Today we are delighted to welcome back the author, Geri Walton. Geri has long been interested in history and fascinated by the stories of people from the 1700 and 1800s. This led her to get a degree in History and resulted in her website, which offers unique history stories from the eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries.
Her first book, Marie Antoinette’s Confidante: The Rise and Fall of the Princesse de Lamballe, looks at the relationship between Marie Antoinette and the Princesse de Lamballe and has just been released in the U.S and Canada.
Before we hand over to Geri we thought readers might like to know a little about her book:
Marie Antoinette has always fascinated readers worldwide. Yet perhaps no one knew her better than one of her closest confidantes, Marie Thérèse, the Princesse de Lamballe. The Princesse became superintendent of the Queen’s household in 1774, and through her relationship with Marie Antoinette, a unique perspective of the lavishness and daily intrigue at Versailles is exposed.
Born into the famous House of Savoy in Turin, Italy, Marie Thérèse was married at the age of seventeen to the Prince de Lamballe; heir to one of the richest fortunes in France. He transported her to the gold-leafed and glittering chandeliered halls of the Château of Versailles, where she soon found herself immersed in the political and sexual scandals that surrounded the royal court. As the plotters and planners of Versailles sought, at all costs, to gain the favor of Louis XVI and his Queen, the Princesse de Lamballe was there to witness it all.
This book reveals the Princesse de Lamballe’s version of these events and is based on a wide variety of historical sources, helping to capture the waning days and grisly demise of the French monarchy. The story immerses you in a world of titillating sexual rumors, blood-thirsty revolutionaries, and hair-raising escape attempts and is a must read for anyone interested in Marie Antoinette, the origins of the French Revolution, or life in the late 18th Century.
So, on with the story…
Marquis de Lafayette, the same man who played a pivotal role in the French Revolution, had earlier become a hero in the American Revolution. He became a hero after being shot in the calf of his left leg during a battle. Although Lafayette’s wound was not that serious, it kept him out of action for a time. But more importantly, it generated buzz about his heroics back in Paris.
One person who heard about Lafayette’s wound in battle was the wife of Count Philippe-Antoine of Hunolstein. Her full name was Charlotte-Gabrielle-Elisabeth-Aglaé de Puget of Barbantane. Aglaé, as she was called, was a charmer who possessed the duo attributes of being extraordinarily bright and exquisitely beautiful. In fact, even women who did not like her admitted that she was beautiful, and men were all the more vociferous in their praises of her.
Aglaé was born around 1755 to parents that had good connections with the Orléans family. In fact, Aglaé’s mother was governess to the Duchess of Bourbon, and she was the sister of the Duke of Chartres who was later known as the Duke of Orléans and still later as Philippe Égalité. He was also cousin to King Louis XVI.
Despite Agalé’s supposed close connection with the Orléans family, it seems the Duchess of Bourbon decided Aglaé possessed such “depraved inclinations” that she became “determined not have her in her retinue.” So, instead, Aglaé found herself serving the Duchess of Chartres, who was wife to the Duke of Chartres and also sister-in-law to the ill-fated Princesse de Lamballe.
This position was convenient as Agalé’s husband was one of the Duke of Chartres’s gentlemen. Thus, the Hunolstein’s life consisted of many similar amusements attended by the Duke and Duchess of Chartres. Moreover, the Hunolstein’s found themselves attending balls, operas, and the theatre with some of the most important members of French society.
The Duke of Chartres also provided frequent gaieties at his palatial Palais Royal, of which the Hunolstein’s regularly attended. The Duke of Chartres liked to live life with gusto. He was well-known for his womanizing and orgiastic festivals of lovemaking. Furthermore, he was known for his outlandish pranks:
[Once] after dinner the duke harnessed eight horses to his coach, seated himself astride … put the Princesse de Lamballe in the coach-box, his wife in the carriage and Aglaé behind her in the lackey’s place, and then rode lickety-split through the fashionable Faubourg St.-Honoré and Chaillot back to Mousseaux.
Passers-by could only imagine what the Duke of Chartres had in store as he flew past in a carriage full of women. The fact that Agalé participated in the prank shows a high degree of intimacy with the Duke. Moreover, indications are that she may have preceded the Duke’s next lover, Stéphanie Félicité du Crest de Saint-Aubin, better known as Madame de Genlis, who made no secret that she disliked Aglaé immensely.
Despite Aglaé’s intimate relationship with the Duke, Lafayette practically came to blows with someone else over her. Louis-Philippe, Count of Ségur, who descended from a noble and ancient military family, was friends with Lafayette. According to Ségur, after Lafayette became secretly attached to Aglaé, he somehow erroneously conceived the idea that Ségur was his rival.
