Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Mysterious Catherine Hyde

Catherine Hyde, called the "Marquise de Gouvion Broglie Scolari," was the editor of the mémoires secrets or confidential memoirs of Princess de Lamballe. Originally published in 1826, the memoirs are said by some to be apocryphal, yet some reputable biographies of Marie-Antoinette have referred to them. In spite of the florid, overwrought language, typical of the era, there are many anecdotes about the youthful Marie-Antoinette, Louis XVI, and their friends, foes and relatives. The memoirs purport to be a collection of the private papers and letters of the princess, edited and annotated by her secretary/confidante Catherine Hyde, whom Madame de Lamballe found in an Irish convent school in Paris. One of the main problems is the identity of Catherine herself. There is scant information about her background other than what she said about herself in the book, and some of that information is questionable.

However, I recently came across some fascinating information on a genealogy website where there are posted excerpts from the private family papers of Henry M. Hyams, Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana in the 1860's. Mr Hyams claimed to be the nephew of Catherine Hyde or "Kitty Hyams," as she was also called. The Hyams were of Jewish-Polish descent and had originally fled to Ireland as a refuge. Catherine had been sent to the convent in Paris for her education. As the Hyams memorandum says:
Catherine, my father's sister, also born in Ireland, who received a finished education, as a linguist and musician at the Convent of Irelandaises in Paris. She was known as the beautiful little Kitty Hyams, afterwards as the pretty little Kittie "Hyde," having been adopted by Lord Hyde, and sent to this country to be educated and converted to Catholicism. In the after years she was attached to the unhappy household and fortunes of the unfortunate Princess De Lamballe and Marie Antoinette. She was the Maid of Honor to the Princess and she performed many secret missions for the royal house. She was especially the favorite of Marie Antoinette and was the confidante during all of her troubles. She has written the memories of the Princess Lamballe and also the secret memories and last moments of Marie Antoinette. She also wrote a work entitled, "Venice under the yoke of France and Austria." At the age of 86 years [this would be in about 1842, two years before her death] she visited the United States to visit her brother, Samuel M. Hyams, of New Orleans, Louisiana. He was the father of Lt. Gov. Henry M. Hyams and Samuel M. Hyams of this state. Her style of writing was forcible, and attracted the attention of all the European Governments of that time, caused her to be an exile and driven into Italy, where later on she died. Although residing in foreign lands nearly all of her life, she was exceedingly English in her views and politics; hating Napoleon above all things on earth; in all her writings she fully shows this hatred. She is known as the Marchioness de Solari."
This kind of historical mystery can be really intriguing to explore. So did Catherine truly base her book on actual writings of the princess? Or is it more of a novel based on stories that she heard as a young girl in Paris? And how did she acquire the Italian title? Who was her husband? If anyone has some insights, let me know. (Via Marie-Antoinette Online) Share

9 comments:

Catherine Delors said...

Fascinating, Elena! There was a flourishing trade in fake memoirs of the characters of the French Revolution during the 19th century. I came across these, and the portrayal of the Princess de Lamballe seemed out of character.

The prize for "best" fake memoirs, in my opinion, goes to those of the Marquise de Clery. Fake, certainly, but wonderfully written, and obviously based on some true documentation.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, Catherine, there were indeed many, many spurious memoirs. The historian Hedva Ben-Israel Kidron discusses them in detail in the book "English Historians and the French Revolution." According to Kidron, Clery's "memoirs" are certainly fake, but his journal is said to be authentic. Kidron sees Hyde's book as being spurious. It has enough of a ring of truth to be based on some genuine account, which is why biographers such as Vincent Cronin have referred to it, I suppose.

Interesting. Some "memoirs" are ghost-written, such as the "Memoirs of Weber." Joseph Weber was the foster brother of Marie-Antoinette and his "memoirs" were in reality written by Lally-Tollendal. However, the genuine historical information is quite extensive in that "memoir," making it one of the first biographies of Marie-Antoinette. So where fake "memoirs" are concerned, some are more fake than others. Some are pure fiction, novels written under the guise of being memoirs, but others have useful information and are based on genuine accounts. When recording history, people in those days were not always careful to have facts substantiated, and sometimes even genuine spectators of certain events contradict each other.

Bevonshire said...

Hmm this is disappointing. I did a google books search on "Lamballe" not expecting as many results as I got, two of which were mentioned here I think. I thought it might be too good to be true after all. Still I am very confused though.. I really would like to learn more about the princesse de lamballe aside from her husband's early death, her early closeness to Antoinette and her grisly death which is often all that is really told about her. I don't mean to minimize her fatal devotion to the Royal family; I just want to learn *more* about the basis for it. :(

How can I begin to tell which of the books written about her are genuine? or rather closest to genuine... as you said, some are faker than others while others are more like ghostwritten accounts. After all, each book I came across was part of a university library which just underscores the points you made about the haziness of the accounts.

elena maria vidal said...

Welcome, Bevonshire. Madame Campan has a great deal of reliable information about Madame de Lamballe in her Memoirs. There is also Latour's "Princesses, Ladies, and Republicaines of the Terror" which has loads of biographical background about Madame de Lamballe. As for Hyde's book, I do not totally discount it, since authors such as Vincent Cronin seemed to deem it worthy enough to draw from. It is to be read with interest but with caution.

Bevonshire said...

Thank you :) I was just about look up Madame Campan's memoirs in fact. I'll check out Latour's book too. Good to hear about Hyde's book, when and if I take a look at it I'll keep what you said in mind. I'm really intrigued by Madame de Lamballe and feel like perhaps some biographers aren't totally fair to her...

Anyway, thank you again, as I was sifting through the links the other day from my search I kept thinking "Who should I ask??" and remembered this blog. :)

Madeleine Doak said...

I've read the Lamballe memoir, as edited by Catherine Hyde, and have always wanted to know more about Hyde. I finally googled it today and the results took me to your site. I should've thought of that myself! Your work is so meticulously researched and well communicated. Plus I always agree with your viewpoint! I'm not surprised that the memoir isn't considered totally credible, but disappointed. I'm hungry for facts on the subject and love to read a memoir feeling as if I'm sitting on the couch with the person who was there.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, I enjoy it as well. Thank you for your kind words.

Holly said...

Recently discovered Catherine is my great-great-great-great-great Aunt via Solomon Hyams (her brother, my greatX5 grandfather). Sitting down to do some research now, and will be in Europe next year so I can do some digging to find out more about Catherine there! Thank you for this entry it has greatly helped me start my search. Cheers!

Holly said...

Thank you for this insightful post! I have recently discovered Catherine is my Great (X5) Aunt via Solomon Hyams (her brother, my Great X5 Grandfather). This is an exciting discovery and I plan doing some research. I will be in Ireland/Europe in June next year so plenty of time to prepare a plan on action to learn about Catherine. Cheers All!