This etext was produced by David Widger
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the
file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an
entire meal of them. D.W.]
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
"The accession of Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette to the crown of France
took place (May 10, 1774) under the most propitious auspices!
"After the long, corrupt reign of an old debauched Prince, whose vices
were degrading to himself and to a nation groaning under the lash of
prostitution and caprice, the most cheering changes were expected from
the known exemplariness of his successor and the amiableness of his
consort. Both were looked up to as models of goodness. The virtues of
Louis XVI. were so generally known that all France hastened to
acknowledge them, while the Queen's fascinations acted like a charm on
all who had not been invincibly prejudiced against the many excellent
qualities which entitled her to love and admiration. Indeed, I never
heard an insinuation against either the King or Queen but from those
depraved minds which never possessed virtue enough to imitate theirs, or
were jealous of the wonderful powers of pleasing that so eminently
distinguished Marie Antoinette from the rest of her sex.
"On the death of Louis XV. the entire Court removed from Versailles to
the palace of La Muette, situate in the Bois de Boulogne, very near
Paris. The confluence of Parisians, who came in crowds joyfully to hail
the death of the old vitiated Sovereign, and the accession of his adored
successors, became quite annoying to the whole Royal Family. The
enthusiasm with which the Parisians hailed their young King, and in
particular his amiable young partner, lasted for many days. These
spontaneous evidences of attachment were regarded as prognostics of a
long reign of happiness. If any inference can be drawn from public
opinion, could there be a stronger assurance than this one of
uninterrupted future tranquility to its objects?
"To the Queen herself it was a double triumph. The conspirators, whose
depravity had been labouring to make her their victim, departed from the
scene of power. The husband, who for four years had been callous to her
attractions, became awakened to them. A complete change in the domestic
system of the palace was wrought suddenly. The young King, during the
interval which elapsed between the death and the interment of his
grandfather, from Court etiquette was confined to his apartments. The
youthful couple therefore saw each other with less restraint. The
marriage was consummated. Marie Antoinette from this moment may date
that influence over the heart (would I might add over the head and
policy!) of the King, which never slackened during the remainder of their
"Madame du Barry was much better dealt with by the young King, whom she
had always treated with the greatest levity, than she, or her numerous
courtiers, expected. She was allowed her pension, and the entire
enjoyment of all her ill-gotten and accumulated wealth; but, of course,
excluded from ever appearing at Court, and politically exiled from Paris
to the Chateau aux Dames.
"This implacable foe and her infamous coadjutors being removed from
further interference in matters of State by the expulsion of all their
own Ministers, their rivals, the Duc de Choiseul and his party, by whom
Marie Antoinette had been brought to France, were now in high expectation
of finding the direction of the Government, by the Queen's influence,
restored to that nobleman. But the King's choice was already made. He
had been ruled by his aunts, and appointed Ministers suggested by them
and his late grandfather's friends, who feared the preponderance of the
Austrian influence. The three ladies, Madame la Marechale de Beauveau,
the Duchesse de Choiseul,, and the Duchesse de Grammont, who were all
well-known to Louis XVI. and stood high in his opinion for many excellent
qualities, and especially for their independent assertion of their own
and the Dauphine's dignity by retiring from Court in consequence of the
supper at which Du Barry was introduced these ladies, though received on
their return thither with peculiar welcome, in vain united their efforts
with those of the Queen and the Abbe Vermond, to overcome the prejudice
which opposed Choiseul's reinstatement. It was all in vain. The royal
aunts, Adelaide especially, hated Choiseul for the sake of Austria, and
his agency in bringing Marie Antoinette to France; and so did the King's
tutor and governor, the Duc de Vauguyon, who had ever been hostile to any
sort of friendship with Vienna; and these formed a host impenetrable even
to the influence of the Queen, which was opposed by all the leaders of
the prevailing party, who, though they were beginning externally to
court, admire, and idolize her, secretly surrounded her by their noxious
and viperous intrigues, and, while they lived in her bosom, fattened on
the destruction of her fame!
"One of the earliest of the paltry insinuations against Marie Antoinette
emanated from her not counterfeiting deep affliction at the decease of
the old King. A few days after that event, the Court received the
regular visits of condolence and congratulation of the nobility, whose
duty prescribes their attendance upon such occasions; and some of them,
among whom were the daughters of Louis XV., not finding a young Queen of
nineteen hypocritically bathed in tears, on returning to their abodes
declared her the most indecorous of Princesses, and diffused a strong
impression of her want of feeling. At the head of these detractors were
Mesdames de Guemenee and Marsan, rival pretenders to the favours of the
Cardinal de Rohan, who, having by the death of Louis XV. lost their
influence and their unlimited power to appoint and dismiss Ministers,
themselves became ministers to their own evil geniuses, in calumniating
her whose legitimate elevation annihilated their monstrous pretensions!
