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A Woman's Life in the Court of the Sun King: Letters of Liselotte von der Pfalz, Elisabeth Charlotte, Duchesse d'Orléans, 1652 - 1722

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On 16 November 1671, Liselotte von der Pfalz, the nineteen-year-old daughter of the Elector of Palatine, was married to Philippe d'Orlans, "Monsieur," the only brother of Louis XIV. The marriage was not to be a happy one. Liselotte (known in France as Elisabeth Charlotte, Duchesse d'Orlans, or "Madame") was full of intellectual energy and moral rigor. Homesick for her nati On 16 November 1671, Liselotte von der Pfalz, the nineteen-year-old daughter of the Elector of Palatine, was married to Philippe d'Orlans, "Monsieur," the only brother of Louis XIV. The marriage was not to be a happy one. Liselotte (known in France as Elisabeth Charlotte, Duchesse d'Orlans, or "Madame") was full of intellectual energy and moral rigor. Homesick for her native Germany, she felt temperamentally ill-suited to life at the French court. The homosexual Monsieur, deeply immersed in the pleasures and intrigues of the court, shared few of his wife's interests. Yet, for the next fifty years, Liselotte remained in France, never far from the center of one of the most glorious courts of Europe. And throughout this period, she wrote letters - sometimes as many as forty week - to her friends and relatives in Germany. It is from this extraordinary body of correspondence that A Woman's Life in the Court of the Sun King has been fashioned. As introduced and translated by Elborg Forster, the letters have become the remarkable personal narrative of Liselotte's transformation from an innocent, yet outspoken, girl into a formidable observer of great events and human folly.


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On 16 November 1671, Liselotte von der Pfalz, the nineteen-year-old daughter of the Elector of Palatine, was married to Philippe d'Orlans, "Monsieur," the only brother of Louis XIV. The marriage was not to be a happy one. Liselotte (known in France as Elisabeth Charlotte, Duchesse d'Orlans, or "Madame") was full of intellectual energy and moral rigor. Homesick for her nati On 16 November 1671, Liselotte von der Pfalz, the nineteen-year-old daughter of the Elector of Palatine, was married to Philippe d'Orlans, "Monsieur," the only brother of Louis XIV. The marriage was not to be a happy one. Liselotte (known in France as Elisabeth Charlotte, Duchesse d'Orlans, or "Madame") was full of intellectual energy and moral rigor. Homesick for her native Germany, she felt temperamentally ill-suited to life at the French court. The homosexual Monsieur, deeply immersed in the pleasures and intrigues of the court, shared few of his wife's interests. Yet, for the next fifty years, Liselotte remained in France, never far from the center of one of the most glorious courts of Europe. And throughout this period, she wrote letters - sometimes as many as forty week - to her friends and relatives in Germany. It is from this extraordinary body of correspondence that A Woman's Life in the Court of the Sun King has been fashioned. As introduced and translated by Elborg Forster, the letters have become the remarkable personal narrative of Liselotte's transformation from an innocent, yet outspoken, girl into a formidable observer of great events and human folly.

30 review for A Woman's Life in the Court of the Sun King: Letters of Liselotte von der Pfalz, Elisabeth Charlotte, Duchesse d'Orléans, 1652 - 1722

