Queens of France have a long tradition of drama and downfalls, but Queen Marie Leszczyńska’s personal foibles put them all to shame.
Queen Marie of France Facts
1. She Was Messy
Marie Leszczyńska was Queen of France for over four decades, yet hardly anyone knows her. But that’s not because she was worthy of forgetting—it’s because her many scandals, feuds, and tragedies were all hidden behind the gilded bedroom doors of Versailles. This wife of King Louis XV may have looked and acted pious, but she was a royal mess for the ages.
2. She Had A Golden Childhood
Marie started out her life on the up and up. When she was just a year old, her father became King of Poland in 1704. Granted, this was only thanks to his political friendship with the King of Sweden, who had just invaded the country. Nonetheless, for a few brief, golden years, the toddler Marie was a royal princess. Then it all came crashing down.
3. Her Family Fell From Grace
In 1709, Marie and her family went through a brutal downfall. The country rebelled against her father and deposed him, throwing the entire ex-royal family into a tailspin. When the King of Sweden offered them safe haven in his realm, they scrambled to escape Poland. In the process, they inflicted a brutal betrayal on their little girl.
4. Her Parents Nearly Abandoned Her
Marie’s family was falling to pieces so fast, they actually lost sight of their toddler while trying to flee. Thankfully, they later found the girl hiding in her crib with a nurse in the stable—though another version of events says she actually took refuge in an old mine shaft. Whatever one is true, her parents definitely did lose her.
It was not a good look, and the family’s immediate future wasn’t much better.
5. She Became A Vagrant
Despite the heights she would rise to, the rest of Marie’s childhood was, by royal standards anyway, pitiful. She and her family were now at the mercy of other European royals for their safety as well as their room and board. As a result, Marie spent her adolescence living on other people’s estates. It got a whole lot more humiliating.
6. She Was Extremely Poor
During this time, Marie’s family hit rock bottom. They were so poor that they couldn’t even afford to pay the few servants they did employ. More than that, her mother’s jewels from when she was Queen of Poland were locked up in a moneylender’s vault and serving as security. Yet Marie’s reaction to all this was extremely telling of the woman she would become.
7. Her Family Fractured
Marie’s mother and even her grandmother bitterly complained about their reduced circumstances. More than that, they distanced themselves from Marie’s father, who they blamed for the situation. But Marie, who had never really known the royal life, was happy enough with her lot. However, there was a dark side to this.
8. She Could Be A Doormat
Yes, Marie had a calm disposition, but it also allowed people to walk all over her—especially later in her life. Even now, people praised her for possessing “the gift of suffering in silence” and having the “maturity of a woman who no longer demands happiness”. No, these qualities wouldn’t lead her anywhere good, but they did get the attention of some important people.
9. She Was No Beauty
True to her rather shabby fairy-tale life, Marie did not grow into a beauty. Although she had a bright complexion, people thought her too plain and thin to be attractive. Still, her legendary pleasantness in the face of hardship made many men of the time consider her as a wife. Not that her time on the marriage market was smooth sailing…
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10. Her Love Life Was Dismal
Marie might have had the sweet demeanor to attract men, but she had much bigger downsides. The poverty of her family, not to mention their disgrace in Poland, was a huge dealbreaker for many. Her family tried an embarrassing amount of times to marry her off, only to eventually get told no, almost always because of her paltry dowry.
Even so, one of these potential suitors ended up being her key to the French throne.
11. Her Ex Became Powerful
Way back in 1720, when Marie was still a teenager, one of her first-ever marriage negotiations was with the Duke of Bourbon. Although that went predictably nowhere, years later the Duke was serving on the regency council of the 15-year-old King Louis XV of France, who just so happened to nee a wife ASAP.
I’d love to say the Duke thought immediately of Marie…but it was more insulting than that.
12. She Got Rejected Again
When the time came to marry off King Louis XV, the Duke of Bourbon made a list of 99 eligible brides. While Marie was on this long list, she didn’t even make the short list of 17 women. Why? Once more, it was because she was “too poor”. Marie and her pitiful dowry simply couldn’t catch a break. The way she came out on top, though, was the most embarrassing of all.
13. She Was A Hail Mary Bride
The crown debated endlessly about which of the princesses on this elite list King Louis should marry. Only, one way or another they all fell through. Humiliatingly enough, Marie’s name only came back on the list when they realized they were pretty much out of options, and she met the bare minimum requirements they were looking for.
She was 22—so of childbearing age—Catholic, and healthy. That was it. Yet somehow, the indignities weren’t over.
14. They Wanted A Puppet
Marie was now a hair’s breadth away from fulfilling her destiny and becoming the Queen of France. But they saved their worst insult for last. In the end, the council decided on her at long last precisely because she was poor. The lack of dowry was a downside, yes, but the upside was she had no political connections or powerful allies that would make her a problem at court.
