Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Charlotte Aglaé d'Orléans, Duchesse de Modène (Modena)

Charlotte Aglaé was born on 20 October 1700 as a Princesse du Sang or a Princess of the Blood. Like most other young girls of the nobility she was sent to a convent to learn how to behave modestly and obediently. In Charlotte Aglaé's case these convents would be those of Chelles and Val-de-Grâce. During her time in the last mentioned Abbey she came close to marrying Louis Armand de Bourbon but the match never happened because Louis XIV intervened.
Two other marriages were proposed when Charlotte Aglaé had moved back into the Palais Royal in Paris: one was to Louis Auguste de Bourbon, Prince de Dombes and another to Louis Auguste de Bourbon, Duc de Maine. However, this time it was Charlotte who refused to marry. Instead she went on to live at the Château de Saint-Cloud where her grandmother (known simply as Madame at court) resided.

By 1718 Charlotte may have fallen in love because she began a love affair with the Duc de Richelieu - however, he was imprisoned shortly afterwards. Being the daughter of Philippe II, Duc d'Orléans (who was Regent at the time) she had easy access to the highest power in France and deeply implored her father to release him. There came a time apparently when Philippe II was growing tired of his daughter's refusals of marriages and finally agreed to an offer of marriage despite Charlotte Aglaé's own wishes. On February 11, 1720 a proxy marriage between Charlotte and Francesco d'Este, heir to the throne of Modena were performed. Already when she arrived at the court of Modena Charlotte was the highest ranking female. However, Charlotte Aglaé was not enjoying her time at the Modenese court and soon grew terribly bored and lonely. To fight off her boredom she began to hold little salons where only selected courtiers and royalty were allowed. In 1720 Charlotte came as close to death as possible when she caught smallpox; her condition was so bad that a priest was summoned to give her the last sacraments. Luckily the Princess survived but she was not in the clear yet.

Her marriage had not produced any children and - as it was custom - it was assumed that it was the bride's fault. Criticism began pouring in not only from the court but from the people too. It would seem that the couple was on friendly terms because they both chose to move to Verona while the critics were still in the air. But it would also seem that Charlotte had not gotten over her homesickness and made a formal request to her father-in-law, the King of Modena, for her to return to France and live at the French court. The King was far from pleased and their relationship which had been good until then became strained; the King had also been annoyed at the lack of grandchildren. So for the time being Charlotte and Francesco moved to a private villa away from court. One of the couple's problems were soon solved when the birth of their first child, a daughter, ended rumours that they could not have children.
Things took a turn for the scandalous when in 1727 Charlotte was suddenly visited by the Duc de Richelieu. Shortly afterwards the resumed their love affair. This soon became known and she was granted permission to leave for France but was called back later that same year. When she returned to her husband they were exiled to Genoa and soon Charlotte headed for France again. She arrived in 1733 but found herself far from welcome. Her father was dead and her mother had never thought highly of her. Thunder was erupting on the political front as well and soon the War of the Polish Succession broke out; Modena had to live with the foreign armies within its territory despite having declared themselves neutral.

After having stayed at Lyons with her husband the couple travelled incognito to Paris but were once again not welcome with Charlotte's family. Neither her mother nor her brother had any good feeling towards Charlotte and did little to aid the couple. In 1735 Francesco was called back to Modena but Charlotte managed to obtain permission to stay in France - this permission was granted by Louis XV himself on condition that she stayed at the Abbey de Val-de-Grâce again and did not come to court.
In 1737 Francesco became King of Modena and as his wife Charlotte now held a higher rank. However, her treatment was not improved in any way and her relationship with her family worsened. Two years later Charlotte could no longer stay in France and had to return to Modena against her own wishes (it seems strange that she would want to stay in France considering her life there). Trying to make the best of the Modenese court she granted patronage to artists and introduced some French fashion. It was all a success and things were looking up in Modena. But once again the peace was short-lived because soon another war of succession broke out this time that of Austria. The situation became so tense that Charlotte had to apply for permission to travel to Paris; the request was completely ignored but in the end it was one of Charlotte's old friends who came to her rescue. The Duc de Richelieu had a considerable influence over the Duchesse de Châteauroux who was the King's mistress and secured the permission. Finally, Charlotte received the welcome she was entitled to according to her rank. She would herself become a friend of the Duchesse de Châteauroux and was put in a weaker position when she died.

However, Charlotte never just sat back and somehow managed to get her eldest daughter married off to one of the wealthiest men at court, the Duc de Penthièvre. For a little while Charlotte had some political influence but this all came to an end when Madame de Pompadour made her entrance on the stage that was Versailles. It was not until 1759 that Charlotte finally returned to Modena - despite the War of the Austrian Succession ended in 1757 - where she was met with quite a surprise: her husband had eloped with an elderly woman. Apparently, Charlotte was not bothered because she never made an attempt at taking back her husband. Instead she went on to travel around Europe. It was in her beloved Paris that Charlotte Aglaé died on 19 January 1761 after a tumultuous life.

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