Part 4 out of 8
the Queen. He was only tolerated at Court on account of his wife
and of the great intimacy which subsisted between him and the Comte
d'Artois. Louis XVI. had often expressed his disapprobation of the
Duke's character, which his conduct daily justified.
The Princesse de Lamballe could have no cause to think of her
brother-in-law but with horror. He had insulted her, and, in
revenge at his defeat, had, it was said, deprived her, by the most
awful means, of her husband. The Princess was tenderly attached to
her sister-in-law, the Duchess. Her attachment could not but make
her look very unfavourably upon the circumstance of the Duke's
subjecting his wife to the humiliation of residing in the palace
with Madame de Genlis, and being forced to receive a person of
morals so incorrect as the guardian of her children. The Duchess
had complained to her father, the Duc de Penthievre, in the presence
of the Princesse de Lamballe, of the very great ascendency Madame de
Genlis exercised over her husband; and had even requested the Queen
to use her influence in detaching the Duke from this connexion.
(It was generally understood that the Duke had a daughter by
Madame de Genlis. This daughter, when grown up, was married to
the late Irish Lord Robert Fitzgerald.)
But she had too much gentleness of nature not presently to forget
her resentment. Being much devoted to her husband, rather than
irritate him to further neglect by personal remonstrance, she
determined to make the best of a bad business, and tolerated Madame
de Genlis, although she made no secret among her friends and
relations of the reason why she did so. Nay, so far did her wish
not to disoblige her husband prevail over her own feelings as to
induce her to yield at last to his importunities by frequently
proposing to present Madame de Genlis to the Queen. But Madame de
Genilis never could obtain either a public or a private audience.
Though the Queen was a great admirer of merit and was fond of
encouraging talents, of which Madame de Genlis was by no means
deficient, yet even the account the Duchess herself had given, had
Her Majesty possessed no other means of knowledge, would have sealed
that lady's exclusion from the opportunities of display at Court
which she sought so earnestly.
There was another source of exasperation against the Duc d'Orleans;
and the great cause of a new and, though less obtrusive, yet perhaps
an equally dangerous foe under all the circumstances, in Madame de
Genlis. The anonymous slander of the one was circulated through all
France by the other; and spleen and disappointment feathered the
venomed arrows shot at the heart of power by malice and ambition.
Be the charge true or false, these anonymous libels were generally
considered as the offspring of this lady: they were industriously
scattered by the Duc d'Orleans; and their frequent refutation by the
Queen's friends only increased the malignant industry of their
An event which proved the most serious of all that ever happened to
the Queen, and the consequences of which were distinctly foreseen by
the Princesse de Lamballe and others of her true friends, was now
growing to maturity.
The deposed Court oracle, the Comtesse de Noailles, had been
succeeded as literary leader by the Comtesse Diane de Polignac.
She was a favourite of the Comte d'Artois, and was the first lady
in attendance upon the Countess, his wife.
(The Comtesse Diane de Polignac had a much better education,
and considerably more natural capacity, than her sister-in-law,
the Duchess, and the Queen merely disliked her for her prudish
affectation. The Comtesse d'Artois grew jealous of the Count's
intimacy with the Comtesse Diane. While she considered herself
as the only one of the Royal Family likely to be mother of a
future sovereign, she was silent, or perhaps too much engrossed
by her castles in the air to think of anything but diadems; but
when she saw the Queen producing heirs, she grew out of humour
at her lost popularity, and began to turn her attention to her
husband's Endymionship to this now Diana! When she had made up
her mind to get her rival out of her house, she consulted one
of the family; but being told that the best means for a wife to
keep her husband out of harm's way was to provide him with a
domestic occupation for his leisure hours at home, than which
nothing could be better than a handmaid under the same roof,
she made a merit of necessity and submitted ever after to
retain the Comtesse Diane, as she had been prudently advised.
The Comtesse Diane, in consequence, remained in the family even
up to the 17th October, 1789, when she left Versailles in
company with the De Polignacs and the D'Artois, who all
emigrated together from France to Italy and lived at Stria on
the Brenta, near Venice, for some time, till the Comtesse
d'Artois went to Turin.)
The Queen's conduct had always been very cool to her. She deemed
her a self-sufficient coquette. However, the Comtesse Diane was a
constant attendant at the gay parties which were then the fashion of
the Court, though not greatly admired.
The reader will scarcely need to be informed that the event to which
I have just alluded is the introduction by the Comtesse Diane of her
sister-in-law, the Comtesse Julie de Polignac, to the Queen; and
having brought the record up to this point I here once more dismiss
my own pen for that of the Princesse de Lamballe.
It will be obvious to every one that I must have been indebted to
the conversations of my beloved patroness for most of the sentiments
and nearly all the facts I have just been stating; and had the
period on which she has written so little as to drive me to the
necessity of writing for her been less pregnant with circumstances
almost entirely personal to herself, no doubt I should have found
more upon that period in her manuscript. But the year of which Her
Highness says so little was the year of happiness and exclusive
favour; and the Princess was above the vanity of boasting, even
privately in the self-confessional of her diary. She resumes her
records with her apprehensions; and thus proceeds, describing the
introduction of the Comtesse Julie de Polignac, regretting her
ascendency over the Queen, and foreseeing its fatal effects.]
"I had been only a twelvemonth in Her Majesty's service, which I believe
was the happiest period of both our lives, when, at one of the Court
assemblies, the Comtesse Julie de Polignac was first introduced by her
sister-in-law, the Comtesse Diane de Polignac, to the Queen.
"She had lived in the country, quite a retired life, and appeared to be
more the motherly woman, and the domestic wife, than the ambitious Court
lady, or royal sycophant. She was easy of access, and elegantly plain in
her dress and deportment.
"Her appearance at Court was as fatal to the Queen as it was propitious
"She seemed formed by nature to become a royal favourite, unassuming,
remarkably complaisant, possessing a refined taste, with a good-natured
disposition, not handsome, but well formed, and untainted by haughtiness
"It would appear, from the effect her introduction had on the Queen, that
her domestic virtues were written in her countenance; for she became a
royal favourite before she had time to become a candidate for royal
"The Queen's sudden attachment to the Comtesse Julie produced no
alteration in my conduct, while I saw nothing extraordinary to alarm me
for the consequences of any particular marked partiality, by which the
character and popularity of Her Majesty might be endangered.
"But, seeing the progress this lady made in the feelings of the Queen's
enemies, it became my duty, from the situation I held, to caution Her
Majesty against the risks she ran in making her favourites friends; for
it was very soon apparent how highly the Court disapproved of this
intimacy and partiality: and the same feeling soon found its way to the
many-headed monster, the people, who only saw the favourite without
considering the charge she held. Scarcely had she felt the warm rays of
royal favour, when the chilling blasts of envy and malice began to nip it
in the bud of all its promised bliss. Even long before she touched the
pinnacle of her grandeur as governess of the royal children the blackest
calumny began to show itself in prints, caricatures, songs, and pamphlets
of every description.
"A reciprocity of friendship between a Queen and a subject, by those who
never felt the existence of such a feeling as friendship, could only be
considered in a criminal point of view. But by what perversion could
suspicion frown upon the ties between two married women, both living in
the greatest harmony with their respective husbands, especially when both
became mothers and were so devoted to their offspring? This boundless
friendship did glow between this calumniated pair calumniated because the
sacredness and peculiarity of the sentiment which united them was too
pure to be understood by the grovelling minds who made themselves their
sentencers. The friend is the friend's shadow. The real sentiment of
friendship, of which disinterested sympathy is the sign, cannot exist
unless between two of the same sex, because a physical difference
involuntarily modifies the complexion of the intimacy where the sexes are
opposite, even though there be no physical relations. The Queen of
France had love in her eyes and Heaven in her soul. The Duchesse de
Polignac, whose person beamed with every charm, could never have been
condemned, like the Friars of La Trappe, to the mere memento mori.
"When I had made the representations to Her Majesty which duty exacted
from me on perceiving her ungovernable partiality for her new favourite,
that I might not importune her by the awkwardness naturally arising from
my constant exposure to the necessity of witnessing an intimacy she knew
I did not sanction, I obtained permission from my royal mistress to visit
my father-in-law, the Duc de Penthievre, at Rambouillet, his country-
"Soon after I arrived there, I was taken suddenly ill after dinner with
the most excruciating pains in my stomach. I thought myself dying.
Indeed, I should have been so but for the fortunate and timely discovery
that I was poisoned certainly, not intentionally, by any one belonging to
my dear father's household; but by some execrable hand which had an
interest in my death.
"The affair was hushed up with a vague report that some of the made
dishes had been prepared in a stew-pan long out of use, which the clerk
of the Duke's kitchen had forgotten to get properly tinned.
"This was a doubtful story for many reasons. Indeed, I firmly believe
that the poison given me had been prepared in the salt, for every one at
table had eaten of the same dish without suffering the smallest
"The news of this accident had scarcely arrived at Versailles, when the
Queen, astounded, and, in excessive anxiety, instantly sent off her
physician, and her private secretary, the Abbe Vermond, to bring me back
to my apartments at Versailles, with strict orders not to leave me a
moment at the Duke's, for fear of a second attempt of the same nature.
Her Majesty had imputed the first to the earnestness I had always shown
in support of her interests, and she seemed now more ardent in her
kindness towards me from the idea of my being exposed through her means
to the treachery of assassins in the dark. The Queen awaited our coming
impatiently, and, not seeing the carriages return so quickly as she
fancied they ought to arrive, she herself set off for Rambouillet, and
did not leave me till she had prevailed on me to quit my father-in-law's,
and we both returned together the same night to Versailles, where the
Queen in person dedicated all her attention to the restoration of my
"As yet, however, nothing in particular had discovered that splendour for
which the De Polignacs were afterwards so conspicuous.
"Indeed, so little were their circumstances calculated for a Court life,
that when the friends of Madame de Polignac perceived the growing
attachment of the young Queen to the palladium of their hopes, in order
to impel Her Majesty's friendship to repair the deficiencies of fortune,
they advised the magnet to quit the Court abruptly, assigning the want of
means as the motive of her retreat. The story got wind, and proved
"The Queen, to secure the society of her friend, soon supplied the
resources she required and took away the necessity for her retirement.
But the die was cast. In gaining one friend she sacrificed a host. By
this act of imprudent preference she lost forever the affections of the
old nobility. This was the gale which drove her back among the breakers.
"I saw the coming storm, and endeavoured to make my Sovereign feel its
danger. Presuming that my example would be followed, I withdrew from the
De Polignac society, and vainly flattered myself that prudence would
impel others not to encourage Her Majesty's amiable infatuation till the
consequences should be irretrievable. But Sovereigns are always
surrounded by those who make it a point to reconcile them to their
follies, however flagrant, and keep them on good terms with themselves,
however severely they may be censured by the world.
"If I had read the book of fate I could not have seen more distinctly the
fatal results which actually took place from this unfortunate connexion.
The Duchess and myself always lived in the greatest harmony, and equally
shared the confidence of the Queen; but it was my duty not to sanction
Her Majesty's marked favouritism by my presence. The Queen often
expressed her discontent to me upon the subject. She used to tell me how
much it grieved her to be denied success in her darling desire of uniting
her friends with each other, as they were already united in her own
heart. Finding my resolution unalterable, she was mortified, but gave up
her pursuit. When she became assured that all importunity was useless,
she ever after avoided wounding my feelings by remonstrance, and allowed
me to pursue the system I had adopted, rather than deprive herself of my
society, which would have been the consequence had I not been left at
liberty to follow the dictates of my own sense of propriety in a course
from which I was resolved that even Her Majesty's displeasure should not
make me swerve.