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tim Robinson

    Elisabeth Charlotte was the daughter of the ruler (Count and Elector) of the Palatinate, a historically important German state spanning the Rhine with its capital at Heidelberg and a vote in the election of Holy Roman Emperors. The Palatinate was just recovering from the Thirty Years War, and her father needed a lasting alliance with France. So Liselotte suffered the fate of many a princess: a loveless teenage marriage (at 19, to the openly gay brother of Louis XIV), an impossible mission (to ste Elisabeth Charlotte was the daughter of the ruler (Count and Elector) of the Palatinate, a historically important German state spanning the Rhine with its capital at Heidelberg and a vote in the election of Holy Roman Emperors. The Palatinate was just recovering from the Thirty Years War, and her father needed a lasting alliance with France. So Liselotte suffered the fate of many a princess: a loveless teenage marriage (at 19, to the openly gay brother of Louis XIV), an impossible mission (to steer French foreign policy by charm alone), being treated a foreigner and a potential spy, culture shock, having her favourite maids sent away and her pension cut. She consoled herself with hunting and writing letters: forty long letters a week for fifty years to royal relatives in Hanover, the Palatinate, Britain, the whole of Western Europe in fact. It's not surprising that many of them survive. It's mostly gossip and lamenting her unhappy life, but it provides a wonderful window into the French court at Versailles, Marly and other palaces. With inside knowledge but an outsider's eye, she tells us things we might not find out any other way. Unfortunately, this does not mean she is an unbiased observer. She has many an axe to grind: against priests, doctors, adulterers, crawlers, social climbers and above all Louis' mistress and wife Madame de Maintenon. Liselotte has a rather hypocritical attitude to class: virtue exists even the most humble, yet vice is much more despicable in the lowly born than in her own stratum. Liselotte often insists that she is ugly, calling herself Bear-Cat-Monkey Face. Her portraits show her as a handsome woman but not ravishing; of course, court painters were paid to please their patrons. I don't suppose we can ever know what she really looked like. Of course she was not able to influence French foreign policy. Louis invaded the Palatinate at the very start of the War of the League of Augsburg: it covered the northern flank of lands he intended to annex (Lorraine), and when it became clear that he couldn't hold it, he had it systematically burned. She was miserable and alone when the French court around her celebrated the destruction of her homeland and levied taxes in her name. But she embraced the French side in the War of Spanish Succession. Eventually the wheel turned her way, with her son becoming Regent after the death of Louis XIV. She doesn't seem to have enjoyed that much, though.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sherwood Smith

    The single problem I have with this collection of the delightful Liselotte's letters is that it is too short. I wish they were all here. Pungent, funny, poignant, insightful, blind (often willfully, but she knew it), and utterly human, she takes a German's eye to the French court, and sees past the glam to the real people. And so funny at times I cracked up. I've seen Liselotte's letters referred to in various books about the life at Versailles, and I've always wanted to get the German editions, The single problem I have with this collection of the delightful Liselotte's letters is that it is too short. I wish they were all here. Pungent, funny, poignant, insightful, blind (often willfully, but she knew it), and utterly human, she takes a German's eye to the French court, and sees past the glam to the real people. And so funny at times I cracked up. I've seen Liselotte's letters referred to in various books about the life at Versailles, and I've always wanted to get the German editions, but they are ruinously expensive, alas. This selection whets the appetite for the whole series. Liselotte, especially when read in congruence with Saint-Simon, gives a vivid portrait of the court. But she'ss interesting on her own account. Here's one quote, from 20 May, 1700: Not much is new here. The King has had the Duc d'Estrees put into the Bastille by lettre de cachet. Some weeks ago d'Estrees wrote a long letter promising to give up his debaucheries and lead a decent life; nonetheless he again went on a wild drinking spree with his own lackeys and they ended up by setting fire to several houses in Paris. Drinking themselves into a stupor and committing insolences of all kinds is considered nice by the young people of quality these days, but they do not know how to exchange two words with reasonable people. Nothing could be more brutal than the youth of today. Not that she was a stuffy fuddy-duddy. Far from it. She liked gross jokes as well as anyone, and her views of people were reported with unvarnished truth, including her description of herself: Not one of my portraits resembles me very much; my fat is in all the wrong places, which is bound to be unbecoming; I have a horrendous—begging your leave—behind, big belly and hips, and very broad shoulders; my neck and breasts are quite flat, so that, if truth be known, I am hideously ugly, but fortunately for me I do not care one whit.

  3. 5 out of 5

    a

    Liselotte is easily my favorite person in all of history. Despite her myriad troubles and challenges--a country she did not know, a husband who did not love her, religious and political practices she did not understand--she writes with humor, character, honesty, and insight to the people she loves. As both an outsider and insider at Louis XIV's court, her observations paint an invaluable and highly entertaining picture of the quirks, scandals, pranks, tragedies, lives, and deaths of the French n Liselotte is easily my favorite person in all of history. Despite her myriad troubles and challenges--a country she did not know, a husband who did not love her, religious and political practices she did not understand--she writes with humor, character, honesty, and insight to the people she loves. As both an outsider and insider at Louis XIV's court, her observations paint an invaluable and highly entertaining picture of the quirks, scandals, pranks, tragedies, lives, and deaths of the French nobility. "The court loses a good princess, and that is a rare thing." - Matthieu Marais

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jenni Wiltz

    This book is a collection of letters written by Madame, the second wife of Louis XIV’s brother, Monsieur. Elisabeth Charlotte, nicknamed Liselotte, was a German princess from the Palatinate, a seemingly unlikely choice to marry into the French royal family. During her fifty years at court, she wrote dozens of letters a week to family back in Germany and Hanover. The letters cover everything from her husband’s poor treatment of her to the rise of Madame de Maintenon to the French army’s destructi This book is a collection of letters written by Madame, the second wife of Louis XIV’s brother, Monsieur. Elisabeth Charlotte, nicknamed Liselotte, was a German princess from the Palatinate, a seemingly unlikely choice to marry into the French royal family. During her fifty years at court, she wrote dozens of letters a week to family back in Germany and Hanover. The letters cover everything from her husband’s poor treatment of her to the rise of Madame de Maintenon to the French army’s destruction of her homeland at her brother-in-law’s orders. Long story short, they’re a fascinating look at the inner workings of Louis XIV’s court. But don’t expect a happy ending for this princess…as she put it, “Being Madame is a miserable job, and if I could sell it as they sell offices in this country, I would have put it up for sale long ago…” (123) If you’re nosy, like me, and love reading historical letters and diaries, this book is right up your alley. Fair warning, though – parts of this will make you angry and sad. Liselotte didn’t have a swell time at the French court. Why was that the case? Well, it started with her husband. Monsieur was homosexual, and spent his time and money on a series of boyfriends. He didn’t seem to care about her at all, except maybe as the mother of his children…but he didn’t seem to care too much about them, either, at least in these letters. Because she was honest and forthright, Louis XIV liked her. That was well and good, until his pious mistress (and probable secret wife), Madame de Maintenon, decided Liselotte was a threat to her control of the king. She manipulated Monsieur and the king, putting Liselotte at a disadvantage – shutting her out, lessening her influence. There was no one left to come to Liselotte’s aid. She remained at court but was often alone and broke. Through it all, she had a fantastic attitude, but it couldn’t have been a fulfilling life. From what we can see in these letters, Philippe d’Orléans (her husband) treated her like dirt. After watching the TV series Versailles and falling for their version of Philippe, I kept looking for some redeeming value in the real-life Philippe we see in Liselotte’s letters. Nope. I found nothing…although Liselotte did. She took his tiniest action and magnified it into a reason he either trusted her or loved her deep down. I disagree. As he’s portrayed here, he was a dick. Here’s a quote that sums up her attitude towards court life: “I have become accustomed to so many dreadful things since my arrival in this country that if I could ever return to a place where falseness does not rule everything and where lies are neither the daily fare nor approved of, I should think that I had come to a paradise.” (34) What Was Super Interesting *Liselotte’s hatred for Madame de Maintenon. These two hated each other. Like, hated with the fire of a thousand suns. Maintenon feared Liselotte’s influence with the king, so she sided with Monsieur on everything, to Liselotte’s detriment. Later, Maintenon and Liselotte had a brief reconciliation (humiliating for Liselotte), which didn’t last. Not long afterward, Liselotte returned to calling her “the old trollop” and complaining about how she ruined France. *Her finances. She’s always broke, but when she explains why, it makes sense. Yes, she receives money from the crown. But her position also requires her to have a staff so large it costs more than what she receives. And she has no other source of income, so she has to borrow just to break even. She laments the fact that she can’t support her half-brothers and half-sisters because she literally doesn’t have two coins to rub together. *Her enduring love for her homeland. Liselotte wrote in German to her family, and pursued every opportunity to speak German with visitors to court. For decades, she reminisced about the places she grew up, her memories of childhood, the food, the hymns, everything. She was a German through and through, and it’s painful to know that Louis XIV’s strict court rules made it impossible for her to return for a visit. *Her descriptions of her son, the Regent. When Louis XIV died in 1715 (spoiler alert), his successor was his five-year-old great-grandson, Louis XV. Madame’s only son, the duc d’Orléans, became his Regent. She describes how hard he worked at his job, and why he had an uphill battle. When he took over, France was a shit show – no money, no international goodwill, and a court run by cabals. Or, as Liselotte would say, run by priests and old women. She describes him working at all hours of the day, with barely any time for breaks or meals. I didn’t know anything about the regent prior to this, and although Madame is probably a little biased towards her own son, it really does seem like he had the country’s best interest at heart. Should You Read This Book? Absolutely. It’s fun to read, heartbreaking at times, and hilarious at other times, but always fascinating. Liselotte comes across as someone you’d like to know today. I’d like to sit down and talk about books and history with her. She doesn’t like tea or coffee, so you can’t invite her to Starbucks. But promise her a good cabbage and bacon salad, and I’m sure she’d accept your invitation. Fair warning: you’ll also get a few fart and poop jokes and anecdotes in these letters. That’s just part of Madame’s informal charm. ------ Review originally published as part my 2020 Royal Reading List at https://girlinthetiara.com/2020-royal....

  5. 4 out of 5

    False

    As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Letters of Liselotte von der Pfalz, Elisabeth Charlotte, Duchesse d'Orleans, 1652-1722. We learn of her life growing in Germany (which she misses all of her life,) her life in the French court (her husband was "Monsieur", brother to King Louis XIV and a homosexual, and her truest love, amidst the intrigues and over the topness of it all in Versailles. At the end of her life, so many she has loved gone, surrounded by the devilry an As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Letters of Liselotte von der Pfalz, Elisabeth Charlotte, Duchesse d'Orleans, 1652-1722. We learn of her life growing in Germany (which she misses all of her life,) her life in the French court (her husband was "Monsieur", brother to King Louis XIV and a homosexual, and her truest love, amidst the intrigues and over the topness of it all in Versailles. At the end of her life, so many she has loved gone, surrounded by the devilry and maliciousness of social scrambling through decades of court life, all this woman wanted was for her children to survive, to have happy lives, healthy lives and not to sink into the corruption or poison she has been surrounded by from the time she went as a young girl to France. She wrote daily. And our generation doesn't even send emails anymore. It's all private messaging in Facebook. Who saves "that" for the ages?

  6. 5 out of 5

    Liz Wahba • Elyse Welles

    Lisolette’s story draws you in as a novel with fascinating, often hilarious anecdotes (you don’t often expect to laugh out loud reading 18th century letters) but also great commentary on current events. You are invested in her next letter as much as her correspondents must have been. Her integrity, courage, and spirit are inspiring, and I feel like I am constantly rereading things because I’m so in awe of her spunky attitude. She directly addresses those who censor and read her letters before ma Lisolette’s story draws you in as a novel with fascinating, often hilarious anecdotes (you don’t often expect to laugh out loud reading 18th century letters) but also great commentary on current events. You are invested in her next letter as much as her correspondents must have been. Her integrity, courage, and spirit are inspiring, and I feel like I am constantly rereading things because I’m so in awe of her spunky attitude. She directly addresses those who censor and read her letters before mailing them, often threatening them or including sensitive material with a direct address to “those who rudely read my conversations”. She is never afraid to be improper by speaking her mind, but she is the classiest lady of the French court. Despite enormous pettiness and jealousy, multiple people working against her for the King’s favor, including her husband and son, she keeps positive and perseveres, making peace and taking the high road at every opportunity to avoid further drama and discomfort. I was especially surprised to learn that she had such a difficulty with money. Her husband left her nothing and melted down and sold all of her silver before he died, and he gave it all to his boyfriends whom she had nothing against, except their apathy for her husband. Despite all this, in addition to his constant defamation of her to the King, she loved him and missed him much on his death. I particularly enjoyed reading her thoughts and interpretations of death and the afterlife. Her commentary on religion, though censored, was evocative, opinionated, and fiery. She lived her life to please others, but was not afraid to complain of that burden or “the many unhappinesses... that come with marriage...” and she was honest about the situation of her times, saying confidently “Most women [are] unhappy.” Her strength and confidence is nothing short of inspirational.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jane Bigelow

    What a wonderful look at royal life in the ancien regime. In spite of the considerable frustrations of her life, the Duchesse managed to preserve a strong sense of humor. She was an acute observer of the people around her. In spite of the fact that she knew her letters were often opened and read before they reached their recipient, she writes what she thinks--or if she censors herself, she does it in a way that shows exactly why and what she thinks of the spies.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Gabrielle

    Fascinating!!! I had become addicted to the TV series "Versailles," wanted to learn more about the actual factual history of the Court and ran across a recommendation for this book on this great website, which I recommend to all "Versailles" fans: http://julesharper.com/versailles-rev... What an amazing woman! She is so modern in her attitudes and writing that she seems like she could be your best gal pal. I wish I could time travel to visit her in the Court, listen to her witty accounts of her p Fascinating!!! I had become addicted to the TV series "Versailles," wanted to learn more about the actual factual history of the Court and ran across a recommendation for this book on this great website, which I recommend to all "Versailles" fans: http://julesharper.com/versailles-rev... What an amazing woman! She is so modern in her attitudes and writing that she seems like she could be your best gal pal. I wish I could time travel to visit her in the Court, listen to her witty accounts of her problems with the Duc d'Orleans, the King, Mme. de Maintenon, et al., eat sausages and drink beer with her, and help her mount gossip campaigns to counter those of her enemies (although it seems she was too sensible for that nonsense). Her memoir beats by a wide margin any modern historical account as far as putting you right there in Versailles and letting you see, hear, and taste it for yourself.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ella

    This was incredibly fun to read and if you're at all into 17th-18th century French history, I highly recommend you read this. It feels a bit like eavesdropping on really entertaining conversations, and it's nicely footnoted, which makes it quite accessible if you don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of European nobility in the 17th and early 18th centuries. This was incredibly fun to read and if you're at all into 17th-18th century French history, I highly recommend you read this. It feels a bit like eavesdropping on really entertaining conversations, and it's nicely footnoted, which makes it quite accessible if you don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of European nobility in the 17th and early 18th centuries.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    3.5 maybe? Some of the letters were fantastically funny and/or insightful. Other themes that didn't interest me as much, became a little monotonous or repetitive. 3.5 maybe? Some of the letters were fantastically funny and/or insightful. Other themes that didn't interest me as much, became a little monotonous or repetitive.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Holly

    Fascinating. What a life! - women were just pawns in the name of politics, and brood mares. Life in a gilded cage was to be a prisoner.

  12. 4 out of 5

    M

    Hilarious, deeply felt, and surprisingly modern; absolutely worth a read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Liselotte is one of my favorite historical figures. Reading this was so much fun. I wish there was more written about her, both nonfiction and fiction. She was such an intriguing woman. Maybe with the popularity of the Versailles TV show recently, we'll get some more books about her soon? Liselotte is one of my favorite historical figures. Reading this was so much fun. I wish there was more written about her, both nonfiction and fiction. She was such an intriguing woman. Maybe with the popularity of the Versailles TV show recently, we'll get some more books about her soon?

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    This was very enjoyable to read. The woman's personality is great. She has love for the French royal family and misses Germany. She is astute, funny, and self-deprecating. I also enjoyed her sense of humor. This was very enjoyable to read. The woman's personality is great. She has love for the French royal family and misses Germany. She is astute, funny, and self-deprecating. I also enjoyed her sense of humor.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Goldberg Wilks

    Love this book! Although it has been a long time since I read this, I remember greatly enjoying the book and finding it to be very interesting.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Black Sandra

    This book will give you a wonderful insight in the lives of royalty. Anyone who loves history will enjoy this book. It is one of my favorites.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Beverly Lance

    Extraordinary life lived in difficult circumstances!! Beautiful,touching Christian testimony all the way through!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Her letters were HILARIOUS! She cracks me up!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Donna Gabbard

  20. 5 out of 5

    Meghan Portillo

  21. 5 out of 5

    Amy Pritchard-swiney

  22. 4 out of 5

    Dillon Ritchie

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mary B

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jenn

  25. 4 out of 5

    Deborah Grebel

  26. 4 out of 5

    abdolla abdollay

  27. 4 out of 5

    T S

  28. 4 out of 5

    Laura

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

  30. 4 out of 5

    Laura

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