Few could have predicted the rise of Françoise d’Aubigné, better known as Madame de Maintenon. Born into a fallen family, her tumultuous beginnings meant her prospects for a bright future were bleak. Yet, she defied all the odds when she stepped out of the shadows and became the most powerful woman in France.

1. Her Birth Was Scandalous

Françoise d’Aubigné was born on November 27, 1635, to Constant d’Aubigné and Jeanne de Cardilhac in Niort, France—and the circumstances surrounding her birth were scandalous. Some suggest she was born in the local prison, where her father was serving time and where her grandfather was the prison director. In a twisted way, prisons turned out to play a crucial disturbing role in Françoise’s life, even before her birth.

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