"Once in particular, at an entertainment given to the Emperor Joseph at
Trianon, I remember the Queen took the opportunity to repeat how much she
felt herself mortified at the course in which I persisted of never making
my appearance at the Duchesse de Polignac's parties.
"I replied, 'I believe, Madame, we are both of us disappointed; but Your
Majesty has your remedy, by replacing me by a lady less scrupulous.'
"'I was too sanguine,' said the Queen, 'in having flattered myself that I
had chosen two friends who would form, from their sympathising and
uniting their sentiments with each other, a society which would embellish
my private life as much as they adorn their public stations.'
"I said it was by my unalterable friendship and my loyal and dutiful
attachment to the sacred person of Her Majesty that I had been prompted
to a line of conduct in which the motives whence it arose would impel me
to persist while I had the honour to hold a situation under Her Majesty's
"The Queen, embracing me, exclaimed, 'That will be for life, for death
alone can separate us!'
"This is the last conversation I recollect to have had with the Queen
upon this distressing subject.
"The Abbe Vermond, who had been Her Majesty's tutor, but who was now her
private secretary, began to dread that his influence over her, from
having been her confidential adviser from her youth upwards, would suffer
from the rising authority of the all-predominant new favourite.
Consequently, he thought proper to remonstrate, not with Her Majesty,
but with those about her royal person. The Queen took no notice of these
side-wind complaints, not wishing to enter into any explanation of her
conduct. On this the Abbe withdrew from Court. But he only retired for
a short time, and that to make better terms for the future. Here was a
new spring for those who were supplying the army of calumniators with
poison. Happy had it been, perhaps, for France and the Queen if Vermond
had never returned. But the Abbe was something like a distant country
cousin of an English Minister, a man of no talents, but who hoped for
employment through the power of his kinsman. 'There is nothing on hand
now,' answered the Minister, 'but a Bishop's mitre or a Field-marshal's
staff.'--'Oh, very well,' replied the countryman; 'either will do for me
till something better turns up.' The Abbe, in his retirement finding
leisure to reflect that there was no probability of anything 'better
turning up' than his post of private secretary, tutor, confidant, and
counsellor (and that not always the most correct) of a young and amiable
Queen of France, soon made his reappearance and kept his jealousy of the
De Polignacs ever after to himself.
"The Abbe Vermond enjoyed much influence with regard to ecclesiastical
preferments. He was too fond of his situation ever to contradict or
thwart Her Majesty in any of her plans; too much of a courtier to assail
her ears with the language of truth; and by far too much a clergyman to
interest himself but for Mother Church.
"In short, he was more culpable in not doing his duty than in the
mischief he occasioned, for he certainly oftener misled the Queen by his
silence than by his advice."
"I have already mentioned that Marie Antoinette had no decided taste for
literature. Her mind rather sought its amusements in the ball-room, the
promenade, the theatre, especially when she herself was a performer, and
the concert-room, than in her library and among her books. Her coldness
towards literary men may in, some degree be accounted for by the disgust
which she took at the calumnies and caricatures resulting from her
mother's partiality for her own revered teacher, the great Metastasio.
The resemblance of most of Maria Theresa's children to that poet was
coupled with the great patronage he received from the Empress; and much
less than these circumstances would have been quite enough to furnish a
tale for the slanderer, injurious to the reputation of any exalted
"The taste of Marie Antoinette for private theatricals was kept up till
the clouds of the Revolution darkened over all her enjoyments.
"These innocent amusements were made subjects of censure against her by
the many courtiers who were denied access to them; while some, who were
permitted to be present, were too well pleased with the opportunity of
sneering at her mediocrity in the art, which those, who could not see
her, were ready to criticise with the utmost severity. It is believed
that Madame de Genlis found this too favourable an opportunity to be
slighted. Anonymous satires upon the Queen's performances, which were
attributed to the malice of that authoress, were frequently shown to Her
Majesty by good-natured friends. The Duc de Fronsac also, from some
situation he held at Court, though not included in the private household
of Her Majesty at Trianon, conceiving himself highly injured by not being
suffered to interfere, was much exasperated, and took no pains to prevent
others from receiving the infection of his resentment.
"Of all the arts, music was the only one which Her Majesty ever warmly
patronised. For music she was an enthusiast. Had her talents in this
art been cultivated, it is certain from her judgment in it that she would
have made very considerable progress. She sang little French airs with
great taste and feeling. She improved much under the tuition of the
great composer, her master, the celebrated Sacchini. After his death,
Sapio was named his successor; but, between the death of one master and
the appointment of another, the revolutionary horrors so increased that
her mind was no longer in a state to listen to anything but the howlings
of the tempest.
"In her happier days of power, the great Gluck was brought at her request
from Germany to Paris. He cost nothing to the public Treasury, for Her
Majesty paid all his expenses out of her own purse, leaving him the
profits of his operas, which attracted immense sums to the theatre.
"Marie Antoinette paid for the musical education of the French singer,
Garat, and pensioned him for her private concerts.
"Her Majesty was the great patroness of the celebrated Viotti, who was
also attached to her private musical parties. Before Viotti began to
perform his concertos, Her Majesty, with the most amiable condescension,
would go round the music saloon, and say, 'Ladies and gentlemen, I
request you will be silent, and very attentive, and not enter into
conversation, while Mr. Viotti is playing, for it interrupts him in the
execution of his fine performance.
"Gluck composed his Armida in compliment to the personal charms of Marie
Antoinette. I never saw Her Majesty more interested about anything than
she was for its success. She became a perfect slave to it. She had the
gracious condescension to hear all the pieces through, at Gluck's
request, before they were submitted to the stage for rehearsal. Gluck
said he always improved his music after he saw the effect it had upon Her
"He was coming out of the Queen's apartment one day, after he had been
performing one of these pieces for Her Majesty's approbation, when I
followed and congratulated him on the increased success he had met with
from the whole band of the opera at every rehearsal. 'O my dear
Princess!' cried he, 'it wants nothing to make it be applauded up to the
seven skies but two such delightful heads as Her Majesty's and your own.'
--'Oh, if that be all,' answered I, 'we'll have them painted for you, Mr.
Gluck!'--'No, no, no! you do not understand me,' replied Gluck, 'I mean
real, real heads. My actresses are very ugly, and Armida and her
confidential lady ought to be very handsome:
"However great the success of the opera of Armida, and certainly it was
one of the best productions ever exhibited on the French stage, no one
had a better opinion of its composition than Gluck himself. He was quite
mad about it. He told the Queen that the air of France had invigorated
his musical genius, and that, after having had the honour of seeing Her
Majesty, his ideas were so much inspired that his compositions resembled
her, and became alike angelic and sublime!
"The first artist who undertook the part of Armida was Madame Saint
Huberti. The Queen was very partial to her. She was principal female
singer at the French opera, was a German by birth, and strongly
recommended by Gluck for her good natural voice. At Her Majesty's
request, Gluck himself taught Madame Saint Huberti the part of Armida.
Sacchini, also, at the command of Marie Antoinette, instructed her in the
style and sublimity of the Italian school, and Mdlle. Benin, the Queen's
dressmaker and milliner, was ordered to furnish the complete dress for
"The Queen, perhaps, was more liberal to this lady than to any other
actress upon the stage. She had frequently paid her debts, which were
very considerable, for she dressed like a Queen whenever she represented
"Gluck's consciousness of the merit of his own works, and of their
dignity, excited no small jealousy, during the getting up of Armida, in
his rival with the public, the great Vestris, to whom he scarcely left
space to exhibit the graces of his art; and many severe disputes took
place between the two rival sharers of the Parisian enthusiasm. Indeed,
it was at one time feared that the success of Armida would be endangered,
unless an equal share of the performance were conceded to the dancers.
But Gluck, whose German obstinacy would not give up a note, told Vestris
he might compose a ballet in which he would leave him his own way
entirely; but that an artist whose profession only taught him to reason
with his heels should not kick about works like Armida at his pleasure.
'My subject,' added Gluck, 'is taken from the immortal Tasso. My music
has been logically composed, and with the ideas of my head; and, of
course, there is very little room left for capering. If Tasso had
thought proper to make Rinaldo a dancer he never would have designated
him a warrior.'
"Rinaldo was the part Vestris wished to be allotted to his son. However,
through the interference of the Queen, Vestris prudently took the part as
it had been originally finished by Gluck.
"The Queen was a great admirer and patroness of Augustus Vestris, the god
of dance, as he was styled. Augustus Vestris never lost Her Majesty's
favour, though he very often lost his sense of the respect he owed to the
public, and showed airs and refused to dance. Once he did so when Her
Majesty was at the opera. Upon some frivolous pretext he refused to
appear. He was, in consequence, immediately arrested. His father,
alarmed at his son's temerity, flew to me, and with the most earnest
supplications implored I would condescend to endeavour to obtain the
pardon of Her Majesty. 'My son,' cried he, 'did not know that Her
Majesty had honoured the theatre with her presence. Had he been aware of
it, could he have refused to dance for his most bounteous benefactress?
I, too, am grieved beyond the power of language to describe, by this mal
apropos contretemps between the two houses of Vestris and Bourbon, as we
have always lived in the greatest harmony ever since we came from
Florence to Paris. My son is very sorry and will dance most bewitchingly
if Her Majesty will graciously condescend to order his release!'
"I repeated the conversation verbatim, to Her Majesty, who enjoyed the
arrogance of the Florentine, and sent her page to order young Vestris to
be set immediately at liberty.
"Having exerted all the wonderful powers of his art, the Queen applauded
him very much. When Her Majesty was about leaving her box, old Vestris
appeared at the entrance, leading his son to thank the Queen.
"'Ah, Monsieur Vestris,' said the Queen to the father, you never danced
as your son has done this evening.'
"'That's very natural, Madame,' answered old Vestris, 'I never had a
Vestris, please Your Majesty, for a master.'
"'Then you have the greater merit,' replied the Queen, turning round to
old Vestris--'Ah, I shall never forget you and Mademoiselle Guimard
dancing the minuet de la cour.'
"On this old Vestris held up his head with that peculiar grace for which
he was so much distinguished. The old man, though ridiculously vain, was
very much of a gentleman in his manners. The father of Vestris was a
painter of some celebrity at Florence, and originally from Tuscany."
"The visit of the favourite brother of Marie Antoinette, the Emperor
Joseph the Second, to France, had been long and anxiously expected, and
was welcomed by her with delight. The pleasure Her Majesty discovered at
having him with her is scarcely credible; and the affectionate tenderness
with which the Emperor frequently expressed himself on seeing his
favourite sister evinced that their joys were mutual.
"Like everything else, however, which gratified and obliged the Queen,
her evil star converted even this into a misfortune. It was said that
the French Treasury, which was not overflowing, was still more reduced by
the Queen's partiality for her brother. She was accused of having given
him immense sums of money; which was utterly false.
"The finances of Joseph were at that time in a situation too superior to
those of France to admit of such extravagance, or even to render it
desirable. The circumstance which gave a colour to the charge was this:
"The Emperor, in order to facilitate the trade of his Brabant subjects,
had it in contemplation to open the navigation of the Scheldt. This
measure would have been ruinous to many of the skippers, as well as to
the internal commerce of France. It was considered equally dangerous to
the trade and navigation of the North Hollanders. To prevent it,
negotiations were carried on by the French Minister, though professedly
for the mutual interest of both countries, yet entirely at the
instigation and on account of the Dutch. The weighty argument of the
Dutch to prevent the Emperor from accomplishing a purpose they so much
dreaded was a sum of many millions, which passed by means of some monied
speculation in the Exchange through France to its destination at Vienna.
It was to see this affair settled that the Emperor declared in Vienna his
intention of taking France in his way from Italy, before he should go
back to Austria.
