Lisa Hilton’s Athenais: When spite is mistaken for women’s history

I came across this book in a charity shop. I’m glad it only cost 50p, otherwise I’d have to write to the publisher demanding my money back for mis-selling a deeply spiteful text as a “biography” of Athenais, mistress of King Louis XIV of France.

Whilst the premise is ostensibly biographical, it’s mostly a treatise on how ugly women deserve to be treated like pieces of shit. And, any man who cheats on his ‘ugly’ wife has every right to; especially if you are the King of France and like pretty things. Then you get to be as abusive, cruel, and selfish as you like. You can humiliate and insult your wife, pretend she doesn’t’ exist, and still be considered a good guy, Because, hey, you’re the king, And, even the ugliest guy doesn’t deserve an ugly wife. Even if they are violent and hateful and cruel.

Even Athenais is dismissed as irrelevant once she stops being beautiful. Her beauty gone because she got fat. After giving birth to 9 children and being in a relationship with a man who forced all of those around him to eat too much.

Below are three images of the snide way in which women are treated. Hilton’s misogyny was accompanied by the usual classism and racism, but I have just picked examples of her loathing of women.

Here we have the theory that Queen Marie-Therese was so ugly that King Louis XIV was required to cheat on her repeatedly.

The Dauphin’s choice of an ‘ugly’ woman was clearly because he was insane. As no proper king would choose such an ugly woman (except, obviously, his father who was also trapped in a marriage with an ugly woman). 

And, women are stupid. Therefore, completely deserving of being described as hysterical.

No one should bother reading this book, and I am now stuck between burning the copy I have, keeping it so no one else is forced to read it, or returning it to the charity shop I bought it from.

Burning it is my current default position.

2 thoughts on “Lisa Hilton’s Athenais: When spite is mistaken for women’s history”

  1. I know as a Canadian your history started virtually yesterday and most of that is desperately dull, but this is cluelessly lacking in historical empathy even by those miserable standards. Yes Hilton’s wit is acerbic, but does she have a point – the Hapsburg’s were a genetic train-crash by this point, as 5 minutes googling images up should tell you. He doesn’t seem to have acted any worse, for the zeitgeist, than anyone else with the power to do and given this was a dynastic match looking elsewhere wouldn’t have been considered in the least scandalous.

    A string of lovers was pretty much the norm for any monarch at this period and plenty of women with power did the same albeit more discretely generally, right across the spectrum from Catherine the Great, who was famously considerate to her old lovers, through to Mary Queen of Scots (happily involved in disposing of hers). And a side nod goes to Elizabeth Báthory for just how badly women with power could behave, at an extreme.

    17th century Europe is not some quaint version of 21st century Canada with added candles and scrofula.

    1. Seriously, dude, if you think Canada’s history ‘virtually started yesterday’, then you want to check your racism because people have been living in Canada for more than 10 000 years.

      As for the rest, well duh. Still spiteful to insist some women are too ugly to fuck. Maria-Theresa was trapped in a court that hated her, as were many women. She is not responsible for her parents and, like her mother, had very little choice in who she was forced to marry. It is entirely possible to write an autobiography of a woman who was beautiful with denigrating the women around her.

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