Marriage and children
One of the first priorities of Louis Henri de Bourbon, Prince of Condé, (who preferred being and was known as the Duke of Bourbon, rather than Prince of Condé) was to find a bride for King Louis XV to assure the continuity of the monarchy, and especially to prevent the succession to the throne passing to the Orleans branch of the House of Bourbon, the rivals of his branch. A list of 99 princesses was prepared, among them being Anne, Princess Royal and Princess of Orange, Barbara of Portugal, Princess Charlotte-Amalie of Denmark, Elisabeth Therese of Lorraine, Enrichetta d’Este and the Duke’s own sisters Henriette Louise de Bourbon and Élisabeth Alexandrine de Bourbon.
Marie Leszczyńska of Poland
Maria Karolina Zofia Felicja Leszczyńska was the second daughter of Stanislaus I Leszczyński and his wife, Catherine Opalińska. She had an elder sister, Anna Leszczyńska, who died of pneumonia in 1717.
Marie was not described as a beauty; instead her characteristics in the marriage market were stated as those of being pleasant, well-educated, and graceful in manner and movement. In 1720, she was initially suggested as a bride for Louis-Henri Duke of Bourbon but her intended mother-in-law, Louise-Françoise de Bourbon, Duchess of Bourbon (1673-1743) was the eldest surviving legitimised daughter of Louis XIV of France and his maîtresse-en-titre, Madame de Montespan.
Louise François refused to give her consent.
Louise Françoise de Bourbon, Duchess of Bourbon
The cavalry regiment provided by the Regent for the protection of the family included the officer, Marquis de Courtanvaux, who fell in love with Marie and asked the Regent to be created a duke in order to ask for her hand; but when the Regent refused, the marriage became impossible because of his lack of rank.
Ludwig-Georg, Margrave of Baden-Baden as well as the third Prince of Baden were suggested, but these negotiations fell through because of her insufficient dowry. Stanislaus unsuccessfully tried to arrange a marriage for her with Charles de Bourbon-Condé, Count of Charolais, brother of the Duke of Bourbon.
In 1724, she was suggested by Count d’Argensson as a bride for Louis d’Orléans new Duke of Orléans, but her intended mother-in-law, Françoise-Marie de Bourbon, légitimée de France (1677-1749) the youngest illegitimate daughter of Louis XIV of France and his maîtresse-en-titre, Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart, Marquise de Montespan, wished for a dynastic match with political advantage.
In the end, the 21-year-old Marie Leszczyńska, was finally chosen. Ironically, the hopeless political career of King Stanislaus was eventually the reason why his daughter Maria was chosen as the bride of King Louis XV of France. Devoid of political connections, his daughter was viewed by the French as being free from the burden of international alliances.
The formal proposal was made on April 2, 1725. The announcement of the wedding was not received well at the royal court. Marie’s father Stanislaus had been a monarch for only a short time and she was thought to be a poor choice of inferior status not worthy of being queen of France.
The Dowager Duchess of Lorraine, sister of the former Duke of Orléans, was also insulted that her own daughter Elisabeth-Therese had not been chosen. The nobility and the court looked upon the future queen as an upstart intruder, the ministers as a cause to diplomatic trouble with Spain and Russia, whose princesses had been refused in favor of Marie, and the general public was also reportedly initially dissatisfied with the fact that France would gain “from this marriage neither glory nor honor, riches nor alliances.”
There were rumors before the wedding that the bride was ugly, epileptic and sterile. On May 6, 1725, Marie was forced to undergo a medical examination, which ruled out epilepsy and also gave reassuring reports about her menstruation and ability to procreate.
In the marriage contract, the same terms were given to her as was previously to the Spanish Infanta, and she was thus guaranteed fifty thousand crowns for rings and jewelry, two hundred and fifty thousand crowns upon her wedding, and the further guarantee of an annual widow allowance of twenty thousand crowns.
Private relationship to Louis XV
The marriage by proxy took place on August 15, 1725 in the Cathedral of Strasbourg, Louis XV represented by his cousin the Louis, Duke of Orléans. Upon her marriage, Maria’s Polish name was modified into French as Marie. Furthermore, despite her surname being difficult to spell or to pronounce for the French, it was still commonly used by commoners.
She was escorted on her way by Mademoiselle de Clermont, seven ladies-in-waiting, two maids-of-honour and numerous equerries and pages in a long train of coaches; however, she was not welcomed by triumphal entries, diplomatic greetings or the other official celebrations, as was normally the custom upon the arrival of a foreign princess upon a royal marriage. Marie made a good impression upon the public from the beginning, such as when she handed out largesse on her way to her wedding in Fontainebleau.
Queen Marie Leszczyńska with Louis, the Dauphin
Louis XV and Marie first met on the eve of their wedding, which took place on September 5, 1725, at the Château de Fontainebleau. Marie was twenty-two years old and Louis fifteen. The young couple was reported to have fallen in love at first sight. The relationship between Marie and Louis was initially described as a happy one, and for the first eight years of the marriage, Louis XV was faithful to her. Louis XV had been very impatient to marry her, was reportedly flattered to have a twenty two-year old wife at his age, and refused to allow any criticism of her appearance.
The queen was pious and timid, and spent most of her time secluded with her own courtiers. She was a musician, read extensively, and played social games with her courtiers.
In August 1727, Marie gave birth to her first children, twins named Louise-Élisabeth and Anne-Henriette, at the Palace of Versailles. The king was reportedly delighted, stating that after it had been said that he could not be a father, he had suddenly become the father of two. Cardinal Fleury, however, was much more displeased, and decided that until the queen had given birth to a son, she would not be allowed to accompany the king on his trips but stay at Versailles.
A year later, another daughter, Marie Louise was born, much to the disappointment of the King. The long-awaited Dauphin, Louis, was born on September 4, 1729 to the immense relief of the country, whose royal family had a history of failing to establish a secure male line of succession. In all, Marie had 10 live children, seven of whom survived to adulthood. Her children all regarded her as a role model of virtue, particularly the daughters, though Marie herself reportedly was not noted to show much affection toward them, being phlegmatic in her nature.
Queen Marie Leszczyńska of France
In her behavior she was described as incurably shy and timid of her husband; she considered it her duty to show him grateful reverence and was not able to relax enough to entertain him or flirt with him. Once, for example, she could find no other way to entertain him than to suggest him to kill the flies in the window panes. Louis XV, who suffered from restlessness and needed to be entertained, eventually became more inclined to listen when Marie was unfavorably compared to other women, and Cardinal Fleury, who wished to prevent Marie from eventually getting any influence over the king, favored the idea of the king taking a mistress as long as she was apolitical.
Though not regarded as ugly, Marie was seen as plain with not much more than her fresh and healthy complexion in her favor; this faded due to her many pregnancies, but her piety prevented her from consenting to indulge in vanity in order make herself attractive. After 1737, she did not share her bed with the King. She was deeply upset by the death of her son Prince Louis, the Dauphin in 1765, and Queen Marie Leszczyńska died on June 24, 1768 aged 65.