Saturday, July 7, 2007

Louise and Artois, Part 3

After Madame de Polignac died of cancer in Vienna in 1793, her family and friends scattered; many eventually found their way to Scotland, where Artois was holding court at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, courtesy of the English monarch. He was openly living with Louise de Polastron in the castle which had seen many dramatic episodes in the life of Mary Stuart. Madame de Montaut-Navailles, when visiting after many years of exile, found Louise sad and unhappy; she felt deep pity for her.

Louise de Polastron had for so long borne the stigma of being a fallen woman, in spite of her innocence, that when she surrendered at last to the passion of the Comte d’Artois, being censured by the world was nothing new to her. However, being a woman with a strong sense of honor, a lifestyle which violated her religious beliefs and moral principles could not bring her happiness. Nevertheless, having become so emotionally attached to Artois, and he to her, she found it beyond her strength to leave him.

Louise raised her son and sent him to college; she was not reunited with her husband, nor Artois with his wife, who remained on the continent. Artois’ younger son the Duc de Berry was often with them in Scotland; the older son the Duc d’Angouleme, who had married the king and queen’s daughter, remained in Mitau in Courland with Louis XVIII, as is told in the novel Madame Royale.

As for Artois, he possessed at last the lady of his heart, and was content, although he had little income, and could only go riding on Sundays, for Scottish law forbade the arrest of debtors on the Lord’s day. Every evening he and his entourage played cards in Louise’s salon. He made ends meet by gambling, occasionally traveling to London for bigger stakes. He took Louise with him and it was there in 1804 that she was reunited with her cousin Madame de Gontaut.

Madame de Gontaut was shocked to find Louise coughing and pale. She never complained and those who surrounded her seemed to be unaware that she was sick; most especially Artois, who appeared oblivious. With great difficulty, Madame de Gontaut was able to get Louise at last to the physician of King George III, Sir Henry Halford, who diagnosed her as being in the last stages of consumption. When the doctor broke the news to Artois, telling him that the Vicomtesse de Polastron must be taken to the country and given total rest, the prince was shocked. “Do anything to save her!” he implored.

Madame de Gontaut found a house in the country at Brompton for her dying cousin and had her moved there, where she cared for her tenderly. She especially was concerned about the lack of peace and interior despair that Louise revealed to her in their conversations. She sent for a priest, Abbé Latil. He heard Louise's confession and restored her tranquility, speaking to her of the goodness of God. He asked one sacrifice of her, however, that she not see Artois again. Louise agreed, asking only that she might see him at the hour of her death. The priest consented.

Artois was beside himself with grief but departed from Louise’s side as Abbé Latil demanded. It was only for a week, since Louise was failing fast. She said farewell to her son, her faithful servants, and her loyal remaining friends, asking their pardon for the public scandal she had given. All were present as the last moment drew near and knelt around the bed as she received the last rites and the prayers for the dying were recited. Artois rushed to the house when summoned. He paused in the doorway of Louise’s room.

Trembling and gasping for breath, she raised her hands to heaven and said: “A favor, Monsieur, grant me one request. Give yourself to God!”

Artois fell on his knees. “As God is my witness, I swear it!”

“Entirely to God!” Louise repeated, and her head fell on her cousin’s shoulder as she breathed her last.

Artois cried out and lifted his arms as if to embrace her departing soul. “I swear it!” he promised again.
He asked Abbé Latil to receive him as a penitent; making his own peace with God. He took a vow of chastity, although, as Madame de Gontaut recorded, “he was young, handsome, a prince, and a king.” He kept his vow until his own death in 1836.

(All quotations are from the Memoirs of the Duchesse de Gontaut, Vol.I, translated by Mrs. J. W. Davis. New York: Dodd, Meade, and Company, 1894)

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