Friday, 26 May 2017

The Prince de Condé & the Princesse de Monaco

Louis Joseph, Prince de Condé had been married to Charlotte de Rohan since 1753 but their marriage was not one of mutual love. Instead, he began a long-lasting affair with Maria Caterina Brignole, Princesse de Monaco. Their relationship became increasingly serious following Charlotte's death in 1760.

In 1769 the liaison had become so serious that the Princesse had made a home for herself in the Parisian Hotel de Lassay; conveniently, this was an annex of Louis Joseph's residence, the Palais-Bourbon. Unsurprisingly, news quickly spread beyond the borders of France to Maria's husband.

The Prince de Monaco was not pleased with his wife's French escapades. In a jealous fit to keep her with him he closed the borders of Monaco. However, she managed to side-step his maneuver and made it to Le Mans. Here, she sought refuge in a convent. While she was locked up in the nunnery the Prince de Condé attempted - in vain - to persuade the Prince de Monaco to separate himself from his wife.

At court their love-affair was no less cause for scandal. Marie Antoinette had been brought up to disdain mistresses - a consequence of her mother's life-long jealousy of her father's mistresses - and did not look kindly on Maria's position. This did not deter the couple who were reunited in Paris in 1770. Four years later, they planned the construction of the Hotel de Monaco which was to provide her with a permanent home close to her lover.

By the time Maria returned to Paris her marriage was as good as over. In January 1770 she was granted a legal divorce from her husband.

By the outbreak of the revolution the couple was still together. First, they fled into Germany and then made it on to England. Maria found herself a widow following the death of her husband in 1795. The couple was finally able to marry; this ceremony  was performed on 24 October 1798. However, the couple was not free to openly admit to their marriage. In fact, the marriage was kept a secret for 10 whole years before it was finally acknowledged in late December 1808.

Maria spent her vast fortune in a vain attempt at restoring the Bourbon-dynasty to power in France which left her destitute.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Garters

With most depictions of a delicate garter tied around a young woman's thigh it is hardly surprising that most people associate the garters with female dress. Until around the 16th century, however, it was also used by men in ceremonial dresses.

As this blog focuses on the 17th and 18th century I will restrict myself to the female ones from this period. Garters were ribbons of fabric which were worn either above or below the knee. For the upper classes they were made from expensive materials such as silk. These garters would often be richly decorated with embroideries of ornate patterns or personal mottos. Unlike the male counterpart, ladies' garters were not visible to the naked eye; men had worn them on their hoses while ladies' hid them underneath a full body of skirts.

Pink silk garters with motto

Their main function - other than as a fashion statement - was to hold up the stockings. They could either be fastened with buckles or laces; the latter seems to be a more comfortable choice, though. As most fashions this could have a dark side as well. Some women tightened their garters so tightly that their blood circulation suffered as a result. To avoid any chafing garters were often padded.

One peculiar episode concerning garters involved the Sun King's mistress, Marie-Angélique de Fontagnes. Her signature hairstyle - naturally named after her - came to be when she found her hair disheveled while out hunting and bound it up using her garters.

This photo shows how clasps were used as well as padding

Usually, garters were white but could be extensively decorated. As an example the purchase of the Duchesse d'Orléans from 1737 illustrates this. She bought seven pairs of garters; one was embroidered with green and gold, another with silver. Yet another consisted itself of silver cloth while a fourth pair was embroidered with silver in four colours.
As can be deduced from this order garters were worn on both legs - to keep both stockings up. The rather newer trend of having a single wedding garter is of a more symbolic nature.

Detail of a garter allegedly belonging to Marie Antoinette

Legend has it that Marie Antoinette's remains were identified by the characteristic Habsburg-jaw as well as a monogrammed garter.

As seen in portraits:
Naturally, since the garter was a part of a lady's delicates they were not shown on official portraits. However, thanks to the wonderful art of the 18th century we are left with some beautiful examples nonetheless.

Francois Broucher's "La Toilette" shows a young lady
neatly tying her garter around a silk stocking

This portrait - attributed to Nicholas Lavreince -
also focuses on the garter

Michel Garnier's elegant lady is apparently
not aware of her peeping-tom 

Monday, 22 May 2017

The Buckle

In an age without zippers the stylish way to ensure that a garment did not become undone by a gust of wind was by buttons or buckles. Buckles were used for shoes, breeches, hats and stockings - even the occasional banyan was secured by a buckle. Both men and women used buckles although it was used more generally in men's fashions.

The cheaper - and more affordable - versions were often made from brass or iron which could then be coated with tin to give it a silver-look. For the greater court events gold or silver were preferred; these would often be quite intricately made in themselves and often carried the maker's mark on them. As an indicator of how precious such buckles could be they were stored in jewelry-boxes.

Shoe Buckles
Until 1670 shoes had been tied with ribbon which was tied into large bows. Buckles became more in fashion by this period. The shape of the shoe buckles developed through the ancien regime. During Louis XIV they were largely rectangular but in the 18th century they became smaller and round. Finally, they retook the rectangular shape during Louis XVI by which they were also larger - so large that they covered the foot's length.

Women's shoes, 1740's

At the mid-18th century the fashions for buckles became more splendid. Gemstones and paste were by now frequently used to decorate ornately spun shoe buckles. Although it was far from everyone at court who could afford to adorn their buckles with genuine gemstones some found a way to imitate the style. Coloured glass was often used as a substitute; most of the surviving buckles carry these glass-stones rather than the extravagant gemstones.

