The Sun King’s Death in a Glass of Water

The Sun King's Death in a Glass of Water The crown of Louis XV, the "couronne fermee"

The Sun King’s Death in a Glass of Water The crown of Louis XV, the “couronne fermee”

 “I do not pride myself upon my freedom from prejudice—impartiality–it would be useless to attempt it. But I have tried at all times to tell the truth.”

-Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon-

In today’s post we travel to the France of Louis XIV, the Sun King, where his nephew, Philippe, Duc d’Orléans, was traveling a dark path in trying to raise the devil. Even though he confessed to courtier and memoirist Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon that he had failed in this endeavor, d’Orléans told Saint-Simon of an even more dangerous game, bordering on treason. This was an experiment in scrying to envision the circumstances of the Sun King’s death. What began as a game produced some curious results. Here is the story from Saint-Simon:

His [Duc d’Orleans’s] curiosity, joined to a false idea of firmness and courage, had early led him to try and raise the devil and make him speak. He left nothing untried, even the wildest reading, to persuade himself there was no God; and yet believed meanwhile in the devil, and hoped to see him and converse with him! This inconsistency is hard to understand, and yet is extremely common. He worked with all sorts of obscure people; and above all with Mirepoix, sublieutenant of the Black Musketeers, to find out Satan. They passed whole nights in the quarries of Vanvres and of Vaugirard uttering invocations. M. le Duc d’Orleans, however, admitted to me that he had never succeeded in hearing or seeing anything, and at last had given up this folly.

At first it was only to please Madame d’Argenton [d’Orleans’s mistress. See The Séry below.], but afterwards from curiosity, that he tried to see the present and the future in a glass of water; so he said, and he was no liar. To be false and to be a liar are not one and the same thing, though they closely resemble each other, and if he told a lie it was only when hard pressed upon some promise or some business, and in spite of himself, so as to escape from a dilemma….

But here is a thing he told me in a corner of the salon at Marly, where we were talking alone to each other one evening when he had come out from Paris just before he started for Italy. The singularity of this thing, verified by after events which he could not possibly foresee, induces me not to omit it here. He was very eager about all sorts of arts and sciences, and in spite of his intelligence had the weakness so common to the descendants of Henri II, which Catherine de’ Medici brought, among other evils, from Italy. He had done his best to see the devil, without ever, as he told me himself, being able to do so; he desired to see extraordinary things and to know the future. The Séry [the Duc d’Orléans’s mistress, also known as Madame d’Argenton] had a little girl of eight or nine in her household, who had never left it and had all the simplicity and ignorance of that age and that education. Among other rascals of hidden mysteries, of whom the Duc d’Orléans had seen many in his life, was one, brought to him at his mistress’s house, who pretended to make anything a person wished to know visible in a glass of water, only requiring a young and innocent child or youth to look into it. This little girl was just the thing. They amused themselves therefore by seeking to know what was happening at the time in distant places, and the little girl looked and related what she saw.

The dupery which the Duc d’Orléans had so often experienced made him seek an experiment which should really convince him. He ordered one of his servants in a whisper to go to the house of Mme. de Nancré, a few doors off, and find out what was going on in her salon, and also the furniture of the room, and bring him word instantly without losing a moment or speaking to a soul. This was done in a second; no one noticed it, and the little girl was still in the room. As soon as the Duc d’Orléans learned the facts, he told the little girl to look in the glass and tell him what was going on at Mme. de Nancré’s. Instantly she related to them, word for word, all that the man whom the Duc d’Orléans had sent reported that he had seen: the description of persons, faces, dresses, those who were playing at the different tables, the arrangement of the furniture, in a word, everything. The Duc d’Orléans immediately sent Nancré himself to see what was going on, and the latter stated that he found everything as the little girl had said, and as the valet had reported it to the Duc d’Orléans in a whisper.

