An exceptional manuscript, remained unpublished,
written by Antoine, Louis XIV’s manservant, and relating the king’s last days.
The copy of the author, Antoine, the king’s manservant.
Antoine, le sieur, valet de chambre de Louis XIV. Journal historique ou Récit fidelle de ce qui s’est passé de plus considérable durant la maladie et à la mort de Louis quatorze, Roy de France et de Navarre.
Fait et dressé par le S[ieu]r Antoine le fils, garçon ordinaire de la chambre du Roy en 1715.
[Versailles ou Saint-Germain-en-Laye], 1715.
4to [215 x 167 mm] of 221 pp. numbered at the time, 2 engraved portraits on the frontispiece.Light-brown calf, triple gilt fillets around the covers, richly decorated ribbed spine, lettering piece in red morocco, decorated leading edges, decorated edges. Contemporary binding.
An exceptional manuscript detailing king Louis the XIV’s illness and death, written at the time and while by his bedside.
This text contains information to which the chroniclers at the time and the historians of the following centuries never had access to.
Sir Antoine belongs to a dynasty of servants who have worked at the palace for more than a century. One of his ancestors had left a written journal retelling of Louis the XIII’s final days. No one was more privy to the secrets of the king’s private life than his personal manservants. The narratives of Louis XIV’s agony and death which were given by the duke of Saint-Simon or Voltaire are mostly second-hand, based on the rumors running around Versailles. These authors also borrowed from the memoirs of the marquis of Dangeau, a courtesan who was always on the lookout but whose proximity to the king was, of course, not as constant as that of his manservants, who were there day and night.
On many fronts, this manservant’s journal contradicts Saint-Simon’s version, notably when he accuses madame de Maintenon of having abandoned the king. On the contrary, Antoine’s journal tells us that the marchioness was in Versailles on the 31st of August, on the eve of the king’s death, “and it was only when she found the dying man unconscious that she dealt out her meagre furniture amongst her servants and retired to Saint-Cyr with the firm but not undignified resolve of never leaving it” (Drumont, p. XXXIV).
About the last words that the king addressed to the dauphin, our text gives us a slightly different version than the one communicated to the chroniclers present at the time : “Mon cher enfant, vous allés être un grand roy. N’oubliés jamais les grandes obligations que vous avez à Dieu. Ne m’imités pas surtout dans les guerres que j’ay entreprises. Tachés de maintenir toujours la paix avec vos voisins. Soulagés votre peuple le plus que vous pourrés. J’ay eu le malheur par les nécessités de l’Etat où je me suis trouvé, de ne le pouvoir faire. Suivés en tout le conseil de personnes éclairées, sages, et désinterressées. Songés que c’est à Dieu seul que vous devez tout ce que vous êtes. Et n’oubliés jamais les obligations que vous avés à Mad[am]e de Ventadour pour tous les soins qu’elle a pris de vous élever, et qu’elle veut bien continuer encor.”
A most invaluable first-hand testimony, strangely still unpublished.
In his introduction, the author mentions that he has made several copies of his manuscript, which were all read and appreciated, and that he was advised to publish it : “Notre dessein étoit […] d’en communiquer seulement des copies à ceux qui nous en demanderoient, et sans néanmoins la rendre publique ; mais plusieurs de nos amis l’ayant vûe et lûe, elle leur a paru si intéressante qu’ils nous ont prié et conseillé de la faire imprimer. Nous y avons acquiescé, et nous espérons que le public ne nous sçaura pas mauvais gré d’avoir suivi leurs sentiments.”
But quite unexpectedly, the journal was not published at the time. It fell into oblivion and it seems the copies were deliberately destroyed. In 1865, a Normand scholar, Julien Travers, discovered a copy of this work in the library of Caen. He informed the scientific community of his find and tried to make a deal in order to publish it. His efforts would not be rewarded and it was only in 1880 that Edouard Drumont would first publish it ; his edition is based on a copy owned by the playwright Victorien Sardou, which has never been found.
A first confrontation of our text with the copy kept in Caen has revealed a certain number of differences, which would need a proper research study.
This copy is one of only three known copies of the manuscript : one is located in the library of Caen and the other is the Sardou copy, whose whereabouts are unknown.
Regarding the fact that the book was not published at the time, Edouard Drumont has a convincing hypothesis : the document could have remained hidden because of Antoine’s support of Jansenism. “Why did the journal not come to print ? The reason is simple. The Antoines were obviously Jansenists.” To corroborate this idea, he quotes a passage from the journal, one of the king’s last conversation with the cardinals de Rohan, de Bissy and de Polignac, where the monarch supposedly said the following : “ … dans les dernières affaires qui sont survenues depuis peu, je n’ai suivy que vos avis et n’ay fait que ce que vous m’avez conseillé de faire, c’est pourquoy, si j’ay pu mal faire, c’est sur vos consciences […] et vous en répondrez devant Dieu, pour moy je n’ai eu que de très bonnes intentions.”
Let’s not forget that Louis XIV firmly opposed Jansenism very early on, suspecting them of being opposed to the king’s absolute power. It is on his request that the pope Clement XI published in 1713 the famous “Bulle Unigenitus” condemning the movement. It is therefore surprising to read in Antoine’s words that the king deflected the responsibility of his decisions onto his cardinals… At the time, reading these lines would have been absolutely shocking : it clearly implies that the dying king confessed to having a personal preference for Jansenism.
Exceptional manuscript, remained unpublished, written by Antoine, Louis XIV’s manservant, and relating the king’s last days.
Exceptional provenance for this unique and quite touching historical document.
If the manuscript does not seem to have been handwritten by its author, sir Antoine, Louis XIV’s manservant, he did make edits to the text and the manuscript bears his signature and mentions at the beginning, in his handwriting, his responsibility as author: “Ce présent manuscrit apartient à Monsieur Antoine escuier garçon ordinaire de la chambre du Roy, demeurant à St Germain chez monsieur Didier à la croix Dauphine”.
The author’s personal copy.
J. Travers, Analyse et extraits du Journal historique, ou récit fidèle de ce qui s’est passé de plus considérable pendant la maladie et la mort de Louis XIV, roi de France et de Navarre, par les Srs Anthoine, Paris, Imprimerie impériale, 1865 ; E. Drumont, La mort de Louis XIV. Journal des Anthoine publié pour la première fois avec une introduction de E. Drumont ; C. Couderc, G. Lavalley, “Catalogue des manuscrits de la bibliothèque de Caen”, in Catalogue général des manuscrits des bibliothèques publiques de France, Paris, 1890, p. 234-235, notice n° 503.