We have told the story of Agnes Sorel, the first officially recognized maîtresse-en-titre of the French king. Agnes was the mistress of King Charles VII of France and he elevated her to this position. When Agnes died in 1450, Charles swiftly took her cousin Antoinette as his lover although she never became his maîtresse-en-titre.
Antoinette was born circa 1424 in the area of Loches. She was the daughter of John II of Maignelais, a Picardy captain and his wife Marie de Jouy. There is little information about her upbringing or education. Through her father, she was a cousin of Agnes Sorel and reportedly just as beautiful. Agnes introduced Antoinette to the court to watch over her three daughters by King Charles and most likely to make a good marriage for her. Antoinette apparently was noticed by the king right away. In 1448, Charles gave her the lands of Maignelais which had been the subject of a drawn out lawsuit between her ancestor Raoul de Maignelais and the Duke of Bourbon.
Shortly after Agnes died in February of 1450, King Charles arranged a marriage for Antoinette with his first gentleman of the bedchamber André, Baron de Villequier of Guerche in Touraine. As a wedding gift, he presented her with the isles of Oleron, Marennes and Arvert along with a pension of two thousand livres a year for life. Shortly after this, he gave her the lands of Issoudun which had previously belonged to Agnes. The king also rebuilt the castle of Guerche for her.
During her marriage to the Baron she had a son Artus who lived from 1451-1452 and another son Antoine, born 1452 who lived until 1495. In 1455 she gave birth to a daughter named Jeanne who may have been the natural child of King Charles. Antoinette’s husband died in 1456, shortly after making a will in her favor.
Antoinette appears to have had a personality that was cold, calculating and unfeeling. As the king’s mistress, she kept a company of attractive young women around her who dressed like queens and lived dissolute and grand lives, all in an effort to distract the king. These women included her sister Jeanne and her stepsisters Marguerite de Monteil and Antoinette de Vauvert. There is a tale of another unfortunate young woman who became a member of this squadron.
One day, a woman came to court in the company of a beautiful young lady named Blanche de Rebreuve, the daughter of a squire from Artois. Blanche soon came to the notice of Antoinette and she asked her chaperone if she could remain at court with her. The chaperone replied it was impossible without Blanche’s parents’ consent.
Blanche returned home and a family conference was convened to discuss her future. Everyone knew Antoinette procured beautiful young girls for the king. Blanche pleaded with her father stating she would rather live the rest of her life on bread and water than return to court. Regardless of her feelings, her father sent her back accompanied by her brother Jacques. The father saw an opportunity to provide a lucrative future for both his children. The king had his way with Blanche. In return, Antoinette elevated Jacques to the position of carver in her household.
In 1456, there was a trial against Jacques Coeur, a former minister of the king. Antoinette managed to buy his castle of Menetou-Salon for eight thousand crowns, despite the fact the children of Jacques Coeur appealed to Parlement to keep the castle. Antoinette began to spend time there instead of her castle of La Guerche. In 1460, she acquired the lordship of Cholet and Loroux-Bottereau with money lent to her by Francis II, Duke of Brittany. She began to transform the medieval fortress of Cholet into a country cottage. The town became a magnet, attracting many nobility to the area. It was a thriving economic center promoting crafts, trade and flax. The castle became a festive arena for tournaments and banquets.
During these years, King Charles and his eldest son the Dauphin Louis were constantly in conflict with one another for various reasons. While Antoinette was Charles’ mistress, she served as the Dauphin’s chief spy and was utterly devoted to him. When Charles died and Louis became king in July 1461, he assigned her a huge pension of six thousand livres. She left the French court and became the mistress of the Duke of Brittany, possibly at Louis’ request and she continued to funnel information to Louis about the Duke.
The Duke showered Antoinette with gifts of money, land and castles. He gave her unlimited credit and allowed her to have political influence. She moved to Nantes where she lived with the Duke’s wife Margaret of Brittany and gave birth to five children with the Duke. Two sons survived infancy, two sons died young and her daughter Françoise grew up at court and became close to the Duke’s legitimate daughter and heir, Anne of Brittany.
In 1463, relations between the Duke of Brittany and Louis XI of France began to deteriorate and Antoinette joined her lover in his opposition to the king. Duke Francis refused liege homage to Louis and engaged in raising an army. Antoinette sold her tableware and jewelry in an effort to procure funds for the War of the League of Public Good in 1465. After the Battle of Montlhéry in July of 1465, the fortunes of King Louis were at a low point and Antoinette illuminated the streets of Cholet in celebration.
The Duke of Brittany’s wife Margaret died in 1468. The Bretons feared they would lose their independence from France and urged the Duke to marry again. In June of 1471, he married Margaret of Foix who had two daughters, Anne and Isabeau. As the Bretons feared, Brittany was eventually annexed into the kingdom of France after Anne of Brittany married King Louis XI’s son King Charles VIII.
Antoinette died peacefully on November 5, 1474 and was buried in the Franciscan Chapel of the Cordeliers of Cholet. Her grave was destroyed and the chapel burned during the Wars of Religion in 1563. During restoration work in 1882, her well preserved tombstone was found. It can be seen today in the Museum of Art and History in Cholet. The inscription reads:
“Here lies the noble and powerful Demoiselle Antoinette de Maignelais in her lifetime, Lady Villequier and Maignelais, Viscountess of Guerche in Touraine and St Sauveur le Vicomte, Lady Monttrésor and Menetou-Salon, the islands of Marennes, Oléron and the town of Cholet, who passed away the fifth of November in the year MCDLXXIV”
Further reading: “Queens and Mistresses of Renaissance France” by Kathleen Wellman, “Mémoires de J. Du Clercq” by Jacques Du Clercq, “Louis XI: The Spider King” by Paul Murray Kendall, “Tales of the Marriage Bed from Medieval France (1300-1500)” by R.C. Famiglietti