Armand Louis de Gontant Biron, Duc de Lauzun, was born in 1747, and thus was eight years older than the Queen. He had been reared in the boudoir of Madame de Pompadour, and on account of a difficulty in choosing a tutor for him, a lackey of his late mother's taught him to read. At twelve years of age, he too entered the regiment of the Swiss Guards, knowing that he would succeed to an immense fortune. At nineteen, he married a charming young girl, grand-daughter and heiress of the Maréchal de Luxembourg. Her graces and- virtues won all hearts except her husband's. He came to Versailles when he was twenty-eight years of age, and found the Queen on intimate terms with his friend the Princesse de Guéménée, who procured him the introduction which he coveted, and he received some kindness from Marie Antoinette. A race, in which his horse was ridden by a child, made him fashionable; and at the Queen's request, other races were arranged.
Lauzun was a French Lovelace, an avowed womankiller, with all the immoderate vanity and odious heartlessness of such a character. He ran after those women who were much in the public eye—grandes dames, famous beauties, celebrated actresses. To throw on queens themselves bold looks—to make the proudest hearts beat, were it only with indignation —to cause the most glorious eyes to shine, if but with anger—to excite the jealousy of the salon, the envy of the men, the ecstacy of the women, was his chief ambition. And this very fine gentleman had the weaknesses of a fine lady, and carried them off admirably. He could weep ostentatiously, without looking ridiculous; he changed colour like the Comtesse Diane, who had an inconvenient habit of blushing like a school-girl; he even fainted when it was desirable to produce a sensation.
Marie Antoinette had no great liking for Lauzun, yet she regarded his vices with a certain foolish interest and curiosity—feelings which such mauvais sujets, as she knew him to be, are apt to excite in women like her. Mercy wrote of him as one of the dangerous young fools to whom the Queen gave too free access; but the Comte added no hint that could support the outrageous fatuousness of the Duc de Lauzun's assertion of the Queen's favour. Lauzun, on his part, had no special regard for Marie Antoinette; but the role of admirer of the first woman in France pleased his coxcombry, and, as he fancied, mortified les grandes dames.
Suddenly a lively sensation was excited at Court by the incident of "the heron's plume," told in two very different ways. One day Lauzun appeared at Madame de Guemenee's in uniform, with a snowwhite heron's plume in his casque. Some evenings afterwards, the Queen showed herself with the same unique plume in her head-dress. Lauzun's vapouring statement was, that the Queen had said to Madame de Guéménée that she, Marie Antoinette, was dying to have the heron's feathers, which he sent to her accordingly through his obliging ally. The Queen, he added, not only wore the plume, but appealed to him as to what he thought of it in her head-dress, and declared she had never found herself adorned so much to her mind. The Duc de Lauzun then wrote down a cock-and-bull version of an interview he had with the Queen, when she insinuated her attachment to him, and, but for the restraint he put upon himself, .would have expressed her regard openly.....It is saying little to note that [Marie-Antoinette] had many enemies. She had managed to pique and alienate some of the representatives of the greatest houses in the kingdom—such as "the Montmorencies, the Clermont-Tonnerres, the Rochefoucaulds "—by the constant injudicious display of her preference for her private friends; above all, for Madame de Polignac and her set—a line of conduct against which Mercy had warned the Queen to no purpose. For some time, as her old friend and adviser had not failed to point out, her weekly balls, when the Court was at Versailles, had been ominously ill-attended. The great families did not care to come from Paris and find the Queen so engrossed by a bevy of favourites and her own amusement as hardly to take the trouble, in spite of her naturally gracious manners, to "hold a circle," and take due notice of her guests. Besides, these offended magnates were by no means without skeletons in their own cupboards, and felt further insulted by some painfully honest speeches of the young Queen's, such as, "I do not care to receive wives who are separated from their husbands."Madame Campan's explanation has the merit of being credible. The Queen had rashly admired the rare plume, when the Duc de Lauzun at once offered it to her through Madame de Guéménée. The offer embarrassed Marie Antoinette, who did not see how she could refuse it, or accept it without presenting Lauzun with an equivalent—a course to which there were many objections. On the whole, it seemed the best plan to take the feathers as a matter of course, let their former owner see her wear them once, and then suffer the subject to drop. But her imprudent condescension to such a man bore its natural fruits. The Duc de Lauzun solicited an audience, and Madame Campan, who was in the next room in the performance of her duty, again heard the Queen's voice raised in anger. "Go, sir," were the words she said this time, and when her dismissal was obeyed, she protested to her bed-chamber woman," That man shall never again come within my doors." As an established fact, the Queen from that date testified her displeasure and dissatisfaction with the nobleman. When the Maréchal de Biron died, the Duc de Lauzun, the heir of his name, desired the post of colonel of the French Guards, but the Queen prevented his nomination, procuring the commission for the Duc de Chatelet. For that matter, Lauzun had been unmasked to her by Mercy and the Abbé as early as 1777. Lauzun was overwhelmed with debt, in consequence of his reckless life and prodigal extravagance; though he had started with a hundred thousand crowns rent, he owed two millions. Madame de Guéménée importuned Marie Antoinette in vain for lettres d'etat, to save the spendthrift from his creditors. It is equally well known that the disappointment of his unwarrantable expectations threw the Duc de Lauzun into the faction of the Duc d'Orleans, and converted the Queen's pretended admirer into a bitter enemy both of her and the King.
More on Lauzun from Madame Guillotine and Lauren.The Duc de Lauzun fought well in La Vendée against the defenders of the altar and the throne; but his comrades could not forget or forgive his birth and assumption of superiority. He was guillotined on the 1st of January, 1794. It is said that on the scaffold he declared, "I have been false to my God, to my order, and to my King." The Duc de Lauzun, like the Baron de Besenval, left behind him memoirs, the authenticity of which, though at first questioned with indignation by his greatest friend, Talleyrand, is now universally admitted. The only testimony against the good name of Marie Antoinette which could be for a moment entertained by any reasonable person, is contained in the malicious inferences and vindictively-garbled statements of these two noble braggarts, who proclaimed to the world what, if true, it would have been the height of treachery in them to reveal, but which, as it is, bears its foolish falsehood on its brazen face. (Marie-Antoinette, the Woman and the Queen by Sarah Tytler, pp. 95-98)There is no question that the first calumnies against the Queen arose in the salons, and tempted every unworthy fine gentleman, who listened to the sneers and doubles entendres, and believed in them, to profess insolently to appropriate Marie Antoinette's frank smiles and ready kindness.
|The Duc de Lauzun, a soldier of the Revolution|