Sordid Facts About Marie Anne de Mailly-Nesle, The Manipulative Mistress

Melissa Gervais

The notorious de Mailly-Nesle sisters were known for their scandalous affairs with the King of France, but none as much as their youngest sibling, Marie Anne. Both ambitious and cunning, Marie Anne rocked the realm with her manipulations and fierce competitiveness. But making too many enemies may well have led to her demise…


1. She Was Born With A Silver Spoon

Born on October 5, 1717, Marie Anne de Mailly-Nesle entered the world as the youngest of five daughters in an uber privileged, noble family. Her father, Louis de Mailly, held the esteemed titles of Marquis de Nesle et de Mailly and the Prince d’Orange, and her mother, Armande Félice de La Porte Mazarin, was a courtier who served the French queen as a lady-in-waiting.

Straight from birth, it definitely seems like this kid had it made. But looking deeper, her family life was far from picture-perfect.

2. She Had Sinful Role Models

To better understand Marie Anne’s life trajectory, it’s important to take note of her role models…Unfortunately, her parents—her scandalous, adulterous parents—didn’t exactly exhibit good morals. For one, her philandering father was more of a self-involved man than he was a family man, who often “wasted his substance on actresses and the capacious requirements of Court life.”

And as for Marie Anne’s mother…

3. She Got It From Her Mama

Let’s just say that Marie Anne’s mother was well-linked to the debaucheries of the Regency period, too. In fact, when Marie Anne was 11 months old, Armande Félice jealously challenged another woman to a duel after learning they both shared the same extramarital lover. Spicy. Marie Anne surely inherited her mother’s feistiness and combative nature, and down the road, it led her straight to the top.

4. She Was Next In Line

Marie Anne wasn’t the first de Mailly-Nesle sister to turn the head of the King. But even though her sister Louise Julie wooed him first, it still took her some time—years, actually—before she even so much as kissed him. Still, her flattery and adoration eventually paid off, and in 1738, the King made Marie Anne’s sister his official mistress, or his maîtresse en titre.

Little did anyone know, Louise Julie’s new position would soon spark a vicious competition for the King’s affection amongst the de Mailly-Nesle sisters, or most notably, with Marie Anne.

5. She Married Young

While her sister was busy entertaining King Louis XV, Marie Anne was preoccupied with her own husband, Jean Baptiste Louis, who she’d married when she was only 16. At this time, the idea that she’d one day become one of the King’s favorite mistresses wasn’t even a thought. Instead, she stood on the sidelines and watched in horror as the royal court tore her sisters apart.

By observing her sisters, Marie Anne learned that the life of a mistress was a dangerous game.

6. She Endured A Heartbreaking Loss

In 1741, a terrible tragedy changed Marie Anne’s life forever. By this time, one sister had usurped the other, and now, her other sibling Pauline-Félicité reigned as mistress supreme…but not for long. She passed giving birth to the King’s illegitimate son, and then, to add insult to injury, a mob viciously mutilated her body. They called her “the king’s whore.”

Now, if anything, this might seem like one big red flag—a flashing warning sign saying, “Don’t Become A Royal Mistress.” But of course, Pauline-Félicité’s gruesome end wasn’t enough to discourage Marie Anne. Nope. Not one bit.

7. She Seized Her Chance

Perhaps more than anything, Marie Anne saw her sister’s death as a golden opportunity to climb the social ladder; the youngest de Mailly-Nesle sister’s time had finally come. Newly widowed herself, Marie Anne immediately set out to establish a position for herself at court. She knew she could rely on her kindhearted older sister to set her up, and sure enough, Louise Julie welcomed her with open arms.

If only Louise Julie knew that Marie Anne would be her downfall…

8. She Was A Total Stunner

At court, Marie Anne became an instant hit. Described as “magnificently beautiful,” with blue eyes and blonde hair, the enterprising and sharp-witted younger de Mailly-Nesle sister was the living antithesis of her eldest sister’s darker features and amiable, contented personality. She dazzled the courtiers around her, and a certain group of nobles quickly took notice of her charms.

9. She Was Their Golden Ticket

Although Cardinal Fleury favored Louise Julie as the King’s mistress, many of the nobility did not. Fleury’s political policies were much too pacifistic for their liking, and they wanted to find someone who could encourage Louis XV to seek pride and glory through the battlefield. Louise Julie was too unassertive for such as task. Marie Anne, on the other hand, was just the ticket.

