Gather round, darlin’. It’s time to pay tribute to another party girl from the past. Louise Bénédicte de Bourbon, who became known as the Duchess of Maine, was a princesse du sang, that is she descended from French royalty, specifically, the House of Bourbon. In other words, this gal had a helluva heritage. But things weren’t all rosy for our princess. Forget the House of Bourbon, did I mention that this sally also spent some time in the “big house?” But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Fetch yourself a glass of Dom Pérignon, a favored libation at the court of Versailles, and let me tell you a story so entrancing that you’ll want to share it at your next cocktail party.
Le Duc de Maine
Louise Bénédicte de Bourbon was born on November 8th 1676, in Paris to Anne Henriette of Bavaria and Henri Jules de Bourbon, the Prince of Condé. At the age of 15, Louise Bénédicte was thrust into an arranged marriage with 21-year-old Louis Auguste de Bourbon, the Duke of Maine. It was not a happy marriage so a displeased Louise Bénédicte took up residence away from the Duke at the Château de Sceaux, a countryside estate. There, she threw herself into the party life, entertaining with great originality. For example, our gal created her own little chivalric court called the Order of the Honey Bee, where members donned wigs in the shape of a beehive and she became known as La Reine des Abeilles or “the queen of the bees.”
Château de Sceaux
Into her little salon swarmed the top wits and literary figures of the day, including a young Voltaire, the baron de Montesquieu, the cardinal de Bernis, Charles-Jean-François Hénault and Jean-Baptiste Rousseau. But, in 1715, things took a bit of a turn. After failing in an elaborate bid to ensure herself a large inheritance from the House of Bourbon, Louise Bénédicte convinced her husband to join in a conspiracy to transfer the regency to the King of Spain. The plot was discovered, and, in 1719, she and the Duke were imprisoned. Our bee was released a year later and returned to the Château de Sceaux where she jumped right back into her partying ways.
The Duchess of Maine in her salon
Louise Bénédicte died in Paris in 1753 at the age of 76. A salonniere with brains and pluck, the Duchess de Maine – the queen of bees – is still creating a buzz after all these years. Cheers, doll.