"The certainty of a transmission of money from France to Austria was
quite enough to awaken the malevolent, who would have taken care, even
had they inquired into the source whence the money came, never to have
made it public. The opportunity was too favourable not to be made the
pretext to raise a clamour against the Queen for robbing France to favour
and enrich Austria.
"The Emperor, who had never seen me, though he had often heard me spoken
of at the Court of Turin, expressed a wish, soon after his arrival, that
I should be presented to him. The immediate cause of this let me
"I was very much attached to the Princesse Clotilde, whom I had caused to
be united to Prince Charles Emanuel of Piedmont. Our family had, indeed,
been principally instrumental in the alliances of the two brothers of the
King of France with the two Piedmontese Princesses, as I had been in the
marriage of the Piedmontese Prince with the Princess of France. When the
Emperor Joseph visited the Court of Turin he was requested when he saw me
in Paris to signify the King of Sardinia's satisfaction at my good
offices. Consequently, the Emperor lost no time in delivering his
"When I was just entering the Queen's apartment to be presented, 'Here,'
said Her Majesty, leading me to the Emperor, 'is the Princess,' and, then
turning to me, exclaimed, 'Mercy, how cold you are!' The Emperor answered
Her Majesty in German, 'What heat can you expect from the hand of one
whose heart resides with the dead?' and subjoined, in the same language,
'What a pity that so charming a head should be fixed on a dead body.'
"I affected to understand the Emperor literally, and set him and the
Queen laughing by thanking His Imperial Majesty for the compliment.
"The Emperor was exceedingly affable and full of anecdote. Marie
Antoinette resembled him in her general manners. The similitude in their
easy openness of address towards persons of merit was very striking.
Both always endeavoured to encourage persons of every class to speak
their minds freely, with this difference, that Her Majesty in so doing
never forgot her dignity or her rank at Court. Sometimes, however, I
have seen her, though so perfect in her deportment with inferiors, much
intimidated and sometimes embarrassed in the presence of the Princes and
Princesses, her equals, who for the first time visited Versailles:
indeed, so much as to give them a very incorrect idea of her capacity.
It was by no means an easy matter to cause Her Majesty to unfold her real
sentiments or character on a first acquaintance.
"I remember the Emperor one evening at supper when he was exceedingly
good-humoured, talkative, and amusing. He had visited all his Italian
relations, and had a word for each, man, woman, or child--not a soul was
spared. The King scarcely once opened his mouth, except to laugh at some
of the Emperor's jokes upon his Italian relations.
"He began by asking the Queen if she punished her husband by making him
keep as many Lents in the same year as her sister did the King of Naples.
The Queen not knowing what the Emperor meant, he explained himself, and
said, 'When the King of Naples offends his Queen she keeps him on short
commons and 'soupe maigre' till he has expiated the offence by the
penance of humbling himself; and then, and not till then, permits him to
return and share the nuptial rights of her bed.'
"'This sister of mine,' said the Emperor, 'is a proficient Queen in the
art of man training. My other sister, the Duchess of Parma, is equally
scientific in breaking-in horses; for she is constantly in the stables
with her grooms, by which she 'grooms' a pretty sum yearly in buying,
selling, and breaking-in; while the simpleton, her husband, is ringing
the bells with the Friars of Colorno to call his good subjects to Mass.
"'My brother Leopold, Grand Duke of Tuscany, feeds his subjects with
plans of economy, a dish that costs nothing, and not only saves him a
multitude of troubles in public buildings and public institutions, but
keeps the public money in his private coffers; which is one of the
greatest and most classical discoveries a Sovereign can possibly
accomplish, and I give Leopold much credit for his ingenuity.
"'My dear brother Ferdinand, Archduke of Milan, considering he is only
Governor of Lombardy, is not without industry; and I am told, when out of
the glimpse of his dragon the holy Beatrice, his Archduchess, sells his
corn in the time of war to my enemies, as he does to my friends in the
time of peace. So he loses nothing by his speculations!'
"The Queen checked the Emperor repeatedly, though she could not help
smiling at his caricatures.
"'As to you, my dear Marie Antoinette,' continued the Emperor, not
heeding her, 'I see you have made great progress in the art of painting.
You have lavished more colour on one cheek than Rubens would have
required for all the figures in his cartoons.' Observing one of the
Ladies of Honour still more highly rouged than the Queen, he said,
'I suppose I look like a death's head upon a tombstone, among all these
"The Queen again tried to interrupt the Emperor, but he was not to be put
out of countenance.
"He said he had no doubt, when he arrived at Brussels, that he should
hear of the progress of his sister, the Archduchess Maria Christina, in
her money negotiations with the banker Valkeers, who made a good stock
for her husband's jobs.
"'If Maria Christina's gardens and palace at Lakin could speak,' observed
he, 'what a spectacle of events would they not produce! What a number of
fine sights my own family would afford!
"'When I get to Cologne,' pursued the Emperor, there I shall see my great
fat brother Maximilian, in his little electorate, spending his yearly
revenue upon an ecclesiastical procession; for priests, like opposition,
never bark but to get into the manger; never walk empty-handed; rosaries
and good cheer always wind up their holy work; and my good Maximilian, as
head of his Church, has scarcely feet to waddle into it. Feasting and
fasting produce the same effect. In wind and food he is quite an adept--
puffing, from one cause or the other, like a smith's bellows!'
"Indeed, the Elector of Cologne was really grown so very fat, that,
like his Imperial mother, he could scarcely walk. He would so over-eat
himself at these ecclesiastical dinners, to make his guests welcome,
that, from indigestion, he would be puffing and blowing, an hour
afterwards, for breath.
"'As I have begun the family visits,' continued the Emperor, 'I must not
pass by the Archduchess Mariana and the Lady Abbess at Clagenfurt; or,
the Lord knows, I shall never hear the end of their klagens.--[A German
word which signifies complaining.]--The first, I am told, is grown so
ugly, and, of course, so neglected by mankind, that she is become an
utter stranger to any attachment, excepting the fleshy embraces of the
disgusting wen that encircles her neck and bosom, and makes her head .
appear like a black spot upon a large sheet of white paper. Therefore
klagen is all I can expect from that quarter of female flesh, and I dare
say it will be levelled against the whole race of mankind for their want
of taste in not admiring her exuberance of human craw!
"'As to the Lady Abbess, she is one of my best recruiting sergeants.
She is so fond of training cadets for the benefit of the army that they
learn more from her system in one month than at the military academy at
Neustadt in a whole year. She is her mother's own daughter. She
understands military tactics thoroughly. She and I never quarrel,
except when I garrison her citadel with invalids. She and the canoness,
Mariana, would rather see a few young ensigns than all the staffs of the
"The Queen often made signs to the Emperor to desist from thus exposing
every member of his family, and seemed to feel mortified; but the more
Her Majesty endeavoured to check his freedom, and make him silent, the
more he enlarged upon the subject. He did not even omit Maria Theresa,
who, he said, in consequence of some papers found on persons arrested as
spies from the Prussian camp, during the seven years' war, was reported
to have been greatly surprised to have discovered that her husband, the
Emperor Francis I., supplied the enemy's army with all kinds of provision
from her stores.
"The King scarcely ever answered excepting when the Emperor told the
Queen that her staircase and antechamber at Versailles resembled more the
Turkish bazars of Constantinople
[It was an old custom, in the passages and staircase of all the
royal palaces, for tradespeople to sell their merchandise for the
accommodation of the Court.]
than a royal palace. 'But,' added he, laughing, 'I suppose you would not
allow the nuisance of hawkers and pedlars almost under your nose, if the
sweet perfumes of a handsome present did not compensate for the
disagreeable effluvia exhaling from their filthy traffic.'
"On this, Louis XVI., in a tone of voice somewhat varying from his usual
mildness, assured the Emperor that neither himself nor the Queen derived
any advantage from the custom, beyond the convenience of purchasing
articles inside the palace at any moment they were wanted, without being
forced to send for them elsewhere.
"'That is the very reason, my dear brother,' replied Joseph, 'why I would
not allow these shops to be where they are. The temptation to lavish
money to little purpose is too strong; and women have not philosophy
enough to resist having things they like, when they can be obtained
easily, though they may not be wanted.'
"'Custom,' answered the King--
"'True,' exclaimed the Queen, interrupting him; custom, my dear brother,
obliges us to tolerate in France many things which you, in Austria, have.
long since abolished; but the French are not to be: treated like the
Germans. A Frenchman is a slave to habit. His very caprice in the
change of fashion proceeds more from habit than genius or invention.
His very restlessness of character is systematic; and old customs and
national habits in a nation virtually spirituelle must not be trifled
with. The tree torn up by the roots dies for want of nourishment; but,
on the contrary, when lopped carefully only of its branches the pruning
makes it more valuable to the cultivator and more pleasing to the
beholder. So it is with national prejudices, which are often but the
excrescences of national virtues. Root them out and you root out virtue
and all. They must only be: pruned and turned to profit. A Frenchman is
more easily killed than subdued. Even his follies generally spring from
a high sense of national dignity and honour, which foreigners cannot but
"The Emperor Joseph while in France mixed in all sorts of society, to
gain information with respect, to the popular feeling towards his sister,
and instruction as to the manners and modes of life and thinking of the
French. To this end he would often associate with the lowest of the
common people, and generally gave them a louis for their loss of time in
attending to him.
"One day, when he was walking with the young Princesse Elizabeth and
myself in the public gardens at Versailles and in deep conversation with
us, two or three of these louis ladies came up to my side and, not
knowing who I was, whispered, 'There's no use in paying such attention to
the stranger: after all, when he has got what he wants, he'll only give
you a louis apiece and then send you about your business.'"
"I remember an old lady who could not bear to be told of deaths. 'Psha!
Pshaw!' she would exclaim. 'Bring me no tales of funerals! Talk of
births and of those who are likely to be blest with them! These are the
joys which gladden old hearts and fill youthful ones with ecstasy! It is
our own reproduction in children which makes us quit the world happy and
contented; because then we only retire to make room for another race,
bringing with them all those faculties which are in us decayed; and
capable, which we ourselves have ceased to be, of taking our parts and
figuring on the stage of life so long as it may please the Supreme
Manager to busy them in earthly scenes! Then talk no more to me of weeds
and mourning, but show me christenings and all those who give employ to
the baptismal font!'
"Such also was the exulting feeling of Marie Antoinette when she no
longer doubted of her wished-for pregnancy. The idea of becoming a
mother filled her soul with an exuberant delight, which made the very
pavement on which she trod vibrate with the words, 'I shall be a mother!
I shall be a mother!' She was so overjoyed that she not only made it
public throughout France but despatches were sent off to all her royal
relatives. And was not her rapture natural? so long as she had waited
for the result of every youthful union, and so coarsely as she had been
reproached with her misfortune! Now came her triumph. She could now
prove to the world, like all the descendants of the house of Austria,
that there was no defect with her. The satirists and the malevolent were
silenced. Louis XVI., from the cold, insensible bridegroom, became the
infatuated admirer of his long-neglected wife. The enthusiasm with which
the event was hailed by all France atoned for the partial insults she had
received before it. The splendid fetes, balls, and entertainments,
indiscriminately lavished by all ranks throughout the kingdom on this
occasion, augmented those of the Queen and the Court to a pitch of
magnificence surpassing the most luxurious and voluptuous times of the
great and brilliant Louis XIV. Entertainments were given even to the
domestics of every description belonging to the royal establishments.
Indeed, so general was the joy that, among those who could do no more,
there could scarcely be found a father or mother in France who, before
they took their wine, did not first offer up a prayer for the prosperous
pregnancy of their beloved Queen.
