Historical explorations by novelist and passionate researcher Sandra Gulland (www.sandragulland.com) into the alleged Black daughter of Queen Maria-Teresa (or Marie-Terese), wife of the Sun King. For more on this subject, see my research blog: Baroque Explorations. This essay is a work in progress: should you have findings to add, please let me know: sgulland AT sandragulland.com.
On November 16, 1664, the Queen of France gave birth, one month prematurely, to a daughter, Marie-Anne — described as a dark-skined, hairy "monster." By some accounts, the father of this child was an African dwarf, one of the Queen's favorites. Others gave the Queen the question of the doubt, whispering that she had been stared at by her Moor dwarf, and that it was this that had caused her to give birth to "a black monstrosity."
The baby girl died on December 26 and was buried at Saint-Denis. According to some, the members of the court were told the child died, but believed that in fact she had been put into a convent and later became a nun.
And so, to try to untangle this web of confusion, I decided to try to track down the evidence. Regarding the baby, we only have only a handful of sources to go by:
1) Two chapters in the memoirs attributed to Madame de Montestpan. These memoirs are not believed to have been written by Madame de Montespan, however, but by Abbé Philippe Musoni, and published in 1829, long, long after 1664, when this all transpired. However, faux memoirs are true historical documents, of a sort, documenting what people believed to have happened.
2) A brief mention in Saint-Simon's memoirs. Saint-Simon was not alive at the period, and is also going on gossip and conjecture.
3) A paragraph in the memoirs of La Grande Mademoiselle. She was not present at the birth, but was informed of the situation shortly after, by Philippe, the King's brother. To me, this is the most concrete evidence.
4) Voltaire, who claimed to have seen the adult nun in her convent.
5) Cardinal Dubois. (Note: Dubois' memoirs are also believed to be apocryphal, written by Paul Lacroix.)
Of all of these, only those of Cardinal Dubois have I been unable to track down.
I begin with Chaper XL from the memoirs attributed to Madame de Montespan:
Osmin, the Little Moor.--He Sets the Fashion.--The Queen Has a Black
Baby.--Osmin is Dismissed.
I have already told how the envoys of the King of Arda, an African prince, gave to the Queen a nice little blackamoor, as a toy and pet.This Moor, aged about ten or twelve years, was only twenty-seven inches in height, and the King of Arda declared that, being quite unique, the boy would never grow to be taller than three feet.
The Queen instantly took a great fancy to this black creature. Sometimes he gambolled about and turned somersaults on her carpet like a kitten, or
frolicked about on the bureau, the sofa, and even on the Queen's lap.
As she passed from one room to another, he used to hold up her train, and
delighted to catch hold of it and so make the Queen stop short suddenly,
or else to cover his head and face with it, for mischief, to make the
He was arrayed in regular African costume, wearing handsome bracelets, armlets, a necklace ablaze with jewels, and a splendid turban. Wishing
to show myself agreeable, I gave him a superb aigrette of rubies and
diamonds; I was always sorry afterwards that I did so.
The King could never put up with this little dwarf, albeit his features were comely enough. To begin with, he thought him too familiar, and
never even answered him when the dwarf dared to address him.
Following the fashion set by her Majesty, all the Court ladies wanted to
have little blackamoors to follow them about, set off their white
complexions, and hold up their cloaks or their trains. Thus it came that
Mignard, Le Bourdon, and other painters of the aristocracy, used to
introduce negro boys into all their large portraits. It was a mode, a
mania; but so absurd a fashion soon had to disappear after the mishap of
which I am about to tell.
The Queen being pregnant, public prayers were offered up for her according to custom, and her Majesty was forever saying: "My pregnancy
this time is different from preceding ones. I am a prey to nausea and
strange whims; I have never felt like this before. If, for propriety's
sake, I did not restrain myself, I should now dearly like to be turning
somersaults on the carpet, like little Osmin. He eats green fruit and
raw game; that is what I should like to do, too. I should like to--"
"Oh, madame, you frighten us!" exclaimed the King. "Don't let all those whimsies trouble you further, or you will give birth to some monstrosity, some freak of nature."
