King Louis XIV’s court was full of luxury and intrigue, but the so-called “Sun King” had nothing on his brother Philippe. As the younger son of the French royal family, Philippe had none of the burden and all of the fun—and he took full advantage of this privilege. From his illicit romances to his disastrous marriages, Philippe broke hearts and budgets his entire life, and he did it all the way to his sudden end.
1. He Was A Spoiled Child
From the moment he was born in 1640, Philippe’s life seemed perfect. The second son of Queen Anne of Austria and King Louis XIII, the infant was a Fils de France as soon as he drew his first breath, and both his mother and father were happy to add a spare heir after their eldest son Louis, the Dauphin. Still, despite these cushy appearances, all was not well in the French Royal Family.
2. He Was A Danger To The Crown
Even when he was a bouncing baby boy, Philippe represented an immense threat to the crown. The royal family was terrified that Philippe and his brother Louis would grow up and start a civil war with each other over who really had a claim to the throne, tearing apart their country in the process. In response, Philippe’s mother made a ruthless decision.
3. His Parents Played Favorites
As Philippe grew up, his parents made it clear who the number one son was—Louis. While the elder boy got an education in a full complement of school subjects, Queen Anne carefully controlled Philippe’s activities, making sure he didn’t spend too much time sword fighting, and instead, trained him in more refined arts like dancing.
As if that wasn’t enough, she also kept him completely financially dependent on her. And that was just the beginning.
4. His Mother Wanted Him To Be A Girl
Although Queen Anne chose to diminish Philippe’s power for the sake of her other son, she still doted on Philippe. It’s just that she did it in a very strange way. In another bid to smooth over brotherly battles, Anne loved to feminize Philippe, calling him “my little girl” and even urging him to dress up in frilly, feminine clothing as a child.
Yes, this would have certain consequences when Philippe grew up—but first, it backfired big time.
5. His Brother Became King
In 1643, Philippe’s father passed, and his brother became King Louis XIV when he was just four years old. On the surface, it was a windfall for Queen Anne and the crown in general, who now didn’t have to worry as much about little Philippe wrangling his brother’s power away in his chubby little fists. Only, there was just one thing that Queen Anne had forgotten.
6. He Had A Morbid Chance At Power
Philippe’s brother Louis XIV might have been the “Sun King” of France, but he was still very much mortal, and in the summer of 1658 he fell extremely ill with what was likely typhoid. As the boy king lay on his deathbed, everybody started to regret teaching Prince Philippe only how to dance and dress and not, you know, basic statecraft. And then, strange things started happening.
7. He Was Almost King Of France
With Louis on the brink, Philippe got his first taste of something he’d never forget. He became the total center of attention. Everybody kept him clear away from Louis’ bedchamber, fearing he could catch the sickness, and his mother Queen Anne started really laying it on thick, showering him with affection the likes of which he hadn’t known since then.
Except as soon as this glory came, fate ripped it away from Philippe.
8. His Mother Ignored Him
As it happened, Louis made a miraculous recovery that no one expected…and that Philippe probably didn’t welcome. Because as Louis got stronger every day, Philippe slid back down the rungs. Soon enough, he was subsisting once more on mere scraps of affection and importance, even though he had now tasted the abundant fruits of Louis’ royal life. Maybe that’s why he decided to pursue attention through much different avenues.
9. He Was An Attention Hog
Quite simply, Philippe was a show-off at court—but the way he flaunted himself was eyebrow-raising for the time. Following his girly upbringing, the adolescent Philippe started to dress his muscular body in all manner of female clothing for balls, famously attending one party dressed as a fashionably ruddy shepherdess. Oh, but Philippe was just getting started.
10. He Loved Men
Philippe didn’t limit his new fabulous sense of self to his sartorial pursuits. His bedroom life was heating up, too. It was an acknowledged fact even during Philippe’s time that he had a special taste for beautiful young men, although he also occasionally took mistresses when it suited him. Perhaps most surprisingly, his family was extremely tolerant of his homosexual desires…but not for the right reasons.
11. His Sexuality Was An Open Secret
Although Philippe was pulling men left, right, and center at the balls he attended, his mother in particular looked on with a smug smirk on her face. Why? In the conventional views of the day, a queer, effeminate man could never be much threat to the masculine power of the French monarchy. Thus, Philippe’s bedroom preferences further neutralized his claims to the throne. Or, you know, so they thought.