"And yet, though the situation of Marie Antoinette was now become the
theme of a whole nation's exultation, she herself, the owner of the
precious burthen, selected by Heaven as its special depositary, was the
only one censured for expressing all her happiness!
"Those models of decorum, the virtuous Princesses, her aunts, deemed it
highly indelicate in Her Majesty to have given public marks of her
satisfaction to those deputed to compliment her on her prosperous
situation. To avow the joy she felt was in their eyes indecent and
unqueenly. Where was the shrinking bashfulness of that one of these
Princesses who had herself been so clamorous to Louis XV. against her
husband, the Duke of Modena, for not having consummated her own marriage?
"The party of the dismissed favourite Du Barry were still working
underground. Their pestiferous vapours issued from the recesses of the
earth, to obscure the brightness of the rising sun, which was now rapidly
towering to its climax, to obliterate the little planets which had once
endeavoured to eclipse its beautiful rays, but were now incapable of
competition, and unable to endure its lustre. This malignant nest of
serpents began to poison the minds of the courtiers, as soon as the
pregnancy was obvious, by innuendoes on the partiality of the Comte
d'Artois for the Queen; and at length, infamously, and openly, dared to
point him out as the cause?
"Thus, in the heart of the Court itself, originated this most atrocious
slander, long before it reached the nation, and so much assisted to
destroy Her Majesty's popularity with a people, who now adored her
amiableness, her general kind-heartedness, and her unbounded charity.
"I have repeatedly seen the Queen and the Comte d'Artois together under
circumstances in which there could have been no concealment of her real
feelings; and I can firmly and boldly assert the falsehood of this
allegation against my royal mistress. The only attentions Marie
Antoinette received in the earlier part of her residence in France were
from her grandfather and her brothers-in-law. Of these, the Comte
d'Artois was the only one who, from youth and liveliness of character,
thoroughly sympathised with his sister. But, beyond the little freedoms
of two young and innocent playmates, nothing can be charged upon their
intimacy,--no familiarity whatever farther than was warranted by their
relationship. I can bear witness that Her Majesty's attachment for the
Comte d'Artois never differed in its nature from what she felt for her
brother the Emperor Joseph.
[When the King thought proper to be reconciled to the Queen after
the death of his grandfather, Louis XV., and when she became a
mother, she really was very much attached to Louis XVI., as may be
proved from her never quitting him, and suffering all the horrid
sacrifices she endured, through the whole period of the Revolution,
rather than leave her husband, her children, or her sister. Marie
Antoinette might have saved her life twenty times, had not the
King's safety, united with her own and that of her family, impelled
her to reject every proposition of self-preservation.]
"It is very likely that the slander of which I speak derived some colour
of probability afterwards with the million, from the Queen's
thoughtlessness, relative to the challenge which passed between the Comte
d'Artois and the Duc de Bourbon. In right of my station, I was one of
Her Majesty's confidential counsellors, and it became my duty to put
restraint upon her inclinations, whenever I conceived they led her wrong.
In this instance, I exercised my prerogative decidedly, and even so much
so as to create displeasure; but I anticipated the consequences, which
actually ensued, and preferred to risk my royal mistress's displeasure
rather than her reputation. The dispute, which led to the duel, was on
some point of etiquette; and the Baron de Besenval was to attend as
second to one of the parties. From the Queen's attachment for her royal
brother, she wished the affair to be amicably arranged, without the
knowledge either of the King, who was ignorant of what had taken place,
or of the parties; which could only be effected by her seeing the Baron
in the most private manner. I opposed Her Majesty's allowing any
interview with the Baron upon any terms, unless sanctioned by the King.
This unexpected and peremptory refusal obliged the Queen to transfer her
confidence to the librarian, who introduced the Baron into one of the
private apartments of Her Majesty's women, communicating with that of the
Queen, where Her Majesty could see the Baron without the exposure of
passing any of the other attendants. The Baron was quite gray, and
upwards of sixty years of age! But the self-conceited dotard soon caused
the Queen to repent her misplaced confidence, and from his unwarrantable
impudence on that occasion, when he found himself alone with the Queen,
Her Majesty, though he was a constant member of the societies of the De
Polignacs, ever after treated him with sovereign contempt.
"The Queen herself afterwards described to me the Baron's presumptuous
attack upon her credulity. From this circumstance I thenceforward totally
excluded him from my parties, where Her Majesty was always a regular
"The coolness to which my determination not to allow the interview gave
rise between Her Majesty and myself was but momentary. The Queen had too
much discernment not to appreciate the basis upon which my denial was
grounded, even before she was convinced by the result how correct had
been my reflection. She felt her error, and, by the mediation of the
Duke of Dorset, we were reunited more closely than ever, and so, I trust,
we shall remain till death!
"There was much more attempted to be made of another instance, in which I
exercised the duty of my office, than the truth justified--the nightly
promenades on the terrace at Versailles, or at Trianon. Though no
amusement could have been more harmless or innocent for a private
individual, yet I certainly, disapproved it for a Queen, and therefore
withheld the sanction of my attendance. My sole objection was on the
score of dignity. I well knew that Du Barry and her infamous party were
constant spies upon the Queen on every occasion of such a nature; and
that they would not fail to exaggerate her every movement to her
prejudice. Though Du Barry could not form one of the party, which was a
great source of heartburning, it was easy for her, under the
circumstances, to mingle with the throng. When I suggested these
objections to the Queen, Her Majesty, feeling no inward cause of
reproach, and being sanctioned in what she did by the King himself,
laughed at the idea of these little excursions affording food for
scandal. I assured Her Majesty that I had every reason to be convinced
that Du Barry was often in disguise, not far from the seat where Her
Majesty and the Princesse Elizabeth could be overheard in their most
secret conversations with each other. 'Listeners,' replied the Queen,
'never hear any good of themselves.'
"'My dear Lamballe,' she continued, 'you have taken such a dislike to
this woman that you cannot conceive she can be occupied but in mischief.
This is uncharitable. She certainly has no reason to be dissatisfied
with either the King or myself. We have both left her in the full
enjoyment of all she possessed, except the right of appearing at Court or
continuing in the society her conduct had too long disgraced.'
"I said it was very true, but that I should be happier to find Her
Majesty so scrupulous as never to give an opportunity even for the
falsehoods of her enemies.
"Her Majesty turned the matter off, as usual, by saying she had no idea
of injuring others, and could not believe that any one would wantonly
injure her, adding, 'The Duchess and the Princesse Elizabeth, my two
sisters, and all the other ladies, are coming to hear the concert this
evening, and you will be delighted.'
"I excused myself under the plea of the night air disagreeing with my
health, and returned to Versailles without ever making myself one of the
nocturnal members of Her Majesty's society, well knowing she could
dispense with my presence, there being more than enough ever ready to
hurry her by their own imprudence into the folly of despising criticisms,
which I always endeavoured to avoid, though I did not fear them. Of
these I cannot but consider her secretary as one. The following
circumstance connected with the promenades is a proof:
"The Abbe Vermond was present one day when Marie Antoinette observed that
she felt rather indisposed. I attributed it to Her Majesty's having
lightened her dress and exposed herself too much to the night air.
'Heavens, madame!' cried the Abbe, 'would you always have Her Majesty
cased up in steel armour, and not take the fresh air, without being
surrounded by a troop of horse and foot, as a Field-marshal is when going
to storm a fortress? Pray, Princess, now that Her Majesty, has freed
herself from the annoying shackles of Madame Etiquette (the Comtesse de
Noailles), let her enjoy the pleasure of a simple robe and breathe freely
the fresh morning dew, as has been her custom all her life (and as her
mother before her, the Empress Maria Theresa, has done and continues to
do, even to this day), unfettered by antiquated absurdities! Let me be
anything rather than a Queen of France, if I must be doomed to the
slavery of such tyrannical rules!'
"'True; but, sir,' replied I, 'you should reflect that if you were a
Queen of France, France, in making you mistress of her destinies, and
placing you at the head of her nation, would in return look for respect
from you to her customs and manners. I am born an Italian, but I
renounced all national peculiarities of thinking and acting the moment I
set my foot on French ground.'
"'And so did I,' said Marie Antoinette.
"'I know you did, Madame,' I answered; but I am replying to your
preceptor; and I only wish he saw things in the same light I do. When
we are at Rome, we should do as Rome does. You have never had a regicide
Bertrand de Gurdon, a Ravillac or a Damiens in Germany; but they have
been common in France, and the Sovereigns of France cannot be too
circumspect in their maintenance of ancient etiquette to command the
dignified respect of a frivolous and versatile people.'
"The Queen, though she did not strictly adhere to my counsels or the
Abbe's advice, had too much good sense to allow herself to be prejudiced
against me by her preceptor; but the Abbe never entered on the propriety
or impropriety of the Queen's conduct before me, and from the moment I
have mentioned studiously avoided, in my presence, anything which could
lead to discussion on the change of dress and amusements introduced by
"Although I disapproved of Her Majesty's deviations from established
forms in this, or, indeed, any respect, yet I never, before or after,
expressed my opinion before a third person.
"Never should I have been so firmly and so long attached to Marie
Antoinette, had I not known that her native thorough goodness of heart
had been warped and misguided, though acting at the same time with the
best intentions, by a false notion of her real innocence being a
sufficient shield against the public censure of such innovations upon
national prejudices, as she thought prayer to introduce,--the fatal error
of conscious rectitude, encouraged in its regardlessness of appearances
by those very persons who well knew that it is only by appearances a
nation can judge of its rulers.
"I remember a ludicrous circumstance arising from the Queen's innocent
curiosity, in which, if there were anything to blame, I myself am to be
censured for lending myself to it so heartily to satisfy Her Majesty.
"When the Chevalier d'Eon was allowed to return to France, Her Majesty
expressed a particular inclination to see this extraordinary character.
From prudential as well as political motives, she was at first easily
persuaded to repress her desire. However, by a most ludicrous
occurrence, it was revived, and nothing would do but she must have a
sight of the being who had for some time been the talk of every society,
and at the period to which I allude was become the mirth of all Paris.
"The Chevalier being one day in a very large party of both sexes, in
which, though his appearance had more of the old soldier in it than of
the character he was compelled 'malgre lui',
[It may be necessary to observe here that the Chevalier, having for
some particular motives been banished from France, was afterwards
permitted to return only on condition of never appearing but in the
disguised dress of a female, though he was always habited in the
male costume underneath it.]
to adopt, many of the guests having no idea to what sex this nondescript
animal really belonged, the conversation after dinner happened to turn on
the manly exercise of fencing. Heated by a subject to him so
interesting, the Chevalier, forgetful of the respect due to his assumed
garb, started from his seat, and, pulling up his petticoats, threw
himself on guard. Though dressed in male attire underneath, this sudden
freak sent all the ladies--and many of the gentlemen out of the room in
double--quick time. The Chevalier, however, instantly recovering from
the first impulse, quietly pat down his, upper garment, and begged pardon
in, a gentlemanly manner for having for a moment deviated from the forma
of his imposed situation. All, the gossips of Paris were presently
amused with the story, which, of coarse, reached the Court, with every
droll particular of the pulling up and clapping down the cumbrous
paraphernalia of a hoop petticoat.
"The King and Queen, from the manner in which they enjoyed the tale when
told them (and certainly it lost nothing in the report), would not have
been the least amused of the party had they been present. His Majesty
shook the room with laughing, and the Queen, the Princesse Elizabeth, and
the other ladies were convulsed at the description.
"When we were alone, 'How I should like,' said the Queen, 'to see this
curious man-woman!'--'Indeed,' replied I, 'I have not less curiosity than
yourself, and I think we may contrive to let Your Majesty have a peep at
him--her, I mean!--without compromising your dignity, or offending the
Minister who interdicted the Chevalier from appearing in your presence.
