August 06, 2012


Today is the birthday of Louise de La Vallière (1644), miserable mistress of King Louis XIV and namesake of necklaces and hanging microphones.

n. a pendant on a fine chain that is worn as a necklace

lavalier microphone
n. a small microphone hung around the neck of the user
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition

What can be said of a woman who endured a tumultuous social roller-coaster ride from naïve jailbait distraction to merry monarch mistress to hair-shirted convent crasher? She had an elegant neck, liked pretty things, and now has a nearly obsolete piece of amplification equipment named for her.

King Louis XIV of France had the longest reign of any monarch in European history. For more than seventy-two years, between 1643 and 1715, the Sun King centralized his government, reformed his military, and expanded his monarchy into new colonies across the ocean. To let off some royal steam, Louis indulged his love for French ladies and, in addition to his two wives, appointed (it was a semiofficial court position) multiple maîtresses-en-titre (chief mistresses) during his extraordinarily long monarchy.

In 1661, the lovely princess Henrietta Anne of England moved in at King Louis’ court at Fontainebleu. Though she was the new wife of his brother, the strangely intimate relationship between her and Louis raised a few eyebrows and prompted Henrietta to seek out other distractions for the king, to quell suspicions. They had not looked far when Louis’ eyes fell on Henrietta’s seventeen-year-old maid of honor—Louise Françoise de La Baume Le Blanc. She was a blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty who came to adore the king as their relationship blossomed in short order from a scandal-avoiding smokescreen to a true romance. Unfortunately, her religious upbringing ultimately tortured her conscience and, within a year, she fled to a convent to escape the royal affair. Louis ultimately convinced her to return, and the two embarked on a semisecretive reproductive spree that would result in at least six children, only two of whom survived.

By 1667, the king had cooled a bit on Louise and again set his sights on a younger paramour. As a parting gift from his bedchamber, the king made Louise the Duchess de La Vallière and Duchess de Vaujours. By this time, the newly dubbed duchess was already a glamorous fashion plate across Europe and had introduced a number of stylish accoutrements to the populace, including a jeweled pendant worn on a chain around the neck, soon dubbed the lavallièr.

Unfortunately, shiny jewels were not enough to help Louise stomach her new social role. The king’s new mistress was married, and Louise was once again used as a diversion to redirect attention away from an adulterous relationship. In an eye-popping display of religious hypocrisy, she even became the godmother of the mistress’s first daughter with the king. The spiritual stress was too great for the pious Louise, and she began donning the torturous shirt of coarse animal hair typically reserved for self-flagellating penitents. Louis finally allowed her to enter a convent in 1674, and she lived there as Sister Louise of Mercy until her death in 1710.

Worn around the neck, the lavalier microphone became popular in the 1960s but has since been replaced by newer, more attractive, cordless models, with the originals now collecting dust in countless church basements and convents. More recently, the Wakefield twins in the ever-popular Sweet Valley High book series were identifiable by the matching gold lavalieres they wore in every book—a fitting pop culture tribute to the seventeen-year-old French darling who started it all.