12. He Had An Affair With A Duke
For many people, our first love is a formative person in our lives—but this went double for Philippe. His first love was downright scandalous. In 1658, the same year that Louis nearly perished and Philippe nearly became king, the prince reportedly dove headfirst into an affair with Philippe Jules Mancini, the Duke of Nevers. But here’s where the real scandal comes in…
13. He Fell Into A Honey Trap
See, Mancini was none other than the nephew of the extremely powerful Cardinal Mazarin, the most influential advisor in France and a close friend of Queen Anne. More than that, rumor had it that the Cardinal had actually instructed his strapping nephew to seduce and “de-flower” Philippe, since he too wanted Philippe to remain distracted and placid.
Whatever the truth, people certainly believed that Mancini was the “first to [have] corrupted” Philippe with the so-called “Italian Vice,” the word at the time for male homosexuality. Still, Philippe was a quick learner.
14. He Loved Bad Boys
Shortly after his introductory romps in the bedroom with Mancini, the prince moved on to one of the most infamous men in history: Philippe de Lorraine, also known as the Chevalier de Lorraine. Dashing and cunning, the chevalier was notorious around court for being “insinuating, brutal and devoid of scruple.” Unfortunately for our Philippe, these three qualities were like kryptonite—and they would ruin him.
15. He Was Head Over Heels With The Wrong Guy
None of Philippe’s shoddy education had taught him how to deal with the throes of passion that came after he met the Chevalier de Lorraine, and he handled it in the worst way possible. Philippe fell head over heels with the man, constantly promoting the rake and keeping him near at all times, even as onlookers believed the greedy Lorraine had “hooked [him] like a harpooned whale.”
But if the court pitied Philippe with Lorraine, the prince would soon scandalize them.
16. He Had Bad Taste In Men
During this time, Philippe also had a huge crush on the bisexual and beautiful Armand de Gramont, the Comte de Guiche, and quickly started an affair with him too. Although the Comte was “vain, overbearing, and somewhat contemptuous,” people also considered de Guiche quite literally the best-looking man at court, so they easily forgave these enormous red flags.
Besides, red flags were like love letters to Philippe—and as we’ll see, there would be a whole lot more when it came to the Comte.
17. His Mother Forced Him To Marry
Despite his bedroom tastes, Philippe was still a Fils de France, and his mother Queen Anne fully expected him to make an heir for the royal line—which meant sooner or later, he would have to marry a woman. So after King Louis XIV married his own wife Maria Theresa of Spain, Queen Anne began scouring the continent for the girl who was willing to try to make Philippe happy. This…didn’t go so well.
18. He Wanted To Wed His Own Cousin
Philippe might have been a big catch for 17th-century France, but he still had very bad luck in the dating game. His mother’s first choice was his elder cousin the Duchess of Montpensier, an heiress of eye-popping wealth who courtiers nicknamed Mademoiselle. But when Queen Anne started taking the Duchess’s temperature about the union, the bachelorette dealt Philippe a cruel rejection.
19. His Lover Scorned Him
The Duchess of Montpensier had been around the block a time or two—she had actually previously declined a proposal from King Charles II of England—and her riches had made her canny. She took one look at Philippe and was certain they could never be happy together. In particular, she scorned the fact that Philippe still clung to his mother’s advice and apron strings “like a child.” That must have stung…but, well, the lady really did dodge a bullet.
20. He Was Sloppy Seconds
With one bachelorette down, Philippe and Queen Anne went with Plan B: His other cousin, Princess Henrietta of England. Now, in some ways, Henrietta and Philippe were a match made in heaven. Henrietta’s family had been in exile in France for the early years of her life, and she had grown up with Philippe and his brother. In other ways…they were awful together.
After all, not only was Henrietta Philippe’s second choice, he wasn’t that high in her books, either—her family had tried to get her married to Louis, first. But did this give either of them pause? Nope.
21. He Wanted A Trophy Wife
To be fair, Henrietta did have two other things to recommend her: Her great beauty and intense charisma. She earned the coquettish nickname “Minette” while staying in Paris, and her flirtatious and fun-loving personality had already made her one of the most popular girls at the French court. In short, even though Philippe usually swung the other way, he knew Henrietta would make one heck of a trophy wife. Enter: Bad, permanent decision making.