That’s right, the French council wanted Marie because they wanted a quiet puppet. Now they just had to convince the King…which is where it gets downright bizarre.
15. She Had A Good PR Team
To put Marie in the best possible light for the teenaged King Louis, the council decided to paint a flattering portrait of her to send to the ruler. Here’s where the “ick” comes in. Hoping to stir up his deepest feelings, they made the painting look like a replica of Louis’ favorite portrait of...his own mother. It’s his reaction that was truly gross, though.
16. She Was Entering Into A Bizarre Union
The council obviously knew King Louis XV very well, because they hit the Oedipal nail on the head when it came to Marie’s portrait. When he saw it, he reportedly exclaimed, “She is the loveliest of them all!” and started immediately looking forward to their wedding match. A formal proposal went ahead soon after.
This little episode gives you some idea of the dysfunction Marie was walking into. In the end, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
17. The Courtiers Turned On Her
When the palace announced that Marie was King Louis XV’s future bride, the French court went wild with fury. They latched onto all the same downsides that everyone else had in Marie’s life—that she was too poor, too unimportant, and that her very presence cheapened the glory of France. Then they went one cruel step further.
Rumors went around that not only was Marie ugly, she was epileptic and sterile. These were serious allegations for the future Queen of France, and they landed Marie in a horrific situation.
18. She Underwent A Brutal Examination
With all these ugly whispers going around, the palace forced Marie to undergo a medical examination that would rule out both epilepsy and confirm that she was likely able to get pregnant. The findings, of course, showed she was neither epileptic nor sterile, but this would have been cold comfort for Marie.
Well, not a lot of comfort was to come. Her wedding was about as unromantic as it gets.
19. She Married A Stranger
When Marie married King Louis on August 15, 1725, it wasn’t the fairy tale you might imagine. She and the king—who she still hadn’t met yet—got married “by proxy” that day, with the king’s cousin standing in for him. More than that, the ceremony was distinctly bare bones, and Marie received no official celebrations like queens before her had.
It looked like Marie was going to prove everyone right and fade into the background. But a plot twist was coming.
20. She Fell In Love At First Sight
That September, Louis and Marie met at long last on the eve of their belated wedding day celebrations. The members of the court couldn’t believe what ensued. According to reports, against nearly all odds, Louis’ anticipated attraction to Marie turned into intense love at first sight. Lucky for Marie, she felt the same.
They were so in love, in fact, that Louis reportedly consummated the union seven times on their wedding night. This all put her in an extremely surprising position.
21. Her Husband Protected Her
The next years of Marie’s life made up another (short-lived) golden period. Louis had a “true passion” for her, and the 15-year-old was flattered to have a 22-year-old wife. He was so into Marie, he not only refused to take on any mistresses—a huge compliment for the time—but he also wouldn’t let anyone comment negatively about her appearance.
This could only last for so long.
22. She Got Unlucky
With a couple as in love as Louis and Marie, she soon got pregnant. Yet instead of leading to happiness, it led to crushing disappointment. She first gave birth to twin girls, and then yet another princess a year later. The French court was insistent on and impatient for a boy—and they took their frustration out on Marie in a ridiculous way.
23. The Ministers Punished Her
Without any familial connections or power of her own, Marie’s one and only job was to give France a Dauphin. When she, quite reasonably, couldn’t control if she gave birth to a boy or a girl, the hammer came down hard. King Louis XV’s most trusted minister, Cardinal Fleury, decided he needed to treat her like a child, and quite literally ground her.
Until she had a boy, Marie had to stay in Versailles and couldn’t travel with Louis on any trips. But luck was on Marie’s side one last time.
24. She Had Only One Son
In the fall of 1729, Marie gave birth to a boy at last. Naming him Louis (because there were apparently no other names in France at this time), the babe became the Dauphin and the male heir apparent. Only, even this was a double-edged sword. Although Marie would go on to have 10 children, Louis was the only boy who survived into adulthood.
Nonetheless, she had finally done it. And, having reached these heights, she was due a huge downfall.
25. She Was Cold
Marie was a calm, stoic woman, but those very qualities could also be one of her worst traits. As a mother, many of her children idolized her for her piety and steadfastness, but she was also practically allergic to showing them affection. For Marie, even being around her most inner circle wasn’t enough to get over her innate reserved nature.
Soon, this had a devastating effect on her marriage.
26. She Lacked One Thing
Once the glow dimmed on Marie’s marriage to King Louis, their love seemed to wither. As with her children, Marie just couldn’t relax around Louis, no matter how much she adored him. Making matters worse, the adult Louis began to exhibit a melancholy nature and started to crave entertainment and coquetry—both things Marie couldn’t give him.
As the years went on, the situation got dire.
27. She Was Painfully Awkward
With Marie not fulfilling Louis’ constant need for flirty attention, they grew further and further apart. It got so bad that at one point, Marie grew so desperate for a way to entertain him that she suggested he kill the flies by the window. Yes, Marie’s relationship was dry as a desert, but she still had no idea how much she’d lost.
28. Her Husband Drifted Away From Her
The irrevocable changes in Louis and Marie’s relationship happened almost imperceptibly. First, Louis began to open his ears more to insulting remarks people made about his queen—remarks he had once banned in his presence. Marie, meanwhile, could do almost nothing about it. Not only did she still have almost zero political power, she’d also been taught to put her husband’s needs above her own.
It was a recipe for her ruin.
29. There Was Another Woman
After years of being the one and only in King Louis’ life, Marie made a gut-wrenching discovery. In 1732, whispers went around that Louis had found a new woman to obsess over at court, and was currently keeping her as his unofficial mistress. It was top secret who she was, however, and everyone in court simply called her “The Fair Unknown”.
For perhaps the first time in her life, Marie’s reaction to this was not calm at all.
30. She Tried To Exert Her Power
Stoic she might have been, but Marie was incensed at the thought that Louis was keeping a mistress, and she finally broke. She quickly made it known throughout court that she disapproved of the mystery woman. Sadly, she was fighting a losing war. Happy to distract their monarch, the king’s ministers helped him in his deception.
Then came the event that sealed Marie’s fate forever.
31. She Went Through A Nightmare Pregnancy
Marie may not have had true power in France, but she did retain her soft power in the bedroom even as Louis took a mistress. Then that all changed. In 1737, with the birth of her last child Princess Louise, Marie underwent a horrific labor that nearly destroyed her. When she managed to survive, the doctors insisted she stop all intimate relations.
After much deliberation, Marie followed through and barred Louis from her bedchamber. It set off a painful chain reaction.
32. Her Nemesis Was Vulnerable
After word got around that the king and queen no longer paid “visits” to each other, everyone at court was all the more rabid to find out who the king’s “Fair Unknown” was. Not because they cared much about Marie, mind you, but because they wanted to know which new woman to suck up to when they wanted to get the king’s ear.
So, one night while the “Fair Unknown” was walking incognito to the king’s chambers, a courtier knocked off her hood. When her identity was revealed, Marie must have been in shock.
33. Her Lady-In-Waiting Betrayed Her
Louis’ “Fair Unknown” was none other than one of Marie’s ladies-in-waiting, Louise Julie de Mailly-Nesle. Beautiful, vibrant, and completely unambitious when it came to politics, the French ministers thought she was the perfect plaything and bed-warmer for Louis. Not that anyone asked Marie. Then the knife twisted further.
34. The King Dropped Her
When Louise Julie’s identity was revealed, there was a chance the king would forsake her. That’s not what happened at all. Instead, the king took the opportunity to make her his official mistress and “declared his passion” with a series of public gestures. In so doing, Louis left Marie right in the dust to pick up the pieces of her broken heart.
Then again, this meant she got to watch as everything fell apart for her philandering husband.
35. Her Husband Transformed Into A Cad
King Louis had started out a devoted husband, but he quickly turned into a womanizer—one with very creepy tastes. Believe it or not, when Louis tired of Louise Julie, he moved on to…her sister, Pauline. Then when Pauline died in childbirth, he took up with another de Mailly sibling, Marie Anne. This proved to be his biggest mistake of all.
36. She Had A Nasty Enemy
By 1742, Louis’ affair with the new sibling, Marie Anne, was raging. This is where it turned downright vulgar. Unlike her sister-predecessor, Marie Anne was conniving, in it only for the power, and extremely haughty right to Marie’s face. She managed to scandalize even the libertine French court, and Marie had to endure constant embarrassment.
Yet a much more pressing problem was about to appear.
37. Her King Was At Death’s Door
In 1744, Louis was off in the French town of Metz, gallivanting around with Marie Anne as usual and further causing scandal. Then it all went so wrong. Almost out of nowhere, the still-young king fell gravely ill, and everyone worried he would perish. In fact, he was so far gone that Queen Marie obtained permission to go see her estranged husband one last time. His reply beggars belief.
38. Her Husband Snubbed Her
Although Louis initially agreed to seeing Queen Marie, by the time she got to Metz, he had a cruel change of heart. Poor Marie arrived at what was essentially Louis’ love nest to find that her husband refused point blank to see her. In many ways, it was the final straw for Marie, and she came up with a desperate plan to claw back her dignity.
