BIRTH OF MARIE LECZINSKA ON 23 JUNE, 1703
It was on this day 316 years ago that Maria Karolina Zofia Felicja Leszczynska, better known as Marie Leczinska, future consort of Louis XV, was born in Poland.
Her father, Stanislas Leszczynski, was a noble Polish landowner who was set up as King of Poland between 1704 and 1709 by the force of Charles XII of Sweden’s arms. When the latter was defeated by Peter the Great at Poltava, Stanislas and his family were forced to flee to Germany. They lived in Zweibrücken and later in Wissembourg, Alsace, where they were reduced to very unroyal circumstances.
By a stroke of unbelievable good fortune, Marie Leczinska was selected in 1725 as the bride of Europe’s richest and handsomest monarch, Louis XV. The youthful king’s chief minister, the Duc de Bourbon, influenced by his mistress Madame du Prie, reckoned that as an impoverished exile Marie Leczinska came with no political strings attached and was no threat to anyone at the French court, since she had no power base of her own. In other words, the duke and du Prie calculated that Marie would be beholden to them and under their control. She was indeed grateful to them, but Louis XV had no intention of allowing his wife any political influence and the plan backfired. Bourbon was soon dismissed from his post and exiled to his country estates, as was du Prie, who died soon after.
Marie Leczinska went on to be the longest-serving queen consort of France, giving her 7-years-younger husband 8 children and tolerating his numerous mistresses. Charitable, devout, and kind, she was popular and respected until her death in 1768.
The pictured portrait is an enlarged copy of the original one by Nattier, which he painted sometime in the 1750s. It can be seen at Versailles. I photographed this copy at the Musée Cognacq-Jay in Paris at Easter, 2018.