Ségur reported that the red-headed Lafayette was mad with jealousy over Aglaé and could think of no one else. Once, under this spell of passion, Lafayette spent an entire night trying to induce Ségur to fight a duel for her. Agalé apparently knew nothing at the time of Lafayette’s attempt to fight a duel or of his jealous passion for her.
While Lafayette was fighting in America and continuing to make a name for himself, he was frequently sidetracked thinking about Aglaé. He even went so far as to write her a letter that was bundled with other letters, including some to Lafayette’s wife, Adrienne. Then in April, Lafayette received a packet of letters back.
Among the letters was one that did not make Lafayette happy. There was “a disturbing report about malicious gossip in Paris coupling his name with that of Aglaé.” Apparently, according to Lafayette, a mean trick had been played that consisted of a song about his relationship with Aglaé. Lafayette further clarified the incident in a letter to his brother-in-law:
The outcome of that pleasantry will probably be to make her forever unhappy and to make me come to swords’ points with a man against whom I can in all conscience defend myself only halfway. But the society of Paris will console itself with a song … It hurts to have them come two thousand leagues looking for me to be the hero of the current scandal and for a woman who is two thousand leagues from the flirtations and intrigues of Paris to make her the victim of some wicked fiction. Let me know, my dear brother, whether they speak to you about it as a joke or if they really make a serious bit of malice out of it.
Of all the glories heaped upon Lafayette, perhaps the most thrilling was the attention that Aglaé paid to him when he returned from America as a hero. Juicy rumours sprang up immediately accusing Lafayette and Aglaé of being more than mere friends. Before long, their relationship proved too conspicuous, too passionate, and too scandalous.
Their relationship also drew criticism from Algaé’s family, particularly her mother, the Marquise de Barbanily. Despite Aglaé’s husband being seemingly fine with Algaé’s relationship with Lafayette, the Marquise was livid about it. The Marquise thought Lafayette was too well-known and her daughter too obvious. Moreover, the Marquise hated the gossip and begged Aglaé to return to her husband. Lafayette made a half-hearted attempt to meet and smooth things over with Aglaé’s mother, but the meeting never came to fruition.
From the start, Lafayette and Aglaé’s love affair proved unhappy. Although Lafayette’s wife remained faithful and loyal behind the scenes, Adrienne’s family was extremely unhappy with the situation. Their unhappiness, in turn, made Lafayette unpopular at Louis XVI’s court, and Aglaé was shunned. Moreover, Algaé’s old lover, the Duke of Chartres, annoyed Lafayette and Aglaé at every turn.
Lafayette and Aglaé’s relationship was supposedly full of passion. Yet, with passion also came many brutal lover quarrels. Allegedly, during nearly every fight, she told Lafayette she wanted to end their relationship. Lafayette always refused to accept it.
Lafayette reputedly begged Aglaé to give him an explanation as to why their relationship should end, and then whatever she said, he refused to accept. He moped about and then became angry or persistent until he somehow convinced her to continue their relationship. Eventually, however, Aglaé begged him to leave Paris and to think about the painfulness of her situation as the constant gossip proved distressing to her.
Lafayette finally relented. In March of 1783, he travelled the dusty roads to his birthplace in Chavaniac. Lafayette had not been back there for ten years. The time and distance allowed him to think clearly, and he came to a momentous decision. His letter began, “You are too cruel, my dear Aglaé. You realize my heart’s torments,” and it ended with him reluctantly releasing her for good.
You put in my hands your peace of mind, your safety, and much more … You understand the extent of my sacrifice. … I will silence my heart. [However,] all that you are, all that I owe to you, justifies my love, and nothing, not even you would keep me from adoring you.
Although Aglaé may have thought all the gossip would stop when her relationship with Lafayette ended, it did not. In fact, one critic penned that Aglaé was “a woman who was outwardly a prude though inwardly corrupt.” There were also new claims that she was leading a dissolute life, had delivered Chartres’s child, and was currently pregnant by a lackey. Her own family became resentful towards her, perhaps even disowned her, and, thus, she gave up public life and entered a convent.
Louis Gottschalk, Lady-in-Waiting: The Romance of Lafayette and Aglaé de Hunolstein, Baltimore: The John Hopkins Press, 1939.
Gottschalk, Louis. Lafayette in America. Arveyres, France: L’Esprit de Lafayette Society, 1975.
Ségur, Louis P. d. Memoirs and recollections of Count Segur … Written by himself … Translated from the French. Boston: E. Bliss and E. White, 1825.
A View of Paris from the Pont Neuf by Nicolas-Jean-Baptiste Raguenet, 1763, Getty Museum (image via Wikimedia Commons)