Tag Archives: duchess de polignac

Secret Memoirs From The Court Of Versailles: Free Downloads

10 Jan

As always, I’m reading more than one book at once. Having just finished Caroline Weber’s extraordinary book Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution, I’ve felt compelled to also read some of the memoirs and first hand accounts of those who knew the King and Queen and witnessed the grandeur of the Ancien Regime and it’s fall from grace.

I’ve decided to compile a list of free, downloadable Memoirs and accounts written by those who lived the events of the old monarchy and the revolution.

I am currently reading the Memoirs of Madame Campan (Jeanne-Louise-Henriette Campan) who was a lady-in-waiting to the Queen of France, Marie Antoinette. She had been in service at Versailles long before the Archduchess of Austria arrived and had cared for the young princesses and the dauphin before his marriage to Marie Antoinette. She was loyal to both the King and Queen and from her position, was able to garner much information about their characters and their ill fate. Though she notes that they did not always make the right decisions, they also, she says, did not deserve their terrible fate. Though she was unable to accompany them in prison at Verrenes and The Temple, she remained in contact with the Queen through correspondence. After the Revolution, Madame Campan opened a boarding school where she would later teach the two sisters of Napoleon. She died in France in 1822. If you’re interested in reading her memoirs, you can download a free copy here.

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{Madame Campan}

One of Marie Antoinette’s ‘favorites’ the Princess De Lamballe also wrote private memoirs though she did not publish them during her lifetime. Marie Thérèse Louise de Savoie-Carignan, the Princesse de Lamballe, was a very close friend of the Queen and during the revolution,was married to the Duke de Lamballe, an illegitimate grandson of King Louis XIV who also happened to be one of the wealthiest men in France. But her husband soon died only a year after their marriage, leaving the Princess De Lamballe a widow of only 19. She met Marie Antoinette at court and they soon became fast friends, being around the same age and both enjoying the power and wealth at their disposal. She was a loyal friend to the Queen and part of the Queen’s inner circle at the Petite Trianon.

But during the Revolution, the Princess de Lamballe became the subject of much hatred and resentment by France’s Third Estate (the common people) both for her luxurious spending habits and propaganda-fueled allegations of secret lesbian trysts with the Queen. She initially escaped to England but returned when Marie Antoinette and her family were forced backed to Paris after a botched escape to the safety of Austria. The Princess de Lamballe was imprisoned and later seized by an angry mob who, during the September Massacre, killed the princess and impaled her head on a pike. They brought her severed head to the window of Marie Antoinette who was herself imprisoned in The Temple in Paris, and grotesquely taunted the Queen with the Princess’s decapitated head. Her journals and letters later made it into publication and you can download a free copy of them here, from archive.org.

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{a comparison of images of the Princess de Lamballe: an 18th century portrait of the princess and an image from the film Marie Antoinette by Sofia Coppola}

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{Above: Anita Louise as the Princess de Lamballe in the 1930’s version of Marie Antoinette starring Norma Shear}

Another of the Queen’s favorites was the Duchess de Polignac (Yolande Martine Gabrielle de Polastron) who was given her title of ‘Duchess’ by the Queen as one of the many favors bestowed upon this royal ‘favorite’. She would later become the governess of Marie Antoinette’s children. She was introduced at court about a year after Marie Antoinette was made Queen of France and she quickly fell in step with Marie Antoinette and the Princess de Lamballe. Polignac had a penchant for indulgence as did the Queen and she soon became a regular at Le Petite Tianon. With the onset of the Revolution, the Duchess de Polignac went into exile abroad though she still continued to write to the Queen. It has been noted that although she survived the Revolution, she later ‘died of sorrow’ as her epitaph reads, at the death of her beloved friend and their fall from grace.

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Another account from the Revolution comes form the daughter of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, Marie Therese (also known as Madame Royal). Her memoirs provide a detailed account of what life was like for her and her imprisoned royal family during the revolution. She was the only member of the immediate royal family to survive the revolution. She remained imprisoned in The Temple after the deaths of her parents and was only released when she was traded for a group of hostage French soldiers. Madame Royal, unlike her younger brother the Dauphin, was not viewed as a threat to the new Republic since it was only sons who could inherit the French throne. The young Dauphin was ruthlessly tortured by his guards and he died in prison, half mad, at the age of 10. Marie Therese later married her first cousin but had no children. You can read or download a free copy of her memoirs here.

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{Marie Therese: Madame Royal, daughter of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI}