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Monsieur and Liselotte
Gay Subtexts of The Marriage of
Duke Philippe d’Orléans (1640-1701)
and Princess Elisabeth Charlotte
von der Pfalz (1652-1721)

The German princess Liselotte (Elisabeth Charlotte) von der Pfalz (of the Palatinate), born in 1652, was married for political reasons and against her will to Duke Philippe d’Orléans (called “Monsieur”), the brother of Louis XIV of France, in 1671. She never acclimatized herself fully to the life at the French court, because of her sturdy nature as well as her provincial and Protestant upbringing, and also because Louis XIV, under the pretext that through her marriage to his brother he had inherited a right to that country after the death of the Count Palatine Karl Ludwig in 1685, began a war in which the Palatinate was plundered and devastated by French troops. (That was when the Heidelberg castle became the picturesque ruin it still is now.)

Furthermore the new duchess was soon to discover that her husband, unlike his brother, was not too amenable to feminine charms. In order to provide the line with progeny which extends down to the present royal house of Belgium inter alia, as well as the Comte de Paris, the French royal pretender, Philippe succored his failing member by hanging Marian medals on it (cf. Nancy Mitford, The Sun King, Penguin, 1994, pp. 56-7). This gave rise to the following comment from the Princess his wife:

Forgive me Sir, but you will not persuade me that you are honoring the Virgin by carrying round her image on those parts which are destined to take away virginity.

Although his wife may have found the method unorthodox, it cannot be denied that some of the Catholic princes of Europe today owe their existence to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin between Monsieur and the Princess Palatine on their marriage bed in the latter part of the 17th Century.

The couple’s first son was born in 1673, but died shortly thereafter in 1676. A second son was born in 1674. After the birth of their third child, a daughter, in 1676, Monsieur returned to his boyfriends. The event was not altogether unwelcome to his wife, who had this to say about their conjugal separation:

I was very glad when, after the birth of my daughter, my husband proposed separate beds; for, to tell the truth, I was never very fond of having children. When he proposed it to me, I answered, ‘Yes, Monsieur, I shall be very well contented with the arrangement, provided you do not hate me, and that you will continue to behave with some kindness to me.’ He promised, and we were very well satisfied with each other. It was, besides, very disagreeable to sleep with Monsieur; he could not bear any one to touch him when he was asleep, so that I was obliged to lie on the very edge of the bed; whence it sometimes happened that I fell out like a sack. I was therefore enchanted when Monsieur proposed to me in friendly terms, and without any anger, to lie in separate rooms."

Later, however, poor Elizabeth Charlotte complained bitterly to the Sun King that his brother had melted down all the silver plate she had brought with her from the Palatinate and distributed the proceeds to his minions. In 1689, when Monsieur chose one of his companions to be tutor of his then 15-year-old son Philippe, Liselotte protested, as she explained in one of the many letters she wrote to her relations and friends in Germany:

You must know that the party of my enemies has persuaded Monsieur to make his chief equerry my son’s tutor. But as it is clear to me, as to everyone in France, that this man is one of the most infamous and debauched fellows in the world, I have asked Monsieur to give my son another tutor, and these are my reasons: that it would not do my son credit if one should believe him to be d’Effiat’s mistress — for it is sure that there is no greater sodomite in France than this one, and that it would be a bad start for a young prince to begin his life with the worst excesses in the world. Monsieur answered me he had to admit that d’Effiat had been licentious and loved boys, but that he had already renounced this vice many years since. I told him that only a few years ago a handsome young German who stayed here had presented his excuses to me for his not being able to visit me as often as he would like, because d’Effiat molested him too much whenever he came to the Palais Royal. So he has not been reformed as long as his friends say. But supposing he had lived for several years without committing this vice, I do not believe that one has to give him my only son as a test to see whether the chief equerry has renounced his pages or not…

Liselotte lived in enmity with Madame de Maintenon, the clandestine second wife of Louis XIV. In 1697 she wrote in a letter:

That woman is meddling with everything, and as she is quite moody and malicious, there are complaints to be heard everywhere. To me she is the more dangerous because outwardly she shows herself well-disposed towards me, but in secret she harms me wherever she can. So she takes care that the King not only treats me coolly but is suspicious of me and lets me feel his displeasure. Monsieur is heartily glad about it, because he fears that – if I were in the King’s good graces – I could tell him all: how his brother squanders his means with boys, and that he by his royal power might chase away some of these young fellows. And though I do my best to prove to him that I do not want to harm the boys, though I even speak amicably and politely to them, yet I cannot convince him. And, as I see that with the King and with Monsieur nothing helps but visiting the old woman, paying the compliments and living with the young lads, so I do not believe that I can change it, and only do what I consider most reasonable, and continue on my own straight way…

Concerned that the loose morals of the French aristocracy would corrupt the Germans, Liselotte in 1700 wrote:

You may say of this country as the Holy Scriptures have it: ‘All flesh has been inverted.’ I dread that with fashion the vice too will be brought from here into our country. For when the French see a pretty German, they follow him as long as they can, to get him. I know many who did not let themselves be talked into it and escaped honorably — while others have become worse than the French and led such a blasphemous life that one is dumbfounded… Those who take to this vice but believe in the Holy Scriptures think that it was only a sin when there were just a few human beings on earth and what they did could harm mankind by hindering it from multiplying. But now, with the whole world being populated, they consider the thing a permitted digression, though they keep it secret as far as they can to avoid annoying the common man. But persons of rank speak of it openly. They regard it as elegant, also they say that since Sodom and Gomorrha the Lord God has no longer punished anyone for it. You will find me erudite in this text — indeed I have heard of it often since I have been in France…

Nevertheless, Liselotte remained faithful to her husband to the end: When Philippe died suddenly in 1701, his wife immediately burned his lovers’ letters so that others could not see them:

If people could know in the next world what goes on in this one, Monsieur would be most pleased with me, for I looked out all the letters written to him by his minions and burned them without reading them, so that they would not fall into the hands of others.

*   *   *

The postscript to this story is that when it was Louis XIV’s turn to die in 1715, he summoned Liselotte and her son Philippe to his bedside, to appoint the latter Regent of the Realm. Then, turning to Liselotte he spoke to her with a tenderness which brought tears to her eyes assuring her that he had always loved her, more than she herself imagined and that he was sorry for any pains he might have sometimes caused her. In his book Le Beau Vice, subtitled Les homosexuels à la cour de France (Balland, Le Rayon Gay, Paris 1999), Claude Pasteur concludes that these words repaid the Princess Palatine for much suffering.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following form of citation:
Editorial Board, World History of Male Love, "Gay History", Monsieur and Liselotte, 2000 <>


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