Louise de la Vallière was one of King Louis XIV’s many mistresses but his only true love. Innocent and naïve, Louise waltzed—or limped—right into the King’s heart...and then went running for the nunnery when it all fell apart. Check out these heartbreaking facts about the modest mistress that gave it all up for a life of rosaries and celibacy.
1. She Was Born In A Prison
Louise de la Vallière was born on August 6, 1644 to noble French parents. Her father was Marquis de la Vallière and her mother had previously been married to a high-ranking statesman. Louise spent most of her earlier years in Chateau d’Amboise which later became an infamous prison. But, given her tragic destiny, Louise might have been better off in a prison.
2. She Had A Limp
Despite the fact that she had noble blood, Louise came into the world with a sad deformity—a birth defect that would stalk her forever. One of Louise’s legs was shorter than the other and it left her with a distinctive limp. Fortunately, she had special shoes made to cover up her defect. With this disguise, little Louise enjoyed her youth...that is, until a harsh reality came knocking.
3. Her Childhood Ended Abruptly
Louise’s childhood was, for the most part, pretty idyllic for a little French noblewoman with a limp. But sadly, her fairytale childhood suddenly came to an end at the age of seven when her father passed on. Louise’s mother quickly moved on to her third husband, the butler of Gaston, Duke of Orléans, who just so happened to be King Louis XIV’s uncle.
This close connection to the illustrious king changed Louise's life forever.
4. She Wasn’t Very Pretty
Louise became close friends with the daughters of Gaston, Duke of Orléans who were first cousins of King Louis XIV. But she wasn’t the likeliest girl to attract the King’s attention. No one at court described Louise as a "striking beauty" or as being particularly brilliant. However, she did have her charms. She would, after all, snag a king.
5. She Could Keep A Secret
Even though she wasn’t turning heads, Louise still had a certain appeal of her own. You might say that she was turning ears. People around her liked that she was modest and complimented her on her blonde hair and soft blue eyes. But what people liked most about Louise was that she was discreet. This girl knew how to keep a secret—and boy, did she safeguard many secrets.
6. She Arrived In Paris With A Splash
At the age of 16, Louise moved to Paris and became the Maid of Honor to Princess Henrietta Anne of England. Right away, she found herself in the midst of a scandal. Rumors had been circulating around Paris that Henrietta and Louis XIV were friendlier than in-laws should be. To counter the rumors, Louis XIV and Henrietta devised a plan that included the unwitting Louise.
7. She Was A Decoy
Louis XIV and Henrietta were eager to silence the rumors about their alleged affair. To throw everyone off their scent, they decided to "set in his [Louis XIV’s] path" three young ladies. One of the decoys they used was the wide-eyed and innocent Louise. But within just two months, shortly after her seventeenth birthday, Louise became far more than a decoy.
8. She Wished He Wasn’t King
To Louis XIV, Louise was a breath of fresh air. For his whole life, everyone around him had only loved him for his wealth and power—and his enormous, ahem, crown. But the weary King saw that Louise’s heart was pure. After their very first meeting, Louise had mournfully cried out, "Ah! if he was not the King..". Of course, he was the king and kings always get what they want.
And he wanted himself a girl with a limp and heart of gold.
9. Her Love Was Real
Louise likely had no idea that Louis XIV had been using her as a pawn on his chessboard of love. But the wayward king soon fell prey to Louise’s "exquisite complexion, blond hair, blue eyes and sweet smile". Even though it had started as a ruse, Louise and Louis XIV quickly fell truly—madly—in love. And that’s when the courtiers began sharpening their knives.
10. She Was "On The Hunt"
According to just about everyone else in court, there was nothing so special about Louise that she should attract the attention of a king. Apart from her awkward limp, that is. But Louis XIV saw past Louise’s plainness. He fell in love with her singing and dancing, interest in literature, and knack for horseback riding and hunting. But as she'd soon learn, being the object of the king's affection wasn't always a dream come true.
11. She Never Asked For Anything
Being mistress to the King, Louise could have asked for the world—or, more specifically, whatever part of the world that belonged to the French crown. But, being the modest angel that she was, she never asked anything at all—not one gift. All Louise really wanted was the king’s affections. All Louise really got, however, was the wrath of a scorned lover.
12. She Was The Talk Of The Town
Louise and Louis XIV were trying to hold on to something pure. They did their best to hide their newfound love from the gossip mongers around them, but even castle walls have eyes and ears. After all, it wasn’t a secret that Louis XIV had a, shall we say, wandering eye. And, gifts or no gifts, everyone was beginning to notice that his eyes had settled on little Louise.
