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Heroines of French Society in the Court, the Revolution, the Empire and the Restoration

Heroines of French Society
in the Court, the Revolution, the Empire and the Restoration
Title: Heroines of French Society in the Court, the Revolution, the Empire and the Restoration
Release Date: 2018-05-14
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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Painted by herself. Uffizi, Florence

Title Page



Mrs. Bearne
Author of “A Queen of Napoleon’s Court,”
“Early Valois Queens,” etc., etc.



(All rights reserved.)





IN the histories of the four women whose livesare here related, I have tried, as far as ispossible in the limited space, to give an idea of thevarious ways in which the Revolutionary tempestat the close of the eighteenth century and theeventful years which preceded and followed it,affected, and were regarded by, persons of thedifferent parties and classes to which they belonged.

The characters of the four heroines form asstrong a contrast as their circumstances, principles,and surroundings.

In Mme. Le Brun, the most gifted of all, we seea beauty, a genius, and a woman unusually charmingand attractive, thrown, before she was sixteen,into the society of the magnificent, licentious courtof Louis XV. Married to a dissipated,bourgeoisspendthrift, for whom she had never cared; soughtafter, flattered, and worshipped in all the greatcourts of Europe; courted by fascinating, unscrupulousmen of the highest rank, without theprotection of family connections and an assured[viii]position; yet her religious principles, exaltedcharacter, and passionate devotion to her art,carried her unscathed and honoured through alife of extraordinary dangers and temptations.

She emigrated early, and far from being, as inmost cases, a time of poverty and hardship, herexile was one long, triumphant career of prosperity.

Owing to her brilliant success, to the affectionand friendship which surrounded her wherever shewent, to her absorbing interest in her art, the delightfulplaces and society in which she spent hertime, and also to her own sunny, light-heartednature, her long life, in spite of certain seriousdomestic drawbacks and sorrows, was a very happyone. Her wonderful capacity for enjoyment, herappreciation of beauty in nature and art, the greatinterest she took in matters intellectual and political,her pleasure in the society of her numerous friends,and her ardent devotion to the religious androyalist principles of her youth, continued undiminishedthrough the peaceful old age whichterminated her brilliant career.

With the same religious and political principles,the conditions of life which surrounded the Marquisede Montagu were totally different. A contrastindeed to the simple, artistic household, the earlygrief, poverty, and hard work, the odious step-father,the foolish mother, the worthless husband anddaughter, the thousand difficulties and disadvantageswhich beset Mme. Le Brun, were the stateand luxury, the sheltered life, the watchful care, andpowerful protection bestowed upon the daughterof the house of Noailles; her mother, the saintly,[ix]heroic Duchesse d’Ayen, her husband the gallant,devoted Marquis de Montagu.

She also was thrown very early into society; butshe entered it as a member of one of the greatestfamilies in France, surrounded by an immensenumber of relations of the highest character andposition.

Neither a genius nor yet possessed of any greatartistic or intellectual talent, without worldly ambition,little attracted by the amusements of society,she was a sort of mixture of agrande dame and asaint.

The lofty asceticism of her theories and practicewas perhaps almost too severe for ordinary mortalsliving in the world, and in some respects betteradapted for a monastic than a secular life; heremigration, so long delayed, was no time of successand happiness: long years of terror, danger, poverty,fearful trials, and sorrows endured with heroicfortitude and angelic patience, passed before shewas restored to France and to the ancient castlewhich was the home and refuge of her later life.

In Mme. Tallien we have a woman exactly oppositeto the other two in character, principles, andconduct. Differing from both of them in birth andcircumstances—for she was the daughter of aSpanish banker of large fortune—with extraordinarybeauty, the hot, passionate blood of the south, anature, habits, and principles undisciplined byauthority and unrestrained by religion, she wasearly imbued with the creed of the revolutionists,and carried their theories of atheism and licence tothe logical consequences.


Yet the generosity and kindness of her heart, andthe number of victims she saved, outweighed,though without effacing, the disorders of her earlierlife,[1]during the latter part of which, as the wife ofa Catholic, royalist prince, whose love she returnedand to whose opinions she was converted, shedeeply regretted the errors of Notre Dame deThermidor.

In Mme. de Genlis we have a fourth and morecomplex type, a character in which good and evilwere so mingled that it was often hard to say whichpredominated. With less beauty than the otherthree but singularly attractive, with extraordinarygifts and talents, with noble blood and scarcely anyfortune, she spent a childhood of comparativepoverty at her father’s château,where she was onlyhalf educated, and at seventeen married the youngComte de Genlis, who had no money but wasrelated to most of the great families of the kingdom.

