This article was published on May 7th, 2019
A king’s brother who was locked away to not threaten the position of a problematic reign. Suppressed, made a fool of, declared incapable. These are the themes blockbusters are made of. Is it surprising that the 1998 movie with Leonardo diCaprio bears a glint of reality? Beside the theories that the man behind the iron mask was an anonymous prisoner of the Sun King who carried dangerous information to depose the king, it could also refer to Louis XIV’s brother.
Philippe I of Orléans was born 1640 and soon began to show tendencies towards homosexuality and effeminate behavior. In the Rococo era, it was common for royals to dress their sons in girl’s clothes until they were six years old. But the Sun King’s court kept this habit during Philippe’s childhood and adulthood. His affection towards men was welcomed by Louis XIV and Cardinal Mazarin, although same sex relationships were forbidden at that time in the Catholic French kingdom. By letting him act out his preference of dressing in feminine clothes, the supporters of Louis XIV found a way to blight any ambitions of the king’s brother towards the throne. His own mother called him “my little girl” and he was known as “the silliest woman who ever lived.”
Although Philippe was married twice and fathered five children, he has never made a secret of his affairs with men. It’s possible that Cardinal Mazarin’s own nephew, Philippe Jules Mancini, the Duke of Nevers, had been one of his love interests. The first man to “corrupt the king’s brother to the Italian vice,” as homosexuality was called at that time.
The one with whom he maintained a close relationship throughout his whole life was, however, another one: Philippe de Lorraine, known as the Chevalier de Lorraine. By protests of Philippe’s wife, the Chevalier of Lorraine was banned for a certain time from court, but soon returned to the household of Orléans and became a favorite of the Sun King’s brother without any more scandals or offense.
Dirk van der Cruysse described their love in his Madame Palatine, princesse européenne like that: “Philippe de Lorraine was three years younger than Philippe d’Orléans. Insinuating, brutal and devoid of scruple, he was the great love of Monsieur’s life. He was also the worst enemy of the latter’s two wives. As greedy as a vulture, this younger son of the French branch of the House of Lorraine had, by the end of the 1650s, hooked Monsieur like a harpooned whale. The young prince loved him with a passion that worried MadameHenrietta and the court bishop, Cosnac, but it was plain to the King that, thanks to the attractive face and sharp mind of the good-looking cavalier, he would have his way with his brother.”
Philippe died in 1701 after a stroke. Learning about his brother’s death, the Sun King Louis XIV uttered the famous words: “I cannot believe I will never see my brother again.”
In conclusion, after the strict and brutal handling of homosexuality in the Middle Ages and the more open view on it during the Later Middle Ages and Renaissance, the Rococo era continued to show fascination for these matters. The effeminate dressing of boys and men at the glamorous festivities of the Sun King’s court was, although homosexuality was still forbidden and frowned upon, kind of socially acceptable among royals.
And the story of a more tolerable view on homosexuality continued in the latter Enlightenment era…
 Van der Cruysse, Dirk (1988). Madame Palatine, princesse européenne (in French). Fayard. p. 165. ISBN 2-213-02200-3
 Fraser, Antonia: Love and Louis XIV; The Women in the Life of the Sun King, London, 2006. p. 320.