This interdisciplinary dissertation in the fields of history, religion, mythology, politics, literature, cultural studies, art, gender, and sexuality examines how sexually slanderous texts against persons at or near the top of the French monarchy of the Ancien Régime assaulted both the reputation of its targets and contributed to regicides and to the eventual revolution. And, while the foremost aim of sexual slander, which increased significantly with each reign, was to harm the target, paradoxically it also helped to recreate and solidify gender and sexual norms.
The texts analyzed in this dissertation were written against Henri III (1551-1589), Cardinal Mazarin (1602-1661), and Marie Antoinette (1755-1793). In these periods there appear to be four common factors: a civil war, a deteriorating economy, a "problematic" ruler, and an environment in which censorship was loose and sexually explicit texts were popular. Though each political figure dominated France nearly 100 years apart, slander attacking them reveals remarkably similar traits, emphasizing sexually deviant acts, such as rape, incest, bestiality, and sodomitical and tribadic practices. The texts also employ the same techniques, among which, verisimilitude, intertextuality, hyperbole, repetition, accumulation, ventriloquism, mythological, and biblical references, xenophobia (notably against Italy), scapegoating, and obscenity.
The first chapter examines sexually slanderous texts condemning Henri III during the Wars of Religion. Protestants, Catholics, and courtiers condemned the Valois king for his effeminate dress and his intimate relations with his male favorites, referred to as mignons. Ultimately, the king was assassinated in 1589 by Catholic fanatic Jacques Clément (1567-1589).
The second chapter analyzes texts against Cardinal Mazarin, the de facto ruler along with queen regent Anne d'Autriche (1601-1666) during the civil wars of the Fronde. Both cardinal and queen were attacked for their supposedly sexual relationship. Mazarin was also denounced for sodomitical acts, his Italian heritage exploited in claims that he enjoyed the "Italian Vice".
Sexually slanderous texts against Marie Antoinette are the focus of the third and final chapter of this dissertation. The queen was not only cast as having cuckolded the king and of having borne false heirs, but she was also accused of tribadic relations with her female favorites.