His Majesty was a true prophet. The Queen was
delivered of a fine little girl, black as ink from head to foot. They
did not tell her this at once, fearing a catastrophe, but persuaded her
to go to sleep, saying that the child had been taken away to be
The physicians met in one room, the bishops and chaplains in another. One
prelate was opposed to baptising the infant; another only agreed to this
upon certain conditions. The majority decided that it should be baptised
without the name of father or mother, and such suppression was
The little thing, despite its swarthy hue, was most beautifully made; its
features bore none of those marks peculiar to people of colour.
It was sent away to the Gisors district to be suckled as a negro's
daughter, and the Gazette de France contained an announcement to the
effect that the royal infant had died, after having been baptised by the
The little African was sent away, as may well be imagined; and the Queen
admitted that, one day soon after she was pregnant, he had hidden himself
behind a piece of furniture and suddenly jumped out upon her to give her
a fright. In this he was but too successful.
The Court ladies no longer dared come near the Queen attended by their
little blackamoors. These, however, they kept for a while longer, as if
they were mere nick-hacks or ornaments; in Paris they were still to be
seen in public. But the ladies' husbands at last got wind of the tale,
when all the little negroes disappeared.
The following is from La Grande Mademoiselle's memoirs (Vol. 2, Chapter VII), and would seem to support this account:
(juin 1664 – juin 1666)
La reine tomba malade et accoucha et à huit mois,16
ayant de grands accès de fièvre tierce. Ce rhume m'empêcha de partir ;
car j'ai toujours fort aimé ma santé. Après sa couche, sa fièvre
continua ; elle fut si mal qu'elle reçut Notre-Seigneur.17 Cette nouvelle alarma fort.
[16 novembre 1664. La fille dont la reine accoucha fut nommé Marie-Anne de France. Elle vécut peu de temps.]
My rough translation:
Monsieur told me ... that the baby girl, which she [the Queen] had given birth to, resembled a small Moor that Monsieur de Beaufort had brought, who was very pretty, the one who was always with the queen; that when it was remarked that her baby resembled [the Moor], he was removed; that the little girl was horrible; that she would not live; that I must take care not to say so to the queen, nor that [the baby] would die.
This is from Saint-Simon's account (Vol. 2, Chapter XII), which alludes to the rumor that the girl did live, but was put in a convent. Again, remember that Saint-Simon is simply passing on rumors.
People were astonished this year, that while the Princess of Savoy was at Fontainebleau, just before her marriage, she was taken several times by Madame de Maintenon to a little unknown convent at Moret, where there was nothing to amuse her, and no nuns who were known. Madame de Maintenon often went there, and Monseigneur with his children sometimes; the late Queen used to go also. This awakened much curiosity and gave rise to many reports.
It seems that in this convent there was a woman of colour, a Moorish woman, who had been placed there very young by Bontems, valet of the King. She received the utmost care and attention, but never was shown to anybody. When the late Queen or Madame de Maintenon went, they did not always see her, but always watched over her welfare. She was
treated with more consideration than people the most distinguished; and
herself made much of the care that was taken of her, and the mystery by
which she was surrounded. Although she lived regularly, it was easy to see she was not too contented with her position. Hearing Monseigneur hunt in the forest one day, she forgot herself so far as to exclaim, "My brother is hunting!"
It was pretended that she was a daughter of the King and Queen, but that she had been hidden away on account of her colour; and the report was spread that the Queen had had a miscarriage. Many people believed this story; but whether it was true or not has remained an enigma.
The above portrait, dated 1695, is displayed in the library of St. Genevieve in the Latin Quarter of Paris (bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, 10, place du Panthéon, 75005 Paris). An unsigned portrait, it's titled: Louise Marie-Therese, the Black Nun of Moret (1664-1732). Cloistered all her life, she is said to have taken the veil in 1695, at the late age of 31. A folder at St. Genevieve is said to bear the title, "Documents Concerning The Princess Louise Marie-Therese, Daughter of Louis XIV and Marie-Therese." The folder is empty.
This final chapter is again from the (faux) memoirs of Madame de Montestpan (CHAPTER XLIII) in which she describes such a visit to the "Black Nun of Moret":
early days,--she whom no one wanted, who was dismissed, relegated,
disinherited, unacknowledged, deprived of her rank and name the very day
of her birth; and who, by a freak of destiny, enjoyed the finest health
in the world, and surmounted, without any precautions or care, all the
difficulties, perils, and ailments of infancy.
