Sunday, 25 January 2015

A Duel Ensues!

The regency of the Duc d'Orlèans during the minority of Louis XV was a great deal more colourful than the latter years of Louis XIV. The fêtes became wilder and some developed into downright orgies. The courtiers that flocked the chambers of the Regent sniffed eagerly for the slightest sign of a scandal; and they soon found one.

Hyacinthe_Rigaud_Portrait_présumé_du_comte_de_Gacé_15092012393.jpg (1200×1600)
Comte de Gacé
The Comte de Gacé was a host of such evening fêtes which soon gained a reputation for debauchery. Several prominent members of court - including the Prince de Soubise and Madame Neslé - were mentioned as frequent goers to the Comte de Gacé's house though it should be said that whether there was actually orgies going on or not is unknown. 
One lady received more than her fair share of the gossip: the Comtesse de Gacé, wife of the host. She was especially slandered by her fellow-courtiers. And of course the gossips were not trying to hide where they allegedly got their informations from; the Duc de Richelieu was pointed out as having revealed what was going on in the house of Gacé - but did he?

Hearing how his wife was attacked by the gossips, the Comte de Gacé became infuriated and he was all too ready to accept the Duc de Richelieu as the arbiter of her disgrace. Following the style of time the Comte de Gacé contacted a poet and entrusted him to compose a ballad against Richelieu. In true courtier-fashion the Comte de Gacé proceeded to sing the ballad at the first encounter he had with Richelieu at a ball on 17th February 1716; furthermore, he warned a lady with whom Richelieu was corresponding to take care since Richelieu was not to be trusted.

The Duc de Richelieu was shocked and greatly angered by this behaviour and challenged the Comte de Gacé to a duel. The duel was to take place immediately - to the great excitement of the thronging courtiers. Gacé was wounded in the arm while Richelieu was hit with a sword without suffering much.

Duc de Richelieu
The Parliament of Paris was deeply annoyed at this disturbance of the peace and decided to make an example of it. The Duc de Richelieu received a notice on 27th February to report as to why he had duelled with the Comte. Richelieu refused to accept the authority of the Parliament and presented a petition to the King wherein he reminded him that as the holder of two duchies he had a right to be judged by the King himself. Richelieu was all too well aware that the Parliament had not gotten on well with the Peers of France for some time and obviously feared an unjust trial.
The rebuke caused further bickering between the courtiers and the Parliament but the matter was ended with a letter-cachet from the King on 5 March. It decreed that the Duc and the Comte were both to be confined to the Bastille. The Parliament, meanwhile, had continued prosecuting the Duc de Richelieu and the case ended in a compromise. The King - through the Regent - allowed the Parliament to judge but sent two adversaries of his own choosing.
During his two months imprisonment, Richelieu made all attempts at concealing his involvement in the duel, going so far as to cover the scars with a sort of foundation. A failed escape attempt (aided by his mistress and her sister) later and the wound had reopened. 

In the end it all came to nothing. On the 21st August both Richelieu and Gacé were freed and the charges were dropped. They were seen embracing and departed for a dinner at the latter's house.

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