I know he has expressed the greatest mortification, and that his wish to
see Your Majesty is almost irrepressible.'
"'But how will you be able to contrive this without its being known to
the King, or to the Comte de Vergennes, who would never forgive me?'
exclaimed Her Majesty.
"'Why, on Sunday, when you go to chapel, I will cause him, by some means
or other, to make his appearance, en grande costume, among the group of
ladies who are generally waiting there to be presented to Your Majesty.'
"'Oh, you charming creature !' said the Queen. 'But won't the Minister
banish or exile him for it?'
"'No, no! He has only been forbidden an audience of Your Majesty at
Court,' I replied.
"In good earnest, on the Sunday following, the Chevalier was dressed en
costume, with a large hoop, very long train, sack, five rows of ruffles,
an immensely high powdered female wig, very beautiful lappets, white
gloves, an elegant fan in his hand, his beard closely shaved, his neck
and ears adorned with diamond rings and necklaces, and assuming all the
airs and graces of a fine lady!
"But, unluckily, his anxiety was so great, the, moment the Queen made her
appearance, to get a sight of Her Majesty, that, on rushing before the
other ladies, his wig and head-dress fell off his head;, and, before they
could be well replaced, he made so, ridiculous a figure, by clapping
them, in his confusion, hind part before, that the King, the Queen, and
the whole suite, could scarcely refrain from laughing; aloud in the
"Thus ended the long longed for sight of this famous man-woman!
"As to me, it was a great while before I could recover myself. Even now,
I laugh whenever I think of this great lady deprived of her head
ornaments, with her bald pate laid bare, to the derision of such a
multitude of Parisians, always prompt to divert themselves at the expense
of others. However, the affair passed off unheeded, and no one but the
Queen and myself ever knew that we ourselves had been innocently the
cause of this comical adventure. When we met after Mass, we were so
overpowered, that neither of us could speak for laughing. The Bishop who
officiated said it was lucky he had no sermon to preach that day, for it
would have been difficult for him to have recollected himself, or to have
maintained his gravity. The ridiculous appearance of the Chevalier, he
added, was so continually presenting itself before him during the service
that it was as much as he could do to restrain himself from laughing, by
keeping his eyes constantly riveted on the book. Indeed, the oddity of
the affair was greatly heightened when, in the middle of the Mass, some
charitable hand having adjusted the wig of the Chevalier, he re-entered
the chapel as if nothing had happened, and, placing himself exactly
opposite the altar, with his train upon his arm, stood fanning himself,
a la coquette, with an inflexible self-possession which only rendered it
the more difficult for those around him to maintain their composure.
"Thus ended the Queen's curiosity. The result only made the Chevalier's
company in greater request, for every one became more anxious than ever
to know the masculine lady who had lost her wig!"
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Fatal error of conscious rectitude
Feel themselves injured by the favour shown to others
Listeners never hear any good of themselves
Only retire to make room for another race
Regardlessness of appearances
MEMOIRS OF LOUIS XV. AND XVI.
Being Secret Memoirs of Madame du Hausset, Lady's Maid to Madame
de Pompadour, and of an unknown English Girl and the Princess Lamballe
[From the time that the Princesse de Lamballe saw the ties between
the Queen and her favourite De Polignac drawing closer she became
less assiduous in her attendance at Court, being reluctant to
importune the friends by her presence at an intimacy which she did
not approve. She could not, however, withhold her accustomed
attentions, as the period of Her Majesty's accouchement approached;
and she has thus noted the circumstance of the birth of the Duchesse
d'Angouleme, on the 19th of December, 1778.]
"The moment for the accomplishment of the Queen's darling hope was now at
hand: she was about to become a mother.
"It had been agreed between Her Majesty and myself, that I was to place
myself so near the accoucheur, Vermond,
[Brother to the Abbe, whose pride was so great at this honour
conferred on his relative, that he never spoke of him without
denominating him Monsieur mon frere, d'accoucher de sa Majeste,
as to be the first to distinguish the sex of the new-born infant, and if
she should be delivered of a Dauphin to say, in Italian, 'Il figlio e
"Her Majesty was, however, foiled even in this the most blissful of her
desires. She was delivered of a daughter instead of a Dauphin.
"From the immense crowd that burst into the apartment the instant Vermond
said, The Queen is happily delivered, Her Majesty was nearly suffocated.
I had hold of her hand, and as I said 'La regina e andato', mistaking
'andato' for 'nato', between the joy of giving birth to a son and the
pressure of the crowd, Her Majesty fainted. Overcome by the dangerous
situation in which I saw my royal mistress, I myself was carried out of
the room in a lifeless state. The situation of Her Majesty was for some
time very doubtful, till the people were dragged with violence from about
her, that she might have air. On her recovering, the King was the first
person who told her that she was the mother of a very fine Princess.
"'Well, then,' said the Queen, 'I am like my mother, for at my birth she
also wished for a son instead of a daughter; and you have lost your
wager:' for the King had betted with Maria Theresa that it would be a
"The King answered her by repeating the lines Metastasio had written on
"'Io perdei: l'augusta figlia
A pagar, m'a condemnato;
Ma s'e ver the a voi somiglia
Tutto il moudo ha guadagnato.'"
[The Princesse de Lamballe again ceased to be constantly about the
Queen. Her danger was over, she was a mother, and the attentions of
disinterested friendship were no longer indispensable. She herself
about this time met with a deep affliction. She lost both of her
own parents; and to her sorrows may, in a great degree, be ascribed
her silence upon the events which intervened between the birth of
Madame and that of the Dauphin. She was as assiduous as ever in her
attentions to Her Majesty on her second lying-in. The circumstances
of the death of Maria Theresa, the Queen's mother, in the interval
which divided the two accouchements, and Her Majesty's anguish, and
refusal to see any but De Lamballe and De Polignac, are too well
known to detain us longer from the notes of the Princess. It is
enough for the reader to know that the friendship of Her Majesty for
her superintendent seemed to be gradually reviving in all its early
enthusiasm, by her unremitting kindness during the confinements of
the Queen, till, at length, they became more attached than ever.
But, not to anticipate, let me return to the narrative.]
"The public feeling had undergone a great change with respect to Her
Majesty from the time of her first accouchement. Still, she was not the
mother of a future King. The people looked upon her as belonging to them
more than she had done before, and faction was silenced by the general
delight. But she had not yet attained the climax of her felicity. A
second pregnancy gave a new excitement to the nation; and, at length, on
the 22nd October, 1781, dawned the day of hope.
"In consequence of what happened on the first accouchement, measures were
taken to prevent similar disasters on the second. The number admitted
into the apartment was circumscribed. The silence observed left the
Queen in uncertainty of the sex to which she had given birth, till, with
tears of joy, the King said to her: 'Madame, the hopes of the nation, and
mine, are fulfilled. You are the mother of a Dauphin.'
"The Princesse Elizabeth and myself were so overjoyed that we embraced
every one in the room.
"At this time Their Majesties were adored. Marie Antoinette, with all
her beauty and amiableness, was a mere cipher in the eyes of France
previous to her becoming the mother of an heir to the Crown; but her
popularity now arose to a pitch of unequalled enthusiasm.
"I have heard of but one expression to Her Majesty upon this occasion in
any way savouring of discontent. This came from the royal aunts. On
Marie Antoinette's expressing to them her joy in having brought a Dauphin
to the nation, they replied, 'We will only repeat our father's
observation on a similar subject. When one of our sisters complained to
his late Majesty that, as her Italian husband had copied the Dauphin's
whim, she could not, though long a bride, boast of being a wife, or hope
to become a mother--"a prudent Princess," replied Louis XV., "never wants
heirs!"' But the feeling of the royal aunts was an exception to the
general sentiment, which really seemed like madness.
"I remember a proof of this which happened at the time. Chancing to
cross the King's path as he was going to Marly and I coming from
Rambouillet, my two postillions jumped from their horses, threw
themselves on the high road upon their knees, though it was very dirty,
and remained there, offering up their benedictions, till he was out of
"The felicity of the Queen was too great not to be soon overcast. The
unbounded influence of the De Polignacs was now at its zenith. It could
not fail of being attacked. Every engine of malice, envy, and detraction
was let loose; and, in the vilest calumnies against the character of the
Duchess, her royal mistress was included.
"It was, in truth, a most singular fatality, in the life of Marie
Antoinette that she could do nothing, however beneficial or
disinterested, for which she was not either criticised or censured.
She had a tenacity, of character which made her cling more closely to
attachments from which she saw others desirous of estranging her; and
this firmness, however excellent in principle, was, in her case, fatal in
its effects. The Abbe Vermond, Her Majesty's confessor and tutor, and,
unfortunately, in many respects, her ambitious guide, was really alarmed
at the rising favour of the Duchess; and, though he knew the very
obstacles thrown in her way only strengthened her resolution as to any
favourite object, yet he ventured to head an intrigue to destroy the
great influence of the De Polignacs, which, as he might have foreseen,
only served to hasten their aggrandisement.
"At this crisis the dissipation of the Duc de Guemenee caused him to
become a bankrupt. I know not whether it can be said in principle, but
certainly it may in property, 'It is an ill wind that blows no one any
good.' The Princess, his wife, having been obliged to leave her
residence at Versailles, in consequence of the Duke's dismissal from the
King's service on account of the disordered state of his pecuniary
circumstances, the situation of governess to the royal children became
necessarily vacant, and was immediately transferred to the Duchesse de
Polignac. The Queen, to enable her friend to support her station with
all the eclat suitable to its dignity, took care to supply ample means
from her own private purse. A most magnificent suite of apartments was
ordered to be arranged, under the immediate inspection of the Queen's
maitre d'hotel, at Her Majesty's expense.
"Is there anything on earth more natural than the lively interest which
inspires a mother towards those who have the care of her offspring?
What, then, must have been the feelings of a Queen of France who had been
deprived of that blessing for which connubial attachments are formed, and
which, vice versa, constitutes the only real happiness of every young
female, what must have been, I say, the ecstasy of Marie Antoinette when
she not only found herself a mother, but the dear pledges of all her
future bliss in the hands of one whose friendship allowed her the
unrestrained exercise of maternal affection,--a climax of felicity
combining not only the pleasures of an ordinary mother, but the
greatness, the dignity, and the flattering popularity of a Queen of
"Though the pension of the Duchesse de Polignac was no more than that
usually allotted to all former governesses of the royal children of
France, yet circumstances tempted her to a display not a little injurious
to her popularity as well as to that of her royal mistress. She gave too
many pretexts to imputations of extravagance. Yet she had neither
patronage, nor sinecures, nor immunities beyond the few inseparable from
the office she held, and which had been the same for centuries under the
Monarchy of France. But it must be remembered, as an excuse for the
splendour of her establishment, that she entered her office upon a
footing very different from that of any of her predecessors. Her mansion
was not the quiet, retired, simple household of the governess of the
royal children, as formerly: it had become the magnificent resort of the
first Queen in Europe; the daily haunt of Her Majesty. The Queen
certainly visited the former governess, as she had done the Duchesse de
Duras and many other frequenters of her Court parties; but she made the
Duchesse de Polignac's her Court; and all the courtiers of that Court,
and, I may say, the great personages of all France, as well as the
Ministers and all foreigners of distinction, held there their usual
rendezvous; consequently, there was nothing wanting but the guards in
attendance in the Queen's apartments to have made it a royal residence
suitable for the reception of the illustrious personages that were in the
constant habit of visiting these levees, assemblies, balls, routs,
picnics, dinner, supper, and card parties.