10. She Was A Pawn

The thought of Marie Anne supplanting her sister became an exciting prospect for the nobles, especially to the King’s close friends. They knew that Louise Julie feared Cardinal Fleury and would never speak against him, but Marie Anne’s timely arrival at court delightfully presented them with a “flurry” of possibilities. All they needed was the right timing.

11. She Rejected The King

So, at a masked ball in 1742, Richelieu introduced Marie Anne to the king, hoping they’d hit it off. But there was just one problem. Marie Anne had already lost her heart to someone else and had no interest in becoming the King’s mistress. Instead, her prince charming was the duc d’Agénois. When she came face-to-face with the King, she pulled a jaw-droppingly bold move—and gave him the cold shoulder.

12. She Loved Someone Else

Marie Anne’s rejection left the nobles with a massive debacle: Rather than pleasing the king with a prospective new sweetie, Marie Anne’s unexpected fidelity to her beau instead presented her as an unintended taunt to the king. And of course, it sent Louis XV into an absolute tizzy. The scheming courtiers would have to do something to fix this. And fast.

13. She Needed To Lose Him

To solve the problem, a nefarious plot emerged to rid Marie Anne of her lover. It turned out that Richelieu was actually d’Agénois’s uncle, so Richelieu colluded with Louis XV to send his nephew away to Italy to fight against the Austrians. A solid plan in theory, but in reality, the plan didn’t work at all: d’Agénois got wounded in battle, and he ended up returning to France as a hero.

Time for Plan B…

14. She Was Everything He Wanted

Turns out, you always want what you can’t have. As the King grew increasingly despondent over Marie Anne, Richelieu became more determined than ever to destroy her relationship with his nephew. So, Richelieu devised a new strategy and put it into action: He dispatched d’Agénois to Languedoc, where he arranged for a woman to seduce his nephew.

It was a low and underhanded move, but this time, his plan worked.

15. She Fell Into Their Trap

During their not-so-secret tryst, d’Agénois and the woman wrote passionate love letters to each other. The woman then sent the letters to Richelieu, who in turn forwarded them to the now-livid Marie Anne. Hurt and betrayed, Marie Anne finally turned away from d’Agénois and began to accept the King’s affections. But you know what they say about a woman scorned…

16. She Caught The Eye Of The Queen

With Marie Anne now openly seeking to replace Louise Julie as the King’s official mistress, her sister’s standing at court fell into jeopardy. To make matters worse, it turned out that the Queen was still holding a grudge against Louise Julie for sleeping with the King in the first place…and she was looking to settle the score.

So, of course, when the Queen discovered a way to use Marie Anne to humiliate the King’s current maîtresse en titre, she jumped at the chance.

17. She Was The Better Sister

Marie Anne’s grandmother, Françoise de Mazarin, absolutely despised Louise Julie. As a close friend of the queen, she offered up some poisonous advice: She pointed out that Louise Julie was only at court because of her status as the Queen’s lady-in-waiting. Together, they plotted to have Marie Anne take the place of her sister.

There happened to be a vacancy among the queen’s ladies-in-waiting, so as a slap-in-the-face to Louise Julie, the Queen solidified Marie Anne’s position at court by appointing her to the role. It was a decision she’d greatly come to regret.

18. She Set To Scheming

Cold, calculated, and cunning, Marie Anne was on the rise. With the love of the King and the surprising support of the Queen, she suddenly found herself on near-equal footing with Louise Julie. Now, she just needed to find a way to bring her down. And knowing her innocent, trusting sister as well as she did, Louise Julie’s fall turned out to be remarkably easy for Marie Anne to orchestrate.

19. She Lied Through Her Teeth

All she had to do was lie. Unbelievably, Marie Anne convinced Louise Julie to give up her position as one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting to their other sister, Hortense Félicité. She insisted it was because the king wished to favor all of the de Mailly-Nesle sisters for the love of his favorite mistress…and for whatever reason, Louise Julie believed her. Oye.

Sure enough, Marie Anne’s sister agreed to step back on the condition that the King and Queen reward her with a higher post in the future. Riiight.

