But love is not enough to maintain their hedonistic lifestyle, and the couple soon face huge debts. When Madame de Montespan is offered the chance to become lady-in-waiting to the Queen at Versailles, she seizes this opportunity to turn their fortunes round.
Too late, Montespan discovers that his ravishing wife has caught the eye of King Louis XIV. As everyone congratulates him on his new status of cuckold by royal appointment, the Marquis is broken-hearted. He vows to wreak revenge on the monarch and win back his adored Marquise.
With this extraordinary novel, Jean Teulé has restored a ridiculed figure from history to the rightful position of hero, by telling the hilarious, bawdy and touching story of a good man who loved too well and dared challenge the absolute power of the Sun King himself.
Jean, can you tell us what your novel, Monsieur de Montespan, is about?
The novel tells the story of a husband turned cuckold by Louis XIV who, contrary to the other married nobles at the time who practically pushed their wives into the king’s bed so they would receive compensation in the form of money and suchlike, never accepted his fate.
What inspired you to write about such a subject?
I fell upon the story of this Monsieur de Montespan whose world had caved in and who’d then been forgotten. I felt it was important to bring him back to life in a book because, frankly, he wasn’t just some ordinary guy.
How did you go about the enormous amount of historical research you must have done for the book?
I spent about eight months in a library reading all I could on the 17th century. I wanted to be able to describe exactly the way people dressed and washed at the time.
The 17th century was one of the dirtiest times in France’s history. For example, we know now that Louis 14th went his whole life without taking a single bath. And at the Chateau de Versailles, for 5,000 people, there were only two toilets! People did their business everywhere. It was a veritable rubbish tip.
Monsieur de Montespan seems like an extraordinary character; a desperate and infatuated man. Would it be right to call him the hero of your novel?
Oh yes, he’s the hero ! To love your wife would seem the normal thing to do but in monsieur de Montespan’s case it becomes something heroic.
And madame de Montespan ? Is she the anti-hero of the novel?
I didn’t want to treat her like a whore because that isn’t the case. She was a normal woman who didn’t have the choice because, at that time, women didn’t have the right to refuse the king’s advances. A wife who said ‘no’ to the Louis XIV would find herself either in prison for the rest of her life or banished, along with her husband and the rest of her extended family, to the French colonies.
Having said that, even if at the beginning madame de Montespan didn’t; she eventually took a fancy to Louis XIV. To the point even where she turned insane and made animal sacrifices in order that the king would still like her. She is a very interesting character but, naturally, it’s her husband I admire.
If you had to classify this book, what would it be? A comedy, a tragedy, a love story or a little bit of all three?
First of all it is a love story which tells the life of a husband whose whole world is his wife. He never gives up on her. He messed up his life by trying to win her back. But he was also funny, with a real cheek. Nobody in France in the 17th century would have dared to, as he did, provoke and make fun of Louis XIV.
He was the first man during that era of servility and subservience to dare to say to the king, ‘No, I won’t let it happen. A monarch can’t just do what he/she wants. No one can tell me he has the right to grab any taken woman he wants.’
For me, the marquis de Montespan is the seed of what, 100 hundred years later, we call the French Revolution. I love this man. I would have loved to have met him and been his friend.