22. His Wife Was An Incorrigible Flirt
Misgivings and diametrically opposed sexualities aside, Philippe and Henrietta signed their marriage contract in March 1661. The scandals began almost immediately. The beautiful Henrietta had always been a flirt, and this didn’t slow down when she was a married woman. In fact, it seemed to only speed up. You’d think Philippe would ignore this and go back to playing with the Chevalier and the Comte…but Henrietta picked the exact wrong man to flirt with.
23. His Brother Betrayed Him
While at the gorgeous palace of Fontainebleau, Princess Henrietta got truly ambitious and reportedly started flirting with King Louis XIV himself. Philippe might not have cared for women in the bedroom, but he certainly cared when someone took attention away from him, especially when his brother was the person upstaging him.
He went wild with jealousy and the tantrum he threw was infamous.
24. He Was A Tattle-Tale
When word got around to Philippe that his wife and his brother were getting cozy with each other, he…went and complained to his mother, Queen Anne. Like a darn baby. No, this likely didn’t win him a shred of respect from anyone, least of all Princess Henrietta, but it did work. The dowager queen but the kibosh on whatever tête à tête was going on, and Philippe got to feel in control again. For, uh, a very brief period of time.
25. He Was In An Awkward Love Triangle
Just as soon as Philippe peeled his wife off of his brother, Henrietta dealt him another vicious blow. She very likely began a full-blown affair with the Comte de Guiche, who you might remember as one of Philippe’s lovers, but who was (like Philippe himself) happy to take attention anywhere he could get it. Yes, Philippe’s wife snatched up his boyfriend.
Philippe’s new marriage was officially a disaster, and it wasn’t getting any better.
26. The Court Thought He Was A Cuckold
In 1662, Henrietta was pregnant, and eventually gave birth to a healthy little girl the royal couple named Marie Louise. Yet this happy news also further spurred on the rumors of Henrietta’s infidelity, and some whispered that the true father of the child was King Louis XIV or else the Comte de Guiche. As it happened, though, these whispers were the least of Philippe’s problems.
27. His Wife Hated Their Child
The moment that Henrietta heard she had given birth to a girl, she turned sour. After all, she thought it was her duty to provide the brother of the King of France with a male heir. She was so scornful of her little girl, she even exclaimed that they should “throw her into the river!” and get rid of her. Philippe’s response to all of this was actually pretty surprising.
28. He Was A Girl Dad
Philippe had been raised in the same male-centric society as Henrietta, but he didn’t seem to mind having a daughter one whit. Indeed, whether simply to be contrary to his hated wife or from genuine emotion, he always claimed that Marie Louise was his favorite child. Backing him up, his mother Queen Anne also claimed the girl was her favorite granddaughter.
Still, Henrietta tried again—with disastrous results.
29. He Lost His Son In A Horrific Way
Two years later, Henrietta gave birth at last to a little boy who she named Philippe Charles. The boy looked healthy, and Henrietta could finally breathe easy about her and Philippe’s baby-making abilities. Then everything took a sudden turn for the worse. When the boy was only two years old, he experienced a fit of convulsions and passed. Henrietta was beside herself…but Philippe’s reaction was ice cold.
30. He Was Heartless
Philippe must have really meant it when he said that his daughter Marie Louise was his favorite, because he treated his baby son’s passing with an incredibly cavalier attitude. Indeed, he was less worried about his child’s soul or his wife’s mental health, and more worried about losing the allowance the boy had received from the king. Great parenting there, Philippe. As always, Henrietta lashed out at her husband.
31. He Made A Treasonous Discovery
In 1665, one of Philippe’s old ghosts came back to haunt him. Perhaps dissatisfied with her husband’s chilly heart, Henrietta warmed up her flirtation with the dashing Comte de Guiche once more, and people began to murmur that they were having many “private” interviews together in secluded places. This time, Philippe was older, wiser, and much crueler.
32. He Exiled A Confidant
In a fit of rage, Philippe complained to his mommie dearest again about his wife’s many indiscretions with his man, and successfully got the Comte de Guiche exiled from his brother’s court. De Guiche likely took it in stride—the playboy had, after all, been exiled several times for his intrigues—but Philippe probably still counted it as a victory.
Even so, Philippe was about to lose his greatest ally in these games.
33. He Mourned His Mother
Although Philippe was still running back to his mother and tattling every chance he got, the truth was that Queen Anne had not been well for some time, and had been declining in health from breast cancer. In 1666, the entire court went into mourning when the dowager succumbed to her illness at the age of 64, leaving Philippe devastated and casting about for comfort.
