Archive for July, 2010

Abbot de Choisy explains why he finds such pleasure in cross-dressing:

“I tried to discover from whence such a bizarre pleasure comes:  here it is.  The essence of God is to be loved, to be adored;  man, as far as his weakness allows him, strives for the same thing;  so, as beauty gives birth to love, and as it is usually given to women, when it happens that men have or believe themselves to have a few beauty traits which can give them love, they try to augment them through women’s clothes, which are very flattering.  Then they feel the inexprimable pleasure of being loved.  I have felt more than once what I have said through sweet experience;  and when I found myself at balls and plays with beautiful gowns, diamonds and patches and heard said softly close to me:  there’s a beautiful person!  I felt within me a pleasure which can be compared to nothing else, so great it is.  Ambition, riches, love do not equal it, because we always love ourselves better than we love others.”

Although he only responds

“with a modest and disdainful expression to people who comment on his beauty within his hearing”,

a certain coquetry can be detected.  It is true that he loves homage.  He is unable to contain his joy when his uncle tells him, out-of-the-blue:

“From what I see, I should call you my niece.  Truly, you are very pretty!”

Even the priest of Saint-Medard gives him one day this impromptu compliment:

“I admit, Madame, that you are very attractive… “

And he can’t possibly not know that his colleague is of his own sex!

It is in this same Saint-Medard Church that Choisy is one day called upon to take up the collection.  A murmur of admiration runs through the public:

“Is it really true that this is a man?”

And Francois-Timoleon de Choisy adds this comment on the remarks which he reports with visible complacency:

“You can understand that this confirmed me strangely in my taste for being treated like a woman.”

Another time, at Bourges, he goes to Mass, with the wife of the Lieutenant-General.  On leaving the church, before joining his carriage, he hears someone murmur behind him:  “what a beautiful woman! ” And he says that this  “did not fail to give me pleasure”.

It is when he is living at Saint-Marceau, under the name of Mme de Sancy, that he abandons himself without any further constraint to this fury of toilette and clothing.  He confesses it himself:

“I started by having my ears re-pierced, the old holes having closed;  I put on embroidered corsets and gold and black dresses, with white satin decorations, with a busk and a big ribbon at the back to mark my waist, a big flowing train, a highly powdered wig, pendant earrings, patches, a little bonnet with a fontange.”

He also possesses

“a dress of black worsted, closed in the front with black buttonholes going right to the bottom, and a train half an aune [60 cm] long that a lackey carried for me, a little wig not very heavily powdered, very simple earrings and two big patches of velvet at my temples”.

Dressed like this, the abbot goes to see the priest of Saint-Medard.  The priest

“greatly praises my dress, and tells me that it is much more graceful than those little priests with their jackets and their little coats, who inspire no respect:  that is roughly the way that several Paris priests dress”.

He goes next to visit the prominent people of the neighbourhood, the Marquise d’Usson, the Marquise de Menieres, and other parishioners of distinction.  For a month, he does not miss going to the Grand-Mass and listening the priest’s sermon every Sunday, “which gave him great pleasure”.  In between, he visits the poor and distributes a few alms to them.

Terribly coquettish, Abbot de Choisy is prolix in the description of his clothes.  Every time that the occasion presents itself (if necessary he provokes it) the abbot delivers himself up to the highly detailed analysis of his appearance.  The wish to please, to charm, to know himself to be irresistible explains this coquetry and this passion for female clothes.

One of his biographers has very well described this aspect of his psychology.  G. Desnoiresterres says:

“We are not in the presence of someone who has lost his head after an orgy, dressed himself up in skirts and covered his face with patches, but who, the next day, puts on his own clothes again, along with his own personality.  Briefly, all this is not a mascarade, but very deliberate, serious behaviour which, rather curiously, will be flattered, excused, encouraged, by people whose character renders this indulgence and facilitation incomprehensible.”

It is true that even priests find nothing wrong in these excentricities.  Some make no difficulties about being the guests of their equivocal parishioner, dining in his company, composed, it is true, of middle-class people or nobles and virtuous ladies, who did not hesitate, either, to respond to the civilities of the singular abbot.  Even if it is spoiled by mockery, this tolerant spirit is remarkable, and far from the prejudices usually associated with the reign of Louis XIV.

One evening, when the gallant abbot was giving a supper to Mme d’Usson, and five or six of his neighbours, she spoke to him in these terms:

“From now on, I shall call you Madame.”

Then, turning toward the priest present at this gathering, adds:

“Isn’t this a beautiful lady?”

The ecclesiastic replies:

“It is true, but it is just a mask.”

Stung, the abbot answers:

“No, Monsieur, no.  In future, I will not dress in any other way.  I will wear only black dresses lined with white, or white dresses lined with black, nothing can be reproached me;  like you, these ladies advise me to wear this clothing and assure me that it suits me quite well.  I also say to you that I supped, two days ago, at Madame, the Marquise of Nouailles’ home;  Monsieur, her brother-in-law, came to visit her and highly praised my clothing and, in front of him, everyone present called me Madame.”

