THE “ATTENTAT MANUEL” ON LOUIS XIV
On 24 June 1652, an "outrage" was committed on the body of the boy King of France, Louis XIV, and recorded by his devoted valet of the bedchamber Pierre de la Porte (1603-80), whose account of it is presented here. His manuscript was published only in 1756 by an unnamed publisher in Geneva as Mémoires de M. de la Porte, premier valet de chambre de Louis XIV (Geneva: no named publisher, 1755).
The event is wrapped in mystery, principally because the perpetrator is unknown. La Porte did not name him, but implied that his discussion of the event with the King’s mother, Queen Anne, led to him falling out of favour with Cardinal Mazarin, who, as chief minister, was the effective ruler of France as well as Supervisor of the Royal Education. Louis XIV was then aged thirteen years and nine months, and was staying at Melun, a little north of Paris, whilst the civil war known as the Fronde was raging.
Also a little mysterious is the precise nature of the strangely-phrased “attentat manuel” that la Porte reported. Those historians who have offered an interpretation of it have generally said that the King was pedicated, even though pedication is hardly manual. For example, Dirk Van der Cruysse says “La Porte pronounced with amazement that he had manifestly been sodomised.” Most, however, have not been so precise, but have simply proceeded to discuss who was the most likely “culprit” in terms which imply it was sexual and serious. Some comment by historians on this follows de la Porte’s account hereunder.
The translations here from French are this website’s.
Mémoires de M. de la Porte
In the first passage of relevance, la Porte records this exchange between the Queen and Madame d’Hautefort, her lady of honour:
One day, as Madame d’Hautefort told her that M. the Cardinal was still truly young, so that bad talk developed about her & him, H. M. replied to her that he did not like women, that he was from a country to have inclinations of another nature. [pp. 227-8]
La Porte begins the story of the “attentat” as follows:
Towards the end of June, the King stayed awhile at Melun, where to amuse himself he made a little fort, and every day he went there for a snack; he had with him H. M.’s gentlemen de Vivonne, de Vilquier, d’Anville, de Mancini, du Plessis Praslin, & several other army officers. On St. John’s Day of the same year 1652, the King having dined at H[is] E[xcellency]’s home & having stayed with him until about seven o’clock in the evening, he sent for me to say that he wished to have a bath. His bath being ready, he arrived very sad, & I knew the reason without it being necessary for him to tell me; it was such a terrible thing that it put me in the most painful situation I have ever been, & I spent five days weighing up whether I should tell the Queen; but, considering that it was a matter of my honour & it would have been on my conscience if I had not warned against similar occurrences, I finally told her, with which at first she was satisfied, telling me that I had never given such a great service to her; but, as I did not name the author of this thing to her, not being certain, that was the cause of my disgrace, as I shall tell in its place. [pp. 289-90]
La Porte then recounted how he was suddenly dismissed from court in disgrace by the Queen on the following 30 March without explanation [pp. 299-301]. Brought a letter demanding his resignation from his post the following September, and believing that his revelation to the Queen had been the cause of his disgrace, he wrote to her, saying, amongst other things:
I implore you to remember that my intentions have been sincere, & that which I told you at Melun regarded only the glory of God, the health of the King, & his special service; & that I would have deserved the treatment I received today if I had made other use of it. [p. 307]
Having then handed in his resignation on his return to Paris, as demanded,
Since the Cardinal fell ill of the sickness of which he died, & as I believed him the principal cause of my misfortune, my old friend M. de Carnavalet advised me that he knew F[ather] Severe Théatin, his Confessor, & that I should write to him to remind H[is] E[xcellency] to declare the truth that he knew on the subject of my disgrace, in order to unburden his conscience of the harm I believed he had done me. I wrote to this Father, & I gave my letter to Mr. de Carnavalet who brought it to him at Vincennes, & pressed him strongly to take it, telling him that this was a matter regarding the health of H[is] E[xcellency], but he did not want to receive it, saying that when M. the Cardinal took him as his Confessor, he had made him promise never to speak to him of any business. [pp. 308-9]
After the Cardinal’s death, several of his old friends, including Madame de Beauvais, interceded with the Queen on his behalf, but
all of them told me that when they spoke of me to the Queen, she reddened to the roots of her hair.
