It’s time to pay tribute to another fabulous 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 was 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. Notwithstanding her ties to the House of Bourbon, did we mention that she also spent 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 in Paris on November 8th 1676, 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, and the 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. 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. When the plot was discovered, and the Duke were imprisoned, but 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 salonnière with brains and pluck, the Duchess de Maine—the queen of bees—is still creating a buzz after all these years. Bravo, Madame!
To read more about the great salonnières in history, click here. For a list of America’s 100 best modern-day salonnières click here, and for tips and ideas from today’s most skilled party hosts, click here.