Jean Petitot the Younger (1653-1702)
Described by one historian as ‘seductive, brutal and devoid of scruples', the Chevalier soon realised that in a court populated by lovers of beauty, his good looks amounted to serious political power...
This eighteenth-century gold-mounted tortoiseshell box contains an enamel portrait which possibly portrays Philippe de Lorraine, called the Chevalier de Lorraine, was painted by Jean Petitot the younger. The son of enameller to Charles I of England, Jean Petitot, the younger Petitot settled in England to paint for King Charles II. A gifted artist, he soon became the only real rival to his elderly father’s practice and painted members of courts of both England and France. This miniature attests to his artistry and verve. Shown quarter length, his head turned towards the viewer, the armoured sitter is shown by the artist to be handsome, stylish and confident.
These were qualities that the Chevalier Philippe possessed in spades. The son of Henri, Count of Harcourt, and his wife Marguerite-Philippe, a niece of Cardinal Richelieu, Philippe was raised among the courtiers of Louis XIV, the Sun King. As Grand Squire of France, his father had been in charge of the king’s stables and of the king’s transportation, leaving his son with a love of ceremony and court spectacle that was never to leave him. Philippe became recognised as one of the great beauties of the Sun King’s court before he had even transitioned through adolescence. Described aesthete courtiers as though he had been ‘fait comme on peint les anges’ (painted by angels), Philippe made a striking impression in the milieu surrounding Louis. Described by one historian as ‘séduisant, brutal et dénué des scrupules’ (seductive, brutal and devoid of scruples), the Chevalier soon realised that in a court populated by lovers of beauty, his good looks amounted to serious political power.
When aged only fifteen Philippe met Philippe, Duc d’Orléans – known simply as Monsieur – whilst living at the Palais-Royal in Paris. Three years Philippe’s senior, Monsieur – himself regarded as one of the great aesthetic adornments of the court – had already discovered his own homosexuality. Unable to resist the manipulative charm of Philippe, Monsieur quickly fell hopelessly in love with the young courtier with whom he remained enamoured for the remaining fifty years. For much of this period, Philippe succeeded in wrapping Monsieur tightly and publicly around his finger, much to outrage of many who could see through Philippe’s brazen behaviour (not least le Monsieur’s first and second wives).
Monsieur, for his part, made no effort to disguise his affection for Philippe. At court entertainments he would openly cavort with his lover. Refusing to play by the social conventions of the day, Monsieur would often arrive to court entertainments wearing sumptuous women’s ball gowns and draped over his lover’s arm. When Monsieur married his first wife Henrietta, the sister of Charles II of England, in 1660, Philippe maintained no less a constant presence at his side. It was claimed that Monsieur informed his wife that he was not allowed to love her without the Chevallier’s prior permission. Enraged and humiliated, Henrietta began to flirt openly with members of the court, conducting a series of public affairs with paramours that inevitably included Monsieur’s brother, that notorious womaniser Louis XIV. Stung by his wife’s behaviour – though perhaps unreasonably –Monsieur retaliated by making his homosexuality still more public, in an age at which such behaviour offended even the loose social mores of the court of the Sun King. When it became clear that Philippe was openly flaunting his influence over his lover – even boasting that he could order Le Monsieur to divorce his wife – Henrietta succeeded in finally persuading the king to banish him from court in 1670.
After a period of imprisonment, Philippe was exiled to Rome. However, his banishment was not to last long. Later that same year, Henrietta died suddenly after drinking a glass of water. Convulsed in agonising pain, she cried out that she had been poisoned. Though there was no proof of this, many believed her and suspected the hand of the Chevallier. Certainly, Henrietta’s death worked in his favour. The following year, Monsieur – who had not been deeply moved by the death of his wife – dutifully took a new bride, the Princess Palatine Elisabeth Charlotte, known affectionately at court as Liselotte. Yet, as the marriage approached Monsieur longed not for Liselotte but rather for the return of Philippe. After Monsieur had implored his brother for clemency, the king finally relented and granted Le Chevallier permission to return to court.
Lislelotte was likely less than amused to find that her arrival at Versailles coincided with that of Philippe. Still less would she have been amused had she known of Monsieur’s remark upon meeting his Madame, ‘mais comment pourrai-je coucher avec elle’ (but how will I be able to sleep with her)? Monsieur meant this quite literally. He would insist that his wife did not touch him when they shared the bed to the point that Liselotte would often fall out in her sleep. His thoughts turned to Philippe, Monsieur was once caught by his wife deriving manual assistance from a rosary in the fulfilment of his conjugal vows.
Much to the chagrin of Madame, Philippe remained a constant thorn in the side of a marriage that was to last some thirty years. However, Philippe did not reciprocate Monsieur’s devotion. He was banished from court once more in 1682 for having seduced the young Count of Vermandois, an illegitimate son of Louis. An incorrigible intriguer, further embarrassment to Philippe – and, by implication, to Monsieur – came when he was accused of having helped to encourage the marriage between Monsieur’s legitimate son, also Philippe, and one of Louis’s bastards, Françoise Marie, Madamoisselle de Blois.
Yet, with age Monsieur began to tire of his manipulative lover. Appreciative of his wife’s loyalty, he grew closer to Madame and, in his final years, the unconventional couple had acquired a degree of emotional proximity. Indeed, when Monsieur died in 1701, it was with his wife’s name on his lips. Appropriately, Philippe did not outlive him long. He died the following year from a stroke. A hedonist to the last, in his final words he boasted of his sexual exploits with women the night before.