[I have seen ladies at the Princesse de Lamballe's come from these
card parties with their laps so blackened by the quantities of gold
received in them, that they have been obliged to change their
dresses to go to supper. Many a chevalier d'industree and young
military spendthrift has made his harvest here. Thousands were won
and lost, and the ladies were generally the dupes of all those who
were the constant speculative attendants. The Princease de Lamballe
did not like play, but when it was necessary she did play, and won
or lost to a limited extent; but the prescribed sum once exhausted
or gained she left off. In set parties, such as those of whist, she
never played except when one was wanted, often excusing herself on
the score of its requiring more attention than it was in her power
to give to it and her reluctance to sacrifice her partner; though I
have heard Beau Dillon, the Duke of Dorset, Lord Edward Dillon, and
many others say that she understood and played the game much better
than many who had a higher opinion of their skill in it. Lord
Edward Fitzgerald was admitted to the parties at the Duchesse de
Polignac's on his first coming to Paris; but when his connection
with the Duc d'Orleans and Madame de Genlis became known he was
informed that his society would be dispensed with. The famous, or
rather the infamous, Beckford was also excluded.]
"Much as some of the higher classes of the nobility felt aggrieved at the
preference given by the Queen to the Duchesse de Polignac, that which
raised against Her Majesty the most implacable resentment was her
frequenting the parties of her favourite more than those of any other of
the 'haut ton'. These assemblies, from the situation held by the
Duchess, could not always be the most select. Many of the guests who
chanced to get access to them from a mere glimpse of the Queen--whose
general good-humour, vivacity, and constant wish to please all around her
would often make her commit herself unconsciously and unintentionally--
would fabricate anecdotes of things they had neither seen nor heard; and
which never had existence, except in their own wicked imaginations. The
scene of the inventions, circulated against Her Majesty through France,
was, in consequence, generally placed at the Duchess's; but they were
usually so distinctly and obviously false that no notice was taken of
them, nor was any attempt made to check their promulgation.
"Exemplary as was the friendship between this enthusiastic pair,
how much more fortunate for both would it have been had it never
happened! I foresaw the results long, long before they took place;
but the Queen was not to be thwarted. Fearful she might attribute my
anxiety for her general safety to unworthy personal views, I was often
silent, even when duty bade me speak. I was, perhaps, too scrupulous
about seeming officious or jealous of the predilection shown to the
Duchess. Experience had taught me the inutility of representing
consequences, and I had no wish to quarrel with the Queen. Indeed,
there was a degree of coldness towards me on the part of Her Majesty for
having gone so far as I had done. It was not until after the birth of
the Duc de Normandie, her third child, in March, 1785, that her
friendship resumed its primitive warmth.
"As the children grew, Her Majesty's attachment for their governess grew
with them. All that has been said of Tasso's Armida was nothing to this
luxurious temple of maternal affection. Never was female friendship more
strongly cemented, or less disturbed by the nauseous poison of envy,
malice, or mean jealousy. The Queen was in the plenitude of every
earthly enjoyment, from being able to see and contribute to the education
of the children she tenderly loved, unrestrained by the gothic etiquette
with which all former royal mothers had been fettered, but which the kind
indulgence of the Duchesse de Polignac broke through, as unnatural and
unworthy of the enlightened and affectionate. The Duchess was herself an
attentive, careful mother. She felt for the Queen, and encouraged her
maternal sympathies, so doubly endeared by the long, long disappointment
which had preceded their gratification. The sacrifice of all the cold
forms of state policy by the new governess, and the free access she gave
the royal mother to her children, so unprecedented in the Court of
France, rendered Marie Antoinette so grateful that it may justly be said
she divided her heart between the governess and the governed. Habit soon
made it necessary for her existence that she should dedicate the whole of
her time, not taken up in public ceremonies or parties, to the
cultivation of the minds of her children. Conscious of her own
deficiency in this respect, she determined to redeem this error in her
offspring. The love of the frivolous amusements of society, for which
the want of higher cultivation left room in her mind, was humoured by the
gaieties of the Duchesse de Polignac's assemblies; while her nobler
dispositions were encouraged by the privileges of the favourite's
station. Thus, all her inclinations harmonising with the habits and
position of her friend, Marie Antoinette literally passed the greatest
part of some years in company with the Duchesse de Polignac,--either
amidst the glare and bustle of public recreation, or in the private
apartment of the governess and her children, increasing as much as
possible the kindness of the one for the benefit and comfort of the
others. The attachment of the Duchess to the royal children was returned
by the Queen's affection for the offspring of the Duchess. So much was
Her Majesty interested in favour of the daughter of the Duchess, that,
before that young lady was fifteen years of age, she herself contrived
and accomplished her marriage with the Duc de Guiche, then 'maitre de
ceremonie' to Her Majesty, and whose interests were essentially, promoted
by this alliance.
[The Duc de Guiche, since Duc de Grammont, has proved how much he
merited the distinction he received, in consequence of the
attachment between the Queen and his mother-in-law, by the
devotedness with which he followed the fallen fortunes of the
Bourbons till their restoration, since which he has not been
forgotten. The Duchess, his wife, who at her marriage was beaming
with all the beauties of her age, and adorned by art and nature with
every accomplishment, though she came into notice at a time when the
Court had scarcely recovered itself from the debauched morals by
which it had been so long degraded by a De Pompadour and a Du Barry,
has yet preserved her character, by the strictness of her conduct,
free from the censorious criticisms of an epoch in which some of the
purest could not escape unassailed. I saw her at Pyrmont in 1803;
and even then, though the mother of many children, she looked as
young and beautiful as ever. She was remarkably well educated and
accomplished, a profound musician on the harp and pianoforte,
graceful in her conversation, and a most charming dancer. She
seemed to bear the vicissitudes of fortune with a philosophical
courage and resignation not often to be met with in light-headed
French women. She was amiable in her manners, easy of access,
always lively and cheerful, and enthusiastically attached to the
country whence she was then excluded. She constantly accompanied
the wife of the late Louis XVIII. during her travels in Germany, as
her husband the Duke did His Majesty during his residence at Mittau,
in Courland, etc. I have had the honour of seeing the Duke twice
since the Revolution; once, on my coming from Russia, at General
Binkingdroff's, Governor of Mittau, and since, in Portland Place, at
the French Ambassador's, on his coming to England in the name of his
Sovereign, to congratulate the King of England on his accession to
"The great cabals, which agitated the Court in consequence of the favour
shown to the De Polignacs, were not slow in declaring themselves. The
Comtesse de Noailles was one of the foremost among the discontented. Her
resignation, upon the appointment of a superintendent, was a sufficient
evidence of her real feeling; but when she now saw a place filled, to
which she conceived her family had a claim, her displeasure could not be
silent, and her dislike to the Queen began to express itself without
"Another source of dissatisfaction against the Queen was her extreme
partiality for the English. After the peace of Versailles, in 1783, the
English flocked into France, and I believe if a poodle dog had come from
England it would have met with a good reception from Her Majesty. This
was natural enough. The American war had been carried on entirely
against her wish; though, from the influence she was supposed to exercise
in the Cabinet, it was presumed to have been managed entirely by herself.
This odious opinion she wished personally to destroy; and it could only
be done by the distinction with which, after the peace, she treated the
whole English nation.'
[The daughter of the Duchesse de Polignac (of my meeting with whom I
have already spoken in a note), entering with me upon the subject of
France and of old times, observed that had the Queen limited her
attachment to the person of her mother, she would not have given all
the annoyance which she did to the nobility. It was to these
partialities to the English, the Duchesse de Guiche Grammont
alluded. I do not know the lady's name distinctly, but I am certain
I have heard the beautiful Lady Sarah Bunbury mentioned by the
Princesse de Lamballe as having received particular attention from
the Queen; for the Princess had heard much about this lady and "a
certain great personage" in England; but, on discovering her
acquaintance with the Duc de Lauzun, Her Majesty withdrew from the
intimacy, though not soon enough to prevent its having given food
for scandal. "You must remember," added the Duchesse de Guiche
Grammont, "how much the Queen was censured for her enthusiasm about
Lady Spencer." I replied that I did remember the much-ado about
nothing there was regarding some English lady, to whom the Queen
took a liking, whose name I could not exactly recall; but I knew
well she studied to please the English in general. Of this Lady
Spencer it is that the Princess speaks in one of the following pages
of this chapter.]
"Several of the English nobility were on a familiar footing at the
parties of the Duchesse de Polignac. This was quite enough for the
slanderers. They were all ranked, and that publicly, as lovers of Her
Majesty. I recollect when there were no less than five different private
commissioners out, to suppress the libels that were in circulation over
all France, against the Queen and Lord Edward Dillon, the Duke of Dorset,
Lord George Conway, Arthur Dillon, as well as Count Fersen, the Duc de
Lauzun, and the Comte d'Artois, who were all not only constant
frequenters of Polignac's but visitors of Marie Antoinette.
"By the false policy of Her Majesty's advisers, these enemies and
libellers, instead of being brought to the condign punishment their
infamy deserved, were privately hushed into silence, out of delicacy to
the Queen's feelings, by large sums of money and pensions, which
encouraged numbers to commit the same enormity in the hope of obtaining
the same recompense.
"But these were mercenary wretches, from whom no better could have been
expected. A legitimate mode of robbery had been pressed upon their
notice by the Government itself, and they thought it only a matter of
fair speculation to make the best of it. There were some libellers,
however, of a higher order, in comparison with whose motives for slander,
those of the mere scandal-jobbers were white as the driven snow. Of
these, one of the worst was the Duc de Lauzun.
"The first motive of the Queen's strong dislike to the Duc de Lauzun
sprang from Her Majesty's attachment to the Duchesse d'Orleans, whom she
really loved. She was greatly displeased at the injury inflicted upon
her valued friend by De Lauzun, in estranging the affection of the Duc
d'Orleans from his wife by introducing him to depraved society. Among
the associates to which this connection led the Duc d'Orleans were a
certain Madame Duthee and Madame Buffon.
"When De Lauzun, after having been expelled from the drawing-room of the
Queen for his insolent presumption,--[The allusion here is to the affair
of the heron plume.]--meeting with coolness at the King's levee, sought
to cover his disgrace by appearing at the assemblies of the Duchesse de
Polignac, Her Grace was too sincerely the friend of her Sovereign and
benefactress not to perceive the drift of his conduct. She consequently
signified to the self-sufficient coxcomb that her assemblies were not
open to the public. Being thus shut out from Their Majesties, and, as a
natural result, excluded from the most brilliant societies of Paris, De
Lauzun, from a most diabolical spirit of revenge, joined the nefarious
party which had succeeded in poisoning the mind of the Duc d'Orleans,
and from the hordes of which, like the burning lava from Etna, issued
calumnies which swept the most virtuous and innocent victims that ever
breathed to their destruction!
"Among the Queen's favourites, and those most in request at the De
Polignac parties, was the good Lady Spencer, with whom I became most
intimately acquainted when I first went to England; and from whom, as
well as from her two charming daughters, the Duchess of Devonshire and
Lady Duncannon, since Lady Besborough, I received the greatest marks of
cordial hospitality. In consequence, when her ladyship came to France,
I hastened to present her to the Queen. Her Majesty, taking a great
liking to the amiable Englishwoman, and wishing to profit by her private
conversations and society, gave orders that Lady Spencer should pass to
her private closet whenever she came to Versailles, without the formal
ceremony of waiting in the antechamber to be announced.
"One day, Her Majesty, Lady Spencer, and myself were observing the
difficulty there was in acquiring a correct pronunciation of the English
language, when Lady Spencer remarked that it only required a little
"'I beg your pardon,' said the Queen, 'that's not all, because there are
many things you do not call by their proper names, as they are in the
"'Pray what are they, please Your Majesty?'