In 1663, the Queen already being attacked by her cancer, Madame de Beauvais, who feared for H. M.’s conscience, spoke of me to her Confessor, then summoned me to come to him to talk about it too, which I did, & beseeched him to ask the Queen under the seal of Confession if I was blameworthy or not? That if I was, she should punish me as I deserved; but that if I was not, she should end my misfortune; &, although I believed I had deserved to claim favour for my services, that nevertheless I was only asking for justice. He promised me, as he had done to Mad. de Beauvais, that he would speak of it to the Queen; and after having learned that she had been to confession with him, I sought him out again & asked him the answer; but he did not want me to do it, & I found him so embarrassed that I believed that silence had been imposed on him.
In 1664, I tried yet another means, which was to justify myself through a letter against the calumnies of my enemies. Here it is word for word:
May Her Majesty permit me please to tell her with the respect which I owe her, that without thinking about it she takes away my honour and reputation in saying to those who speak to her about me that I am more blameworthy than they think. Can Your Majesty say that in good conscience? No, Madame, you cannot without being made quite sure, & you can only be that through the report of an interested person who did not perhaps say it, but got a young person to say it who was unable to refuse, & who at present has difficulty retracting it. Your Majesty knows the truth well if you wish to give yourself the trouble of examining the thing thoroughly; for here is the subject of my disgrace. I gave notice to Y[our] M[ajesty] at Melun in 1652 that on St. John’s Day, the King dining with Mr. the Cardinal ordered me to prepare his bath about six o’clock in the River, which I did, and the King, arriving there, appeared to me sadder and more mortified than is ordinary, & as we undressed him the attentat manuel [manual outrage (?)] that had just been committed on his person appeared so visibly that Bontemps the father, & Moreau saw it like me. But they were better Courtiers than me; my zeal and my fidelity overcame all the considerations which should have silenced me; and I believed myself obliged in good conscience to notify Y[our] M[ajesty]. I did it, & you showed yourself satisfied with my proceeding in telling that all the services which I had given you were nothing in comparison with that. Y[our] M[ajesty] will please remember that I told you the King appeared very sad, & very mortified, which was a certain mark that he had not consented to what had passed, & that he did not love the author of it. I did not want, Madame, to accuse anyone, because I feared being mistaken; but what is certain is that if I had not given this notification to Y[our] M[ajesty], I would still be close to the King; but I would have lacked the fidelity which I owed him.
I say once more to Your Majesty that if you wish to take the trouble to examine all the circumstances of this affair, you will easily know my innocence, & can easily unburden yourself of bad conscience for the harm which I suffered twelve years ago. I left the neighbourhood of St. Denis, I was nine months without going near the King, during which I was extremely ill, the King did me the honour of sending on two days someone to know my news, and even sent his principal Doctor, M. Carnavalet, with whom I can bear witness to this truth, & that every time he went to the Louvre, the King asked him how I was faring. When I was recovered and had enough strength to go to His Majesty’s levee, I found him still in bed & in the presence of Mr. Vallot & Mr. Bontemps, the King sat up and showed joy at my recovery. Y[our] M[ajesty] had the goodness to assure my brother-in-law that if I died, you would preserve my position for my son; this was not to treat me as blameworthy, & nevertheless it was already four or five months since I had given you my report at Melun. When is it therefore that I committed this crime? I haven’t slept in the King’s bedchamber since that time. Could he have fallen into thought that a man who is not complained about, whom one treats as the man in the world of whom one is most satisfied, should go to expose the thing in order to accuse another? I only became blameworthy nine months afterwards, when Mr. the Cardinal returned from Bouillon. I did not write to him like the others because of my great illness, he showed himself nevertheless satisfied with me when I took leave of him in leaving the neighbourhood at St. Denis. That did not prevent him, while at Bouillon, promising my position to one Talon, while Y[our] M[ajesty] assured it for my children; & when he came close to the King, & I was ready to enter into the neighbourhood, he made me pass in Y[our] M[ajesty]’s mind as the author of the harm which I had not done, but which I had seen, & which I told you: I had never been accused of it.
