Monday, January 22, 2007

Madame de Polastron and the Comte d'Artois, Part1

People have asked me for more information about the love affair between Louis XVI's brother the Comte d'Artois, later Charles X, and Madame de Polastron, alluded to in both of my novels. Madame de Polastron was the wife of the Duchesse de Polignac’s brother. She was named Louise d' Esparbès de Lussan, and was born in 1764. After losing her mother shortly after birth, she was raised by a grandmother. At the age of twelve, she was sent to the convent of Panthemont to prepare for her first Communion, as was the custom. Shy, sweet and well-mannered, Louise was a favorite pupil of the nuns. She remained with them until age seventeen, when a marriage was arranged for her by her father, the Comte d’Esparbès, to the Vicomte de Polastron. The Vicomte’s sister Gabrielle de Polignac brought her brother to the convent to interview Louise. Gabrielle was at the time the governess of the royal children as well as being confidante of Queen Marie-Antoinette; an alliance with her family was seen as an excellent match for Louise. Gabrielle was charmed by the young girl’s modest demeanor and thought she was the perfect bride for her brother. In the Memoirs of Madame de Gontaut, a cousin of both Louise and the Polignacs (and later governess of Charles X’s grandchildren), Gabrielle is quoted as saying:

Now that everything is settled, and the young people like each other, we must begin to make preparations for the marriage. It will take place at Versailles. I have obtained the position of lady-in-waiting to the queen for my charming sister-in-law, with an apartment in the palace. We shall be always together; she shall be not only a sister to me, but a cherished child. I love to think that with us she cannot fail to be happy.

The wedding was simple and small for Versailles and the bridegroom, elevated to the rank of colonel, departed to take command of his regiment immediately after the ceremony, and was gone for a year. As Madame de Gontaut says: “In those days, this was often the way young couples made each other’s acquaintance.” The Duchesse de Montaut-Navailles (mother of Madame de Gontaut) “idolized” Louise and was resolved to watch over her at court, as was the kind-hearted Duchesse de Guiche (Madame de Polignac’s daughter), for Louise had a “gentle spirit” and “the splendors held out before her had not the power to dazzle her.”

After the marriage, preparations began for Louise to be formally presented to the queen. Her gown was designed by Mademoiselle Bertin and her hair dressed by Monsieur Leonard, as she was instructed in the etiquette of the proper manner of curtsying to the queen. Louise was presented to the Marie-Antoinette by the Duchesse de Polignac, along with her daughter the Duchesse de Guiche and Madame de Montaut. However, disaster struck. The new young Vicomtesse de Polastron forgot everything she had learned and froze before the queen, the princes, and all their entourages. She stood stiff and motionless, even when Marie-Antoinette came forward to embrace her. This was an unspeakable disgrace which set all of the courtiers whispering and tittering.

The Comte d’Artois, however, was moved by her timidity and gentle manner. He spoke to her the next day when everyone else was avoiding her. Artois was the king’s handsome, charming, youngest brother. He chased women, gambled, and spent exhorbitant amounts of money on his country-house, the Bagatelle. He was unhappily married to Marie-Therese de Savoie, whose heart he had broken many times by his infidelities. Used to easy conquests, he was enchanted by Louise’s virtue and restraint, and fell deeply in love with her. As Madame de Gontaut describes:

Madame de Polastron was very agreeable, without being pretty; her figure was slender and supple, and her expression was mournful and touching. She was too timid to speak very loud; her voice had a wonderful charm, and she expressed herself with dignity and grace. She was neither humble nor arrogant, but very retiring; and to know her it was necessary to make an effort to draw her out. The Prince, who felt compassion for her, sought her out and made this effort.

Artois caused a great stir at court by suddenly hovering around Madame de Polignac’s apartments so as to be close to Louise, unable to hide his admiration. Marie-Antoinette noticed and cautioned Louise about Artois’ attentions. Louise was too guileless and innocent to fully understand.

(To be continued….) Share

1 comment:

alice said...

Good idea. I like the story so far, but it spells tragedy.