M. Bontems, first valet de chambre of the cabinets, served as her
guardian, or curator; even he acted only through the efforts and
movements of an intermediary. It was wished that this young Princess
should be ignorant of her birth, and in this I agree that, in the midst
of crying injustice, the King kept his natural humanity. This poor child
not being meant, and not being able, to appear at Court, it was better,
indeed, to keep her from all knowledge of her rights, in order to deprive
her, at one stroke, of the distress of her conformation, the hardship of
her repudiation, and the despair of captivity. The King destined her for
a convent when he saw her born, and M. Bontems promised that it should be so.
Opportune,--[She was born on Sainte Opportune's Day.]--clothed and
nourished like the other children of the farmer, who was her new patron,
played with them in the barns or amongst the snow; she followed them into
the orchards and fields; she filled, like them, her little basket with
acorns that had been left after the crop was over, or ears of corn that
the gleaners had neglected, or withered branches and twigs left by the
wood-cutters for the poor. Her nude, or semi-nude, arms grew rough in
the burning sun, and more so still in the frosts. Her pretty feet, so
long as the fine season lasted, did not worry about being shod, and when
November arrived with its terrors, Opportune took her little heeled
sabots like the other country children. M. and Madame Bontems wrote
every six months to inquire if she were dead, and each time the answer
came that the little Moor was in wonderful health.
The pastor of the neighbouring hamlet felt pity for this poor child, who
was sometimes tormented by her companions on account of her colour. The
good cure even went so far as to declare, one day when there was a
sermon, that the Virgin Mary, if one was to believe respectable books,
was black from head to foot, which did not prevent her from being most
beautiful in the sight of God and of men.
This good cure taught the gentle little orphan to read and pray. He often
came to her farm to visit her, and probably he knew her birth; he was in
advanced age, and he died. Then Opportune was placed with the
Augustinian ladies of Meaux, where Bossuet charged himself with the task
of instructing her well in religion and of making her take the veil.
The lot of this young victim of pride and vain prejudices touched me in
spite of myself, and often I made a firm resolution to take her away from
her oppressors and adopt her in spite of everybody. The poor Queen,
forgetting our rivalry, had taken all my children into her affections.
Why should not I have shown a just recognition by protecting an innocent
little creature animated with her breath, life, and blood,--a child whom
she would have loved, I do not doubt, if she had been permitted to see
and recognise her? This idea grew so fixed in my, mind, that I resolved
to see Opportune and do her some good, if I were able.
The interest of my position had led me once to assure myself of the
neighbourhood of the King by certain little measures, not of curiosity
but of surveillance. I had put with M. Bontems a young man of
intelligence and devotion, who, without passing due limits, kept me
informed of many things which it is as well to know.
When I knew, without any doubt, the new abiding-place of Opportune, I
secretly sent to the Augustinians of Meaux the young and intelligent
sister of my woman of the bedchamber, who presented herself as an
aspirant for the novitiate. They were ignorant in the house of the
relations of Mademoiselle Albanier with her sister Leontine Osselin, so
that they wrote to each other, but by means of a cipher, and under seal,
addressing their missives to a relative.
Albanier lost no time in informing us that the little Opportune had begun
to give her her confidence, and that the nuns took it in very good part,
believing them both equally called to take the veil in their convent.
Opportune knew, though in a somewhat vague way, to what great personage
she owed her life, and it appeared that the good cure had informed her,
out of compassion, before he left this world. Albanier wrote to
"Tell Madame la Marquise that Opportune is full of wit; she resembles M.
le Duc du Maine as though she were his twin; her carriage is exactly that
of the King; her body is built to perfection, and were it not for her
colour, the black of which diminishes day by day, she would be one of the
loveliest persons in France; she is sad and melancholy by temperament,
but as I have succeeded in attracting her confidence, and diverting her
as much as one can do in a purgatory like this, we dance sometimes in
secret, and then you would think you saw Mademoiselle de Nantes dance and
"When any one pronounces the name of the King, she trembles. She asked
me to-day whether I had seen the King, if he were handsome, if he were
courteous and affable. It seemed to me as though she was already
revolving some great project in her brain, and if I am not mistaken, she
has quite decided to scale the fruit-trees against our garden wall and
escape across country.
"M. Bossuet, in his quality of Bishop of Meaux, has the right of entry
into this house; he has come here three times since my arrival; he has
given me each time a little tap on my check in token of goodwill, and
such as one gets at confirmation; he told me that he longs to see me take
the veil of the Ursulines, as well as my little scholar; it is by that
name he likes to call her.