13. She Made An Enemy
Louise’s love for Louis XIV, however innocent and pure, was still a scandalous affair. Without even planning to, Louise had stolen Louis XIV away from Henrietta. And if Louise thought that the whole "love’s true kiss" excuse was going to calm Henrietta down, then she was sorely mistaken. Jealous and embittered, Henrietta became determined to break up the new couple.
14. She Got A Message From God
A heartbroken and vengeful Henrietta was the least of Louise’s concerns. In 1662, it seemed like even God himself was against Louise and Louis XIV’s ingenuous—albeit illicit—love affair. Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, a prominent and popular French bishop, spoke out publicly against Louis XIV’s dalliances in a sermon at the Louvre. And that wasn't all.
15. She Made Fouquet Furious
No one could believe that, in the midst of palace politics, Louise and Louis XIV could have found true love in each other’s arms. And Nicolas Fouquet, the King’s Superintendent of Finances, was determined to prove that it was just another affair. In 1662, Fouquet tried to entice Louise with a large sum of money. What, exactly, he was asking for in return is a matter of some controversy.
16. Her Love Wasn’t For Sale
According to some accounts, when Louis XIV found out about Fouquet’s attempt to corrupt Louise, he suspected the worst. Apparently, the king thought that Fouquet had been trying to pay Louise for…let’s just call it services yet-to-be-rendered in a bedchamber with the lights off. The other version of the story isn’t any less scandalous.
17. She Didn’t Kiss And Tell
Another version of the story says that Fouquet—who was already on the King’s naughty list—tried to pay Louise into spying on Louis XIV. Then Louise, ever the faithful lover and subject, ran to Louis XIV and told him what had happened. Whatever the real reason for the bribe, Louise is at least partially responsible for Fouquet ending up in prison. Forever.
As time passed, it became obvious that Louise's pure intentions were her most dangerous advantage.
18. She Wasn’t One For Pillow Talk
Even though everyone was trying to ruin her romance with the King, Louise never fought back. Even when she could have. Louis XIV pressed Louise to spill the beans on a rumored love affair between the Comte de Guiche (basically, 17th century Hugh Heffner) and Henrietta. But, ever the innocent girl, Louise refused to engage in court gossip.
With scandal and rumors encroaching from every angle, panic crept in.
19. She Had Second Thoughts
Between the hurtful rumors and Louis XIV’s renewed interest in his former lover’s affairs, Louise began to have second thoughts. A devout Christian, Louise also began listening to the passionate sermons of the bishop, Bossuet, against the King’s…un-kingly behavior. After listening to the bishop, Louise was ready to swear off men forever. Literally. And it drove her to a drastic decision.
20. She Was Getting Into The Habit
In a fit of shame and regret at her hand in Louis XIV’s adultery, Louise fled the palace and the love of her life. She went to a convent on the outskirts of Paris and was just about ready to take her vows of celibacy when Louis XIV showed up. The distraught king pleaded with Louise to return to court. But it was a terrible mistake.
21. She Crossed The Queen
Reluctantly, Louise agreed to leave the convent and returned to court, but things only got worse for her. A group of courtiers who were loyal to Henrietta conspired to ruin Louise’s reputation once and for all. The three ladies, hatched a plot to covertly tell Louis XIV’s wife, Maria Theresa of Spain, about her husband’s infidelities with Louise.
22. She Fled To The "Love Nest"
In an attempt to shield Louise from court gossip, Louis XIV had to do something—or his wife might just remove Louise from the equation permanently. Louis XIV decided the best thing to do was to stow Louise away at a castle in Versailles. It was a kind of "love nest" that the two could escape to. And for a time, it worked like a charm.
23. She Had A Baby Boy
In 1663, when Louise was still living at the "love nest" in Versailles, she and Louis XIV crossed a line from which there could be no return. Louise had given birth to a son, Charles de La Baume Le Blanc. Seeing as though she was not, herself, married, the couple had to make the kid disappear. Small as a newborn baby is, however, the scandal was too big to cover up.
24. She Gave Away Her Heart
Even though their child was a scandal waiting to happen, Louise and Louis XIV loved their new baby Charles. But he had to go. So, they gave him away to two servants of a loyal and faithful statesman they could trust to keep his mouth shut. But clearly, someone had been running their mouth...because the people of Paris began talking about Louis XIV’s illegitimate son.