I protest to Y[our] M[ajesty] that if I had been unfortunate enough, & wicked enough to have committed this crime, I would never have spoken of it, either to Y[our] M[ajesty] or to anyone, since it was not complained of; & if I was accused of it, I would not have remained on the streets of Paris, and I would not have bethought myself to wish to justify myself; for Your Majesty knows the number of people who have had the goodness to importune her about it, without being able to win your mind at all. I have only one thing to say to Y[our] M[ajesty]. It is that the King knows the truth; if you are agreeable to speaking to him of it when he does his devotions, I do not believe that such a good soul goes against the truth in a thing where he goes with his conscience. It is not about knowing who is culpable; but only, if I am he, or not. The thing will remain eternally secret, & I all my life the very humble, & c. of Your Majesty.
To oblige the King to tell the truth to the Queen his mother, I wrote this letter to beseech him to do it.
If I had to ask justice from a prince who did not have all the qualities that Y[our] M[ajesty] possesses, I could fear not obtaining it; but since I am asking it of the most equitable, & the most generous of all Kings, I throw myself at your feet full of confidence in order very humbly to implore Y[our] M[ajesty] to wish to undeceive the Queen your mother of the opinion she has of me, for without saying what is my fault, she tells everyone who speaks to her about me, that I am guilty of a considerable fault for which I have been removed from close by Y[our] M[ajesty], & she thus covers me with shame, & removes from me the honour & esteem of honest people. Y[our] M[ajesty] knows if I have done anything bad, I want no other judge of my conduct than you; & if you have tolerated my disgrace it was in the time of your childhood during which you did not yet act on your own feelings: now that you do everything yourself, & your goodness makes you listen to the oppressed and the unfortunate, I hope that you will render me the honour, & restore calm to my life languishing thirteen years, vowing to use the rest of it to ask God to fill all the years of Y[our] M[ajesty] with his holy benedictions, these are the wishes which make
OF YOUR MAJESTY, & c.
As Madame de Motteville was the only one to whom the Queen had declared herself on the subject of my disgrace, & whom she had told that I was guilty of the crime which I had reported to her, I believed myself to have no better choice than to beseech her to give these letters to the Queen, & to implore H. M. to give to the King that which was addressed to him, so that she had a complete enlightenment as to my innocence. [pp. 310-20]
Despite Motteville obliging the Queen to read the letters in her presence and imploring her to seek the truth, the Queen’s prejudice could not be overcome, and the letters had no effect. It was only six months after her death that he found an opportunity to apply successfully for an audience with the King, though he was warned to keep himself “from entering into any enlightenment with H. M.” [p. 324]. On 20 July 1666, he was received back in court by the King, and he concluded his memoir that it was for children that he got his name thus cleared, as otherwise his and God’s knowledge of his innocence would have sufficed.
Comment by Dirk Van der Cruysse in his Madame Palatine, princesse européenne
The practice of what this century called the Italian vice [ie. sodomy] seems to have been, if not imported, at least made fashionable by the nephews of Mazarin who came to sweep down on the court like a cloud of grasshoppers, firmly decided to profit from the exorbitant career of dear uncle Giulio, come from Italy, where he had no bread, and become extremely rich cardinal, Duke of Nivernois, chief of the Council of the King, and first minister of the kingdom of France. In this contingent of ravenous Mancini-Mazarini and Martinozzi-Mazarini, the brothers Paul and Philippe distinguished themselves by their beauty, rascally behaviour and their effrontery. Paul was the play and hunting companion of the young King, and captain of his light horse. Godgiven-Louis preferred him to his French friends […] The path of the favourite seemed well laid out. […]
The biographers of Louis XIV, who do not stop citing this letter [of la Porte to Queen Anne, quoted above], divide themselves into two schools, the mazarinistes and the mancinistes. The first attribute the “manual outrage” to Mazarin himself, since the mazarinades [pamphlets mocking Mazarin] accuse him above all of practising the Italian vice. […]
In his Petit Louis XIV. L’enfance du Roi Soleil (1985), Claude Duneton is the last to accuse the cardinal. Others see in Paul Mancini a more probable candidate, regarding Mazarin as too prudent to commit such an enormity, rendered improbable by the sincere affection which Louis XIV did not stop showing him thereafter. In any case, nine days later, at the battle of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, Paul Mancini conducted himself as a hero and was wounded. He died a little afterwards at Pontoise. The young King’s confessor, Father Paulin, remarked during the summer and autumn of 1652 that Louis prayed every day for the rest of the soul of Paul Mancini, “whom he loves as much as if he was living.”
