Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
Most of the novel’s court scenes take place in the Louvre, the royal French residence until King Louis XIV moved to establish a new palace at Versailles in 1682. Giving almost no physical descriptions of the palace, the novel concentrates instead on its moral-social ambience, summed up at one point as “a sort of ordered agitation” that makes “it all quite pleasant, but also precarious, for a young lady.” So important are decorum, masks, and dissembling at court that “appearances seldom lead to truth.” After King Henri’s accidental death at a tournament, the growing estrangement between the princess and her husband plays out against a court destabilized by major power shifts.
*England. Under Queen Elizabeth I, England is an ally of France during the period in which the novel is set, and the country figures into the novel as the source of a prestigious marriage for the duke de Nemours. De La Fayette establishes her fictional hero’s extraordinary worth by having him court the new English queen, with every chance of success, before falling in love with the French princess.
One of several stories embedded in the novel recounts the romance of Queen Elizabeth’s father, King Henry VIII, with her mother, Anne Boleyn. Boleyn had lived at the French court before becoming Henry’s second wife in 1533. This episode not only roots her Protestantism in her French life but also uses the political and sexual intrigues of Henry’s reign to mirror the scheming at the Louvre.
*Brussels. Belgian city that is the duke’s base for his courtship of Queen Elizabeth. His residence here during princess of Clèves’s first arrival at the French court means that he meets and pursues her only after her marriage.
*Spain. Roman Catholic country that is France’s enemy at the beginning of the novel and that becomes its ally. In Book 3, the French court celebrates the wedding of King Henri’s daughter, Elizabeth of Valois, to Philip II of Spain (by proxy). The widower of Mary I of England, who died in 1558, Philip chooses Elizabeth as his third wife to commemorate a treaty he signed earlier with France. As political alliances, such marriages in the novel contrast not only with the duke’s passion for the princess but also with her husband’s unusual marital love.
Coulommiers (kew-lom-YAY). Estate of the prince and princess of Clèves, located a day’s journey from Paris. As a country retreat, Coulommiers enables the princess to obey her mother’s dying wish that she leave the court to protect her virtue and reputation. Twice the duke invades her refuge, his secret presence suggesting the danger his forceful eroticism poses to the princess’s integrity. From an alcove in a pavilion in the château’s gardens, he eavesdrops on the princess’s confession to her husband that she is resisting her love for another man.
Later, when the princess again adjourns from the court to preserve her honor, the duke returns to Coulommiers at night and–while being observed by the prince’s servant–watches the princess sitting in an alcove, knotting ribbons on his former walking stick. After rejecting the duke’s proposal of marriage, the widowed princess retreats entirely from court, first withdrawing to her estate in the Pyrenees, then dividing her time between Coulommiers and a convent.
Merchant shops. Early in the novel, the prince first sees the princess–still Mademoiselle de Chartres–in an Italian jeweler’s shop. At the end of book 4, the duke rents a strategically situated room from a silk merchant for spying on the princess in Paris. In both scenes, valuable merchandise serves as a backdrop for intrusive male appreciation of female beauty.