The story of Francoise D'Aubigne, Madame de Maintenon and mistress and later (possibly) secret morganatic queen to the Sun King. Francoise was an admirable woman, witty and good-hearted. After an impoverished childhood (her father was gently born but flaky, perhaps even a con man), she went to Paris and befriended the crippled but clever writer Scarron. He died after only ~five years of marriage, leaving her a pretty, probably virginal widow of 24. She spent the next few years taking care of friends' children, and eventually her reputation came to the notice of Athenais de Montespan. Athenais was the King's mistress, but her husband refused to pretend to be the father of her illegitimate children. To maintain her reputation, Athenais had her infants (of which there were five) each spirited away as soon as they were born, to live with the sensible and virtuous Francoise. Eventually the King started visiting his little bastards, he took notice of Francoise, and after some time they fell in love. There were many other, prettier, younger, more nobly born mistresses throughout his affair with Francoise, but he stayed with her, and accorded her honors, until his death. After he died, she went to live (apparently quite happily) in a little convent and died peacefully thereafter.
I'd have liked this book more if it weren't so scattered. I felt like I knew all the political intrigue and how each battle went and how every single person at court felt about every single other person at court, and truthfully it got a bit uninteresting. A more focused book could have kept me glued to the page, because certainly she led a fascinating life. Still, it's pretty well-written and the author provides plenty of personage's opinions in their own words. I do appreciate that. Plus, it's a great source for bon mots popular in the French court at the time, and anecdotes to horrify your friends. Like the time the King of Spain peed into a beaver hat. Or that when the French peasants were starving because the king's army had forcibly taken all their grain, their Archbishop advised them to fast and pray for forgiveness. Hilarity!