25. She Was On Santa’s Naughty List
Louise had escaped the wrath of Louis XIV’s wife, Maria Theresa of Spain, but she hadn’t escaped the wrath of the people of Paris. Public scorn and condemnation of Louise reached a fever pitch on Christmas Eve in 1663 after she had given away her son. In fact, it got so hairy that during midnight mass, Louise had to flee from church for her own safety.
26. She Was The Guest Of Dishonor
Thinking that the threat to her life had cooled down, Louis XIV wanted to throw Louise a lavish party at their love nest in Versailles in 1664. He called it The Pleasures of the Enchanted Island...but he wasn’t fooling anyone. Everyone at the extravagant party, including Louis XIV’s mother and jealous wife, knew that Louise was the real guest of honor. Or dishonor, depending on how you look at it.
27. She Had A Green Thumb
After the party in Versailles, the cat was out of the bag. Louise and Louis XIV stopped trying to hide their love for each other. In fact, they started flaunting their affair. Louis XIV gifted Louise an entire little town of her own where she built a castle with gardens designed by the royal gardener. It’s not exactly a wedding present, but it’ll do.
28. She Had A Change Of Heart
In 1666, everything changed for Louise. The modest and demurring girl came to her senses and became overwhelmed with shame and regret. Furthermore, Louise began to resent Louis XIV’s extravagant gifts. She wanted only his love—and forgiveness for her transgressions against Maria Theresa.
29. She Was Humbled
Louise returned to court in 1666 with her tail between her legs. She had never wanted to cause harm to anyone but her love for Louis XIV had turned the palace upside down and inside out. To show her humility, Louise swallowed her pride and attended mass at the Maria Theresa’s side. But what goes around, always comes around.
30. She Met Her Match
If Louise’s humble change of heart was her way of saying that she was moving on then, Louis XIV had a less subtle way of saying the same. Not long after her return to court, another woman made her return to Paris. Françoise-Athénaïs, Marquise de Montespan, who others described as a "triumphant beauty" showed up. Louise was out-classed and overshadowed—and the consequences were devastating.
31. She Got Royally Dumped
Infatuated with this new marquise de Montespan, Louis XIV wanted to break things off with Louise. His last action before heading off to the battlefield in Flanders was to legitimize his only surviving child with Louise and give her a lofty title that empowered her at court. According to Louis XIV, the gifts "matched the affection he had for her for six years".
But though the king seemed through with their affair, Louise wasn't quite done with him yet.
32. She Had Something Cooking
Even though she felt shame for her previous actions and even though Louis XIV had moved on to the marquise de Montespan, Louise still loved him. She was also pregnant with their fifth child and she couldn’t just let Louis XIV go. Either out of jealousy for the Marquise de Montespan or love for Louis XIV, Louise made one final push for the love of her life.
33. She Entered The Battlefield Of Love
Louise took the expression "love is a battlefield" a little too seriously. Desperate to regain Louis XIV’s affections, Louise fled the court in Paris and traveled to the battlefield in Flanders. She threw herself at Louis XIV’s feet and begged to have him back, sobbing uncontrollably. She made quite the scene. But the plan backfired…spectacularly.
34. She Lost The Battle
Louis XIV was furious with Louise. Not only had she made a fool of herself but she had put their unborn child at risk, entering the battlefield as a pregnant woman. He ordered her to return to court in Paris. But if Louise had known what awaited her in Paris, she would have walked into cannon fire without a second thought.
35. She Was Right Back Where She Started
In a cruel twist of fate, Louis XIV had instructed Louise to take up residence in Madame de Montespan’s apartments upon her return to Paris. Apparently, the king wanted to use Louise to cover up his affair with Madame de Montespan the same way he had used her to cover up his affair with Henrietta. And there was more insult to the injury.
36. She Felt Utterly Humiliated
Word of her "loss" on the battlefield in Flanders reached Paris before Louise did. The same sniggering courtiers who had conspired to ruin her love with Louis XIV openly mocked her. Chief among the noble ne’er-do-wells was the Marquise de Montespan herself. But if it was absolution she wanted, Louise would have to endure far worse humiliation.
37. She Was On Diaper Duty
While Louise and the Madame de Montespan were living together, they were very far from friendly. Madame de Montespan had no problem demanding that Louise take care of her "toilette" and accompany her on her "trips" to see the King. Louise only obliged because she hoped that Louis XIV would rekindle his love for her. But this was a recipe for heartbreak.