"The Abbe Vermond, seeing the defeat of the party of the Duc de Choiseul,
by whom he had been sent to the Court of Vienna on the recommendation of
Brienne, began to tremble for his own security. As soon as the Court had
arrived at Choisy, and he was assured of the marriage having been
consummated, he obtained, with the Queen's consent, an audience of the
King, for the purpose of soliciting his sanction to his continuing in his
situation. On submitting his suit to the King, His Majesty merely gave a
shrug of the shoulders, and turned to converse with the Duc d'Aiguillon,
who at that moment entered the room. The Abbe stood stupefied, and the
Queen, seeing the crestfallen humour of her tutor, laughed and cheered
him by remarking, 'There is more meaning in the shrug of a King than in
the embrace of a Minister. The one always promises, but is seldom
sincere; the other is generally sincere, but never promises.' The Abbe,
not knowing how to interpret the dumb answer, finding the King's back
turned and his conversation with D'Aiguillon continuing, was retiring
with a shrug of his own shoulders to the Queen, when she exclaimed, good-
humouredly, to Louis, laughing and pointing to the Abbe, 'Look! look!
see how readily a Church dignitary can imitate the good Christian King,
who is at the head of the Church.' The King, seeing the Abbe still
waiting, said, dryly, 'Monsieur, you are confirmed in your situation,'
and then resumed his conversation with the Duke.
"This anecdote is a sufficient proof that LOUIS XVI. had no
prepossession in favour of the Abbe Vermond, and that it was merely not
to wound the feelings of the Queen that he was tolerated. The Queen
herself was conscious of this, and used frequently to say to me how much
she was indebted to the King for such deference to her private choice, in
allowing Vermond to be her secretary, as she did not remember the King's
ever having held any communication with the Abbe during the whole time he
was attached to the service, though the Abbe always expressed himself
with the greatest respect towards the King.
"The decorum of Marie Antoinette would not allow her to endure those
public exhibitions of the ceremony, of dressing herself which had been
customary at Court. This reserve was highly approved by His Majesty; and
one of the first reforms she introduced, after the accession, was in the
internal discipline of her own apartment.
"It was during one of the visits, apart from Court etiquette, to the
toilet of the Queen, that the Duchesse de Chartres, afterwards Duchesse
d'Orleans, introduced the famous Mademoiselle Bertin, who afterwards
became so celebrated as the Queen's milliner--the first that was ever
allowed to approach a royal palace; and it was months before Marie
Antoinette had courage to receive her milliner in any other than the
private apartment which, by the alteration Her Majesty had made in the
arrangements of the household, she set apart for the purpose of dressing
in comfort by herself and free from all intruders.
"Till then the Queen was not only very plain in her attire, but very,
economical--a circumstance which, I have often heard her say, gave great
umbrage to the other Princesses of the Court of Versailles, who never
showed themselves, from the moment they rose till they returned to bed,
except in full dress; while she herself made all her morning visits in a
simple white cambric gown and straw hat. This simplicity, unfortunately,
like many other trifles, whose consequences no foresight would have
predicted, tended much to injure Marie Antoinette, not only with the
Court dandies, but the nation; by whom, though she was always censured,
she was as suddenly imitated in all she wore or did.
"From the private closet, which Marie Antoinette reserved to herself, and
had now opened to her milliner, she would retire, after the great points
of habiliment were accomplished, to those who were waiting with memorials
at her public toilet, where the hairdresser would finish putting the
ornaments in Her Majesty's hair.
"The King made Marie Antoinette a present of Le Petit Trianon. Much has
been said of the extravagant expense lavished by her upon this spot. I
can only declare that the greater part of the articles of furniture which
had not been worn out by time or were not worm or moth-eaten, and her own
bed among them, were taken from the apartments of former Queens, and some
of them had actually belonged to Anne of Austria, who, like Marie
Antoinette, had purchased them out of her private savings. Hence it is
clear that neither of the two Queens were chargeable to the State even
for those little indulgences which every private lady of property is
permitted from her husband, without coming under the lash of censure.
"Her allowance as Queen of France was no more than 300,000 francs. It is
well known that she was generous, liberal, and very charitable; that she
paid all her expenses regularly respecting her household, Trianon, her
dresses, diamonds, millinery, and everything else; her Court
establishment excepted, and some few articles, which were paid by the
civil list. She was one of the first Queens in Europe, had the first
establishment in Europe, and was obliged to keep up the most refined and
luxurious Court in Europe; and all upon means no greater than had been
assigned to many of the former bigoted Queens, who led a cloistered life,
retired from the world without circulating their wealth among the nation
which supplied them with so large a revenue; and yet who lived and died
uncensured for hoarding from the nation what ought at least to have been
in part expended for its advantage.
"And yet of all the extra expenditure which the dignity and circumstances
of Marie Antoinette exacted, not a franc came from the public Treasury;
but everything out of Her Majesty's private purse and savings from the
above three hundred thousand francs, which was an infinitely less sum
than Louis XIV. had lavished yearly on the Duchesse de Montespan, and
less than half what Louis XV. had expended on the last two favourites,
De Pompadour and Du Barry. These two women, as clearly appeared from the
private registers, found among the papers of Louis XV. after his death,
by Louis XVI. (but which, out of respect for the memory of his
grandfather, he destroyed), these two women had amassed more property in
diamonds and other valuables than all the Queens of France from the ,
days of Catherine de Medicis up to those of Marie Antoinette.
"Such was the goodness of heart of the excellent Queen of Louis XVI.,
such the benevolence of her character, that not only did she pay all the
pensions of the invalids left by her predecessors, but she distributed in
public and private charities greater sums than any of the former Queens,
thus increasing her expenses without any proportionate augmentation of
[Indeed, could Louis XVI. have foreseen--when, in order not to
expose the character of his predecessor and to honour the dignity of
the throne and monarchy of France, he destroyed the papers of his
grandfather--what an arm of strength he would have possessed in
preserving them, against the accusers of his unfortunate Queen and
himself, he never could have thrown away such means of establishing
a most honourable contrast between his own and former reigns. His
career exhibits no superfluous expenditure. Its economy was most
rigid. No sovereign was ever more scrupulous with the public money.
He never had any public or private predilection; no dilapidated
Minister for a favourite: no courtesan intrigue. For gaming he had
no fondness; and, if his abilities were not splendid, he certainly
had no predominating vices.]
[I must once more quit the journal of the Princess. Her Highness
here ceases to record particulars of the early part of the reign of
Louis XVI., and everything essential upon those times is too well
known to render it desirable to detain the reader by an attempt to
supply the deficiency. It is enough to state that the secret
unhappiness of the Queen at not yet having the assurance of an heir
was by no means weakened by the impatience of the people, nor by the
accouchement of the Comtesse d'Artois of the Duc d'Angouleme. While
the Queen continued the intimacy, and even held her parties at the
apartments of the Duchess that she might watch over her friend, even
in this triumph over herself, the poissardes grossly insulted her in
her misfortune, and coarsely called on her to give heirs to the
A consolation, however, for the unkind feeling of the populace was
about to arise in the delights of one of her strongest friendships.
I am come to the epoch when Her Majesty first formed an acquaintance
with the Princesse de Lamballe.
After a few words of my own on the family of Her Highness, I shall
leave her to pursue her beautiful and artless narrative of her
parentage, early sorrows, and introduction to Her Majesty, unbroken.
The journal of the history of Marie Antoinette, after this slight
interruption for the private history of her friend, will become
blended with the journal of the Princesse de Lamballe, and both
thenceforward will proceed in their course together, like their
destinies, which from that moment never became disunited.]
[MARIA THERESA LOUISA CARIGNAN, Princess of Savoy, was born at Turin
on the 8th September, 1749. She had three sisters; two of them were
married at Rome, one to the Prince Doria Pamfili, the other to the
Prince Colonna; and the third at Vienna, to the Prince Lobkowitz,
whose son was the great patron of the immortal Haydn, the celebrated
The celebrated Haydn was, even at the age of 74, when I last
saw him at Vienna, till the most good-humoured bon vivant of
his age. He delighted in telling the origin of his good
fortune, which he said he entirely owed to a bad wife.
When he was first married, he said, finding no remedy against
domestic squabbles, he used to quit his bad half and go and
enjoy himself with his good friends, who were Hungarians and
Germans, for weeks together. Once, having returned home after
a considerable absence, his wife, while he was in bed next
morning, followed her husband's example: she did even more, for
she took all his clothes, even to his shoes, stockings, and
small clothes, nay, everything he had, along with her! Thus
situated, he was under the necessity of doing something to
cover his nakedness; and this, he himself acknowledged, was the
first cause of his seriously applying himself to the profession
which has since made his name immortal.
He used to laugh, saying, "I was from that time so habituated
to study that my wife, often fearing it would injure me, would
threaten me with the same operation if I did not go out and
amuse myself; but then," added he, "I was grown old, and she
was sick and no longer jealous." He spoke remarkably good
Italian, though he had never been in Italy, and on my going to
Vienna to hear his "Creation," he promised to accompany me back
to Italy; but he unfortunately died before I returned to Vienna
She had a brother also, the Prince Carignan, who, marrying against
the consent of his family, was no longer received by them; but the
unremitting and affectionate attention which the Princesse de
Lamballe paid to him and his new connexions was an ample
compensation for the loss he sustained in the severity of his other
With regard to the early life of the Princesse de Lamballe, the
arranger of these pages must now leave her to pursue her own
beautiful and artless narrative unbroken, up to the epoch of her
appointment to the household of the Queen. It will be recollected
that the papers of which the reception has been already described in
the introduction formed the private journal of this most amiable
Princess; and those passages relating to her own early life being
the most connected part of them, it has been thought that to disturb
them would be a kind of sacrilege. After the appointment of Her
Highness to the superintendence of the Queen's household, her
manuscripts again become confused, and fall into scraps and
fragments, which will require to be once more rendered clear by the
recollections of events and conversations by which the preceding
chapters have been assisted.]
"I was the favourite child of a numerous family, and intended, almost at
my birth--as is generally the case among Princes who are nearly allied to
crowned heads--to be united to one of the Princes, my near relation, of
the royal house of Sardinia.
"A few years after this, the Duc and Duchesse de Penthievre arrived at
Turin, on their way to Italy, for the purpose of visiting the different
Courts, to make suitable marriage contracts for both their infant
"These two children were Mademoiselle de Penthievre, afterwards the
unhappy Duchesse d'Orleans, and their idolised son, the Prince de
[The father of Louis Alexander Joseph Stanislaus de Bourbon
Penthievre, Prince de Lamballe, was the son of Comte de Toulouse,
himself a natural son of Louis XIV. and Madame de Montespan, who was
considered as the most wealthy of all the natural children, in
consequence of Madame de Montespan having artfully entrapped the
famous Mademoiselle de Moutpensier to make over her immense fortune
to him as her heir after her death, as the price of liberating her
husband from imprisonment in the Bastille, and herself from a
ruinous prosecution, for having contracted this marriage contrary to
the express commands of her royal cousin, Louis XIV.--Vide Histoire
de Louis XIV. par Voltaire.]
"Happy would it have been both for the Prince who was destined to the
former and the Princess who was given to the latter, had these
unfortunate alliances never taken place.
"The Duc and Duchesse de Penthievre became so singularly attached to my
beloved parents, and, in particular, to myself, that the very day they
first dined at the Court of Turin, they mentioned the wish they had
formed of uniting me to their young son, the Prince de Lamballe.
"The King of Sardinia, as the head of the house of Savoy and Carignan,
said there had been some conversation as to my becoming a member of his
royal family; but as I was so very young at the time, many political
reasons might arise to create motives for a change in the projected
alliance. 'If, therefore, the Prince de Carignan,' said the King,
'be anxious to settle his daughter's marriage, by any immediate
matrimonial alliance, I certainly shall not avail myself of any prior
engagement, nor oppose any obstacle in the way of its solemnisation.'
"The consent of the King being thus unexpectedly obtained by the Prince,
so desirable did the arrangement seem to the Duke and Duchess that the
next day the contract was concluded with my parents for my becoming the
wife of their only son, the Prince de Lamballe.
"I was too young to be consulted. Perhaps had I been older the result
would have been the same, for it generally happens in these great family
alliances that the parties most interested, and whose happiness is most
concerned, are the least thought of. The Prince was, I believe, at
Paris, under the tuition of his governess, and I was in the nursery,
heedless, and totally ignorant of my future good or evil destination!
"So truly happy and domestic a life as that led by the Duc and Duchesse
de Penthievre seemed to my family to offer an example too propitious not
to secure to me a degree of felicity with a private Prince, very rarely
the result of royal unions! Of course, their consent was given with
alacrity. When I was called upon to do homage to my future parents, I
had so little idea, from my extreme youthfulness, of what was going on
that I set them all laughing, when, on being asked if I should like to
become the consort of the Prince de Lamballe, I said, 'Yes, I am very
fond of music!' No, my dear,' resumed the good and tender-hearted Duc de
Penthievre, 'I mean, would you have any objection to become his wife?'--
'No, nor any other person's!' was the innocent reply, which increased the
mirth of all the guests at my expense.
"Happy, happy days of youthful, thoughtless innocence, luxuriously felt
and appreciated under the thatched roof of the cottage, but unknown and
unattainable beneath the massive pile of a royal palace and a gemmed
crown! Scarcely had I entered my teens when my adopted parents strewed
flowers of the sweetest fragrance to lead me to the sacred altar, that
promised the bliss of busses, but which, too soon, from the foul
machinations of envy, jealousy, avarice, and a still more criminal
passion, proved to me the altar of my sacrifice!
"My misery and my uninterrupted grief may be dated from the day my
beloved sister-in-law, Mademoiselle de Penthievre, sullied her hand by
its union with the Duc de Chartres.--[Afterwards Duc d'Orleans, and the
celebrated revolutionary Philippe Egalite.]--From that moment all
comfort, all prospect of connubial happiness, left my young and
affectionate heart, plucked thence by the very roots, never more again to
bloom there. Religion and philosophy were the only remedies remaining.
"I was a bride when an infant, a wife before I was a woman, a widow
before I was a mother, or had the prospect of becoming one! Our union
was, perhaps, an exception to the general rule. We became insensibly the
more attached to each other the more we were acquainted, which rendered
the more severe the separation, when we were torn asunder never to meet
again in this world!
"After I left Turin, though everything for my reception at the palaces of
Toulouse and Rambouillet had been prepared in the most sumptuous style of
magnificence, yet such was my agitation that I remained convulsively
speechless for many hours, and all the affectionate attention of the
family of the Duc de Penthievre could not calm my feelings.
"Among those who came about me was the bridegroom himself, whom I had
never yet seen. So anxious was he to have his first acquaintance
incognito that he set off from Paris the moment he was apprised of my
arrival in France and presented himself as the Prince's page. As he had
outgrown the figure of his portrait, I received him as such; but the
Prince, being better pleased with me than he had apprehended he should
be, could scarcely avoid discovering himself. During our journey to
Paris I myself disclosed the interest with which the supposed page had
inspired me. 'I hope,' exclaimed I, 'my Prince will allow his page to
attend me, for I like him much.'
"What was my surprise when the Duc de Penthievre presented me to the
Prince and I found in him the page for whom I had already felt such an
interest! We both laughed and wanted words to express our mutual
sentiments. This was really love at first sight.
[The young Prince was enraptured at finding his lovely bride so
superior in personal charms to the description which had been given
of her, and even to the portrait sent to him from Turin. Indeed,
she must have been a most beautiful creature, for when I left her in
the year 1792, though then five-and-forty years of age, from the
freshness of her complexion, the elegance of her figure, and the
dignity of her deportment, she certainly did not appear to be more
than thirty. She had a fine head of hair, and she took great
pleasure in showing it unornamented. I remember one day, on her
coming hastily from the bath, as she was putting on her dress, her
cap falling off, her hair completely covered her!
The circumstances of her death always make me shudder at the
recollection of this incident! I have been assured by Mesdames
Mackau, de Soucle, the Comtesse de Noailles (not Duchesse, as
Mademoiselle Bertin has created her in her Memoirs of that name),
and others, that the Princesse de Lamballe was considered the most
beautiful and accomplished Princess at the Court of Louis XV.,
adorned with all the grace, virtue, and elegance of manner which so
eminently distinguished her through life.]
"The Duc de Chartres, then possessing a very handsome person and most
insinuating address, soon gained the affections of the amiable
Mademoiselle Penthievre. Becoming thus a member of the same family, he
paid me the most assiduous attention. From my being his sister-in-law,
and knowing he was aware of my great attachment to his young wife, I
could have no idea that his views were criminally levelled at my honour,
my happiness, and my future peace of mind. How, therefore, was I
astonished and shocked when he discovered to me his desire to supplant
the legitimate object of my affections, whose love for me equalled mine
for him! I did not expose this baseness of the Duc de Chartres, out of
filial affection for my adopted father, the Duc de Penthievre; out of the
love I bore his amiable daughter, she being pregnant; and, above all, in
consequence of the fear I was under of compromising the life of the
Prince, my husband, who I apprehended might be lost to me if I did not
suffer in silence. But still, through my silence he was lost--and oh,
how dreadfully! The Prince was totally in the dark as to the real
character of his brother-in-law. He blindly became every day more and
more attached to the man, who was then endeavouring by the foulest means
to blast the fairest prospects of his future happiness in life! But my
guardian angel protected me from becoming a victim to seduction,
defeating every attack by that prudence which has hitherto been my
"Guilt, unpunished in its first crime, rushes onward, and hurrying from
one misdeed to another, like the flood-tide, drives all before it! My
silence, and his being defeated without reproach, armed him with courage
for fresh daring, and he too well succeeded in embittering the future
days of my life, as well as those of his own affectionate wife, and his
illustrious father-in-law, the virtuous Duc de Penthievre, who was to all
"To revenge himself upon me for the repulse he met with, this man
inveigled my young, inexperienced husband from his bridal bed to those
infected with the nauseous poison of every vice! Poor youth! he soon
became the prey of every refinement upon dissipation and studied
debauchery, till at length his sufferings made his life a burthen, and he
died in the most excruciating agonies both of mind and body, in the arms
of a disconsolate wife and a distracted father--and thus, in a few short
months, at the age of eighteen, was I left a widow to lament my having
become a wife!
"I was in this situation, retired from the world and absorbed in grief,
with the ever beloved and revered illustrious father of my murdered lord,
endeavouring to sooth his pangs for the loss of those comforts in a child
with which my cruel disappointment forbade my ever being blest--though,
in the endeavour to soothe, I often only aggravated both his and my own
misery at our irretrievable loss--when a ray of unexpected light burst
upon my dreariness. It was amid this gloom of human agony, these
heartrending scenes of real mourning, that the brilliant star shone to
disperse the clouds which hovered over our drooping heads,--to dry the
hot briny tears which were parching up our miserable vegetating
existence--it was in this crisis that Marie Antoinette came, like a
messenger sent down from Heaven, graciously to offer the balm of comfort
in the sweetest language of human compassion. The pure emotions of her
generous soul made her unceasing, unremitting, in her visits to two
mortals who must else have perished under the weight of their
misfortunes. But for the consolation of her warm friendship we must have
sunk into utter despair!
"From that moment I became seriously attached to the Queen of France.
She dedicated a great portion of her time to calm the anguish of my poor
heart, though I had not yet accepted the honour of becoming a member of
Her Majesty's household. Indeed, I was a considerable time before I
could think of undertaking a charge I felt myself so completely incapable
of fulfilling. I endeavoured to check the tears that were pouring down
my cheeks, to conceal in the Queen's presence the real feelings of my
heart, but the effort only served to increase my anguish when she had
departed. Her attachment to me, and the cordiality with which she
distinguished herself towards the Duc de Penthievre, gave her a place in
that heart, which had been chilled by the fatal vacuum left by its first
inhabitant; and Marie Antoinette was the only rival through life that
usurped his pretensions, though she could never wean me completely from
"My health, from the melancholy life I led, had so much declined that my
affectionate father, the Duc de Penthievre, with whom I continued to
reside, was anxious that I should emerge from my retirement for the
benefit of my health. Sensible of his affection, and having always
honoured his counsels, I took his advice in this instance. It being in
the hard winter, when so many persons were out of bread, the Queen, the
Duchesse d'Orleans, the Duc de Penthievre, and myself, introduced the
German sledges, in which we were followed by most of the nobility and the
rich citizens. This afforded considerable employment to different
artificers. The first use I made of my own new vehicle was to visit, in
company with the Duc de Penthievre, the necessitous poor families and our
pensioners. In the course of our rounds we met the Queen.
"'I suppose,' exclaimed Her Majesty, 'you also are laying a good
foundation for my work! Heavens! what must the poor feel! I am wrapped
up like a diamond in a box, covered with furs, and yet I am chilled with
"'That feeling sentiment,' said the Duke, 'will soon warm many a cold
family's heart with gratitude to bless Your Majesty!'
"'Why, yes,' replied Her Majesty, showing a long piece of paper
containing the names of those to whom she intended to afford relief,
'I have only collected two hundred yet on my list, but the cure will do
the rest and help me to draw the strings of my privy purse! But I have
not half done my rounds. I daresay before I return to Versailles I shall
have as many more, and, since we are engaged in the same business, pray
come into my sledge and do not take my work out of my hands! Let me have
for once the merit of doing something good!'
"On the coming up of a number of other vehicles belonging to the sledge
party, the Queen added, 'Do not say anything about what I have been
telling you!' for Her Majesty never wished what she did in the way of
charity or donations should be publicly known, the old pensioners
excepted, who, being on the list, could not be concealed; especially as
she continued to pay all those she found of the late Queen of Louis XV.
She was remarkably delicate and timid with respect to hurting the
feelings of any one; and, fearing the Duc de Penthievre might not be
pleased at her pressing me to leave him in order to join her, she said,
'Well, I will let you off, Princess, on your both promising to dine with
me at Trianon; for the King is hunting, not deer, but wood for the poor,
and he will see his game off to Paris before he comes back:
"The Duke begged to be excused, but wished me to accept the invitation,
which I did, and we parted, each to pursue our different sledge
"At the hour appointed, I made my appearance at Trianon, and had the
honour to dine tete-a-tete with Her Majesty, which was much more
congenial to my feelings than if there had been a party, as I was still
very low-spirited and unhappy.
"After dinner, 'My dear Princess,' said the Queen to me, 'at your time of
life you must not give yourself up entirely to the dead. You wrong the
living. We have not been sent into the world for ourselves. I have felt
much for your situation, and still do so, and therefore hope, as long as
the weather permits, that you will favour me with your company to enlarge
our sledge excursions. The King and my dear sister Elizabeth are also
much interested about your coming on a visit to Versailles. What think
you of our plan.
"I thanked Her Majesty, the King, and the Princess, for their kindness,
but I observed that my state of health and mind could so little
correspond in any way with the gratitude I should owe them for their
royal favours that I trusted a refusal would be attributed to the fact of
my consciousness how much rather my society must prove an annoyance and a
burthen than a source of pleasure.
"My tears flowing down my cheeks rapidly while I was speaking, the Queen,
with that kindness for which she was so eminently distinguished, took me
by the hand, and with her handkerchief dried my face.
"'I am,' said the Queen, I about to renew a situation which has for some
time past lain dormant; and I hope, my dear Princess, therewith to
establish my own private views, in forming the happiness of a worthy
"I replied that such a plan must insure Her Majesty the desired object
she had in view, as no individual could be otherwise than happy under the
immediate auspices of so benevolent and generous a Sovereign.
"The Queen, with great affability, as if pleased with my observation,
only said, 'If you really think as you speak, my views are accomplished.'
"My carriage was announced, and I then left Her Majesty, highly pleased
at her gracious condescension, which evidently emanated from the kind
wish to raise my drooping spirits from their melancholy.
"Gratitude would not permit me to continue long without demonstrating to
Her Majesty the sentiments her kindness had awakened in my heart.
"I returned next day with my sister-in-law, the Duchesse d'Orleans, who
was much esteemed by the Queen, and we joined the sledge parties with Her
"On the third or fourth day of these excursions I again had the honour to
dine with Her Majesty, when, in the presence of the Princesse Elizabeth,
she asked me if I were still of the same opinion with respect to the
person it was her intention to add to her household?
"I myself had totally forgotten the topic and entreated Her Majesty's
pardon for my want of memory, and begged she would signify to what
subject she alluded.
"The Princesse Elizabeth laughed. 'I thought,' cried she, 'that you had
known it long ago! The Queen, with His Majesty's consent, has nominated
you, my dear Princess (embracing me), superintendent of her household.'
"The Queen, also embracing me, said, 'Yes; it is very true. You said the
individual destined to such a situation could not be otherwise than
happy; and I am myself thoroughly happy in being able thus to contribute
towards rendering you so.'
"I was perfectly at a loss for a moment or two, but, recovering myself
from the effect of this unexpected and unlooked for preferment, I thanked
Her Majesty with the best grace I was able for such an unmerited mark of
"The Queen, perceiving my embarrassment, observed, 'I knew I should
surprise you; but I thought your being established at Versailles much
more desirable for one of your rank and youth than to be, as you were,
with the Duc de Penthievre; who, much as I esteem his amiable character
and numerous great virtues, is by no means the most cheering companion
for my charming Princess. From this moment let our friendships be united
in the common interest of each other's happiness.'
"The Queen took me by the hand. The Princesse Elizabeth, joining hers,
exclaimed to the Queen, 'Oh, my dear sister! let me make the trio in
this happy union of friends!'
"In the society of her adored Majesty and of her saint-like sister
Elizabeth I have found my only balm of consolation! Their graciously
condescending to sympathise in the grief with which I was overwhelmed
from the cruel disappointment of my first love, filled up in some degree
the vacuum left by his loss, who was so prematurely ravished from me in
the flower of youth, leaving me a widow at eighteen; and though that loss
is one I never can replace or forget, the poignancy of its effect has
been in a great degree softened by the kindnesses of my excellent father-
in-law, the Duc de Penthievre, and the relations resulting from my
situation with, and the never-ceasing attachment of my beloved royal
[The connexion of the Princesse de Lamballe with the Queen, of which
she has herself described the origin in the preceding chapter,
proved so important in its influence upon the reputation and fate of
both these illustrious victims, that I must once more withdraw the
attention of the reader, to explain, from personal observation and
confidential disclosures, the leading causes of the violent dislike
which was kindled in the public against an intimacy that it would
have been most fortunate had Her Majesty preferred through life to
The selection of a friend by the Queen, and the sudden elevation of
that friend to the highest station in the royal household, could not
fail to alarm the selfishness of courtiers, who always feel
themselves injured by the favour shown to others. An obsolete
office was revived in favour of the Princesse de Lamballe. In the
time of Maria Leckzinska, wife of Louis XV., the office of
superintendent, then held by Mademoiselle de Clermont, was
suppressed when its holder died. The office gave a control over the
inclinations of Queens, by which Maria Leckzinska was sometimes
inconvenienced; and it had lain dormant ever since. Its restoration
by a Queen who it was believed could be guided by no motive but the
desire to seek pretexts for showing undue favour, was of course eyed
askance, and ere long openly calumniated.
The Comtesse de Noailles, who never could forget the title the Queen
gave her of Madame Etiquette, nor forgive the frequent jokes which
Her Majesty passed upon her antiquated formality, availed herself of
the opportunity offered by her husband's being raised to the dignity
of Marshal of France, to resign her situation on the appointment of
the Princesse de Lamballe as superintendent. The Countess retired
with feelings embittered against her royal mistress, and her
annoyance in the sequel ripened into enmity. The Countess was
attached to a very powerful party, not only at Court but scattered
throughout the kingdom. Her discontent arose from the circumstance
of no longer having to take her orders from the Queen direct, but
from her superintendent. Ridiculous as this may seem to an
impartial observer, it created one of the most powerful hostilities
against which Her Majesty had afterwards to contend.
Though the Queen esteemed the Comtesse de Noailles for her many good
qualities, yet she was so much put out of her way by the rigour with
which the Countess enforced forms which to Her Majesty appeared
puerile and absurd, that she felt relieved, and secretly gratified,
by her retirement. It will be shown hereafter to what an excess the
Countess was eventually carried by her malice.
One of the popular objections to the revival of the office of
superintendent in favour of the Princesse de Lamballe arose from its
reputed extravagance. This was as groundless as the other charges
against the Queen. The etiquettes of dress, and the requisite
increase of every other expense, from the augmentation of every
article of the necessaries as well as the luxuries of life, made a
treble difference between the expenditure of the circumscribed Court
of Maria Leckzinska and that of Louis XVI.; yet the Princesse de
Lamballe received no more salary than had been allotted to
Mademoiselle de Clermont in the selfsame situation half a century
(And even that salary she never appropriated to any private use
of her own, being amply supplied through the generous bounty of
her father-in-law, the Duc de Penthievre; and latterly, to my
knowledge, so far from receiving any pay, she often paid the
Queen's and Princesse Elizabeth's bills out of her own purse.)
So far from possessing the slightest propensity either to
extravagance in herself or to the encouragement of extravagance in
others, the Princesse de Lamballe was a model of prudence, and upon
those subjects, as indeed upon all others, the Queen could not have
had a more discreet counsellor. She eminently contributed to the
charities of the Queen, who was the mother of the fatherless, the
support of the widow, and the general protectress and refuge of
suffering humanity. Previously to the purchase of any article of
luxury, the Princess would call for the list of the pensioners: if
anything was due on that account, it was instantly paid, and the
luxury dispensed with.
She never made her appearance in the Queen's apartments except at
established hours. This was scrupulously observed till the
Revolution. Circumstances then obliged her to break through forms.
The Queen would only receive communications, either written or
verbal, upon the subjects growing out of that wretched crisis, in
the presence of the Princess; and hence her apartments were open to
all who had occasion to see Her Majesty. This made their
intercourse more constant and unceremonious. But before this, the
Princess only went to the royal presence at fixed hours, unless she
had memorials to present to the King, Queen, or Ministers, in favour
of such as asked for justice or mercy. Hence, whenever the Princess
entered before the stated times, the Queen would run and embrace
her, and exclaim: "Well, my dear Princesse de Lamballe! what widow,
what orphan, what suffering or oppressed petitioner am I to thank
for this visit? for I know you never come to me empty-handed when
you come unexpectedly!" The Princess, on these occasions, often had
the petitioners waiting in an adjoining apartment, that they might
instantly avail themselves of any inclination the Queen might show
to see them.
Once the Princess was deceived by a female painter of doubtful
character, who supplicated her to present a work she had executed to
the Queen. I myself afterwards returned that work to its owner.
Thenceforward, the Princess became very rigid in her inquiries,
previous to taking the least interest in any application, or
consenting to present any one personally to the King or Queen. She
required thoroughly to be informed of the nature of the request, and
of the merit and character of the applicant, before she would attend
to either. Owing to this caution Her Highness scarcely ever after
met with a negative. In cases of great importance, though the
Queen's compassionate and good heart needed no stimulus to impel her
to forward the means of justice, the Princess would call the
influence of the Princesse Elizabeth to her aid; and Elizabeth never
sued in vain.
Marie Antoinette paid the greatest attention to all memorials. They
were regularly collected every week by Her Majesty's private
secretary, the Abbe Vermond. I have myself seen many of them, when
returned from the Princesse de Lamballe, with the Queen's marginal
notes in her own handwriting, and the answers dictated by Her
Majesty to the different, officers of the departments relative to
the nature of the respective demands. She always recommended the
greatest attention to all public documents, and annexed notes to
such as passed through her hands to prevent their being thrown aside
One of those who were least satisfied with the appointment of the
Princesse de Lamballe to the office of superintendent was her
brother-in-law, the Duc d'Orleans, who, having attempted her virtue
on various occasions and been repulsed, became mortified and alarmed
at her situation as a check to his future enterprise.
At one time the Duc and Duchesse d'Orleans were most constant and
assiduous in their attendance on Marie Antoinette. They were at all
her parties. The Queen was very fond of the Duchess. It is
supposed that the interest Her Majesty took in that lady, and the
steps to which some time afterwards that interest led, planted the
first seeds of the unrelenting and misguided hostility which, in the
deadliest times of the Revolution, animated the Orleanists against
The Duc d'Orleans, then Duc de Chartres, was never a favourite of
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!"
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