Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Marie Leszczynska's Household of 1726

The Queen was served by twelve dames du palais besides a Superintendant, a dame d'atour and dames d'honneurs. The dames du palais had an internal hierarchy; those who were married to a peer of France or a Grandee of Spain ranked higher than those who did not. The Superintendant - as the name suggests - had the overall responsibility of the Queen's household. Consequently, she would have a great deal of influence on the Queen's daily life. The dame d'atours was responsible for the royal wardrobe and the expenses connected with it.

When Marie Leszczynska married Louis XV she was given a household befitting her new title. This is how the Queen's immediate household looked as of 1726 - each woman's family ties and age is listed:

Marie-Anne de Bourbon, Mademoiselle de Clermont: grand-daughter of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan through the Prince de Condé, (29 years old)

Dame d'honneur:
Catherine-Charlotte de Gramont, Duchesse de Boufflers: widow of Louis-Francois, Duc de Boufflers, (39 or 49 years old)

Dame d'atours:
Anne-Marie-Francoise de Sainte-Hermine: widow of Louis, Comte de Mailly and former dame d'atours to Marie Adélaide of Savoy, (59 years old)

Dames du Palais:

  • Marie-Isabelle-Gabrielle de Rohan, Princesse de RohanWife of Marie-Joseph d'Hostun, Duc   de Tallard, (27 years old)
  • Jeanne-Angélique Rocque de VarangevilleWife of Claude-Louis-Victor, Duc de Villars. The next year she would resign in favour of her daughter-in-law
  • Julie-Christine Gorge d'Antraigues, Duchesse de BéthuneDaughter of one of the king's secretaries and wife to Paul-Francois de Béthune, (unknown birth-year)
  • Henriette de Duras, Comtesse d'EgmontGreat-niece to Madame de Ventadour and wife to Procope-Charles Pignatelli, (30 years old)
  • Marie Francoise de Rochechouart, Princesse de ChalaisWife to Louis-Jean-Charles de Talleyrand, Prince de Chalais and Grandee of Spain. She had previously been married to Michel Chamillard, Marquis de Cany (41 years old)
  • Francoise Gilette de Montmorency-Luxembourg, Marquise de Gondrin and Duchesse d'EpernonWife to Louis Pardaillan de Gondrin, (22 years old)
  • Agnes Berthelot de Pléneuf, Marquise de PrieWife to Louis, Marquis de Prie who was godfather to Louis XV, (28 years old)
  • Marie-Marguerite d'Allègre, Comtesse de RupelmondeShe had previously been a dame d'atours to Marie Adélaide of Savoy and wife to Maximilien-Philippe Joseph de Boulogne de Licques, (38 years old)
  • Marie Adelaide de Gramont, Marquise de Gontaut: Wife to Francois-Armand de Gontaut, (26 years old)
  • Armande-Félicite de La Porte de La Meilleraye, Marquise de NesleWife to Louis de Mailly and mother to the infamous Mailly-sisters who were mistresses to Louis XV, (35 years old)
  • Comtesse de MérodeWife to Alexandre-Maximilien de Gànd de Mérode, (unknown birth-year)
  • Edme-Charlotte de Brenne, Marquise de Matignon: Wife to Thomas-Auguste de Gouyon. She would later resign in favour of her daughter, (unknown birth-year)

So, what were this group of women like?

First of all, a lot of the Queen's women owed their position to their relationship to the then-reigning Prime Minister, the Duc de Bourbon. The Superintendent - for example - was his sister. The Comtesse d'Egmont was a part of his inner circle as was the Princesse de Chalais. Both were from pro-Spanish families which must have caused some tension considering that Marie Leszczynska had replaced the Spanish Maria Anna Victoria as Louis XV's bride.
Of course, the one most intimately connected with the Prime Minister was his mistress, the Marquise de Prie. She tried in vain to gain the title of Duchesse.

While the Duchesse de Boufflers was widely recognized as a virtuous and wise lady, others had a very different reputation. Actually, several of the dames du palais were linked to rather more scandalous behaviour. For instance, the Marquise de Nesle was infamous for her affairs one of which she had with Louis-Henri, Prince de Condé. It was even rumoured that her daughter, Marie-Anne, was the result of this liaison. Another one of her famous affairs was with the Duc de Richelieu.

It can only be imagined that Marie Leszczynska had some difficulties coming to terms with the more lively of her ladies. After all, the Queen herself was a devout woman who appreciated traditional values.

Luckily for the new Queen, there were those who preferred a more virtuous style of living. Mademoiselle de Clermont had previously been employed in the household of her cousin, the Duchesse de Berry, but had resigned due to the Duchesse's extremely scandalous behaviour. She remained Superintendent until her death in 1741 so it is quite likely that she developed a good relationship with Marie Leszszynska.

At this early stage the Queen had still to learn the dynamics of the court. She could not have known of the intrigues and alliances of those closest to her.

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