What he landed on raised a few eyebrows.
34. He Took Up A Bizarre Hobby
In 1667, after years of devoting himself to lavish costume balls, Philippe made an abrupt change of pace. He plunged himself into an active military career, participating in the War of Devolution with his countrymen. Even more surprisingly, he was actually extremely good at it. His laissez-faire attitude made him incredibly cool-headed in the line of fire, and many people praised his valor.
Except, this being Philippe, he had to go and muck that up, too.
35. He Battled Boredom
Hilariously enough, immediately after distinguishing himself in battle against everybody’s expectations, Philippe went right back to playing to type. After some dirty weeks in the field, Philippe got bored of the soldiering life and decided he needed to inject some fun into the proceedings. Accordingly, the war hero spent a day decorating his tent instead of fighting. That’s our boy.
36. He Threatened His Brother
Even though Philippe’s devotion to battle was spotty at best, his brother King Louis XIV hated the new skills the prince had picked up. Indeed, when Philippe further distinguished himself in the Battle of Cassel against William III, Prince of Orange, Louis went into paroxysms of jealousy. His envy was so obvious, one courtier quipped about Philippe’s triumph: “The people of Paris went wild with joy…But at court they’d wished he’d lost the battle for the king’s sake.”
Soon enough, though, Philippe was trading his swords and sabers back for a good old marriage scandal.
37. His Wife Gave Him An Ultimatum
Despite all the accolades Philippe was racking up on the battlefield, his relationship with his wife was only getting worse. Soon it came to an infamous climax. After suffering a dangerous miscarriage and then giving birth to their last child in 1669, Henrietta had quite enough of playing the good little wife, and she made her most crushing demand yet: She insisted that Philippe imprison his long-time lover the Chevalier de Lorraine. Guess how that went.
38. His Wife Imprisoned His Lover
In a testament to just how popular Henrietta was at court, her plan actually worked—for a time. She got King Louis to lock up her husband’s favorite, particularly after the Chevalier publicly boasted that he could get Philippe to dissolve their marriage with the snap of his fingers. While he, uh, probably wasn’t wrong, it did earn him an exile in Rome. And then came Philippe’s counterattack.
39. He Went Off His Rocker
Philippe showed his displeasure at his lover’s banishment in increasingly unhinged ways. First, he put himself into a kind of exile in his remote estate at Villers-Cotterêts, making sure that Henrietta came with him just so she could feel his pain, too. He then plagued his brother with complaints, whinges, and endless letters begging for his BFF Lorraine back.
Louis, sick and tired of the married couple’s squabbling, went back on his word and released the Chevalier. But if you think the marital battle was over, think again.
40. His Wife Went Behind His Back
In the summer of 1670, Henrietta got her last revenge on Philippe. That June, she brokered the incredibly important Secret Treaty of Dover, which gave her native England some extra sway over France. Since it was a coup her husband wasn’t privy to, Philippe was full of an extra helping of scorn for his wife when she returned.
Of course, this only made the next tragic events especially suspicious.
41. He Lost His Wife In A Suspicious Way
Before the month of June was up, Henrietta began to feel an excruciating pain in her side while staying back at her St. Cloud palace with Philippe. A week later, the 26-year-old princess was out on the terrace when she completely collapsed, and never recovered. Just hours later, she perished of a mysterious illness…though in her last breaths, Henrietta had a dark idea about the culprit.
42. He May Have Poisoned His Princess
In her final moments on Earth, Henrietta kept proclaiming that she had been poisoned, and when she passed, all eyes turned toward Philippe. The autopsy report showed that the princess had passed from a perforated ulcer, but even the King of France didn’t believe the findings; although he exonerated his brother, his own investigation pointed to none other than the Chevalier de Lorraine.
Whatever the truth, one thing is certain: Philippe sure as heck didn’t mourn his wife.
43. He Suffered Two Rejections
Mere months after Henrietta’s passing, Philippe was once more looking for a wife. After all, he and Henrietta had only had girls together, and now he was desperate for a boy to continue the family name. Still, jumping back into the dating pool was just as embarrassing for Philippe as it is for us. Once more, he proposed to the Duchess of Montpensier—his first choice of bride way back when—and she again said no.
So, in another déjà vu, Philippe had to be stuck with a second choice. And boy, did he feel it.
