A Very Grand Girl

Only three living members of the royal family in seventeenth-century France were given the title “Grand,” a word that historians would later apply to the entire age, the Grand Siècle. Two of the three were men. Louis XIV, known as Louis Le Grand, was the supreme embodiment of absolute monarchy. His cousin the Prince of Condé, known as Le Grand Condé, was perhaps the greatest military commander in the France of his time. The third member of this exclusive trio was a woman: Anne-Marie-Louise d’Orléans, duchesse de Montpensier, who would pass into history as La Grande Mademoiselle. Famous during her lifetime, a leading figure in the insurrection known as the Fronde, and France’s richest woman, La Grande Mademoiselle was also a writer of considerable ability; she brings to her memoirs the unique double perspective of a woman and an insider, and they provide a rare portrait of aristocratic life during the most tumultuous and dazzling decades of the century.

At least initially, the word “Grande” served only to clarify Anne-Marie-Louise d’Orléans’s position within the royal family; the never-married du-chesse de Montpensier was the first woman in the French royal court to be addressed by the honorific title Mademoiselle, without a proper name following it. As the daughter of King Louis XIII’s only living brother, Gaston d’Orléans, known simply as Monsieur, she alone, she felt, had the right to be called Mademoiselle, and have the title serve as an explicit symbol of her royal status. Only later, with the death of Louis XIII and the succession of Louis XIV, did it become necessary to add La Grande to her title in order to distinguish her from a new, younger Mademoiselle, whose father, Philippe, duc d’Orléans, brother of Louis XIV, also had the rank of Monsieur. Yet because of the remarkable personality and life of La Grande Mademoiselle, what was merely an identifying label became an acknowledgment of her formidable qualities. This appraisal is amply confirmed both in the admiring recent biography by Vincent J. Pitts and in an earlier, important study in French by Jean Garapon.

Anne-Marie-Louise d’Orléans (1627– 1693) was the daughter of Gaston d’Orléans (1608–1660), himself the son of Henri IV and Marie de’ Medici, as well as the brother of Louis XIII. An incorrigible schemer, he was involved, throughout his life, in a series of unsuccessful revolts against both royal authority and the policies of the King’s ministers, particularly those of Cardinal Richelieu. In 1626 Gaston married Marie de Bourbon-Montpensier, who died shortly thereafter while giving birth to La Grande Mademoiselle, leaving her daughter her immense fortune. This inheritance quickly transformed Anne-Marie-Louise d’Orléans into the most prized catch in France and probably the richest heiress in Europe. Not even the King could claim to be more Bourbon or more French than Mademoiselle. From a young age she developed a pride in her lineage that would in time come to be the dominating passion of her …

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