He seldom spoke to me of these things because I took the liberty to cry shame upon him. [Saint-Simon was attached to d’Orléans’ suite and frequently lectured him on morality.] I took it now about this tale, and said all I could to deter him from putting faith in these deceptions and amusing himself with them, especially at a time when he ought to have his mind occupied with so many great matters. “But that is not all,” he said; ” I have only told you that to lead to the rest,” and then he related to me how, encouraged by the correctness of what the little girl had seen in Madame de Nancré’s room, he wished to know something more important, and to discover what would happen on the death of the king, but not the period of it, which could not be seen in the glass. Accordingly he asked her this at once. The little girl had never heard of Versailles, or known any one but him belonging to the Court. She looked, and then explained to them at great length what she saw. She gave, correctly, a description of the king’s bedroom at Versailles, and of its furniture at the time of his death; she described him perfectly as he lay in his bed, also all those who stood about him or in the chamber, and particularly a little child wearing the Order, held by Mme. de Ventadour [Louis XV’s governess], about whom she exclaimed because she had seen her at Mlle, de Séry’s. She described Mme. de Maintenon, the singular appearance of Fagon [one of the King’s physicians], Madame, Mme. la Duchesse d’Orléans, Mme. la Princesse de Conti, and she exclaimed at seeing M. le Duc d’Orléans: in a word, she related to them what she saw of princes or persons in waiting, seigneurs and valets. When she had finished, the Duc d’Orléans, surprised that she. had not described Monseigneur, the Duc de Bourgogne, the Duchesse de Bourgogne, or the Duc de Berry, asked her if she saw no persons who looked thus and so. She replied repeatedly, no; and then told over again exactly what she saw. He could not comprehend it, and expressed to me his great surprise, trying to find a reason. Events explained it. We were then in 1706; all four were full of life and health, but all four were dead before the king.

This curiosity answered, the Duc d’Orléans wished to know what was to happen to himself. That could not be told in the glass. The man who performed these things offered to show it to him as if pictured on the wall of the room, provided he would have no fear at seeing himself; and after a quarter of an hour spent in grimacing before them all, the form of the Duc d’Orléans, dressed as he then was and of his natural size, appeared on the wall like a painting, with a couronne fermée upon his head. It was neither the French, Spanish, English, nor the Imperial crown. The Duc d’Orléans, who looked at it with all his eyes, could not imagine what it was, and had never seen anything like it. It had but four arches and nothing at the top. This crown covered his head.

From this and the preceding obscurity I took occasion to point out to him the emptiness of such curiosity, and the deceptions of the devil, which God permits in order to punish a curiosity which he forbids; also the darkness and nothingness which resulted in place of the light and the satisfaction he had looked for. He was then, assuredly, very far from being Regent of the kingdom, or from imagining the possibility of it. That was perhaps what the strange couronne fermée indicated to him. All this happened in Paris at the house of his mistress, in presence of their most private circle the evening before the day when he related it to me. I thought it so extraordinary that I gave it a place here, not in approval of it, but merely to record it.

Memoirs of the Duc de Saint-Simon, Vol. 2, Louis de Rouvroy duc de Saint-Simon, Translated and Abridged by Katharine Prescott Wormeley, from the Edition Collated with the Original Manuscript by m. Cheruel, 1904

Telling the future in a glass of water is a form of scrying called hydromancy. One would like to know more about “the man who performed these things.”  Did the man hypnotize the young girl into seeing visions in the water? But why those particular visions?   How did those “grimaces” translate into pictures on the wall? It seems as though the fact that the image of the Duc d’Orléans was wearing the same clothes in the vision should be significant in ferreting out the trick. Was a camera obscura device used and the grimaces were a device to play for time while it could be set up by a confederate? In asking about the circumstances, but not the time of the King’s death, the Duc d’Orléans was playing a dangerous game. I assume (but do not know for a fact) that predicting the time of the King’s death was treason, as it was in England. The “rascal of hidden mysteries” may have thought he was on safe ground giving details of the deathbed scene–who would remember if his prediction had been accurate or not when the King actually died?  At the very least the “rascal” was discreet in saying that the time of death could not be revealed in the glass.

As Saint-Simon says, the following personages were all alive and well at this time [1706]:

Monseigneur /Louis of France, heir to the throne of the Sun King and known as Le Grand Dauphin

Monseigneur’s son, the Duc de Bourgogne (Le Petit Dauphin) and his wife, the Duchess de Bourgogne.

Charles, Duc de Berry, youngest son of Monseigneur

Monseigneur died of smallpox 14 April 1711, predeceasing his father, the King. In February of 1712 the Duchesse de Bourgogne contracted measles (or possibly smallpox) and died on the 12th of February. Unfashionably, de Bourgogne loved his wife, stayed with her in her affliction, and also contracted the disease, dying on the 18th of the same month. Both of the couple’s sons were infected. The eldest–the potential heir to the throne–died on the 8th of March and the other, the future King Louis XV, survived only because his governess would not allow him to be bled. The Duc de Berry died of injuries from a hunting accident 4 May 1714.  King Louis XIV outlived them all, dying in agony of gangrene, 1 September 1715.  At the time of this vision, the Duc d’Orléans had no notion that he would ever become regent or come close to assuming the crown–there were too many candidates before him in the succession. On the death of Louis XIV, the Duc d’Orléans became regent for the child king who later wore the crown seen in the vision.

Was it treason to encompass the King’s death in early 18th-century France? Any thoughts on how the vision of the Duc d’Orléans could have been produced? Project into a glass of water and send to Chriswoodyard8 AT

Here’s the French of the passages above:

La curiosité d’esprit de M. le duc d’Orléans, jointe à une fausse idée de fermeté et de courage, l’avait occupé de bonne heure à chercher à voir le diable, et à pouvoir le faire parler. Il n’oubliait rien, jusqu’aux plus folles lectures, pour se persuader qu’il n’y a point de Dieu, et il croyait le diable jusqu’à espérer de le voir et de l’entretenir. Ce contraste ne se peut comprendre, et cependant il est extrêmement commun. Il y travailla avec toutes sortes de gens obscurs, et beaucoup avec Mirepoix, mort en 1699, sous-lieutenant des mousquetaires noirs, frère aîné du père de Mirepoix, aujourd’hui lieutenant général et chevalier de l’ordre. Ils passaient les nuits dans les carrières de Vanvres      et de Vaugirard à faire des invocations. M. le duc d’Orléans m’a avoué qu’il n’avait jamais pu venir à bout de rien voir ni entendre, et se déprit enfin de cette folie. Ce ne fut d’abord que par complaisance pour Mme d’Argenton, mais après par un réveil de curiosité, qu’il s’adonna à faire regarder dans un verre d’eau le présent et le futur, dont j’ai rapporté sur son récit des choses singulières; et il n’était pas menteur. Faux et menteur, quoique fort voisins, ne sont pas même chose; et quand il lui arrivait de mentir, ce n’était jamais que, lorsque pressé sur quelque promesse ou sur quelque affaire, il y avait recours malgré lui pour sortir d’un mauvais pas…..Mais voici une chose qu’il me raconta dans le salon de Marly, dans un coin où nous causions tête à tête, un jour que, sur le point de son départ pour l’Italie, il arrivait de Paris, dont la singularité vérifiée par des événements qui ne se pouvaient prévoir alors m’engage à ne la pas omettre. Il était curieux de toutes sortes d’arts et de sciences, et, avec infiniment d’esprit, avait eu toute sa vie la faiblesse si commune à la cour des enfants d’Henri II, que Catherine de Médicis avait entre autres maux apportée d’Italie. Il avait tant qu’il avait pu cherché à voir le diable, sans y avoir pu parvenir, à ce qu’il m’a souvent dit, et à voir des choses extraordinaires, et savoir l’avenir. La Sery avait une petite fille chez elle de huit ou neuf ans, qui y était née et n’en était jamais sortie, et qui avait l’ignorance et la simplicité de cet âge et de cette éducation. Entre autres fripons de curiosités cachées, dont M. le duc d’Orléans avait beaucoup vu en sa vie, on lui en produisit un, chez sa maîtresse, qui prétendit faire voir dans un verre rempli d’eau tout ce qu’on voudrait savoir. Il demanda quelqu’un de jeune et d’innocent pour y regarder, et cette petite fille s’y trouva propre. Ils s’amusèrent donc à vouloir savoir ce qui se passait alors même dans des lieux éloignés, et la petite fille voyait, et rendait ce qu’elle voyait à mesure. Cet homme prononçait tout bas quelque chose sur ce verre rempli d’eau, et aussitôt on y regardait avec succès.

Les duperies que M. le duc d’Orléans avait souvent essuyées rengagèrent à une épreuve qui pût le rassurer. Il ordonna tout bas à un de ses gens, à l’oreille, d’aller sur-le-champ à quatre pas de là, chez Mme de Nancré, de bien examiner qui y était, ce qui s’y faisait, la position et l’ameublement de la chambre, et la situation de tout ce qui s’y passait, et, sans perdre un moment ni parler à personne, de le lui venir dire à l’oreille. En un tournemain la commission fut exécutée, sans que personne s’aperçût de ce que c’était, et la petite fille toujours dans la chambre. Dès que M. le duc d’Orléans fut instruit, il dit à la petite fille de regarder dans le verre qui était chez Mme de Nancré et ce qu’il s’y passait. Aussitôt elle leur raconta mot pour mot tout ce qu’y avait vu celui que M. le duc d’Orléans y avait envoyé. La description des visages, des figures, des vêtements, des gens qui y étaient, leur situation dans la chambre, les gens qui jouaient à deux tables différentes, ceux qui regardaient ou qui causaient assis ou debout, la disposition des meubles, en un mot tout. Dans l’instant M. le duc d’Orléans y envoya Nancré, qui rapporta avoir tout trouvé comme la petite fille l’avait dit, et comme le valet qui y avait été d’abord l’avait rapporté à l’oreille de M. le duc d’Orléans.

Il ne me parlait guère de ces choses-là, parce que je prenais la liberté de lui en faire honte. Je pris celle de le pouiller à ce récit et de lui dire ce que je crus le pouvoir détourner d’ajouter foi et de s’amuser à ces prestiges, dans un temps surtout où il devait avoir l’esprit occupé de tant de grandes choses. « Ce n’est pas tout, me dit-il; et je ne vous ai conté cela que pour venir au reste; » et tout de suite me conta que, encouragé par l’exactitude de ce que la petite fille avait vu de la chambre de Mme de Nancré, il avait voulu voir quelque chose de plus important, et ce qui se passerait à la mort du roi, mais sans en rechercher le temps qui ne se pouvait voir dans ce verre. Il le demanda donc tout de suite à la petite fille, qui n’avait jamais ouï parler de Versailles, ni vu personne que lui de la cour. Elle regarda et leur expliqua longuement tout ce qu’elle voyait. Elle fit avec justesse la description de la chambre du roi à Versailles, et de l’ameublement qui s’y trouva en effet à sa mort. Elle le dépeignit parfaitement dans son lit, et ce qui était debout auprès du lit ou dans la chambre, un petit enfant avec l’ordre tenu par Mme de Ventadour, sur laquelle elle s’écria parce qu’elle l’avait vue chez Mlle de Sery. Elle leur fit connaître. Mme de Maintenon, la figure singulière de Fagon, Madame, Mme la duchesse d’Orléans, Mme la Duchesse, Mme la princesse de Conti; elle s’écria sur M. le duc d’Orléans: en un mot, elle leur fit connaître ce qu’elle voyait là de princes et de domestiques, seigneurs ou valets. Quand elle eut tout dit, M. le duc d’Orléans, surpris qu’elle ne leur eût point fait connaître Monseigneur, Mgr le duc de Bourgogne, Mme la duchesse de Bourgogne, ni M. le duc de Berry, lui demanda si elle ne voyait point des figures de telle et telle façon. Elle répondit constamment que non, et répéta celles qu’elle voyait. C’est ce que M. le duc d’Orléans ne pouvait comprendre et dont il s’étonna fort avec moi, et en rechercha vainement la raison. L’événement l’expliqua. On était lors en 1706. Tous quatre étaient alors pleins de vie et de santé, et tous quatre étaient morts avant le roi. Ce fut la même chose de M. le Prince, de M. le Duc et de M. le prince de Conti qu’elle ne vit point, et vit les enfants des deux derniers, M. du Maine, les siens, et M. le comte de Toulouse. Mais jusqu’à l’événement cela demeura dans l’obscurité.

Cette curiosité achevée, M. le duc d’Orléans voulut savoir ce qu’il deviendrait. Alors ce ne fut plus dans le verre. L’homme qui était là lui offrit de le lui montrer comme peint sur la muraille de la chambre, pourvu qu’il n’eût point de peur de s’y voir; et au bout d’un quart d’heure de quelques simagrées devant eux tous, la figure de M. le duc d’Orléans, vêtu comme il l’était alors et dans sa grandeur naturelle, parut tout à coup sur la muraille comme en peinture, avec une couronne fermée   sur la tête. Elle n’était ni de France, ni d’Espagne, ni d’Angleterre, ni impériale. M. le duc d’Orléans, qui la considéra de tous ses yeux, ne put jamais la deviner; il n’en avait jamais vu de semblable. Elle n’avait que quatre cercles, et rien au sommet. Cette couronne lui couvrait la tête.

De l’obscurité précédente et de celle-ci, je pris occasion de lui remontrer la vanité de ces sortes de curiosités, les justes tromperies du diable que Dieu permet pour punir des curiosités qu’il défend, le néant et les ténèbres qui en résultent au lieu de la lumière et de la satisfaction qu’on y recherche. Il était assurément alors bien éloigné d’être régent du royaume et de l’imaginer. C’était peut-être ce que cette couronne singulière lui annonçait. Tout cela s’était passé à Paris chez sa maîtresse, en présence de leur plus étroit intrinsèque, la veille du jour qu’il me le raconta, et je l’ai trouvé si extraordinaire que je lui ai donné place ici, non pour l’approuver, mais pour le rendre. Memoires de Saint-Simon, Book 5, Chapter XII, 1706 and Book 12, Chapter V

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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