20. She Came Out On Top

Needless to say, when Louise Julie wrote to Cardinal Fleury to inform him of her resignation, it really threw him for a loop. How could she possibly trust Marie Anne? One can just picture him furiously banging his head against the wall while explaining to Louise Julie what her discharge would really mean—she’d lose her place at court.

But it was futile: Louise Julie still had faith in her sister, and she refused to withdraw her resignation. Marie Anne was about to win.

21. Her Wishes Came True

Once the higher-ups accepted Louise Julie’s ill-advised resignation, an undoubtedly smug Marie Anne accompanied her older sisters to offer their gratitude to the King and Queen for their new positions. But whether it was because the Queen finally understood the full gravity of what just happened—or because Marie Anne stood grinning like a Cheshire cat—something tipped off the Queen that things were amiss.

She quickly tried to retract her approval of the sisters’ new appointments, but it was too late.

22. She Ruined Her Sister

Marie Anne’s fib had done the trick, and as predicted, her sister never received a higher position. Instead, Marie Anne took everything from Louise Julie: the King, the court, her job, and her good standing. When the King began openly flirting with Marie Anne, the other courtiers all but abandoned her sister and clamored to show their support for the next maîtresse en titre. And once again, the court forsook the Queen.

But Marie Anne hadn’t finished puppeteering yet.

23. She Had Standards

Given the lengths that Marie Anne went to destroy her sister and usurp her position, it might shock you to learn that Marie Anne didn’t do any of it because she was, you know, in love with the King. Nope, she just wanted to reap the benefits. As such, if the King wanted to sleep with her, he’d have to complete a list of conditions to prove his love for her first.

Boldy, at least as far as the early, early stages of dating go, Marie Anne’s list was nigh as outrageous as the Twelve Labors of Hercules…

24. She Wanted His Power

Marie Anne’s list of demands was long, ranging from reasonable to extortionary. If the King truly wanted to bed her, he’d first have to provide her with the following: the immediate expulsion of her sister from the court; the official title of maîtresse en titre; the legitimatization of all their future children; the title of duchess; an extravagant income, and a giant, luxurious house for entertaining.

Also, of course, she wanted to have a long and proper courtship before they officially got together. Naturally, her demands caught the attention of the court.

25. She Became A Mockery

To the great amusement of his courtiers, the King didn’t know which way to jump because (gasp) a woman had never asserted herself to him before. Regardless, Marie Anne made it crystal clear that she wouldn’t be giving the milk away for free. Before long, a tongue-in-cheek song about their relationship (or lack thereof) spread around the kingdom, bemoaning their poor, “lovesick” King’s pursuit of his coldhearted, not-yet mistress.

Still, the gibes didn’t deter her.

26. She Shut Out The King

When the King didn’t readily comply with Marie Anne’s demands, like a sulking child, she took to punishing him with a generous dose of passive aggression. She reeled back her affection and began ignoring all of his letters. It was petty but effective: The King grew desperate for her, and he eventually caved and acceded to her entire list—beginning with the eviction of her sister.

27. She Lost Her Patience

By this time, the King had put Louise Julie through the wringer. Rather cruelly, he’d go from utterly ignoring her to only speaking to her about wooing Marie Anne. In any case, he frequently made the eldest de Mailly-Nesle sister cry. He didn’t appear to care about his former mistress at all, but for some reason, he had a heck of a time confronting her about leaving.

Every single time the King asked Louise Julie to go, she would cry, and he’d end up promising to give her more time. But as the days passed, Marie Anne began to lose her patience.

28. She Watched In Disbelief

Not knowing how to handle the situation with Louise Julie, the King took a more avoidant approach: He removed the furniture from her rooms and told her it was because he needed the space for her sister, Hortense Félicité. But once again, Louise Julie started sobbing, and the King allowed her more time to stay…Marie Anne began to see red.

29. She Needed A Mediator

If the King truly loved Marie Anne, then why couldn’t he let her sister go? The situation became so tense that Richelieu had no choice but to intervene on Marie Anne’s behalf. He convinced Louise Julie to go for the sake of her dignity, then promised the King that Marie Anne, who was still giving him the cold shoulder, would agree to meet with him if he got rid of her sister.

Both parties agreed, and everything seemed to be going Marie Anne’s way. Until Louise Julie backtracked AGAIN…

30. She Exiled Her To A Convent

To Marie Anne’s dismay, Louise Julie wasn’t budging. Instead, her sister requested a final meal with the King, where she continued to uncontrollably sob until he agreed to meet with her in a few days, provided that she JUST LEAVE. Forget seeing red now: Marie Anne’s vision went black when she learned of the King’s promise.

