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Marie Leszczinska

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Queen of France (1703-1768)

Daughter of the dethroned king of Poland, Marie Leszczinska married Louis XV in 1725 thanks to the negotiations of the duc de Bourbon. Left out of state affairs, held in low esteem by the court, the queen devoted herself to the convent that she founded in the town of Versailles for the education of poor young girls. She directed the moral and religious education of her son, the Dauphin, until his death in 1765.

By nature both cheerful and serious, and very cultivated, she played her role as queen with dignity and insisted on the court following an “Etiquette” as strict as that imposed under Louis XIV. Marie Leszczinska was chosen in 1725 to marry Louis XV, initially betrothed to the heiress of Spain, judged to be too young to guarantee a royal heir and replaced by the princess of Poland, seven years older than the king.

In 1726, after trying to support the duc de Bourbon, her matchmaker and the then First Minister, she incurred the rancorous opposition of Cardinal de Fleury who had great influence on the King. She subsequently kept herself apart from state affairs and played no political role. Gradually neglected by Louis XV, who turned to his mistresses, she immersed herself in religious devotion and took under her protection many charitable works and contributed to the spread of devotion to the Sacred Heart. But the king still felt deep affection for his wife. Concerned to provide education for poor young girls, she founded the Queen’s Convent in the town of Versailles, now a lycée, whose buildings were designed by the Lorraine architect Richard Mique. She appreciated good food and was gifted with a real sense of humour, and she liked to retire to the intimate circle of her friends. She enjoyed reading, drawing and music. She organised concerts in the Salon de la Paix and helped to maintain the musical life of the court.

Not a motherly nature, she mainly saw her numerous children during the ceremonies that punctuated her days. Mesdames, her daughters, sometimes regretted her coldness and distance, unlike Louis XV who was more attentive and affectionate. But she directed the moral and religious education of her son, the Dauphin Louis-Ferdinand who died prematurely in 1765. She died a few years later in 1768.

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