"Opportune answers him with a stately air which would astound you; she
only calls him monsieur, and when told that she has made an error, and
that she should say monseigneur, she replies with great seriousness, 'I
had forgotten it.'"
Mademoiselle Albanier, out of kindness to me, passed nearly two years in
this house, which she always called her purgatory, but the endeavours of
the superior and of M. Bossuet becoming daily more pressing, and her
health, which had suffered, being unable to support the seclusion longer,
she made up her mind to retire.
Her departure was a terrible blow to the daughter of the Queen. This
young person, who was by nature affectionate, almost died of grief at the
separation. We learnt that, after having been ill and then ailing for
several weeks, she found the means of escaping from the convent, and of
taking refuge with some lordly chatelaine. M. de Meaux had her pursued,
but as she threatened to kill herself if she were taken back to the Abbey
of Notre Dame, the prelate wrote to M. Bontems, that is to say, to the
real father, and poor Opportune was taken to Moret, a convent of
Benedictines, in the forest of Fontainebleau. There they took the course
of lavishing care, and kindness, and attentions on her. But as her
destiny, written in her cradle, was an irrevocable sentence, she was
finally made to take the veil, which suited her admirably, and which she
wears with an infinite despair.
I disguised myself one day as a lady suitor who sought a lodging in the
house. I established myself there for a week, under the name of the
Comtesse de Clagny, and I saw, with my own eyes, a King's daughter
reduced to singing matins. Her air of nobility and dignity struck me
with admiration and moved me to tears. I thought of her four sisters,
dead at such an early age, and deplored the cruelty of Fate, which had
spared her in her childhood to kill her slowly and by degrees.
I would have accosted her in the gardens, and insinuated myself into her
confidence, but the danger of these interviews, both for her and me,
restrained what had been an ill-judged kindness. We should both have
gone too far, and the monarch would have been able to think that I was
opposing him out of revenge, and to give him pain.
This consideration came and crushed all my projects of compassion and
kindness. There are situations in life where we are condemned to see
evil done in all liberty, without being able to call for succour or
Voltaire, in the 18th century, had this to say in Siècles de Louis XIV et de Louis XV:
"On soupçonna, avec beaucoup de vraisemblance, une religieuse de l’abbaye de Muret d’être sa fille. Elle était extrêmement basanée, et d’ailleurs lui ressemblait. Le roi lui donna vingt mille écus de dot, en la plaçant dans ce couvent. L’opinion qu’elle avait de sa naissance lui donnait un orgueil dont ses supérieures se plaignirent. Madame de Maintenon, dans un voyage de Fontainebleau, alla au couvent de Muret; et voulant inspirer plus de modestie à cette religieuse, elle fit ce qu’elle put pour lui ôter l’idée qui nourrissait sa fierté. "Madame, lui dit cette personne, la peine que prend une dame de votre élévation, de venir exprès ici me dire que je ne suis pas fille du roi, me persuade que je le suis." Le couvent de Muret se souvient encore de cette anecdote."
And I roughly translate:
It was suspected, with much liklihood, that a nun of the abbey of Moret was his [the King's] daughter. She was extremely tanned [basanée: this word it hard to translate], and resembled him. The king gave her twenty thousand ecus for a dowry, placing her in this convent. The opinion that she had of her birith made her overly-proud, about which her superiors complained. Madame de Maintenon, on a trip from Fontainebleau, went to the convent of Motet, and wanting to inspire more modesty with this nun, she did what she could to debunk the idea which nourished her pride. "Madame," the nun told her, "the trouble which a lady of your station takes to purposely come here in order to tell me that I am not a daughter of the king, persuades me that I am." The convent of Moret still remembers this anecdote.
According to one blog, Voltaire had seen Louise Marie-Thérèse with Monsieur de Caumartin, l’intendant des finances, who had the right to enter the convent. It's interesting to note that Voltaire and the nun herself believed her to be the King's daughter.
My personal conclusion (at this time):
It's clear that the Queen did give birth to a hairy, dark-skinned (and likely deformed) premature baby girl. This is how that birth is described on a French history forum:
L'accouchement de Marie-Thérèse avait été long et difficile a tel point qu'on crut même perdre la reine. L'enfant souffrit lui aussi de cet accouchement et eut des problèmes de respirations (son sang se devait pas non plus bien circuler) à sa naissance car il avait failli étouffer durant l'accouchement. Son corps tirait donc plutôt vers le violet (et non le noir comme l'ont éxagéré les médecins). Marie-Anne mourut peu après car elle était trop faible pour survivre.