Claude Pasteur, Le Beau Vice, ou les homosexuels à la Cour de France
It has been supposed that that the guilty one could have been Paul Mancini, the cardinal’s own nephew, who had come from Italy to be the companion of the young King’s games. Perhaps Mazarin remembered Richelieu placing close to Louis XIII the handsome Cinq-Mars to serve as his ally? But Paul Mancini died a few months later on a barricade, without the mystery having been cleared up.
In the meantime, it was against the cardinal that broke loose the “Mazarinades”, in which the minister was treated as “bugger”, synonym of homosexual.”
by Edmund Marlowe, 18 May 2019
One who commented not very long after the publication of la Porte’s account, the philosopher Voltaire, thought he was honest, but that he had misunderstood what he saw:
It appears that La Porte was too scrupulous and too bad a physician; he did not know that there are strongly advanced temperaments. He should above all have been silent; he was lost for having spoken, and for having attributed a very natural accident to debauchery.
Presumably Voltaire was here imagining that Louis XIV was unusually sexually precocious for a thirteen-year-old in the 17th century in having reached spermarche, and that what La Porte saw on the King’s body was semen which he wrongly assumed was a man’s, but was really the boy’s own (whether there through involuntary emission, as Voltaire supposed, or masturbation does not now matter). Few seem to have believed Voltaire, and with good reason. Quite apart from there being no grounds for presuming Louis XIV was sexually precocious, if semen had been la Porte’s visible evidence, he could hardly have mistaken the King’s own, which would have been on his stomach, for that of an assailant, which would more likely have been in the crevice between his buttocks or between his thighs. As the man who regularly gave the King his baths, la Porte was in an exceptionally good position to know the precise state of his sexual development, and should have been the last person to make false assumptions based on ignorance of it.
Is it possible though that what la Porte saw was not semen, ie. evidence of sex, but something quite else that shocked him? Could it have instead been the signs of physical violence: spanking or flogging? The King had after all been with Mazarin, who was charged with his education, and physical disciplining was a regular accompaniment to education then. One would expect such an august person as the King to have had a whipping-boy to substitute for him in such a humiliation, but if Mazarin had made an exception in this case, that would explain why the King was so unusually upset. Spanking might well be resorted to rather than flogging, since the latter would leave humiliating marks that would be visible for days afterwards in an age when the King was often dressed and washed in the presence of the court. In this scenario, it is imaginable that la Porte then so forgot his place as to report it to the Queen, implicitly criticising Mazarin’s conduct, and then simply paid the price for his presumption.
Though this is a possibility that cannot be ruled out, but there are several reasons why it is very unlikely. First, as has been seen, la Porte came to believe that he himself was suspected of having perpetrated the outrage that he reported. It is hardly credible that anyone would suspect a valet of beating the King on his own authority, and if he had, there would have been no need to hush up the cause of his disgrace. Secondly, la Porte said the King being so upset and mortified was a sure sign that he had not consented to what happened. He would surely not expect the King’s consent to be a critical issue if a beating had been administered, but anyone would expect it to make a huge difference if what had happened was a sexual encounter. Thirdly, whilst it is quite understandable that on reflection, and perhaps after talking to Mazarin, the Queen might have felt that la Porte should be dismissed for making an issue of a beating and even to have taken a dislike to him for his presumption and interference, something surely more sinister is required to explain why she felt such a deep aversion to him or embarrassment over what had happened that nine years later she “reddened to the roots of her hair” when he was mentioned.
For all these reasons, it looks very probable that the “attentat manuel” has been correctly interpreted as a sexual act with the King. In this case, it is still just possible to reconcile the “manuel” in this strange and ambiguous phrase by imagining that the boy’s lover or assailant (a question which will shortly be addressed) had masturbated himself or been masturbated by the boy so that he ejaculated onto the royal body. This may be considered unlikely enough to explain why historians have opted for more conventional means of pederastic consummation in interpreting la Porte, though Van der Cruysse’s certainty that pedication was meant is surely unwarranted.
