening of August 18 and stayed for several days. (Before returning to Alençon she appears to have attended a service held for the Queen at the Mercy, where Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s H. 331 and 332 were performed.)

A letter dated 8 July 1686 shows that Sainte-Mesmes was advising the Florentines about how best to cope with some of the foibles of the Italian actors in Paris. It is clear that Mme de Toscane was in contact with these actors! On 21 June, Sainte-Mesmes had received both Gondi’s letter and one from "Fiorily," whose father appears to have seduced a young girl:

By the mid-1680s, the life of the Grand Duchess – and of her chevalier d’honneur – consisted of numerous visits to royal chateaux in the Ile-de-France, visiting Mme de Miramion’s charitable house just outside the Porte Saint-Martin, and being entertained in Mme de Guise’s apartment in the Luxembourg Palace. Sainte-Mesmes alludes to a new demoiselle, Mlle de Genlis, who is now part of Mme de Toscane’s household: she clearly was a very pious girl who had been recommended by Mme de Miramion. (Read a Fugitive Piece about Miramon's schools.) Genlis replaced the less desirable Mlle de Mainville, who had poor health but listened too much to Mme de Toscane’s "discours extraordinaires":

"Madame la Grande duchesse observe toujours de revenir un jour ou deux avant la toussaint. Sa santé est toujours parfaitement bonne, elle et presentement allée disner au Luxambour ches Madame de Guise où elle passera la journée à jouer, si ce n'est qu'elles aillent ensemble aus grand couvent des carmelite à la prise d'habit d'une fille qu'on nomme Mademoiselle de Hever, qui s'est convertie depuis peu. ... Il y a sy peu [de temps] qu'elle [Mlle de Genlis] est avec nous que nous ne scaurions encore dire sy elle s'y acoutumera; la vie que nous menons d'aller presque toutz les jours à Luxembour et continuellement dans le grand monde estant bien diferente de celle qu'elle menoit dans la comunauté de Made de Miramion." (4785)