Philippe Duc d’Orleans (1640 – 1701); Didn’t Ask, Didn’t Tell

Philippe Duc d’Orleans had the dubious distinction of being Louis XIV’s younger brother. It was not a position to be envied. Having the Grand Monarque as a sibling must have been trying sometimes in the extreme, but Monsieur, as Philippe was always called, had a way of getting out of the tedium of his proximity to power: he was gay.

In fact Monsieur was so very far out of the closet, in a place and at a time, when the “Italian vices” were punishable in all sorts of barbaric ways, that it staggers the mind now both that Monsieur could pursue his way of life relatively unobstructed, or that it was so often recorded by memoirists. We know that his brother Louis detested homosexuality, and yet he seems to have tolerated it in his brother, of whom, we understand, he was very fond.

There is also the curiously paradoxical fact that despite Monsieur’s obvious predilections he managed to sire a line that lasted much longer than his emphatically heterosexual brother’s. Philippe is referred to as “the grandfather of Europe” because his descendants are to be found in so many surviving royal families.

He had two wives, Henrietta Maria, a Stewart and the sister of Charles II of England, and after her tragically short life ended, this merry widower married again, a hearty German girl, Elizabeth Charlotte, Princess Palatine. Both times, the frail Monsieur despaired of being able to perform his marital duties, but by dint of prayer and holy medals, tucked into inopportune places, he somehow managed. His son- also Philippe – became regent of France.  Monsieur sired two daughters as well, three children in all.

But Monsieur’s great love was for the Chevalier de Lorraine, a beautiful rascal who appears to have manipulated Monsieur with great success for many years. The Chevalier was widely believed to have poisoned Monsieur’s first wife although there is no real evidence against him.

Monsieur also had the odd distinction of being, all cliches to the contrary, rather a good soldier. He kept his head under fire, had a genuine understanding of strategy (which was more than Louis XIV did) and no dread of combat. So long as Monsieur’s wig was not flattened or his complexion sunburned, he feared nothing on a battlefield.

His death though, reveals his nature perhaps better than any other episode of his curious and coddled life. He was rather apt to over eat, and as he reached sixty was warned by his confessor, a strict constructionist of a Catholic, that he might perhaps be at risk of an apoplexy. This impudent man even informed Monsieur that he would be perfectly happy if Monsieur chose another confessor, as Father Trevou would not care to be damned for Monsieur’s sake. “He feared the devil,” writes Saint-Simon of Monsieur,” and remembered that his previous confessor had not wished to die in his employ, and that before his death, had much the same conversation with him.” It made a Prince think, although reflection was not Monsieur’s general habit, and he became more circumspect, well, as much as his nature would let him. Paid attention to his confessor, tried to give up gambling and was meticulous about attendance at mass, as well as his other prayers and devotions. He even chattered less, “which is to say, like three or four women at once….”

Monsieur died of a stroke, just as his confessor had anticipated, and after one of his more lively set-tos with Louis, who had self-servingly insisted that Philippe’s only son should marry one of his bastard cousins. It was a misalliance, and Monsieur knew it. Their relations to the end of Philippe’s life, remained on shaky ground.

But Monsieur’s line, legitimate or not, has carried on. Louis was not so fortunate despite all his mistresses; which just goes to show that in families, it’s relationships that count, and not the count of relatives resulting from uncounted relations.

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