It remains to address the question of whether the King was sexually assaulted or whether, contrary to what la Porte supposed, he had consented to the sex and liked the man with whom he had had it. Guessing this largely comes down to who the man was. La Porte was convinced that Mazarin was either the culprit or protecting the culprit, since he implied that his downfall was due to Mazarin wanting him out of the way following his revelation. Such being the case, Paul Mancini, flourishing at court under his uncle’s patronage, does indeed seem a likely candidate, but both of them were high in the King’s favour, had every reason not to alienate him and evidently did not do so. It is therefore incredibly unlikely that either raped him. Whilst, it is theoretically possible a third person, unsuspected then or since, raped him, it must be borne in mind that kings were rarely ever allowed the luxury of privacy, that it was a time of civil war and so extremely unlikely that the King would have been left without the company of someone fully trusted by his mother or the Cardinal.
According to Van der Cruysse, Paul Mancini was the King’s favourite companion at the time. He was a youth only two or so years older than him,  and the valour that was about to cause him to lose his life in battle was likely manifest and liable to impress a younger boy. Nothing known is improbable about a boy of thirteen loving him, or falling in love with him. Nor is there any reason why Mancini should not have loved the King and determined to seduce him. Quite apart from his personal charm and beauty, becoming his lover offered opportunity to consolidate his position of power and influence. There is a striking coincidence that Mancini’s brother Philippe, later Duke of Nevers, was certainly held responsible for awakening the homosexual tendencies of the King’s effeminate younger brother, “Monsieur”, when he was a boy. The courtier Primi Mancini was firm on this: “It was made certain to me that the Duke of Nevers had been the first to corrupt Monsieur, who was a prince of great beauty. Also the Queen Mother removed Monsieur from the Duke of Nevers, who was accused of having imported into France the fashion of the Italian vice.” It was even said that Mazarin had ordered his nephew to deflower him.
If the King had willingly had sex with Mancini, then why did la Porte take the signs of his distress as evidence that he had not consented? Here we are in the dark, but so too was la Porte who could only guess why he was upset from what he observed after the event. If Mancini really pedicated him, then this could easily be the cause without having to imply he had been unwilling. It was not uncommon for things to go badly wrong when boys were deflowered, especially if their lovers were also inexperienced. Or Mancini may have said something that upset him. Or, since the King had just been with Mazarin, it could have been Mancini who had sex with him, but Mazarin who upset him. The possibilities are endless.
 Dirk Van der Cruysse, Madame Palatine, princesse européenne (Paris, 1988) p. 161.
 Mazarin was Italian, and in France pederasty was known as “le vice italien” and believed to be an Italian import. This passage is thus of relevance in indicating both that de la Porte may have been predisposed to believing Mazarin would be attracted to a boy, and that he knew the Queen thought so.
 Alexandre Bontemps (1626-1701), also an abbot, had just been received at court as successor-to-be and acting substitute for his father as first valet of the bedchamber to the King and, being only twelve years older than him, was soon close to him. He was described by the courtier and memoirist Saint-Simon as one “who knows everything about the king, his habits, his private life, and, what is extremely rare, does not slander or peddle any gossip.”
 Published by Fayard, Paris in 1988, pp. 161-2.
 François Bluche, Louis XIV (Paris, 1986) p. 95.
 Published by Balland in Paris, 1999, p. 83
 Voltaire. Le Siècle de Louis XIV, auquel on a joint un précis du siècle de Louis XV , new revised edition, Vol. I (Rouen, 1788) p. 172.
 For example, G. P. R. James in The Life and Times of Louis XIV (1838) p. 433 wrote that “Voltaire has mistaken entirely the character of the crime”.
 In theory one could add to these possibilities the one that he had simply masturbated the King, causing him to ejaculate on himself, but this is terribly unlikely: in the unlikely case that the King had reached spermarche, la Porte would know that and would have no reason to suppose another person had assisted in bringing about the King’s ejaculation.
 Paul Mancini was born in 1636. The exact date is unknown, so he could have been anything between fifteen and a half and sixteen and a half.
 Primi Visconti, Mémoires sur la cour de Louis XIV, edited by Lemoine (Perrin, Paris, 1908)p. 130.
 Philippe Erlanger, Louis XIV, translated from the French by Stephen Fox (New York, 1970) p. 75.
If you would like to leave a comment on this webpage, please e-mail it to email@example.com, mentioning either the title or the url of the page so that the editor can add it.