39. She Forced Him To Repent
While King Louis was in the throes of the worst of his illness, he asked his chaplain to give him his last rites and absolve him of his sins. But Louis finally got his comeuppance. With the support of Queen Marie, the priest denied Louis any absolution unless he said goodbye to Marie Anne de Mailly once and for all. Painted into a corner, Louis crumbled.
40. She Won At Last
Louis might have been the King of France, but he was also a God-fearing man who thought he was at death’s door. He desperately agreed to do whatever the chaplain wanted, and Marie Anne quickly had to pack her bags and get the heck out of town. In a tragic twist of fate, while Louis pulled through, Marie Anne perished a few months later.
Queen Marie had finally won a battle…but her triumph didn’t last long.
41. Her Husband Shamed Her
Although getting the de Mailly clan out of her husband’s bedroom was a personal victory, the royal family suffered humiliation on a national level thanks to this little episode. Louis’ confession of adultery was made public, airing out Queen Marie’s dirty laundry for everyone to see and plummeting citizens’ opinions of the crown.
That wasn’t all, either. Queen Marie was about to meet her most formidable rival yet.
42. He Chose Another Woman Over Her
If Marie was hoping Louis would now see the error of his ways, she couldn’t have been more wrong. He learned nothing and went right back to his old habits. In fact, in 1745 Louis struck up a romance with his most famous mistress—perhaps the most famous mistress—Madame de Pompadour.
Diplomatic, intelligent, and beautiful, de Pompadour quickly eclipsed Queen Marie in court life, and even exerted a political power Marie never had. The Queen did not take it well.
43. She Put On A Brave Face
Madame de Pompadour was smart enough to always show Marie respect, and the two women reportedly had a somewhat cordial relationship. Still, that didn’t take the sting away, and Marie knew she would always be second in Louis’ affections now. Her reaction was pure petty revenge. While Marie couldn’t take out her frustration on de Pompadour, she did begin taking it out on other members of the court. Very famous members.
44. She Was In The Middle Of A Feud
During this time, the formerly sweet, uncontroversial Marie showed everyone she could have a spicy side, too—and that she could wield power when she wanted to. In particular, she was responsible for banishing the famous philosopher Voltaire from the court in a rage after he insulted her not once, but twice. And this story isn’t just very juicy, it’s also very revealing.
45. Voltaire Mortally Offended Her
Voltaire’s first sin was to, after his lover Emilie de Chatelet lost a hefty sum at Marie’s card table, whisper to her, in English no less, that she had been cheated. This insult to Marie’s companions was an arrestable offense at the time, and Voltaire was lucky to get off scot-free. Unfortunately, his next move insulted Marie even more.
46. She Had A Sore Spot
Yes, Madame de Pompadour and Queen Marie had about as good a relationship as a side piece and a wife can have, but their polite exchanges masked a deep hurt. So when Voltaire, shortly after his card table gaffe, wrote a poem in honor of de Pompadour that made reference to her bedroom antics with King Louis, Queen Marie well and truly had enough, and threw him out of court by his coattails.
She got exactly one more satisfaction after that.
47. Her Rival Had A Downfall
In 1764, Queen Marie earned what was likely her last victory—and she didn’t have to lift a finger. That winter had been incredibly harsh, so much so that Madame de Pompadour contracted pneumonia and died suddenly. Although Louis predictably drowned his sorrows in the bosoms of other women who weren’t his wife, Marie probably took some solace that her greatest rival was gone at last.
Yet a catastrophic event was coming down the pipes, and Marie would be powerless to stop it.
48. She Was A Helicopter Mom
By the 1740s, Marie’s only son Louis had grown into a wonderful young man, one his father could only dream of becoming. The Dauphin was studious, a lover of fine things, and—above all—loyal to his wife. Marie guarded him jealously whenever she could, even after he went through two marriages and fathered a score of offspring.
The younger Louis was one of the few things that gave Queen Marie pure joy. So when tragedy struck, it was disastrous.
49. She Lost Her Only Son
In 1765, Marie’s son the Dauphin contracted tuberculosis, and it was no slow-moving infection. The heir’s condition declined rapidly, leaving both Marie and her husband breathless with grief. Although doctors tried desperately to save the young man, Louis passed just before Christmas of that year. He was just 36 and left his own son, the future Louis XVI, as the new heir to the throne.
As it happened, it was the end of Marie, too.
50. She Died Of A Broken Heart
The Grim Reaper was apparently stalking through Versailles—and Queen Marie was his next victim. Heartbroken over the loss of her only son, Marie only lived for three more years before passing at the age of 65. She had lived a hidden life behind the curtain of the throne and its power, but what a life it was.