Monday, January 22, 2007

Louise and Artois, Part 2

Madame de Gontaut relates in her Memoirs that her mother, the Duchesse de Montaut-Navailles, who had been given the special charge of watching over Louise de Polastron, was herself too naïve about life to protect her from the amorous advances of the Comte d’Artois. Madame de Montaut-Navailles saw that the prince held Louise in high regard (which was obvious to the entire court) but “feeling that [Louise] merited it by her noble and simple conduct, she would have felt that as though she were committing a sin if she had attached to this regard the slightest suspicion of gallantry.” Thus Louise continued to be constantly thrust into the prince’s presence and being the focus of his disturbing but highly flattering flirtatious behavior.

Louise’s husband the Vicomte de Polastron finally returned to Versailles after being with his regiment for a year. Polastron lacked his sister Gabrielle de Polignac’s charm and people did not like him. He did not care for the royal court and longed to be back with his regiment. Nevertheless, he managed to get his wife with child and they had a son named Louis, to whom Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette stood as godparents. Motherhood brought Louise great happiness and, although her husband could be surly and disagreeable, she slowly grew in confidence. Soon she had a small circle of friends, while continuing to wait upon the queen.

The prince only became more enraptured with Louise and constantly sought her company, so that tongues were wagging. He finally wrote her a passionate love letter, promising to make any sacrifice in order to win her. Louise, deeply touched but filled with confusion, showed the letter to the Duchesse de Montaut-Navailles, who insisted that she send it back to the prince with no reply. Then Louise “as pure as an angel” opened her heart to the queen and to her sister-in-law the Duchesse de Polignac. Marie-Antoinette encouraged her to withdraw from the palace and move to Paris, returning only on the days when she was “in waiting.” Soon it was all over Paris that Madame de Polastron was “exiled” and that the prince was in “despair.” According to Madame de Gontaut:

The Comte d’Artois was dejected and hurt by this removal which the queen had sanctioned; the more obstacles he encountered, the more ardently he tried to overcome them. He took care to let Louise know that he would seize every opportunity to meet her, that even if he could not speak to her he would at least see her at any price.

Artois discovered what night Madame de Montaut-Navailles would visit the opera, accompanied by Louise. He vested himself in an outlandish disguise, huge wig, embroidered cravat, and a voluminous riding coat. He took a taxi to the theatre instead of his own coach, but in spite of his pretenses, everyone recognized him, and his presence caused a great commotion at the opera. He dramatically cast aside the wig and great coat, hoping to catch Louise's eye. Louise, humiliated, hid in the back of her cousin's opera box. Gossip had already declared her to be his mistress; many who spread such false rumors were themselves compromised in illicit situations and did not understand Louise’s determination to be a faithful wife.

She “passed several years in imploring from Heaven peace for her weary spirit, and strength to resist all temptation that could disturb that peace.” She continued to avoid the prince while always praying for him, but her married life was difficult and the times were full of foreboding. Artois found himself in the thick of the political controversy because of his conservatism and resistance to all revolutionary ideas. In July of 1789, after the disturbances following the capture of the Bastille, Artois and his family were obliged to flee the country, as well as the Polignacs. Louise returned to Versailles to be at the queen’s side, but Marie-Antoinette implored her to escape while she could and join the Polignacs abroad. Louise’s husband had already departed to be with his regiment.

Louise journeyed with her son to Turin where the Polignacs were temporarily staying. Word then came to her from Germany of the Comte d’Artois with his colony of émigrés, that they had no money and were low on supplies. Louise begged her grandfather for her dowry money which had never been paid. With her son and two servants, she traveled by coach to Coblentz, through many dangers and difficulties, hardly even knowing where to go. At last she found the army of the Prince de Condé, also at Coblentz, along with the Comte d’Artois. There was quite a sensation as she arrived, and a crowd gathered. Artois, who had thought that he would never see her again, slowly walked towards her coach in a daze. As Madame de Gontaut describes:

Monseigneur did not understand what had brought her, and questioned her; astonished at finding so much devotion, resolution, and courage in that timid soul, he was greatly touched, and overwhelmed with gratititude. But already he foresaw for her the consequences of her imprudence….

The people fell silent as the prince doffed his hat and bowed, saying, “What are your orders, Madame?”

“To find some shelter,” Louise replied, wearily. Artois immediately arranged for quarters to be prepared for her, but as she was being escorted there, someone from the crowd cried out, “Whore!”


(To be continued….) Share

1 comment:

melanie said...

Poor Louise. She couldn't win.