44. He Had An Ugly Bride
By 1671, the royal family settled on betrothing Philippe to Elizabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate, a girl 12 years younger than Philippe who had most of her childbearing years ahead of her. There was just one problem. Philippe was nothing if not vain and image-conscious, and while Henrietta had been famously beautiful, poor Elizabeth was…famously not.
Accordingly, Philippe’s treatment of her was horrendous.
45. He Dealt His New Wife A Huge Insult
Although the couple sealed the deal that November, Philippe’s first impression was ruinous; when he saw the humble-faced Elizabeth, he reportedly sniped, “How will I ever be able to sleep with her?” For what it’s worth, Elizabeth’s impression wasn’t any better. She noted he had “a mouth that was too small and ugly teeth.” In short, it was not off to a good start.
46. He Had A Chilly Private Life
Philippe’s marriage to Elizabeth was fertile—they had two boys and a girl together—but it was hardly what we would call happy. Instead, they hid disturbing secrets behind bedroom doors. After Elizabeth finished popping out babies, she and Philippe both agreed to sleep in separate beds, since they couldn’t much stand the sight of each other.
Nonetheless, Philippe didn’t let this private agreement prevent him from publicly humiliating his wife.
47. He Flaunted His Side Pieces
Over her years with Philippe, Elizabeth had grown used to the parade of beautiful men and smatterings of beautiful women walking in and out of his bedroom. Then in 1701, Philippe finally went too far. The aging prince had recently taken the coquette Mademoiselle de Sery as his mistress, and took to flaunting her in front of his wife.
In fact, he had been so shameless, his brother King Louis had to resort to drastic measures.
48. His Brother Snubbed Him
In June of 1701, Louis invited Philippe over for dinner at the Chateau de Marly, but this was no fond family reunion—it was a royal dressing down. Resentment between the brothers had been simmering for quite some time; even before Philippe’s marital faux-pas, Louis had also passed over Philippe’s son, the Duke of Chartres, for military promotion.
In other words, the siblings were ready to explode, and the dinner party was about to turn into The Real Househusbands of Paris.
49. He Got Into A Family Feud
Before the food even landed on the table, Louis and Philippe were going at it. While Louis started with Philippe’s immoral behavior, his sibling shot back that the king also had many mistresses and didn’t have a leg to stand on. Then, for good measure, he complained again about Louis snubbing his son. When Philippe returned to his home that night, he was fit to be tied—and it ended in tragedy.
50. He Was A One-Name Wonder
Throughout his life, Philippe took on the nickname “Monsieur,” or, when he was younger, “Petit Monsieur.” Likewise, the court often called his first wife Henrietta “Madame” in an official capacity. As commonplace as these monikers might sound, if you just used those simple words in the Parisian court, everybody would instantly know who you were talking about.
51. His Met An Unexpected End
The very next day after his spat with Louis, Philippe suffered a sudden fatal stroke, collapsing in the afternoon and never getting up again. This shocked the French court into silence, and all King Louis XIV could say was, “I cannot believe I will never see my brother again.” On the surface, then, Philippe had an honorable passing…except for the last digs he got at his second wife.
52. He Tried To Send His Wife To A Convent
France may have mourned Philippe, but his poor wife got the rawest deal. When Elizabeth married Philippe, he cruelly stipulated in their marriage contract that she was to enter a convent when he passed. Unsurprisingly, Elizabeth fought tooth and nail to avoid this grim, dull fate and begged King Louis to spare her. Although he eventually did, Philippe had other plans from beyond the grave.
53. His Last Wishes Were Incredibly Cruel
If Philippe cared at all for his second wife, he might have spent some time considering that she wouldn’t want to go from being a glamorous princess to a drab nun. The thing is, he didn’t consider her at all: When the papers published his official will after his passing, he didn’t mention Elizabeth a single time. Thanks for nothing, Philippe…literally.
54. His Wife Burned All His Letters
Even though Philippe never would have thanked her for it, his second wife did try to protect him in her own way. After his passing, she gathered up all the letters his male lovers had written him and burned them to protect her late husband’s legacy. Of course, it probably didn’t hurt that, as Elizabeth admitted, the smell of the perfumed paper made her feel sick.
55. His Lover Followed Him To The Grave
Philippe and his letters suffered ignominious fates, but his most famous lover went toward an even more scandalous destiny. Just a year after Philippe passed, his infamous beau the Chevalier de Lorraine also died, and in much different circumstances. In 1702, the French Casanova expired, utterly impoverished, after a night of raucous love-making. Sounds about right.