She forced the King to break his pledge, and Louise Julie, whether by her own will or by her sister’s, wound up in a convent.

31. She Made A Spectacle of Herself

At last, with Louise Julie gone, Marie Anne finally had everything she wanted. But now, it was Marie Anne who reneged on her word. Despite her assurances to sleep with the King if he satisfied all of her conditions, which he did, she still turned him down. Why? Who knows. But she managed to keep him at bay for over a month, and even “ostentatiously showed herself at the opera,” preening for the public.

After that, she moved into her sister’s old rooms and established herself as the King’s official royal mistress. But that wasn’t all.

32. She Scored A Fortune

Marie Anne was on cloud nine. Certain that she’d soon be a duchess, she decided to wield her power for personal gain, setting her sister Diane Adélaïde up with a favorable marriage to the Duke of Lauraguais. But the real cherry on top was when Marie Anne finally became the duchesse de Chateauroux. Not only did she win status, but she also scored a fortune.

From now on, Marie Anne would enjoy an annual income of a whopping 80,000 livres. With the King delivering on his promises, it was time for Marie Anne to show some skin.

33. She Obsessed The King

Now that Marie Anne was fully his, the King began to near-worship her. He begged to attend dinners in her room, he cut his meetings short to be with her, and he even insisted on watching her bathe. All he wanted was a place at her court. The King was a man obsessed, but as enchanting as she was, she still had a mean streak.

34. She Was A Mean Girl

Apparently, Marie Anne and her sisters liked to assign nicknames to members of the King’s court. Although they jokingly referred to themselves as “the princess” (Marie Anne), “the hen” (Hortense Félicité), and “the Street of Evil Words” (Diane Adélaïde), some of the King’s other courtiers weren’t so fortunate in their allotted monikers.

Indeed, the sisters often referred to some of the other nobles as “the sucking cat,” “the sucking pig,” and “the spinning cat,” amongst other things. But as mean-spirited as Marie Anne could be, she was also quite intelligent.

35. She Was A Master Manipulator

Marie Anne was a masterful manipulator who realized that by pretending to share the King’s preferences, she could give off the impression that they shared similar values and beliefs. Furthermore, she also managed to convince him that, like her sister before her, she had zero interest in politics whatsoever…But nothing could be further from the truth.

36. She Guided The King’s Hand

Remember: Richelieu chose Marie Anne specifically because he thought that she could influence, and hopefully turnabout, Louis XV’s peacekeeping policies. Sure enough, thanks to her façade of disinterest, the King confided in her often. More than that, he’d beg for her opinion on matters of State without concern that she might try to control him in some way. Whew, boy, was he ever wrong.

37. She Became A Pseudo Ruler

Before long, Marie Anne was able to sway the King’s decisions without him even noticing. As a result, Marie Anne’s star grew even brighter when Cardinal Fleury passed in 1743. With fewer advisors left to counsel the King, Marie Anne automatically became one of his chief advisors, albeit unofficially. The King didn’t even realize it, but with the cardinal gone, his mistress was now the de facto ruler of France.

And thanks to her influence, a national conflict would soon be on the horizon…

38. She Cost The King The People’s Respect

Certainly, some people were aware of Marie Anne’s power over the King, and those who objected openly voiced their displeasure. Jean-Frédéric Phélypeaux, the Count of Maurepas, and his followers circulated a series of snarky rhymes about the couple’s power dynamic to try to undermine Marie Anne’s grip over the gullible monarch.

Unfortunately, all the rhymes did was kick off a trend in which people lost respect for Louis XV and his court. But then, the detractions started to get to her.

39. She Grew Paranoid

Marie Anne began to suspect her sister, Hortense Félicité, of plotting to depose her as the king’s mistress. Furthermore, as with Louise Julie, Marie Anne suspected that the Queen planned to help her do it. You see, the Queen loathed Marie Anne; she considered the maîtresse en titre to be pompous and arrogant. However, Marie Anne’s fears turned out to be unfounded, as her sister had no designs to replace her.

Which was fortunate because Marie Anne had other fish to fry.

