So when I picked up this book at a thrift store - because I'm a sucker for $1 books - I was sure that the title was used purposely to draw in folk who didn't know what a "gentleman of the bedchamber" actually was, and assumed it was all about someone's wild sex life. I was pretty sure that it was going to be the usual French history, with large amounts of courtly traditions of lesser royals serving greater royals, where handing the king his nightshirt was the main excitement. I was expecting a lot of gossip.
Oh, was I sooooo wrong. Not about the gossip because there's loads of that - but that this wouldn't be all about someone's sex life. Because it is.
The full title of the book is The First Gentleman of the Bedchamber: The Life of Louis-Francois-Armand, marechal duc de Richelieu. And the man not only had sex with every woman that ever struck his fancy, but also took great delight in telling everyone about it. I can't stop reading because I keep waiting for him to get into some kind of trouble that he can't manage to talk his way out of. It's kind of amazing that no one's made a movie out of his life yet - but that's probably just because I haven't watched enough French films - someone must have. The details are just too over the top.
His wikipedia page, under the name: Armand de Vignerot du Plessis
Which doesn't tell you anything near the detail of the book, but I will call attention to this line, under Marriages:
Yes, he's that guy. So there's at least that movie. But there's so much more dirt in his biography...
I was hoping that page 56 would have a great example of one of his sex stories. Like the time he had two mistresses of his - both thinking they were his only (current) lover - meet at the same time and place, and then (surprise!) meet each other....and he STILL ends up sleeping with both of them (they agree to it!!!), right then, one after the other. (And this happens AGAIN with two different women. He apparently liked this scenario.)
But no, page 56 only gives us a duel. It's also not his first duel. Links in the quote to wikipedia, in case you want to know who the royals involved were. And in case it's not clear, Richelieu was indeed sleeping with Mademoiselle de Charloais (though possibly not as frequently in 1721 simply because I find it hard to keep track of who he was with when, and he seemed to tire of women rapidly after they said yes).
"In May 1721, a guest once more at a hunting party at Chantilly, he was drawn aside by his host, the duc de Bournon. Bourbon was in the mentally disturbing situation of hating his sister, Mademoiselle de Charolais, yet bitterly resenting Richelieu's association with her. He had frequently tried to provoke him to a duel: unfairly, since provocation would not have been a sufficient excuse to save Richelieu from severe punishment if he had done serious injury to a prince of the blood. This time Bourbon ordered him to draw his sword on the spot, saying: "Richelieu, you know that I have disliked you for a long time; now you shall answer to me for it."
Richelieu protested that he had no wish to comply. "I know the respect that I owe you, Monseigneur, and I am not the man to fight you." The only reply was a lunge from the prince, and Richelieu put himself on guard. He allowed Bourbon to wound him in the hand, thinking that this might satisfy him. It did not, and in the end Richelieu was fighting in earnest, desperately trying to ward off the furious attack without inflicting too much damage on his opponent. In this he was only half successful; Bourbon was wounded in the stomach, but he had the grace to admit that he had forced the fight on Richelieu. Fortunately, he was known to be a man of violent and uncontrolled temper. As one diarist put it: "Everybody says that Monsieur le Duc's mind has been deranged for some time. Not that this makes much difference, for what he had was small and evil."
Those snarky lines at the end? The book is full of them. Lots of people left letters and memoirs full of that kind of snark. Which I honestly have to approve of, because it's terribly fun to read. (If teachers had this kind of primary source reading in high school I think a LOT more kids would enjoy history. Or at least pay attention during class.)
Oh and I will indeed quote some of the sex stories in the review. They're not full of risque language or graphic detail, just many, many scenarios. Not to mention scenarios of his peers, many of whom were also hopping in and out of various beds. I think after I finish this and Worsley's Courtiers I'll have to try and figure out who was having more affairs at this time, the English or the French court.