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Anne McElvoy, senior editor at the Economist, wrote the following in a recent column:

As a mistress of Louis XIV waspishly remarked, one can be a powerful king with a very small sceptre.

The quote appears exactly once in Google's index -- in the above-mentioned column. I presume she meant Louis XIV of France, so I searched a few possible translations and wasn't able to locate the quote in French either.

Assuming the quote is correct, or that there's a similar quote that I missed, what is the actual quote, which of Louis XIV's mistresses said it (assuming it was indeed one of his mistresses), and in what context?

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    I can't really research properly right now, but contemporary pamphleteers in Paris are supposed to have attributed something similar (a reference to Louis' “tres petit sceptre”) to Henrietta of England (daughter of Charles I). – sempaiscuba Jul 30 at 12:01
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    What an amazing quote. Taken at face value it's a profound quote on Monarchy, and leadership in general, worthy of Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, or Miyamoto Musashi; but of course everyone hearing it first hears the sexual innuendo of the double entendre'. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 30 at 12:10
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    @sempaiscuba: I'm tempted to assume you've guessed correctly, though it's a bit intriguing that the Tumblr post you link to is the only reference in Google's index when searching for "Louis XIV" "tres petit sceptre". – Denis de Bernardy Jul 30 at 12:14
  • @DenisdeBernardy I agree, which is why I don't think it's enough for an answer. I'd suggest looking at surviving pamphlets that mention Henrietta as a starting point. The BNF may have some of their (fairly extensive) collection available online. – sempaiscuba Jul 30 at 12:37
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The 'author' of this interesting remark would appear to be Catherine Charlotte de Gramont (1639-1738) who was Princess of Monaco as the wife of Louis I of Monaco.

The Princesse de Monaco, who was generous with her favors, was heard to remark gaily of Louis’s penis that, although his power was great, his scepter was very small, unlike that of his cousin Charles of England.

Source: Lisa Hilton, 'Athenais: The Life of Louis XIV's Mistress, the Real Queen of France'

The attribution to the Princess of Monaco also appears in a 2015 article in Le Point

Après quelques accouchements, direction Paris où elle décroche une place d’honneur dans la suite d’Henriette d’Orléans, l’épouse du frère du roi.... si l’on en croit le compte rendu de la princesse de Monaco elle-même, qui affirmait que la puissance du roi était grande, "mais son sceptre tout petit, contrairement à son cousin Charles d’Angleterre".

Translation: After a few deliveries [i.e. the births of her children with Louis I], she went to Paris where she landed a place of honor in the suite of Henriette d'Orléans, the wife of the king's brother.... the account of the Princess of Monaco herself, who claimed that the power of the king was great, "but his sceptre is very small, unlike his cousin Charles of England".

enter image description here

Catherine-Charlotte de Gramont. Public domain

Catherine-Charlotte de Gramont was Louis XIV's mistress for a few months in 1666 and / or 1667; the affair ended when Catherine's ongoing liaisons with her cousin, Antoine Nompar de Caumont (comte de Puyguilhem), and Armand de Gramont (comte de Guiche) threatened to embroil the French king in more scandal than even the court at Versailles could handle. However, while Catherine's observations on Louis XIV's 'sceptre' came from personal experience, there does not appear to be any evidence that she ever had affair with Charles II of England. It's not hard to imagine, though, that she picked this up from court gossip and, perhaps used it spitefully (as noted below by LangLangC's citation of Antonia Fraser) when she was banished from the court in 1668 for yet another affair.


As LangLangC has pointed out in a comment below, this is hearsay - but that may well be all we have. Neither of two contemporary sources, The memoirs of the Duke of Saint-Simon on the reign of Louis XIV and the regency nor the three volume Memoirs of Mademoiselle de Montpensier (vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3) make any mention of this quote.

The Princess' supposed remark is mentioned in Jean Teulé's 2008 historical novel Le Montespan, a copy of which can be downloaded for free here. The book won the Grand Prix du roman historique, though presumably more for its literary merits than historical accuracy.

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    "The Princesse spitefully marked her failure to establish something more permanent by describing the King's 'sceptre' as 'very' small' - or so she said" That makes her not the author of that remark, but the journalist? After all, this seems to be hearsay from the beginning and the exact quote from the newspaper it seems not to be? – LangLangC Jul 30 at 12:44
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    The above quote is from Antonia Fraser and she references your src as well as SaintSimon III (1967) p463, can you access that or: Vincent Pitts: "La Grande Mademoiselle at the Court of France : 1627-1693" (2000)? – LangLangC Jul 30 at 12:51
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    It was just "the shrinkage" as George Louis Costanza might have said. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 30 at 13:25
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    @DenisdeBernardy Unfortunately not but interesting question. I'm still digging, though. – Lars Bosteen Jul 30 at 13:49
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    @PieterGeerkens - "Les Shrinkage" – T.E.D. Jul 30 at 20:04

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