The Marquis de Montespan and his new wife, Athénaïs, are a true love-match – a rarity amongst the nobility of seventeenth-century France. 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.
Based on the true story of the husband of the most celebrated mistress of Louis XIV, this is a rip-roaring romp through the reign of the Sun King. I found it difficult to feel sorry for the plight of the cuckolded husband, despite the fact that he raised such a scandal over the affair between the King and his wife, which most men of that time would have taken as a compliment and accepted the many honours, titles and money that would bring. Although I didn’t find sympathy for him, I did find I respected this much-maligned figure and his stance over his position.
It’s a well-researched and well-written novel that is both engaging and entertaining, with more than a little titillation between its covers as the exploits of Madame de Montespan, both with Louis XIV and her husband before him, are described with passion and humour. It’s well worth a read if you’re a fan of historical fiction with a little French flair.
Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite