Sunday, April 29, 2007

Madame Campan

I who for fifteen years saw [Queen Marie-Antoinette] attached to her august consort and her children, kind to her servitors, unfortunately too polite, too simple, too much on an equality with the people of the Court, I cannot bear to see her character reviled. I wish I had a hundred mouths, I wish I had wings and could inspire the same confidence in the truth which is so readily accorded to lies.
~Madame Campan, Memoirs of the Court of Marie-Antoinette

Jeanne-Louise-Henriette Campan was the femme de chambre, the chamber maid, of Queen Marie-Antoinette. She was author of the famous memoirs, detailing life at Versailles. Madame Campan was a highly educated lady from a bourgeois family who began her career at Versailles as the Reader to the daughters of Louis XV, from whom she had an earful of gossip. As the Queen's maid, she attended to the details of the running of the queen's household. Madame Campan has often been accused of exaggerating her role, especially where the diamond necklace scandal is concerned. That may very well be; it is easy to picture Madame Campan as an old lady at the finishing school she ran for the daughters of revolutionaries, carried away by memories of a glittering past. I do not, however, think she deliberately softened her portrayal of Marie-Antoinette, in order to get back into the good graces of Madame Royale. In that case, she would not have been so critical of Louis XVI, since it was well-known that the princess idolized her dead father. As far as her politics go, Madame Campan was perhaps a bit liberal and so she interprets some events in that light. As far as her descriptions of the various personalities, her insights are balanced; her observations, shrewd and detailed.


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