Monday 23 September 2013

Adrienne de Noailles, Marquise de La Fayette

Marie Adrienne Françoise de Noailles was born on 2 November 1759 in Paris where her family's Hôtel de Noailles were situated. Like every other girl born into the nobility Adrienne (pretty much everyone was named "Marie", so she was known as Adrienne) was to enter an arranged marriage. Hers was celebrated on 11 April 1774 at the Hôtel de Noailles - she was married to Gilbert de Motier, Marquis de La Fayette. With an annual income of what amounts to 935.032 pounds (or 1,5 million dollars) he was very well off. Two years later Adrienne gave birth to the couple's first child, a daughter named Henriette, who would die at just under 2 years. The couple would have four children in total: Henriette, Anastasie, Georges and Marie Antoinette Virginie.

Though Gilbert travelled a lot - to England, Italy and America - their relationship seemed to have been fairly happy. That is if you judge from this extract from a letter to Adrienne from her husband in 1777: "I should need no daylight to tell you how I suffer far away from you, and how I love you." Meanwhile, Adrienne carried on living what was considered a normal social life for a woman of her rank; she even met with Voltaire at the home of the Duc de Choiseul. Both Adrienne and her husband were fascinated by these new thoughts of liberty and entertained several other liberals such as Benjamin Franklin, Madame de Stäel and Marmontel. Adrienne would travel with her husband to Chavaniac in October 1791 after the King and Queen's arrest. The thing was that despite their liberal views the couple was still loyal to their sovereigns and Gilbert went back to Paris to defend what he saw as injustice towards the King. However, he was arrested on charges of treason.

Things were about to get worse for Adrienne too, who found herself under house arrest in Chavaniac. By 1794 the Reign of Terror had broken out and Adrienne was taken to La Force Prison in Paris. She was moved around quite a lot when in Paris: from Collège du Plessis Prison to the Rue des Amandiers and finally to the Desnos House. It was thanks to Adrienne's friends Elizabeth Monroe and James Monroe, Governor Morris that Adrienne was finally released in the first part of 1795. You can hardly blame Adrienne for leaving Paris as soon as possible and when she did she headed for Vienna. While staying there she met with the Emperor on 10 October 1795 to whom she pleaded for permission to travel to her husband. Finally, the couple were reunited five days later in the prison of Olmütz but the circumstances were not good. All their possessions were confiscated and they would not be released until 1797.

From there on the family moved to Adrienne's sister and aunt. Since Adrienne was not officially exiled she returned to France but her husband - who was - could not go with her. While in France Adrienne secured several properties but she also aided the emigrants financially. In 1799 Gilbert could once again travel to France thanks to his wife who had intervened on his behalf. The couple was no longer well off. Facing a debt of 200.000 livres might have scared off most people but not these two. Adrienne received 500.000 livres as compensation for the Noailles properties that had been confiscated. Step by step Adrienne managed to get her family's finances back on track but all was not well. Her years in prison had left her chronically ill. In 1807 Adrienne was travelling to Auvergne when she fell ill; however, she recovered enough to spent Christmas Eve with her family. She died on 24 December 1807 with her husband at her side - her last words were to him: "Je sous toute à vous" (I am all yours).

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