Sunday, 24 December 2017

The Tragedy of the Comtesse de Stainville

Thérèse de Clermont d'Amboise had become Comtesse de Stainville by her marriage to Jacques Philippe de Choiseul-Stainville in 1761. The marriage proved to be unhappy and both parties sought romance elsewhere - Thérèse found hers not far from home. Her first liaison was with the Duc de Lauzun (her husband's cousin) but it was when her eyes fell on a young actor, Clairval, that everything fell apart.

While the Comtesse had been discreet in her dealings with the Duc de Lauzun, she was more carried away by her feelings for the actor. Surprisingly, it was Lauzun who undertook the role of intermediate between the two. He instantly recognized the danger that the affair would bring his mistress in. One thing was for a woman to have a liaison; her husband could legally lock her up in a convent for that. Another thing was for a noble woman to engage herself with a commoner.

Lauzun went to Thérèse and attempted to make her see reason. He succeeded as far as extracting a promise from her to break things off but it did not last long. Then, the Duc went to Clairval himself and tried the same again. He, too, promised to end the affair. But in vain.

The couple soon reunited and did little to hide their affair. The Comtesse was living in her own establishment at the time but rumours travelled quickly and servants saw everything. Soon, word of the liaison reached the Comte de Stainville who was stationed at Metz. It is most likely that he learned of the business from his brother, the Duc de Choiseul.
Unfortunately, Jacques Philippe was a man of his age and believed that while his own affairs were to be tolerated, those of his wife were not. He was infuriated at learning of his wife's infidelity and decided to exercise his rights as a husband.

It happened at a ball. Madame de Mirepoix - who was "still crazy for pleasure" - played hostess to a ball where the Comtesse de Stainville was expected to be the queen of the evening. The ball was to lead up to a ballet. The ballet was a lavish affair; extravagant costumes depicting the wonders of the Far East. Everything was rehearsed over and over again - and Madame de Stainville never missed a rehearsal.

The Comte de Stainville arrived back in Paris the day before the ball was to commence and wasted no time in confronting his wife. A violent scene followed in which he made it clear that he was going to lock her up in a convent. 
Beforehand, friends of the Comte had attempted to reason with him. If not for his wife's sake, then the scandal alone could be an incentive. However, it was all in vain.

The Comtesse de Stainville (right) and
the Duchesse de Gramont

On the night of 20th-21st January 1767 the Comtesse de Stainville was forcibly placed in a carriage and taken to Nantes. Here, he placed her in the Convent of the Filles de Sainte Marie.

The Comtesse was not the only one to be imprisoned. Both her hand-maiden and a footman were both dispatched to separate institutes on suspicions of having been in their mistress' confidence. 

The ball took place as planned and a new queen was found. But the dreaded scandal had already spread so far that it was the main topic of conversation. Everyone was in agreement that the Comte had acted most villainously; pity was completely reserved for his wife who was viewed as a victim. Despite everyone's lamentations there was nothing to be done. The Comte had acted completely in accordance with the law. The Comtesse could not even appeal to the king; he had granted the Comte de Stainville a lettre de cachet permitting his actions.

By 18th September 1767 it was reported that Thérèse had fallen seriously ill. It was said that the doctors had not treated her properly and that she needed to go to Paris for the correct care - but nothing happened. She must have recovered, though, for she lived for many years to come.

The beautiful Comtesse de Stainville was never to set foot outside of the convent. True to his word, the Comte had her confined to the convent until she died in 1789.

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