40. She Wanted To Be A Heroine

Secure in the knowledge that no one was attempting to supplant her, Marie Anne returned her attention to the job that Richelieu assigned her: Persuade the King to join the hostilities surrounding the Austrian Succession. The task piqued her arrogance; she longed to become a national heroine. But, as much as the King respected her, she really struggled to convince him.

41. She Drove Him Up The Wall

Typically, Marie Anne was used to influencing Louis XV’s judgments through subtlety, but at some point, that strategy must have gone out the window because he reportedly lost it on her and yelled “You are killing me.” Good ole Marie Anne drove the King absolutely bonkers, and yet, she still persisted. She insisted that the grandeur of a triumph would reclaim his people’s loyalty and bring his opponents to their knees, and eventually the King finally began to hear the call of battle…

42. She Convinced The King

Marie Anne did it. At long last, in 1744, she successfully rallied the King to lead his forces to the front in the Austrian Netherlands. Even more amazingly, it was Marie Anne who supposedly persuaded Louis XV to ally with Frederick II of Prussia, a move for which the Prussian monarch personally thanked her. Perhaps Marie Anne would become a national heroine after all…or…maybe not.

43. She Caused A National Scandal

Having sent the King to battle, Marie Anne and her sister, Diane Adélaïde, decided to show their support by paying him a visit near the front in Metz…And it was a decision that would later shatter Marie Anne’s entire reputation. While there, a rumor spread that Marie Anne occasionally liked to pique the King’s “interest” by offering a ménage à trois with her sister. As such, their visit together ended up causing a national scandal.

Then, to make matters even worse, the King fell gravely ill…

44. She Lost The King’s Love

Louis XV was so unwell that he worried he would soon perish. Unexpectedly faced with his own mortality, the King experienced a spiritual crisis and decided to apologize to his wife for his infidelity. Unfortunately, this also meant saying goodbye to Marie Anne. The King summoned the Queen to Metz and forced Marie Anne and her sister to leave.

Marie Anne was undoubtedly peeved, but even so, her troubles were just beginning. Her journey home was fraught with peril.

45. She Had The Mob At Her Back

It was a hard trip back for the two de Mailly-Nesle sisters. It’s difficult to point to a cause, whether it had to do with the rumors of their threesome in Metz or because Marie Anne was just generally loathed by the people, but as they traveled back to Paris, mobs formed and followed the sisters wherever they went. In addition to threatening them with lynching, the rabbles also pelted their coach with stones.

Their prospects looked bleak. But then, a miracle occurred.

46. She Met Him In Secret

Despite the severity of his illness, the King unexpectedly recovered. With his whole life stretching out ahead of him, he quickly regretted sending Marie Anne away, and when he returned to Paris, he reunited with her in secret. Shortly after that, Marie Anne regained her dominance when the monarch rehired her as his maîtresse en titre. Once again, all was right in her world.

47. Her Enemies Feared Her Wrath

Although her supporters heralded Marie Anne’s return to court as a giant victory, there were definitely those who were wary of her unexpected comeback. They were all too aware that Marie Anne had a vengeful streak, and her opponents were terrified that she might try to seek retribution on her foes. However, no one could be certain of her actual intentions because she didn’t remain at court for very long.

48. She Had A Horrifying Revelation

Marie Anne’s return to greatness was tragically short-lived. Soon after she returned to court, she began experiencing convulsive aches and cramps. The violently ill Marie Anne retired to her bed-chamber in the hopes of a rapid recovery, but something was seriously wrong. As she lay in bed, writhing in pain, she had a revelation so horrifying—it’s impossible to forget.

49. She Suspected Foul Play

Even in distress, Marie Anne made a vicious claim. She believed that she’d been poisoned. This was surely foul play. Unfortunately, no amount of accusations could save this cunning mistress from her inevitable end, and on December 8, 1744, she passed. Five days later, Marie Anne’s body was laid to rest without ceremony in the Parisian Church of Saint-Sulpice.

Unfortunately, even in death, the King still managed to insult her.

50. She Was Just Another Mistress

The playboy King wasted to no time in moving on. He made it clear that Marie Anne was just another drop in the ocean. After all, a mistress was always replaceable. And more than that? He didn’t have to look far. His next conquest was none other than Diane Adélaïde, Marie Anne’s sister, and then, a few months later, he found a brand new mistress—the infamous Madame de Pompadour.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4


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