Among the four First Valets de Chambre du Roi Soleil, Alexandre Bontemps has remained in the history of France for being the most famous, the most courteous, the most beloved of the king, but the most feared of ministers. Saint Simon, who was not tender, had these words: "rare man of his kind, man of domestic secrecy, who knows everything about the King, his habits, his private life, and an extremely rare fact, neither slanders nor peddle no gossip ”.
The life of Bontemps
Alexandre Bontemps was born in June 1626 in Paris. Baptized in July 1628 in the Hôtel de Vendôme, dependent on the parish of Saint Roch, his godfather and godmother were César de Bourbon, duc de Vendôme (1594-1665) father of François de Vendôme duke of Beaufort and Elisabeth of Bourbon (1614- 1664).
His father, Jean Baptiste Bontemps from Aix en Provence, was a surgeon and entered the service of Louis XIII. Barber and surgeon, Jean Baptiste bled Louis XIII so well that he was given the charge of the King's First Surgeon by Cardinal Richelieu. The king therefore kept it preciously near him.
At 16, Alexandre had been appointed commendatory abbot of Hyverneaux having received a very good education in letters. He only remained at the head of this abbey until 1655, but his descendants succeeded until 1702. Thanks to his father, he received the survival of the office of First Valet de Chambre from 1652 and in was titular in 1659.
On March 6, 1667, Alexandre married Claude Marguerite Bosc. They had 4 children, including Louis Alexandre in March 1669. He remarried in March 1674 (following the death of his wife) with his first wife's half-sister, but secretly. Saint Simon will say: "This is the Maintenon of Bontemps ... Like master, like valet!" "
After 50 years of service to the monarchy, the King's accomplice died on January 17, 1701, in Versailles, he was 74 years old. Buried on January 19, 1701 in Paris in the church of Saint Louis on the island, his heart is in the Feuillants convent on rue Saint Honoré. His entrails are transported to the church of Marly.
At his death, the inventory of his goods in 1701 amounted to 368,152 pounds which will be shared between his two sons. He was earning 28,245 pounds per year + miscellaneous bonuses, for a total of 61,245 pounds per year.
The various functions of Bontemps
The fact of being present at the wedding of the King and Françoise d 'Aubigné is enough to make him pass to posterity as the only representative of the King's Valets de Chambre. Having become in a way a model, only his name is remembered among the servants of Louis XIV, although there were 4 of them to share the work, each of the Valets serving 3 months a year.
A good man and devoted body and soul to his King, he was sometimes feared by ministers and public figures. A trusted man of the king, he witnessed his marriage to Madame de Maintenon. Described as "avant-garde" of the King, Bontemps was the king's confidant, the executor of his most intimate orders, the keeper of his secrets, the orderer of his private life.
He had the functions of:
- First valet de chambre to the King from 1659 to 1701 (surviving his father)
- King's adviser
- Governor of Rennes, whose government he sold in 1698 while remaining hereditary.
- Intendant (Governor) of lands, parks and Palace of Versailles from 1665 to 1701
- Intendant (Governor) of lands, parks and Château de Marly from 1665 to 1701
- Superintendent of the Maison de la Dauphine in 1679
- Secretary General of the Swiss and Graubünden (it was he who really commanded the Swiss and Graubünden, this office being normal given his office as Governor of Versailles, he had to guarantee the security of the castle as well as that of the king)
- Knight of the Order of Saint Lazarus and Our Lady of Mount Carmel
- Vicar of the Order of Saint-Lazare and Notre-Dame du Mont-Carmel
Among the prerogatives of Bontemps, this First Valet de Chambre ensured the movements of the King and ordered the entire stay. He drew up the list of authorized guests at Marly, was responsible for the organization and smooth running of the Apartment evenings where he attended when he wished. He was also in charge of the allocation of apartments at Versailles (no small task). Colbert handed over sums by hand to Bontemps, in charge of distributing according to the King's wishes. The First Valet de Chambre had so much power that Colbert sometimes passed after him, and he wrote then in his Memoirs: "to do the works requested by M. Bontemps, in the chapel and the sacristy".
Bontemps often begged the king ... to please others, never for himself or for his family. So loved by the king that Louis XIV one day offered him for his son what he asked for others! In return for his office and the trust the king placed in him, he received certain benefits. Bontemps had 2 apartments in the Palace of Versailles, one of which is located in the Princes' Wing, a 5-room apartment in continuity with that of Mme de Montespan. Later, this apartment will host the Cabinet des Curiosités of Louis XIV, then the Salon des Jeux of Louis XVI. He also had an apartment in the Château de Saint Germain, an apartment in the Tuileries, he was able to acquire in 1687 the fiefs of Saulloy and Champmorin (county of Sancerre), a hotel in rue Saint Louis en l'Ile, a house in Fontainebleau and a other in Saint Germain.
Among the other privileges, there are those concerning the baptism of Louis Alexandre (his 1st son) which was done with great pomp: the godfather being Louis XIV himself and the godmother La Grande Mademoiselle. At the wedding of Louis Alexandre, the king was a witness and participated financially in the reception. Louis Alexandre received a cross from the king and his wife a diamond coulant.
Louis XIV having ennobled his favorite Valet de Chambre, the general armorial of Bontemps entered in the register of Versailles was composed "of gold has a tree of vert, and a head of mouth charged with a Lyon passer dor, attached to azure has a gold face accompanied by three testes of eagles attached to silver placed two in chief and one in point ”in 1696.
Tributes to Bontemps
His death left a great void at the Court, no valet de chambre being equal to him. Tributes rang out like that of Dangeau "he is a blessed man at court, who has never hurt anyone and who has done a lot of good". Sourches mentions: “in the evening, Bontemps died universally regretted by adults and children, and the King gave him this praise so beautiful and so rare that he had never spoken ill of anyone and that he had never passed. one day without saying good things about someone ”. De Bellocq, the poet even wrote a poem.
The newspaper Mercure wrote a 7-page article praising his character: "the Court has just lost a man of such rare kindness that barely a century has produced a similar one, and I don't even know if ever. we have seen a similar one. He spends his life giving service. He made some people do good and deflected the harm that could be done to others ... He never said bad things about anyone and only opened his mouth to say good things about those he heard about. It is impossible to serve the king more accurately than he did. He was only diligent in it, and had the same zeal for the smallest things when it came to his service as for the most important. Finally, he was born less for himself than for his master and for all those who implored his help and even who needed it without their imploring ... Bontemps died at the age of seventy-seven, regretted, esteemed, cherished by the whole court and even by those who had heard of him without knowing him ".
A contemporary author, Olivier Seigneur, also paid homage to him, in his four detective novels.
“The valets de chambre de Louis XIV” by Mathieu Da Vinha. Tempus, 2009.
Olivier Seigneur "The Murdered Unicorn, The Outraged Gods, The Blood of the Trianon, The Vestibule of Crime".