The child being violet from lack of oxygen could have been cyanosis, which is a blue coloration of the skin caused by a lack of oxygen. There are other possible explations, as well: the Queen and King were, for the most part, Italian and Spanish and the King himself had Moorish features.
However, I feel that it's also possible that some hanky-panky between the Queen and her beloved Moor dwarf might have resulted in a pregnancy. It's true that the Queen was virtuous, and virtually never alone, but secretive and even innocently childish games were possible, in my view. Although constantly surrounded, quite a bit could have been hidden under her skirts.
I do, however, think that the little girl died. She wasn't expected to live from birth. A royal death, like a royal birth, was witnessed. The King was said to have deeply grieved over this death.
But who, then, is the "Black Nun of Moret"? A Google search for "Black Nun of Moret" results in 112 citations. The blogosphere abounds with rumour and conjecture:
This from from a man who signs himself "Sexy Dread" (so take heed):
... Queen Marie Theresa of Spain, paid him [the King] back by having an affair with an African lover named Nabo who came from Dahomey. An illegitimate daughter was born of this union named Louise-Marie. So as not to cause further embarrassment to the King and Queen, she was secretly whisked away to a convent in Moret where she was kept a virtual prisoner, growing up in the convent and becoming a nun. She became known as the "Black Nun of Moret."
[A note about the nun's name: Gary McCollin, a historian I trust, notes: "The child was named Marie-Anne, and not Louise-Marie-Thérèse, as the Mauresse of Moret called herself."]
According to Roi Ottley (author of No Green Pastures),
"Louis XIV's queen, Marie Therese, allegedly gave birth in 1695 to a Negro daughter, Louise-Mare, by a Negro dwarf named Nabo ... The girl, aftewards called the "Mooress", was hidden from the French public and place in a convent at Moret on a royal pension of 300 livres a year." [Quoted on page 200 of African Presence in Early Europe.]
Another blog adds the detail that she was in Moret-sur-Loing at a Benedictine abbey and was called the "Mauresse de Moret," the "Negresse de Moret" or the "Mulatro of Moret."
According to Gary McCollim, Madame, sister-in-law to the King, claims that her husband Philippe told her that the child was not black at all, but very ugly:
Fontainebleau. In any case, Madame wrote, it is certain that the ugly child died. All the court had seen her die.
"Another story was that the black nun of Moret was the child of one of Louis XIV's coachman who was a Moor and a convert from Islam to Christianity. The king and queen had acted as the child's godparents. When the coachman and his wife died, Madame de Maintenon secured a place in the convent at Moret for Louise Marie-Therese.
"...All authors seem to avoid the most simple explanation, that the girl, excited by the interest others had in her (at that time in France, black nuns were uncommon) may have invented the story herself."
Gary McCollim adds: "...several sources report that Louis XIV had a Maurish coachman with a pretty wife. They had a child that the king and queen acted as godparents for. When the child's parents died, Madame de Maintenon had the child put into this convent. As goddaughter to the king and queen, this child might refer to the Dauphin as her brother."
And what of the dwarf Nabo? According to one (rather sensationalist) blog:
The more one looks into something, the more mysterious it becomes. According to the writer Serge Bilé: Nabo was punished and sent to the Bastille, becoming the Man in the Iron Mask. Oh la la! The plot, as they say, thickens. But as romantically attractive as this theory is (especially to a historical novelist), it's impossible to believe. If the Man in the Iron Mask were a dwarf, we would have known about it.
Another theory is that the nun is the daughter of the King's Moorish equiry. (A beloved character in my novel, Mistress of the Sun.) According to another blog on a French history site:
These theories, to me, sound feasible.
And, to set yet another record straight, according to French historian Jean-Christian Petitfils, Nabo's real name was Augustin.
References: "The Black Nun of Moret" on Wikipedia.
An account in the book "Black Women in History".
The Memoirs of La Grande Mademoiselle (in French)
The Memoirs of Madame de Montespan (translated into English; also available on-line)
The Memoirs of Saint-Simone (vol. 1: there are many more. Also available on-line).
La Religieuse de l'obscurité a historical novel by Olivier Seigneur. (There are other historical novels about this subject as well, in French.)