The Princess De Montpensier

Author: Marie Madeleine Pioche de la Vergne


This story was written by Madame de Lafayette and published anonymously in 1662. It is set in a period almost 100 years previously during the sanguinary wars of the counter-reformation, when the Catholic rulers of Europe, with the encouragement of the Papacy, were bent on extirpating the followers of the creeds of Luther and Calvin. I am not qualified to embark on a historical analysis, and shall do no more than say that many of the persons who are involved in the tale actually existed, and the events referred to actually took place. The weak and vicious King and his malign and unscrupulous mother are real enough, as is a Duc de Montpensier, a Prince of the Blood, who achieved some notoriety for the cruelty with which he treated any Huguenots who fell into his hands, and for the leadership he gave to the assassins during the atrocious massacre of St. Bartholomew’s day. He was married and had progeny, but the woman to whom he was married was not the heroine of this romance, who is a fictional character, as is the Comte de Chabannes.

The Duc de Guise of the period whose father had been killed fighting against the protestants, did marry the Princess de Portein, but this was for political reasons and not to satisfy the wishes of a Princess de Montpensier.

It will be noticed,I think, that women were traded in marriage with little or no regard to their personal emotions, and no doubt, as has been remarked by others, marriages without love encouraged love outside marriage. Whatever the reality, the literary conventions of the time seem to have dictated that we should be treated only to ardent glances, fervent declarations, swoonings and courtly gestures, we are not led even to the bedroom door, let alone the amorous couch. I wonder, however, if the reader might not think that this little tale written more than three hundred years ago contains the elements of many of the romantic novels and soap operas which have followed it.

At one level it is a cautionary tale about the consequences of marital infidelity; at another it is a story of a woman betrayed, treated as a pretty bauble for the gratification of men, and cast aside when she has served her purpose, or a butterfly trapped in a net woven by uncaring fate. Her end is rather too contrived for modern taste, but, even today, characters who are about to be written out of the plot in soap operas are sometimes smitten by mysterious and fatal disorders of the brain.

The unfortunate Comte de Chabannes is the archtypical "decent chap" The faithful but rejected swain who sacrifices himself for the welfare of his beloved without expectation of reward. In the hands of another writer, with some modification, he could have provided a happy ending in the "Mills and Boon" tradition.

This translation is not a schoolroom exercise, for although I have not altered the story, I have altered the exact way in which it is told in the original, with the aim of making it more acceptable to the modern reader. All translation must involve paraphrase, for what sounds well in one language may sound ridiculous if translated literally into another, and it is for the translator to decide how far this process may be carried. Whether I have succeeded in my task, only the reader can say.


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Chicago: Marie Madeleine Pioche de la Vergne, "Introduction," The Princess De Montpensier, ed. CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb and trans. Bunnett, Fanny Elizabeth, 1832 or 3-1875 in The Princess De Montpensier (New York: The Modern Library Publishers, 1918), Original Sources, accessed May 19, 2024,

MLA: Pioche de la Vergne, Marie Madeleine. "Introduction." The Princess De Montpensier, edited by CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb, and translated by Bunnett, Fanny Elizabeth, 1832 or 3-1875, in The Princess De Montpensier, New York, The Modern Library Publishers, 1918, Original Sources. 19 May. 2024.

Harvard: Pioche de la Vergne, MM, 'Introduction' in The Princess De Montpensier, ed. and trans. . cited in 1918, The Princess De Montpensier, The Modern Library Publishers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 19 May 2024, from