From this time began her brilliant career.Essentially a woman of the world, delighting insociety and amusement, though always praising thepleasures of solitude and retirement, she entered thehousehold of the Duchesse d’Orléans, wife of theinfamous Philippe-Égalité, and while constantlydeclaiming against ambition managed to get all herrelations lucrative posts at the Palais Royal, andmarried one if not both her daughters to rich menof rank with notoriously bad reputations.

Perpetually proclaiming her religious principles[xi]and loyalty to the throne, she was suspected ofbeing concerned in the disgraceful libels andattacks upon the Queen, was on terms of friendshipwith some of the worst of the revolutionists, rejoicedin the earliest outbreaks of the beginning ofthe Revolution, and while she educated the Orléanschildren with a pompous parade of virtue andstrictness, was generally and probably rightlylooked upon as the mistress of their father.

She was a strange character, full of artificialsentiment, affectation, and self-deception, and,unlike the first three heroines of this book, themystery and doubts which hung over her havenever been cleared up.

Against the saintly Marquise de Montagu nobreath of scandal could ever be spoken. Suchcalumnies as were spread against Mme. Le Brun,the work of the revolutionists, who hated her onlyfor her religion and loyalty, never believed by thosewhose opinion would be worthy of consideration,soon vanished and were forgotten.

The liaisons of Mme. Tallien had nothingdoubtful about them.

But the stories against Mme. de Genlis havenever been cleared up. Much that was said abouther was undoubtedly false, but there remain seriousaccusations which can neither be proved nor disproved;and that a long, intimate friendshipbetween a prince of the character of Philippe-Égalitéand a young, attractive woman who wasgoverness to his children should have been nomore than a platonic one, passes the bounds ofcredibility.


The history of Mme. de Genlis in the emigrationdiffers from the other two, for having contrived tomake herself obnoxious both to royalists andrepublicans her position was far worse thantheirs.

But the deep affection she and her pupils displayedfor each other, the devotion and kindnessshe showed them during their misfortunes, thecourage and cheerfulness with which she bore thehardships and dangers of her lot, and the remorseand self-reproach which, in spite of the excellentopinion she usually entertained of herself, do occasionallyappear in her memoirs, prove that manygood qualities existed amongst so much that wasfaulty.

As to her writings, then so much in vogue, theywere mostly works intended either to explain, assist,or illustrate the system of education which was thehobby of her life and which, if one may judge by“Adèle et Théodore,” one of the most importantof her tales, can only be called preposterous.

That the false sentiment, the absurd rules of life,the irksome, unnecessary restrictions, the crampingand stifling of all the natural affections and feelingsof youth here inculcated should have been regardedwith approval, even by the sourest and most solemnof puritans, seems difficult to believe; but that inthe society of Paris at that time they should havebeen popular and admired is only another exampleof the inconsistency of human nature. She had apassion for children, but kindness to animals doesnot seem to have been one of the virtues she taughther pupils. We may hope that the fearful little[xiii]prigs described as the result of her system neverdid or could exist.

I have endeavoured to be accurate in all thedates and incidents, and have derived my informationfrom many sources, including the “Mémoiresde Louis XVIII., recueillis par le Duc de D——,”Mémoires de la Comtesse d’Adhémar, de Mme.Campan, MM. de Besenval, de Ségur, &c., alsothe works of the Duchesse d’Abrantès, Comtesse deBassanville, Mme. de Créquy, Mme. de Genlis, Mme.Le Brun, MM. Arsène Houssaye, de Lamartine,Turquan, Dauban, Bouquet, and various others,besides two stories never yet published, one ofwhich was given me by a member of the family towhich it happened; the other was told me in thepresence of the old man who was the hero of it.


[1]Tallien, on hearing of her proposed marriage with the Princede Chimay, remarked, “Ellea beau faire, elle sera toujoursMadame Tallien.”



Preface vii
The ancien régime—Close of the reign of Louis XIV.—The Regent Orléans—The court of Louis XV.—The philosophers—The artists—M. Vigée 3
The childhood of Lisette—Extraordinary talent—The convent—The household of an artist—Death of M. Vigée—Despair of Lisette—Begins her career—Re-marriage of her mother—The Dauphine 15
Brilliant success of Lisette—Love of her art—The Vernet—Life in Paris before the Revolution—Mme. Geoffrin—Marriage of Lisette to M. Le Brun—A terrible prediction 29
Marie Antoinette—Birth of Mme. Le Brun’s daughter—The Royal Family—Brussels—Antwerp—The charms of French society—The Opera ball—An incident in the terror—A Greek supper—Le jeu de la Reine 45
The theatre—Raincy—Chantilly—Calonne—Attempt to ruin the reputation of Mme. Le Brun—Two deplorable marriages—Fate of Mme. Chalgrin—Under the shadow of death—Mme. Du Barry 60
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