"'Well, I will give you an instance. For example, 'les culottes'--what
do you call them?'
"'Small clothes,' replied her ladyship.
"'Ma foi! how can they be called small clothes for one large man? Now I
do look in the dictionary, and I find, for the word culottes--breeches.'
"'Oh, please Your Majesty, we never call them by that name in England.'
"'Voila done, j'ai raison!'
"'We say "inexpressibles"!'
"'Ah, c'est mieux! Dat do please me ver much better. Il y a du bon sens
la dedans. C'est une autre chose!'
"In the midst of this curious dialogue, in came the Duke of Dorset, Lord
Edward Dillon, Count Fersen, and several English gentlemen, who, as they
were going to the King's hunt, were all dressed in new buckskin breeches.
"'I do not like,' exclaimed the Queen to them, dem yellow irresistibles!'
"Lady Spencer nearly fainted. 'Vat make you so frightful, my dear lady?'
said the Queen to her ladyship, who was covering her face with her hands.
'I am terrified at Your Majesty's mistake'--'Comment? did you no tell me
just now, dat in England de lady call les culottes "irresistibles"?'--
'Oh, mercy! I never could have made such a mistake, as to have applied
to that part of the male dress such a word. I said, please Your Majesty,
"On this the gentlemen all laughed most heartily.
"'Vell, vell,' replied the Queen, 'do, my dear lady, discompose yourself.
I vill no more call de breeches irresistibles, but say small clothes, if
even elles sont upon a giant!'
"At the repetition of the naughty word breeches, poor Lady Spencer's
English delicacy quite overcame her. Forgetting where she was, and also
the company she was in, she ran from the room with her cross stick in her
hand, ready to lay it on the shoulders of any one who should attempt to
obstruct her passage, flew into her carriage, and drove off full speed,
as if fearful of being contaminated,--all to the no small amusement of
the male guests.
"Her Majesty and I laughed till the very tears ran down our cheeks. The
Duke of Dorset, to keep up the joke, said there really were some counties
in England where they called 'culottes irresistibles.
"Now that I am upon the subject of England, and the peace of 1783, which
brought such throngs of English over to France, there occurs to me a
circumstance, relating to the treaty of commerce signed at that time,
which exhibits the Comte de Vergennes to some advantage; and with that
let me dismiss the topic.
"The Comte de Vergennes, was one of the most distinguished Ministers of
France. I was intimately acquainted with him. His general character for
uprightness prompted his Sovereign to govern in a manner congenial to his
own goodness of heart, which was certainly most for the advantage of his
subjects. Vergennes cautioned Louis against the hypocritical adulations
of his privileged courtiers. The Count had been schooled in State policy
by the great Venetian senator, Francis Foscari, the subtlest politician
of his age, whom he consulted during his life on every important matter;
and he was not very easily to be deceived.
"When the treaty of commerce took place, at the period I mention, the
experienced Vergennes foresaw--what afterwards really happened--that
France would be inundated with British manufactures; but Calonne
obstinately maintained the contrary, till he was severely reminded of the
consequence of his misguided policy, in the insults inflicted on him by
enraged mobs of thousands of French artificers, whenever he appeared in
public. But though the mania for British goods had literally caused an
entire stagnation of business in the French manufacturing towns, and
thrown throngs upon the 'pave' for want of employment, yet M. de Calonne
either did not see, or pretended not to see, the errors he had committed.
Being informed that the Comte de Vergennes had attributed the public
disorders to his fallacious policy, M. de Calonne sent a friend to the
Count demanding satisfaction for the charge of having caused the riots.
The Count calmly replied that he was too much of a man of honour to take
so great an advantage, as to avail himself of the opportunity offered, by
killing a man who had only one life to dispose of, when there were so
many with a prior claim, who were anxious to destroy him 'en societe'.
I Bid M. de Calonne,' continued the Count, 'first get out of that scrape,
as the English boxers do when their eyes are closed up after a pitched
battle. He has been playing at blind man's buff, but the poverty to
which he has reduced so many of our tradespeople has torn the English
bandage from his eyes!' For three or four days the Comte de Vergennes
visited publicly, and showed himself everywhere in and about Paris; but
M. de Calonne was so well convinced of the truth of the old fox's satire
that he pocketed his annoyance, and no more was said about fighting.
Indeed, the Comte de Vergennes gave hints of being able to show that M.
de Calonne had been bribed into the treaty."
[The Princesse de Lamballe has alluded in a former page to the
happiness which the Queen enjoyed during the visits of the foreign
Princes to the Court of France. Her papers contain a few passages
upon the opinions Her Majesty entertained of the royal travellers;
which, although in the order of time they should have been mentioned
before the peace with England, yet, not to disturb the chain of the
narrative, respecting the connection with the Princesse de Lamballe,
of the prevailing libels, and the partiality shown towards the
English, I have reserved them for the conclusion of the present
chapter. The timidity of the Queen in the presence of the
illustrious strangers, and her agitation when about to receive them,
have, I think, been already spoken of. Upon the subject of the
royal travellers themselves, and other personages, the Princess
expresses herself thus:]
"The Queen had never been an admirer of Catharine II. Notwithstanding
her studied policy for the advancement of civilization in her internal
empire, the means which, aided by the Princess Dashkoff, she made use of
to seat herself on the imperial throne of her weak husband, Peter the
Third, had made her more understood than esteemed. Yet when her son, the
Grand Duke of the North,--[Afterwards the unhappy Emperor Paul.]--
and the Grand Duchess, his wife, came to France, their description of
Catharine's real character so shocked the maternal sensibility of Marie
Antoinette that she could scarcely hear the name of the Empress without
shuddering. The Grand Duke spoke of Catharine without the least
disguise. He said he travelled merely for the security of his life from
his mother, who had surrounded him with creatures that were his sworn
enemies, her own spies and infamous favourites, to whose caprices they
were utterly subordinate. He was aware that the dangerous credulity of
the Empress might be every hour excited by these wretches to the
destruction of himself and his Duchess, and, therefore, he had in absence
sought the only refuge. He had no wish, he said, ever to return to his
native country, till Heaven should check his mother's doubts respecting
his dutiful filial affection towards her, or till God should be pleased
to take her into His sacred keeping.
"The King was petrified at the Duke's description of his situation, and
the Queen could not refrain from tears when the Duchess, his wife,
confirmed all her husband had uttered on the subject. The Duchess said
she had been warned by the untimely fate of the Princess d'Armstadt, her
predecessor, the first wife of the Grand Duke, to elude similar jealousy
and suspicion on the part of her mother-in-law, by seclusion from the
Court, in a country residence with her husband; indeed, that she had made
it a point never to visit Petersburg, except on the express invitation of
the Empress, as if she had been a foreigner.
"In this system the Grand Duchess persevered, even after her return from
her travels. When she became pregnant, and drew near her accouchement,
the Empress-mother permitted her to come to Petersburg for that purpose;
but, as soon as the ceremony required by the etiquette of the Imperial
Court on those occasions ended, the Duchess immediately returned to her
"This Princess was remarkably well-educated; she possessed a great deal
of good, sound sense, and had profited by the instructions of some of the
best German tutors during her very early years. It was the policy of her
father, the Duke of Wirtemberg, who had a large family, to educate his
children as 'quietists' in matters of religion. He foresaw that the
natural charms and acquired abilities of his daughters would one day call
them to be the ornaments of the most distinguished Courts in Europe, and
he thought it prudent not to instil early prejudices in favour of
peculiar forms of religion which might afterwards present an obstacle to
[The first daughter of the Duke of Wirtemberg was the first wife of
the present Emperor of Austria. She embraced the Catholic faith and
died very young, two days before the Emperor Joseph the Second, at
Vienna. The present Empress Dowager, late wife to Paul, became a
proselyte to the Greek religion on her arrival at Petersburg. The
son of the Duke of Wirtemburg, who succeeded him in the Dukedom, was
a Protestant, it being his interest to profess that religion for the
security of his inheritance. Prince Ferdinand, who was in the
Austrian service, and a long time Governor of Vienna, was a
Catholic, as he could not otherwise have enjoyed that office. He
was of a very superior character to the Duke, his brother. Prince
Louis, who held a commission under the Prussian Monarch, followed
the religion of the country where he served, and the other Princes,
who were in the employment of Sweden and other countries, found no
difficulty in conforming themselves to the religion of the
Sovereigns under whom they served. None of them having any
established forms of worship, they naturally embraced that which
conduced most to their aggrandisement, emolument, or dignity.]
"The notorious vices of the King of Denmark, and his total neglect both
of his young Queen, Carolina Matilda, and of the interest of his distant
dominions, while in Paris, created a feeling in the Queen's mind towards
that house which was not a little heightened by her disgust at the King
of Sweden, when he visited the Court of Versailles. This King, though
much more crafty than his brother-in-law, the King of Denmark, who
revelled openly in his depravities, was not less vicious. The deception
he made use of in usurping part of the rights of his people, combined
with the worthlessness and duplicity, of his private conduct, excited a
strong indignation in the mind of Marie Antoinette, of which she was
scarcely capable of withholding the expression in his presence.
"It was during the visit of the Duke and Duchess of the North, that the
Cardinal de Rohan again appeared upon the scene. For eight or ten years
he had never been allowed to show himself at Court, and had been totally
shut out of every society where the Queen visited. On the arrival of the
illustrious, travellers at Versailles, the Queen, at her own expense,
gave them a grand fete at her private palace, in the gardens of Trianon,
similar to the one given by the Comte de Provence--[Afterwards Louis
XVIII.]--to Her Majesty, in the gardens of Brunoi.
"On the eve of the fete, the Cardinal waited upon, me to know if he would
be permitted to appear there in the character he had the honour to hold
at Court, I replied that I had made it a rule never to interfere in the
private or public amusements of the Court, and that His Eminence must be
the best judge how far he, could obtrude himself upon the Queen's private
parties, to which only a select number had been invited, in consequence
of the confined spot where the fete was to be given.
"The Cardinal left me, not much satisfied at his reception. Determined
to follow, as usual, his own misguided passion, he immediately went too
Trianon, disguised with a large cloak. He saw the porter, and bribed
him. He only wished, he said, to be placed in a situation whence he
might see the Duke and Duchess of the North without being seen; but no
sooner did he perceive the porter engaged at some distance than he left
his cloak at the lodge, and went forward in his Cardinal's dress, as if
he had been one of the invited guests, placing himself purposely in the
Queen's path to attract her attention as she rode by in the carriage with
the Duke and Duchess.
"The Queen was shocked and thunderstruck at seeing him. But, great as
was her annoyance, knowing the Cardinal had not been invited and ought
not to have been there, she only discharged the porter who had been
seduced to let him in; and, though the King, on being made acquainted
with his treachery, would have banished His Eminence a hundred leagues
from the capital, yet the Queen, the royal aunts, the Princesse
Elizabeth, and myself, not to make the affair public, and thereby
disgrace the high order of his ecclesiastical dignity, prevented the King
from exercising his authority by commanding instant exile.
"Indeed, the Queen could never get the better of her fears of being some
day, or in some way or other, betrayed by the Cardinal, for having made
him the confidant of the mortification she would have suffered if the
projected marriage of Louis XV. and her sister had been solemnized. On
this account she uniformly opposed whatever harshness the King at any
time intended against the Cardinal.
"Thus was this wicked prelate left at leisure to premeditate the horrid
plot of the famous necklace, the ever memorable fraud, which so fatally
verified the presentiments of the Queen."
[The production of 'Le Mariage de Figaro', by Beaumarchais, upon the
stage at Paris, so replete with indecorous and slanderous allusions
to the Royal Family, had spread the prejudices against the Queen
through the whole kingdom and every rank of France, just in time to
prepare all minds for the deadly blow which Her Majesty received
from the infamous plot of the diamond necklace. From this year,
crimes and misfortunes trod closely on each others' heels in the
history of the ill-starred Queen; and one calamity only disappeared
to make way for a greater.
