The 21st of September marks the 377th birthday of Philippe de France, duc d’Orléans, and brother to Louis XIV. And so I wrote a little something in his honour. Enjoy xx
Philippe de France, frère unique de roi
I stand here, just like all the others, a mere observer to the glorious miracle that is our Sun King. Louis Dieudonné. By the grace of God. The chosen one. My brother.
He wears the best France has to offer – lace, satin, brocade, jewels. Red heeled shoes. A wig of exquisitely coiffed hair, curling regally over his shoulders. I watch him postulate, perform, command with his words, his gestures, his looks. A brief eye contact to one noble, an ever-so-slight passing over of another. This is the difference between favour and disapproval. The former will bask in the attention and gossip, be safe for a week or two, maybe a month. The latter will be gone within the hour.
Every single person in the salon watches him, noble and servant alike. Not one face is averted. He is the ultimate skilled performer, demanding attention and awe. And his subjects give it willingly. The demoiselles, almost slavishly so. They throw themselves in his path with such regular abandon that the morning coucher has barely passed and you have fallen over at least a dozen fluttery, fawning creatures.
He is denied nothing. Wants for nothing.
How strange that must be. To get every single thing your heart desires.
There are many who think the king’s brother is also free to take what he wishes. To have anything and everything.
They would be wrong.
Once, deep in his cups, frustrated by the restrictions of his kingly burden, he declared a desire to be in my shoes, to live my life for a day. I laughed and laughed until the tears made small rivers down my cheeks.
“Oh, mon frère. You, exist in the shadow of the sun? You would never survive the dark.”
To always be told you are not good enough, that you must be less in everything: intelligence, charm, wit. To give up, give in, acquiesce. You are never right, never favoured, never in command.
The flame of humiliation and abject frustration burns in me still, even after all these years. I know it is my place, my duty, my position as brother to the king. I have been told so for as long as I can remember. It has been beaten into me with words and with straps, until I finally learned. It is now a deep, dark part of me, the scars still faintly marring skin and soul. Forever present. Never allowed to forget.
He excludes me from any responsibility. I have no role, no part in making laws, consulting with ministers or commanding an army. He takes my glory and my dignity. Once, he even took my wife. And I smile and perform without complaint -mostly. But it does not mean I happily wear the yoke I have been burdened with.
I am deemed a decoration, a wicked and lecherous prince of pleasure. So I steal tiny victories when I can – flaunting my treasures, my mignons and the lavish debaucheries at Saint-Cloud, pleased in knowing it rankles him. He sees the precious things, the style, the attention… and he seeks to imitate. Moreover, he knows I know and that brings me joy.
My gaze slides to the tall figure standing so correct and to attention by my side and unbidden, my heart thumps a little quicker.
The Chevalier de Lorraine. Warrior, noble, skilled fighter. Gifted with weapons, flattery, scheming and vicious wit. A prince étranger. A brother to a king, if fate had turned differently years ago. An Abbé…
My mouth suddenly twitches.
Philippe de Lorraine is as far from a man of the cloth as I.
He is my joy.
As a young boy he was a mystery to me. Commanding my attention, my curiosity… then my ever-increasing thoughts. At first it was innocent – he was so aloof and with a tongue as sharp as his blade. And then, one summer, it changed forever.
My breath catches in remembrance, and I feel his eyes upon me, curious and questioning. Hidden by the profusion of a lace cuff, I brush a be-ringed finger across the back of his hand, so brief a touch, yet conveying the world. All is well. I am fine. I give him a look, my lips forming a smile, and he gives the barest of responses. To do more would invite the whispers and gossip and here, in my brother’s glittery domain, in his presence, it would not do to steal light from the Sun King.
Yet I cannot look away.
His little finger curls around mine and I blink, this slightest of gestures still rife with understated command.
Beautiful as an angel… devoid of morals.
This man holds my attention like no other. He draws my gaze unerringly, again and again, and I know that my years of doubt and insecurity need every tiny constant confirmation of his interest. He makes me as giddy as a young boy addled with wine. My tongue tangles, my voice cracks… when I can speak at all.
He is, quite simply, the most stunning creature I have ever seen.
And he is mine. Mine to hold. Mine to boldly touch in the gardens of Saint-Cloud or the salons, far from the judgement of my brother’s court. Mine to enjoy in the privacy of my apartments. Mine to explore with hands and lips and tongue. With soft words of adoration and a warm breath that never ceases to shake whenever he is near. Mine to possess and be possessed by.
He is my obsession and I gladly give my heart. Willingly. Intimately.
With total and complete abandon.