The Princess of Montpensier


This first edition of La Princesse de Montpensier (The Princess of Montpensier) by Madame de La Fayette was published anonymously in 1662. Taking place during the religious wars of the previous century, it is the story of the entangled loves of the princess, her husband the prince, the duke of Guise whom she had loved before her arranged marriage, and his friend, the count of Chabannes. The count, in love with the princess who does not care for him, sacrifices his honor to save that of his lady, before being assassinated during the events known as the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, which took place in August 1572. When the princess finds out that her husband is in love with another woman, she dies from “the pain of having lost the esteem of her husband, the heart of her lover, and the most perfect friend there ever was.” This simple-style novella is anchored in the historic reality of the previous century (almost all the characters were real-life people), but it stays true to the morals of its time. The characters are not presented as role models, but quite the opposite: the husband does not pay much attention to his wife, the lover is unreliable, and the wife’s main concern is to satisfy her own desires. Only Chabannes loses himself in the name of an ideal that is no longer sought after. Love, which is magnified everywhere else, is depicted here as a poison that reveals social hypocrisy and leads to tragedy: “one is quite weak when in love.” This work precedes the major best seller of the 17th century by Madame de La Fayette, La Princesse de Clèves (The Princess of Cleves), published in 1678.

Last updated: April 23, 2015