38. She Kept Hoping
Louise kept holding out hope that Louis XIV would return to her—but it wasn’t to be. In fact, Louis XIV would make lovestruck fools out of Louise and Madame de Montespan when he moved on to yet another affair. Worst of all, he used Louise and Madame de Montespan to cover up his latest affair by having them all ride in a carriage together.
Unfortunately, Louise reached a whole new level of desperation.
39. She Wrote A Love Song
Heartbroken, Louise wrote a sonnet to the King to express her unwavering love for him. The lyrics are depressing enough to make even the saddest blues song sound like a fairy tale. "All is destroyed, everything passes, and the most tender heart/Can not of the same object be satisfied always". Apparently, she also looked as sad as she sounded.
40. She Didn’t Look Very Good
Louise had dealt with a lot of humiliation in her life but living with two of her lover’s new flings was too much for her. She lost a frightening amount of weight and became "haggard" looking after the torturous lack of affection shown to her by Louis XIV. Some believed that she had had a miscarriage but Louis XIV never returned to her bed—he had his hands, read: pants, full.
41. She Met The Grim Reaper
Whatever the cause of Louise’s deteriorating health—either a broken heart or a miscarriage—she had a close brush with the Dark Angel. In her weakened state, Louise dived deeper into her religion and vowed to lead an exemplary life at court. But she still couldn’t deny her heart and wrote that she loved Louis XIV "more than myself".
42. She Wanted Out Of Court Life
Even though she was willing to endure her continuing humiliations at court, a group of religious leaders, including Bossuet, had other plans for Louise. With support from the King’s household—though without the King’s knowledge—they convinced Louise to flee court once again. This time, she decided to join the Carmelite convent—the strictest convent in Paris.
43. Her Enemies Wanted Her To Stay
Louis XIV, once again, thwarted Louise’s attempt to flee. He compelled her to stay at court to continue to act as a decoy. Even Madame de Montespan tried to convince Louise to stay by telling her about all of the horrible things she would have to endure as a nun in the Carmelite convent. But there was no changing Louise’s mind.
44. She Couldn’t Suffer Any More Than She Had
When Madame de Montespan told Louise about how hard her life as a nun in the Carmelite order would be, Louise brushed it off. Her comeback was brutal. She said, "When I shall be suffering at the convent, I shall only have to remember what they made me suffer here, and all the pain shall seem light to me". But there was still more suffering in Louise’s future.
45. She Begged For Forgiveness
It took her three long years but Louise finally convinced Louis XIV to let her go. In 1674, her former lover finally gave her permission to join the convent. But Louise wanted to clear her conscience. Before she left court, she threw herself at Maria Theresa’s feet and begged for forgiveness, saying, "My crimes were public, my repentance must be public, too".
46. She Got In The Habit Of Holiness
Louise took her vows as a nun in the strict Carmelite order and even received her veil from Maria Theresa, the Queen she had betrayed. Just like that, she was no longer Louise de la Vallière but rather Sister Louise of Mercy. But that wasn't all. She also transferred all of her earthly possessions—which, as royal mistress, had become considerable—to her daughter.
47. Her Son Was Scandalous
If Louise had thought that a pious life would save her from scandal then she was sorely mistaken. In his teenage years, her youngest child, Louis de Bourbon, became embroiled in a scandal of his own. Under the influence of his lecherous uncle, Louis de Bourbon joined a secret society of pederasts. From her convent, there was nothing Louise could do but pray.
48. She Regretted Her Son’s Birth
Louise wouldn’t have to suffer the scandal surrounding her son for long. Louis XIV exiled their son to Flanders where he fell ill and perished on the battlefield. Upon hearing the news, Louis XIV didn’t shed a single tear. Louise’s reaction was even more callous. All she said was, "I ought to weep for his birth far more than [for] his death".
49. Her Enemies Begged Her Forgiveness
Many of the same courtiers who had plotted and schemed to ruin Louise visited her at the convent regularly. Maria Theresa had a habit of stopping by and asking for religious guidance. Eventually, even Madame de Montespan visited Louise at the convent seeking Louise’s forgiveness and guidance on how to lead a pious life.
50. She Was Still Broken-Hearted
For his part in the ruinous romance, Louis XIV never sought Louise’s forgiveness. Nevertheless, Louise had left her impression at court. A royal memoirist later wrote that of all Louis XIV’s affairs, his affair with Louise was "by far the most interesting, the only one really interesting in itself". Louise passed at 65 with "marks of great holiness" and a still-broken heart.