French Queen from Wielkopolska

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Maria Leszczyńska, wife of King Louis XV, took her place on the French throne in the 18th century, one of several Wielkopolska women to have sat on the thrones of Europe.

Maria Karolina Zofia Felicja Leszczyńska (1703-1768) was the daughter of the Voivode of Poznań and future King of Poland, Stanisław Leszczyński, and Katarzyna Opalińska. She spent her childhood in exile as the Great Northern War, during which her father was forced to abdicate, was raging. She moved to the Rheinland duchy of Zweibrücken with her parents in 1714 and Wissemburg, Alsace, in 1719. Stanisław Leszczyński was soliciting offers but the official marriage proposal to the 15-year-old Louis XV (1710-1774) of France was completely unexpected when it came on 31 March 1725.

The first 12 years of marriage brought 10 children (four of whom died in childhood), including two boys. Maria and Louis’s marriage later went through several crises caused by the king’s mistresses – especially the famous marquise J. A. Pompadour. She devoted a great deal of time to culture and charitable works. She never forgot her native Wielkopolska and donated 60,000 red zlotys to the Jesuit Collegiate Church in Poznań and financed astronomical studies for the Jesuit colleges in Poznań and Warsaw.

Fate was not kind during her later years. First, her eldest daughter – Marie Louise Élizabeth (who married the duke of Parma), and later her son Louis, the Dauphin (Crown Prince), died. Her sorrow was only alleviated by her three grandsons (sons of the Dauphin) and future kings of France – Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X. She died at Versailles at the age of 65 and was interred in the necropolis of French Kings, the Abbey of St. Denis in Paris, while her heart was placed in her parents’ grave in the Cathedral Church in Nancy.

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