By Ted Rajchel | Columnist
This is the correct spelling of the surname in modern Polish; various other spellings are also used in English and French. Marie Leczszinska, (23 June 1703—Versailles, 24 June 1768) was a Queen consort of France. She was a daughter of King Stanislaw Leszczynski of Poland (later Duke of Lorraine) and Catherine Opalinska. She married King Louis XV of France and was the grandmother of Louis XVI, Louis XVIII, and Charles X.
In France she was referred to as Marie Leczinska. She was the longest serving queen consort of France, serving for 42 years. She was the second daughter of Stanislaw Leszczynski and his wife Katarzyna Opalinka. Her older sister Anna Leszczynska (1699-1717) died at the age of 18 of pneumonia.
Marie’s early life was troubled by her father’s political misfortune. Ironically, King Stanislaw’s hopeless political career was eventually the reason why his daughter, Maria, was chosen as the bride of King Louis XV of France.
Devoid of political connections, his daughter was viewed by the French as being free from the burden of international alliances. Very close to her father, Marie shared his exile in Wissembourg in the French Province of Alsace, a place suggested by Philippe II, Duke of Orleans, a nephew of Louis XIV and regent of the Kingdom of France during Louis XV’s minority.
The family was supported by a pension from the regent and, while living in Wissembourg, Maria was asked for her hand in marriage by Louis Henri De Bourbon, Prince of Conde, who became Louis XV’s prime minister at the death of the regent in December, 1723. That same year, the young king fell ill and, fearing the consequences of the unmarried king dying without an heir, the prime minister suggested marrying the young king. Marie was on a list of 99 eligible European princesses to marry the young king. Cardinal Fleury, who wanted for the king a royal bride, who would not drag France into any complicated political alliances.
One aspect in the choice of Marie was the fact that she was old enough to have children, while the former designated bride, the Infanta Mariana Victoria of Spain, was too young to bear children. The marriage by proxy took place on the 15th of August, 1725 in the Cathedral of Strasbourg, Louis XV, being represented by his cousin the Duke of Orleans, Louis Le Pieux. Louis and Marie first met on the eve of their wedding, which took place on the 5th of September, 1725.
The announcement of the wedding was not received well as the Royal Court, who considered the match to be a misalliance, as the father of Maria had been a monarch for such a short time. There were rumors before the wedding that the bride was ugly, epileptic, and sterile.
However, Maria earned popularity among the population from the beginning, when she handed out money on her way to her wedding. Cardinal De Fleury, who had been Louis’ tutor, was appointed Grand Chaplain to Marie. Upon her marriage, Marie’s Polish name was modified into French as Marie Leczinska. The young couple’s marriage was initially happy.
In August, 1727, Maria gave birth to her first children, twin daughters, named Louise Elisabeth de France and Henriette Anne de France, at the palace of Versailles. The elder twin, Louise Elisabeth, later married the Infante Felipe of Spain and eventually became the Duchess Consort of Parma, Italy.
Leszcyzynska never managed to acquire any political influences. She made an attempt to be involved in political at the very beginning of their marriage.
In 1725 she asked Louis to appoint the unpopular Duke of Bourbon as Minister of Cabinet, despite her father’s warnings. King Louis took her attempt to be involved in politics very badly, and after 1728 she was completely separated from the affairs of state and any political influence on Louis.
Queen Marie represented the king many times in ceremonial rituals at the Court of Versailles. During his many absences from such matters, Louis provided her with a large apartment in the palace, where she could live more informally with her circle of friends.
Marie was a devout Roman Catholic. Her major contribution to life at Versailles was the weekly event of Polish choral concerts. She was a great lover of music and painting, and the protector of many artists.
In 1764 the young Mozart, whom she found very charming, visited Versailles. She acted an interpreter for her husband and family, who did not understand German. She also started a correspondence with Voltaire, for whom she secured a pension. During an era when France was a very powerful nation, often in conflict with Austria, the Austrian ambassador to France, Comte de Mercy Argenteau (who later helped secure the marriage of the dauphin and Marie Antoinette) Marie was known for her good manners, grace and piety.
Her Forty-Two Years at Versailles
Although few traces of her 42 years at the palace remain—most were wiped out as a result of the changes wrought by Marie Antoinette, the wife of King Louis XV. Nevertheless, she made her mark through the art she commissioned and the private chambers she created. Together around 50 paintings and other works of art, most of which are from the palace collections and include several recent acquisitions of great significance were displayed.
The aim is to illustrate how her personal taste evolved throughout the course of her reign and thus get to know her better. The Queen liked to live a simple life, even if only for a few hours a day, so she had private chambers installed directly behind her parade apartment, and it was to these she withdrew for a number of hours each day to pray, meditate, read, and spend time with those closest to her.
Master of Arts and Painting
Queen Marie spoke several languages and was highly cultured, with a great interest in the creative occupations—literature, music, and art—especially painting. Indeed, one of the rooms in her private apartment was laid out as a studio.
One of her favorite painters was, without a doubt Jean-Marc Nattier, whose portrait of her wearing “town clothing” was completed in 1748. The one she regarded most highly was Charles-Antoine Coypel, who produced no fewer than 34 religious paintings for the Queen’s private chambers. She also liked to contemplate lightweight subjects, pastoral scenes and landscapes.
She became increasingly pious and lent her support to various charitable works, including helping to spread the devotion to the sacred heart. The king, nonetheless, retained a genuine affection for his wife.
Devoted to providing an education for girls from poor backgrounds, she founded the Queen’s Convent in the town of Versailles, in buildings designed by the architect Richard Mique. She was fond of fine food and had a good sense of humor, and was most comfortable among her circle of close friends. She enjoyed reading, drawing, and music all the time. She organized concerts in the Peace Room and helped to maintain a flourishing musical environment in the court. Through her architectural alterations, her style, and, above all, the way to which she conducted herself as the Queen of France, Marie Leszczynska led a quiet revolution.
Queen Marie died at Versailles on the 24th of June, 1768, six years before her husband. Her family sincerely grieved her death. She was buried at the Basilica of St. Denis, and her heart was deposed at the Church of Notre–Dame–De—Bonsecoursin–Nancy in Lorraine.
References: (1) Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias; (2) The Taste of Maria Leszczynska, Palace of Versailles; (3) Marie Leszczynska, France’s Polish Queen; (4) Mare Leszczynska/Palace of Versailles.