Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Madame de Balbi

Revolutionary caricature of Mme. de Balbi (1791)
Mme. de Balbi
While Louis XVI broke with tradition and refused to take a mistress, it was not so with his brothers. When the Comtesse de Provence became inordinately attached to one of her ladies-in-waiting, Madame de Gourbillon, the Comte de Provence, the future Louis XVIII, sought the company of a certain Madame de Balbi. Anne Jacobé Nompar de Caumont La Force, Comtesse de Balbi, born in 1758, was not a beauty but her biting wit kept Provence entertained. She soon gained ascendancy over his circle, known for its political intrigue. According to The Nation:
The Countess de Balbi, who first became the favorite of the Count de Provence, was the daughter of Bertrand de Caumont La Force and of Madeleine de Galard de Brassac de Beam. M. de Caumont was one of the Count's gentlemen, and his daughter was appointed 'dame pour accompagner' and afterwards 'dame d'atours' of the Countess, who was called Madame. M. de Balbi, her husband, was of a Genoese family and served as Colonel in the regiment of Bourbon. Madame de Balbi was tolerably pretty, was a great coquette, and was feared for her wit, which spared nothing and nobody. She pleased the Count de Provence by her conversation more than by her charms. The Count de Balbi was a jealous husband (a rare being at that time), but he was exiled to Senlis; he afterwards emigrated and returned to France at the beginning of the Consulate. Madame de Balbi became the great power in the house of the Count de Provence. 'She was a sort of Dubarry, but well born.'
 Some historians have claimed the relationship between Provence and Madame de Balbi was strictly platonic; others claim the contrary. Whatever it was that went on between them, other than conniving at late night suppers and having lively games of backgammon, Provence installed Madame de Balbi in apartments at both the Petit Luxembourg and at Versailles. He also named some gardens after her. She no longer lived with her husband but remained a fixture in the household of Provence until the emigration. She was ridiculed by the Revolutionary pamphleteers (see above) for her influence over a prince who was politically liberal but who clung to his royal dignity in hopes for someday gaining the throne. It was Madame de Balbi who, quite ironically, counseled Provence on certain matters of conscience in regards to receiving Holy Communion from constitutional priests. In Essays on the Early Part of the French Revolution, John Wilson Croker remarks:
In stating the motives that induced him to quit France he mentions his reluctance to accept the services of the revolutionized clergy:—
 'I was convinced,' he says, 'that I had no choice between apostasy and martyrdom; the former revolted me, and I will own I felt no great vocation for the latter. I talked a great deal with Madame de Balbi on this subject, and we agreed that there was a third course open to me, which was to abandon a country where the usual exercise of our religious duties was about to be proscribed.'
 Now Madame de Balbi (nee Caumont de la Force) was a lady separated from her husband, and supposed to be higher in Monsieur's favour than she ought to be; and we wish we could only smile at the simplicity with which the Prince makes a public confession that, though he would not accept the ministration of a Constitutional priest, he consulted Madame de Balbi on the spiritual concerns of his conscience!
 I suppose we should be edified that Provence thought of such deep things as the possibility of martyrdom, in light of some of his other behaviors. His own account of events dwells a great deal on what he had to eat and drink in the inns at which he stayed during his escape. He was a Bourbon, after all; the Bourbons appreciated good food, Provence perhaps more than the others. As for Madame de Balbi, they parted during Louis XVIII's years of exile, when he had to endure poverty and humiliation, which he expected his wife and family (including the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette) to share with him but not his mistress. Besides, Madame de Balbi gave birth to twins who were not fathered by Louis XVIII. She returned to France during Napoleon's reign and lived in the provinces. She died in 1842, long after the Bourbons had been restored and exiled again.



Brantigny said...

...When the Comtesse de Provence became inordinately attached to one of her ladies-in-waiting, Madame de Gourbillon,... Is this correct?


elena maria vidal said...

Yes. http://www.batguano.com/cdeprovence.html