The destruction of the papers which would have thoroughly explained
the transaction has still left all its essential particulars in some
degree of mystery; and the interest of the clergy, who supported one
of their own body, coupled with the arts and bribes of the high
houses connected with the plotting prelate, must, of course, have
discoloured greatly even what was well known.
It will be recollected that before the accession of Louis XVI. the
Cardinal de Rohan was disgraced in consequence of his intrigues;
that all his ingenuity was afterwards unremittingly exerted to
obtain renewed favour; that he once obtruded himself upon the notice
of the Queen in the gardens of Trianon, and that his conduct in so
doing excited the indignation it deserved, but was left unpunished
owing to the entreaties of the best friends of the Queen, and her
own secret horror of a man who had already caused her so much
With the histories of the fraud every one is acquainted. That of
Madame Campan, as far as it goes, is sufficiently detailed and
correct to spare me the necessity of expatiating upon this theme of
villany. Yet, to assist the reader's memory, before returning to
the Journal of the Princesse de Lamballe, I shall recapitulate the
The Cardinal had become connected with a young, but artful and
necessitous, woman, of the name of Lamotte. It was known that the
darling ambition of the Cardinal was to regain the favour of the
The necklace, which has been already spoken of, and which was
originally destined by Louis XV. for Marie Antoinette--had her hand,
by divorce, been transferred to him--but which, though afterwards
intended by Louis XV. for his mistress, Du Barry, never came to her
in consequence of his death--this fatal necklace was still in
existence, and in the possession of the crown jewellers, Boehmer and
Bassange. It was valued at eighteen hundred thousand livres. The
jewellers had often pressed it upon the Queen, and even the King
himself had enforced its acceptance. But the Queen dreaded the
expense, especially at an epoch of pecuniary difficulty in the
State, much more than she coveted the jewels, and uniformly and
resolutely declined them, although they had been proposed to her on
very easy terms of payment, as she really did not like ornaments.
It was made to appear at the parliamentary investigation that the
artful Lamotte had impelled the Cardinal to believe that she herself
was in communication with the Queen; that she had interested Her
Majesty in favour of the long slighted Cardinal; that she had
fabricated a correspondence, in which professions of penitence on
the part of De Rohan were answered by assurances of forgiveness from
the Queen. The result of this correspondence was represented to be
the engagement of the Cardinal to negotiate the purchase of the
necklace secretly, by a contract for periodical payments. To the
forgery of papers was added, it was declared, the substitution of
the Queen's person, by dressing up a girl of the Palais Royal to
represent Her Majesty, whom she in some degree resembled, in a
secret and rapid interview with Rohan in a dark grove of the gardens
of Versailles, where she was to give the Cardinal a rose,
in token of her royal approbation, and then hastily disappear.
The importunity of the jewellers, on the failure of the stipulated
payment, disclosed the plot. A direct appeal of theirs to the
Queen, to save them from ruin, was the immediate source of
detection. The Cardinal was arrested, and all the parties tried.
But the Cardinal was acquitted, and Lamotte and a subordinate agent
alone punished. The quack Cagliostro was also in the plot, but he,
too, escaped, like his confederate, the Cardinal, who was made to
appear as the dupe of Lamotte.
The Queen never got over the effect of this affair. Her friends
well knew the danger of severe measures towards one capable of
collecting around him strong support against a power already so much
weakened by faction and discord. But the indignation of conscious
innocence insulted, prevailed, though to its ruin!
But it is time to let the Princesse de Lamballe give her own
impressions upon this fatal subject, and in her own words.]
"How could Messieurs Boehmer and Bassange presume that the Queen would
have employed any third person to obtain an article of such value,
without enabling them to produce an unequivocal document signed by her
own hand and countersigned by mine, as had ever been the rule during my
superintendence of the household, whenever anything was ordered from the
jewellers by Her Majesty? Why did not Messieurs Boehmer and Bassange
wait on me, when they saw a document unauthorised by me, and so widely
departing from the established forms? I must still think, as I have
often said to the King, that Boehmer and Bassange wished to get rid of
this dead weight of diamonds in any way; and the Queen having
unfortunately been led by me to hush up many foul libels against her
reputation, as I then thought it prudent she should do, rather than
compromise her character with wretches capable of doing anything to
injure her, these jewellers, judging from this erroneous policy of the
past, imagined that in this instance, also, rather than hazard exposure,
Her Majesty would pay them for the necklace. This was a compromise which
I myself resisted, though so decidedly adverse to bringing the affair
before the nation by a public trial. Of such an explosion, I foresaw the
consequences, and I ardently entreated the King and Queen to take other
measures. But, though till now so hostile to severity with the Cardinal,
the Queen felt herself so insulted by the proceeding that she gave up
every other consideration to make manifest her innocence.
"The wary Comte de Vergennes did all he could to prevent the affair from
getting before the public. Against the opinion of the King and the whole
council of Ministers, he opposed judicial proceedings. Not that he
conceived the Cardinal altogether guiltless; but he foresaw the fatal
consequences that must result to Her Majesty, from bringing to trial an
ecclesiastic of such rank; for he well knew that the host of the higher
orders of the nobility, to whom the prelate was allied, would naturally
strain every point to blacken the character of the King and Queen, as the
only means of exonerating their kinsman in the eyes of the world from the
criminal mystery attached to that most diabolical intrigue against the
fair fame of Marie Antoinette. The Count could not bear the idea of the
Queen's name being coupled with those of the vile wretches, Lamotte and
the mountebank Cagliostro, and therefore wished the King to chastise the
Cardinal by a partial exile, which might have been removed at pleasure.
But the Queen's party too fatally seconded her feelings, and prevailed.
"I sat by Her Majesty's bedside the whole of the night, after I heard
what had been determined against the Cardinal by the council of
Ministers, to beg her to use all her interest with the King to persuade
him to revoke the order of the warrant for the prelate's arrest. To this
the Queen replied, 'Then the King, the Ministers, and the people, will
all deem me guilty.'
"Her Majesty's remark stopped all farther argument upon the subject, and
I had the inconsolable grief to see my royal mistress rushing upon
dangers which I had no power of preventing her from bringing upon
"The slanderers who had imputed such unbounded influence to the Queen
over the mind of Louis XVI. should have been consistent enough to
consider that, with but a twentieth part of the tithe of her imputed
power, uncontrolled as she then was by national authority, she might,
without any exposure to third persons, have at once sent one of her pages
to the garde-meuble and other royal depositaries, replete with hidden
treasures of precious stones which never saw the light, and thence have
supplied herself with more than enough to form ten necklaces, or to have
fully satisfied, in any way she liked, the most unbounded passion for
diamonds, for the use of which she would never have been called to
"But the truth is, the Queen had no love of ornaments. A proof occurred
very soon after I had the honour to be nominated Her Majesty's
superintendent. On the day of the great fete of the Cordon Bleu, when it
was the etiquette to wear diamonds and pearls, the Queen had omitted
putting them on. As there had been a greater affluence of visitors than
usual that morning, and Her Majesty's toilet was overthronged by Princes
and Princesses, I fancied in the bustle that the omission proceeded from
forgetfulness. Consequently, I sent the tirewoman, in the Queen's
hearing, to order the jewels to be brought in. Smilingly, Her Majesty
replied, 'No, no! I have not forgotten these gaudy things; but I do not
intend that the lustre of my eyes should be outshone by the one, or the
whiteness of my teeth by the other; however, as you wish art to eclipse
nature, I'll wear them to satisfy you, ma belle dame!'
"The King was always so thoroughly indulgent to Her Majesty, with regard
both to her public and private conduct, that she never had any pretext
for those reserves which sometimes tempt Queens as well as the wives of
private individuals to commit themselves to third persons for articles of
high value, which their caprice indiscreetly impels them to procure
unknown to their natural guardians. Marie Antoinette had no reproach or
censure for plunging into excesses beyond her means to apprehend from her
royal husband. On the contrary, the King himself had spontaneously
offered to purchase the necklace from the jewellers, who had urged it on
him without limiting any time for payment. It was the intention of His
Majesty to have liquidated it out of his private purse. But Marie
Antoinette declined the gift. Twice in my presence was the refusal
repeated before Messieurs Boehmer and Bassange. Who, then, can for a
moment presume, after all these circumstances, that the Queen of France,
with a nation's wealth at her feet and thousands of individuals offering
her millions, which she never accepted, would have so far degraded
herself and the honour of the nation, of which she was born to be the
ornament, as to place herself gratuitously in the power of a knot of
wretches, headed by a man whose general bad character for years had
excluded him from Court and every respectable society, and had made the
Queen herself mark him as an object of the utmost aversion.
"If these circumstances be not sufficient adequately to open the eyes of
those whom prejudice has blinded, and whose ears have been deafened
against truth, by the clamours of sinister conspirators against the
monarchy instead of the monarchs; if all these circumstances, I repeat,
do not completely acquit the Queen, argument, or even ocular
demonstration itself, would be thrown away. Posterity will judge
impartially, and with impartial judges the integrity of Marie Antoinette
needs no defender.
"When the natural tendency of the character of De Rohan to romantic and
extraordinary intrigue is considered in connection with the associates he
had gathered around him, the plot of the necklace ceases to be a source
of wonder. At the time the Cardinal was most at a loss for means to meet
the necessities of his extravagance, and to obtain some means of access
to the Queen, the mountebank quack, Cagliostro, made his appearance in
France. His fame had soon flown from Strasburg to Paris, the magnet of
vices and the seat of criminals. The Prince-Cardinal, known of old as a
seeker after everything of notoriety, soon became the intimate of one who
flattered him with the accomplishment of all his dreams in the
realization of the philosopher's stone; converting puffs and French paste
into brilliants; Roman pearls into Oriental ones; and turning earth to
gold. The Cardinal, always in want of means to supply the insatiable
exigencies of his ungovernable vices, had been the dupe through life of
his own credulity--a drowning man catching at a straw! But instead of
making gold of base materials, Cagliostro's brass soon relieved his blind
adherent of all his sterling metal. As many needy persons enlisted under
the banners of this nostrum speculator, it is not to be wondered at that
the infamous name of the Comtesse de Lamotte, and others of the same
stamp, should have thus fallen into an association of the Prince-Cardinal
or that her libellous stories of the Queen of France should have found
eager promulgators, where the real diamonds of the famous necklace being
taken apart were divided piecemeal among a horde of the most depraved
sharpers that ever existed to make human nature blush at its own
[Cagliostro, when he came to Rome, for I know not whether there had
been any previous intimacy, got acquainted with a certain Marchese
Vivaldi, a Roman, whose wife had been for years the chere amie of
the last Venetian Ambassador, Peter Pesaro, a noble patrician, and
who has ever since his embassy at Rome been his constant companion
and now resides with him in England. No men in Europe are more
constant in their attachments than the Venetians. Pesaro is the
sole proprietor of one of the moat beautiful and magnificent palaces
on the Grand Canal at Venice, though he now lives in the outskirts
of London, in a small house, not so large as one of the offices of
his immense noble palace, where his agent transacts his business.
The husband of Pesaro's chere amie, the Marchese Vivaldi, when
Cagliostro was arrested and sent to the Castello Santo Angelo at
Rome, was obliged to fly his country, and went to Venice, where he
was kept secreted and maintained by the Marquis Solari, and it was
only through his means and those of the Cardinal Consalvi, then
known only as the musical Abbe Consalvi, from his great attachment
to the immortal Cimarosa, that Vivaldi was ever allowed to return to