History Professor Barbara Stengel presented a lively component of the Yuba College Foundation-sponsored Crossing Borders and Building Bridges series on September 28 to a classroom burgeoning with attentive students and YCC staff members.
Clad in a cardinal-red dress suit, embellished with gold baubles, enunciating her declamation in a marked native German accent, the CSU Professor’s presentation covered the breadth of a fascinating life, that of Elizabeth Charlotte, Princess Palatine, known collectively by Stengel’s German kin as Liselotte von der Pfalz.
“Sex sells,” Stengel announced at the nascence of her presentation. Specifically Stengel was referring to the series of 6,000 letters the Princess Palatine penned over the course of her residence in the court of Louis XIV, offering invaluable insight, remarks about the king’s multitude of mistresses, observations of the his peculiar and sometimes insolent royal customs and conventions, and scathing commentaries on the daily life of the court.
Descending from English royalty, Princess Charlotte Palatine was born to Charles Louis, royal court Elector Palatine and to Charlotte of Hesse-Kassel, in 1662, just as King Louis XIV was expanding his kingdom’s northern and eastern borders. Charlotte unwillingly married Louis XIV’s younger brother, Philip I, Duke of Orléans, in 1661.
The marriage was unhappy, as Charlotte was eluded by Philip’s furtive homosexual inclinations, and they never produced more than three children. The marriage proved to serve as more of a synergist enabling Charlotte’s camaraderie with Louis than anything.
Princess Palatine was one of the most singular, colorful individuals in Louis XIV’s court. She was misfit in the French court: self-depreciating, sexually withdrawn and was often presumed to be a lesbian in light of her vigor and open-air undertakings. She constructed a remarkably private sphere in which she kept herself occupied with her dogs, books, maps, coin collections, a microscope she acquired during a mounting scientific revolution and, most notably, her letters.
Amid the King’s mandates of censorship and hard-hearted exercise of control, Charlotte’s close association with him unearthed a domain profuse with soap opera-esque liaisons that she ridiculed in her written communiqués.
She blasphemed the king’s spate of mistresses. In one of her letters, she deemed Louis’ last known mistress, Francoise d’Aubigné, “an old hag,” and continued her lashing by claiming that “the great man’s whore damaged the king and made him pitiless.”
Charlotte’s disdain of Louis’ mistresses was suspect. “She spoke harshly about the mistresses probably because she was jealous,” Stengel said.