Certain gatherings kept their guests first-class by refusing to let "lace-shoed gentlemen" in; only those wearing silver buckles could gain admittance at such parties.

This shoe buckle from 1770 shows how elaborate the
designs could be

From the 1780's onward it became more common amongst men to replace shoe buckles with laces which fitted well with the emerging simpler fashion.

Knee Buckles
Buttons had been the primary method of "binding" breeches to the stockings underneath but buckles gradually became more popular around 1735. The fashionable men would attempt to match their knee buckles with those adorning their shoes. As it became the fashion to wear tight-fitting breeches knee buckles were also used to ensure a close fit.

Knee buckles, 18th century
Unlike the shoe buckles these were small and often oval; the wearer could have three small buckles on each knee. However, the shape depended much on the wearer's taste. In the 1770's both oval and square knee buckles were in fashion.

Hat Buckles
Usually, these were rectangular and made from lighter materials than the brass or iron used otherwise. This was mainly to avoid damaging the delicate fabrics often used for the fashionable hats as well as not weighing down the wearer's head.
Luckily for the fashionable people buckles had more than merely a good look to them; they could just as easily be used to fasten the increasingly elaborate hair accessories. The usage of hat buckles did not really come into style before the 1770's.

Men's shoe buckles, 1775-80

Mourning Buckles
In time of mourning it was considered in extremely poor taste to adorn one-self with ornaments. As such neither gemstones, pearls or paste were worn during mourning periods. Instead, they were bronzed.

As seen in portraits:

The knee buckle can just be seen to the

Detail of Louis XIV's shoe buckles

Sunday, 21 May 2017

House of Lévis

The family originally descended from the Île-de-France and had been dominant at the court since the 12th century. The family legend claims that they were descended from the Virgin Mary while in fact the family's first documented lord was Philip I, Lord of Lévis. However, his descendants are not known and the family's name comes up again in 1170.

In the 17th century the family had developed into five branches:

The family achieved ducal status with Gilbert III who became a duke and peer in 1589. Since then the family held considerable sway at court where they occupied valuable positions. Especially when Charlotte de La Mothe-Houdancourt - better known as Madame de Ventadour - became the governess of the children of the Duc and Duchesse de Bourgogne the family thrived. She would eventually save the future Louis XV from being purged by the royal doctors which would almost certainly have caused the little boy's death. As a result the King became excessively attached to her.

Portrait de Madame de Ventadour, par Pierre Mignard, vers 1720.
Madame de Ventadour

The army, too, became a field of choice for the House of Lévis. Several men in the family did well in the army; Francois Gaston de Lévis, Charles-Eugène de Lévis-Charlus and Gaston Pierre de Lévis-Mirepoix became Marèchals de France. Besides, the title of Governor of Limousin was bestowed on the husband of Madame de Ventadour. At court the family had been in the inner circle of the those aristocrats who served the royal family.
Madame de Ventadour had been lady-in-waiting to Marie Thérèse and then to Elizabeth Charlotte, Duchesse d'Orléans. Gaston Pierre de Lévis-Mirepoix was appointed ambassador to Vienna and also received the Orders of Saint-Esprit and Saint-Michel.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Anne Victoire of Hesse-Rotenburg, Princesse de Soubise

Anne Victoire was born on 25 February 1728 as the eldest child of the Hereditary Prince of Hesse-Rotenburg.

She was chosen to become the third wife of Charles de Rohan, Prince de Soubise. The couple were married on 23 December 1745 at the bridegroom's Château des Rohan. At the time of the marriage Anne Victoria was 17 years old while her new husband was 30. In dynastic terms the match was not a bad one. Charles de Rohan held the rank of Prince d'Etranger at court; he had accompanied Louis XV on his military campaign of 1744-48 - during this point he was married to Anne Victoire. Also, he had become a close friend of Louis XV which certainly helped his young wife's social standing at court.

There seem to have been little genuine love in the match. Both parties took lovers outside of their marriage and the couple never had children. Considering that his last two wives had died in childbirth this could be an indicator that the couple were not intimately connected or that they simply never conceived a child.

Anne Victoire became the centre of a court scandal in 1757 when she was arrested on the order of the king. She was accused of stealing jewels worth 900.000 livres; these she allegedly planned to use to pay for an elopement she had planned with her lover, Monsieur de Laval-Montmorency. The elopement had almost been succesful since she had made it to Tournai where she was eventually caught.

This was the final straw for the marriage. The couple was officially separated - in itself a scandal - and she was sent back to her parents in disgrace. Her parents were given a pension of 24.000 livres for her keep. From this point she lived in Ecternacht and little is therefor known about her life. It is known, though, that she never remarried. The fate of her previous marriage had made her an outcast on the marriage market. Not only was the scandal enough to scare away potential suitors but she was almost 30 years old when she was separated. At the time this was considered to be middle age for a woman since women "lost their bloom" at a remarkably early point.

However, she moved back to Paris at some point in her later years. Here she died on 1 July 1792 - five years exactly after her estranged husband. It would seem that she avoided the wrath of the revolutionaries which could be due to the fact that she had not been connected to the French aristocracy for a long time.