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1703 Duchesse Du Maine Order of The Honey Bee Medal. Gold. - SOLD

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Duchesse Du Maine Order of The Honey Bee Medal in Gold, 1703. Gold. BU with proof-like surfaces. 28.5 mm,14.4 grm. Obverse: Bust of Louise Bénédicte de Bourbon, Duchess of Maine facing right, legend surrounding: L.BAR.D.SC.D.P.D.L.O.D.L.M.A.M  [Louise, BARonne De SCeaux, Dictatrice Perpétuelle De L'Ordre De La Mouche À Miel- Louise (Baroness de Sceaux, Perpetual dictator of the Order of the Honey Bee)], Below bust: H.R.F. (Henri Roussel Fecit) Reverse: Prominent Honey Bee in the foreground with a bee hive in the distance, legend surrounding: PICCOLA SI MA FA  PUR GRAVI LE FERITE. (She is small, yes, but nonetheless gives cruel wounds).

Louise Bénédicte de Bourbon was born with a frail arm and was short and small in stature with crooked teeth.  Despite this, she was pursued by a Prince because of her beautiful features. She was described jealously by the Duchess of Orléans as “not taller than a child ten years”.  She became a princess when she married Louis Auguste de Bourbon, Duke of Maine, the legitimized son of Louis XV, at the Palace of Versailles in 1692. Louise Bénédicte became rebellious and ambitious, and began to hold her own court at the Château de Sceaux, emulating the Royal Court.  She eventually became involved in political intrigue, working on a coup to dethrone the eight year-old Louis XV, and replace him with his uncle, Phillip V of Spain. Under a new French king, her husband the Duke of Maine would be appointed as Regent, replacing the Duke of Orleans.  It is believed that she was the mistress of the Cardinal Melchior de Polignac who was involved in the Cellamare Conspiracy of 1718 to overthrow the Duke of Orleans. She was arrested along with the Duke in December of 1718, and released in 1720, after which she led a more subdued life until her death in 1736.

 On June 11, 1703, she created the Order of the Honey Bee (l'ordre de la Mouche à Miel), a personal chivalric order consisting of 39 handpicked members, many of which were nobility or other important personages; the most prominent of these was the French philosopher Voltaire!

During their meetings each member wore a ceremonial robe embroidered with silver thread, a wig in the shape of a beehive, and one of these l'ordre de la Mouche à Miel medals in gold.  The reverse legend “She is small, yes, but nonetheless gives cruel wounds” makes reference to Louise Bénédicte’s pride in her small stature and nasty disposition. At the time, the Académie Royale des Inscriptions et Médailles approved medal designs under Louis XV, and required all legends on medals to be in Latin – yet this medal curiously has an obverse legends whose abbreviation spells out a legend in French.  Translation of the complicated abbreviation on the obverse was likely understood only by members of the order, indicating that the medals were made clandestinely in mutual defiance of Royal authority.

No original examples of the medals are known to exist.  In the 19th century, restrikes were also struck in silver, copper, and copper-gilt; presumably with the original dies. The silver examples are quite rare. This medal and has two cornucopias straddling the number 1 on the edge, indicating an 1880’s strike of high gold content. This is the only known medal in gold extant which matches the composition and appearance of the original medals.

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