Wednesday, 19 February 2014

A Prince Bites the Dust

Being a courtier was very expensive. The châteaux, the court costumes, the servants, everything cost money and nothing could be spared if you were of royal rank. But just occasionally the cost became too much; this was the case with Henri Louis, Prince de Guéméné.
Despite his influential family - who owned the Hôtel de Rohan-Guéméné - the Prince seemed to have difficulty handling his money. When his wife, Victoire Amande Josèphe de Rohan, was appointed Governess of the Children of France and he himself became Grand Chamberlain in 1775 the honours could not make up for the extra cost demanded to fill these coveted positions. Besides, Henri Louis had a mistress - the Comtesse de Dillon - who undoubtedly demanded her share as well. The Prince and Princesse de Guéméné lived a lavish lifestyle despite their growing debts. This lifestyle included the employment of personal opera singers and musicians. The scandal became even greater when it was discovered that the Princesse de Guéméné had received all the wages issued to her attendants and pages and consequently spent the money on a lifestyle in absolute luxury. Not even all their wages - including those stolen from their employees - could entirely fuel their constant demand of money and the couple was continually taking up new loans.

Château de Montreuil which had to be sold off
The house of cards finally came tumbling down on 30th September 1782 the Prince de Guéméné declared himself bankrupt being unable to repay his debts of a staggering 33.000.000 livres - the same amount spent annually on the French navy. When the bankruptcy was declared the Prince had already taken leave of Paris and was no where to be found by his many creditors. Eventually the King's council declared that everything of value was to be confiscated in an attempt to pay off the creditors. The declaration of bankruptcy also meant that neither he nor his wife could continue in their respective posts; both the Hôtel de Rohan-Guéméné and their estate at Montreuil were sold off. Louis XVI bought the Château de Montreuil as a gift for his younger sister, Madame Élisabeth.

Louis Henri and his wife retreated from court life in what could only have been disgrace. Even though almost all courtiers had financial problems going bankrupt was quite the sensation. The two of them went to Navarre where the King made it clear that he preferred they stayed.

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