The priest says:

“Ah! I surrender to such an authority, and admit, Madame, that you are very attractive.”

If we insist on repeating this, it is to underline the abbot’s naivety.

To be continued.


Like the Chevalier d’Eon who, after having lived in women’s clothes, was recognized, at his death, to be a man – and a very well-endowed one – our abbot succeeds in fooling his contemporaries, who hesitate on which sex to give him.  Always occupied with frills and trimmings, he is to be seen, until an advanced age, and even up until his death, dressed in this manner, not only in his own home, but sometimes even in company and in church.  Right up to the end, he had the coquetry of trinkets and will never be cured of this inoffensive and costly mania.

Ambassador de Chaumont brings a message to the King of Siam. Abbot de Choisy is directly behind the Ambassador.

From a very young age, encouraged by his mother, he dresses like a girl.  He tells us:

“They were careful to rub me every day, from the age of five or six, with a certain water which kills hairs at the root, as long as it is used early enough.”

He is not a child like others of his age.  He is a pretty doll.  Every evening, he takes the precaution of washing his neck and breast

“with veal water and a pomade of sheep’s feet, which made the skin soft and white”.

What he doesn’t say and which we glean from other sources, is that he likes to be with women and girls, to dress them, to do their hair.  He knows what clothes suit them better than the most clothes-conscious women.  Later on, his greatest joy will be

“to dress them and buy jewels, so as to be able to lend them to those who were lucky enough to be his favourites”.

But let us return to his confessions which accidentally escape from his pen.  According to him, he has his hair curled and be-ribboned and, after having had his hair done by expert hands, he decorates his neck with a diamond cross or with pearl necklaces, his fingers with “two rings, which were well worth four thousand francs”, and his wrists with bracelets of pearls and rubies.  A chamber-maid is specially employed in his service.

He tells us in minute detail about his wardrobe and talks about  his taste for black and gold dresses, with satin trimmings.  With one of them he wears a mousseline cravate, whose fringes cascade over a big black ribbon.  The tops of his white shoulders are uncovered sufficiently, and as a little lackey ceremoniously carries the long train, his white damask petticoat can be glimpsed.

Francois Timoleon de Choisy likes contrasts since his black dresses are always lined with white and his white dresses are lined with black.

When he visits his uncle, a grave State Councillor, he wears over his

“corset laced behind, a dress of ciselled black velvet, a skirt of the same over it, an ordinary petticoat, a Steinkerque mousseline cravate, gold and black”.

A wig, “very curled and powdered”, completes this seductive outfit which amuses his severe uncle.

Even when he is not dressed up, he is extremely fashion-conscious.  He wears

“a dressing-gown of pinkish red, a fichu, white ribbon lacings, lace headdresses with pinkish red ribbons on my head; no patches; little gold earrings”.

Every evening, he is curled and styled, has headgear fixed on, then an Alencon lace-encrusted jacket is put on him.  He is careful to remove his diamond earrings, before going to bed, replacing them with smaller, less valuable ones, in gold.

His bedroom is a real frame for his beauty.  The wall-hangings, window and door drapes are all in red and white damask.  The room contains a big pier-glass, three big mirrors, another one on the white marble chimney-piece, porcelains, paintings in gilded frames, crystal chandeliers, seven or eight wall-plaques where, in the evening, candles are lit.  The bed, a la duchesse, is also of red and white damask, the curtains attached with white taffeta ribbons.  The sheets are lace and the pillows – three big ones and three or four small ones – fixed, in the corners, with fire-coloured ribbons.

To be continued.

This strange, bizarre person is very surprising for the Grand Century.  It is difficult to imagine Louis XIV tolerating this sort of fantasy and excentricity in his subjects’ clothing.

Abbot de Choisy is not, however, the only phenomenon of this sort.  He is only a bit more cynically candid about it than any of his memorable models.

This is also the epoch when the King’s brother, Philippe d’Orleans, dresses in women’s clothes and takes particular pleasure in de-virilising himself.  The Grande Mademoiselle writes in her Memoires:

Philippe, Duke of Orleans (formerly known as Duke of Anjou)

“The Duke of Anjou [later Monsieur, Duke of Orleans] was made to occupy himself with only futilities and bagatelles.  Very proud of his pretty face, he likes to decorate himself, he seeks out trinkets.  Nothing gives him greater pleasure than to be dressed as a woman.

“Adolescence arrives, and the taste for these same amusements persists.  The Duke of Anjou wants to dress like the ladies, but he doesn’t dare, because of his dignity, for princes are imprisoned in their greatness.  To compensate, in the evening he puts on headdresses, pendant earrings, and contemplates himself in the mirrors.  Later, in a masked ball that he gives at the Palais-Royal, one Monday Gras, he is unable to resist the temptation of showing himself in clothing which, by displaying all his graces, makes him appear one of the prettiest people at the Court.  After having opened the ball with Mlle de Brancas, he went to dress himself like a woman and came back masked, on the arm of the Chevalier de Lorraine.  He danced the minuet, and went to sit down among all the ladies.  He had to be persuaded a bit to take off his mask;  he was really quite happy to do it and wanted to be seen.  It is not possible to say how far he pushed this coquetry, by wearing patches, by changing their places.  Men, when they think themselves beautiful, are twice as taken with their beauty than women.  It is this same mania which makes him choose, in Court performances, the roles where he appears not as an actor, but as an actress.  He loves everything that shines:  he has jewellery boxes full of rubies, diamonds, pearls;  one day, he showed Daniel de Cosnac more than a million’s worth.

“From all these cross-dressings, he will keep until the end of his life an excessive love of clothes.”

Elsewhere in her Memoires, Mademoiselle gives the description of a ball where four shepherdesses, magnificently dressed, were led by four shepherds.  Monsieur was one of the shepherdesses.  Mademoiselle adds:

“The Queen found us quite to her taste, which is saying a lot.”

We can see by this that Anne of Austria, far from blaming her nineteen-year-old son’s transvestite taste, seemed to encourage it.

It was therefore to comply with the bizarre tastes of the Royal Highness, that Mme de Choisy, our hero’s mother, liked to dress her son in women’s clothes.  He explains this point to us, himself.

“I was dressed as a girl every time that little Monsieur came to the lodging and he came two or three times a week.  I had my ears pierced, diamonds, patches and all of the other little decorations to which you become very easily accustomed and from which is is very difficult to detach yourself.

“Monsieur, who loved all that, was always very nice to me.  As soon as he arrived, followed by Cardinal Mazarin’s nieces and a few of the Queen’s girls, he was put to his toilette, his hair was done;  he had a corset which conserved his waist; the corset was embroidered.  His jacket was taken off to dress him in women’s mantels and skirts, and all this was done, it is said, by order of the Cardinal, who wanted to render him effeminate, for fear that he would do to the King what Gaston did to Louis XIII.

“When Monsieur was dressed and decorated, we played and, at seven o’clock, a collation was brought, but no valets appeared.  I went to the door of the chamber to take the dishes and put them on the side-tables around the table;  I gave the drinks, for which I was paid enough by a few kisses on my forehead from the ladies.  Mme de Brancas often brought her daughter, who has since become Princess d’Harcourt.  She helped me do all this;  but although she was very beautiful, the Queen’s girls liked me more than her, probably because, in spite of the headdresses and the skirts, they sensed in me something masculine.”

He who writes all this and who, at a young age, had been used to dressing as a woman, had many adventures, sometimes rather risky for his virtue, in this disguise.

To be continued.

Louis XVI, King of France, from a painting by Dumenil

On 21 June 1791, we read in the Journal of Louis XVI:

“Left Paris at midnight, arrived and was arrested at Varennes-en-Argonne at eleven o’clock at night.”

In this solstice period, when daylight hours are about to be shortened, Louis XVI puts an end to his reign by sacrificing himself on the nation’s altar.  For the man was executed on 21 January 1793, but the king died that night, on the road leading to Varennes.  He had been brought down in flight.

The many caricatures of the “pig king” which are born of this episode, reproach him pitilessly with this.  The farm pig must be killed, then eaten.  Such is its destiny.  And if it betrays its own, it hastens its judgement… and pronounces its own sentence.

In the same way, the head of the nation must offer his life.  And if he fails his duty, his subjects do not pardon him.  He must then leave the stage.  With no appeal, and no remission.

A few hours before his death, the King would repent of this weakness before the only master whom he loves and respects.  He writes:

“I would not have the temerity, oh my God, to want to justify myself before you;  but you know that my heart has always been submissive to the Faith and to morality;  my faults are the fruit of my weakness and seem worthy of your great misericord.  You pardoned King David, who had been the cause of your enemies blaspheming against you;  you pardoned Manasses, who led his people into idolatry.  Would you be inexorable today for a son of Saint Louis who takes these penitent kings for models, and who, following their example, wishes to repair his faults and become a King after your own heart?”

The repentance is touching and sincere.  But it comes too late.  And anyway, did time really play a decisive role in this story?  Who can say?  It would seem that other forces were in play.  The Prince’s childhood led to the worst kind of unhappiness, which could be attributed to a mysterious “bad luck”.  As soon as someone becomes kind, illness takes him away.  As soon as a ray of sunshine appears, a cloud covers it.

There are those who believe in signs.  And those who don’t.  Perhaps this episode could incite us to adopt an intermediary attitude.  We must definitely not give in to the easy temptation of accusing fate or determinism here.  But it has often been remarked that certain destinies are doomed from birth, and their burden becomes heavy with the weight of events.  It is as if a certain habit gradually insinuates itself… and slowly gangrenes the whole being.  The scapegoat gradually takes on all of the world’s problems, as he travels through life… finally succumbing under their weight.  The innocent victim of a pitiless game of massacre between Destiny and his destiny.

By continually bathing in suffering, we become accustomed to unhappiness.  There comes a point, when there is nothing left but flight.

The bells start to toll.  The whole village of Varennes awakes and treason explodes into the open.  The road is cut.  The King is delivered.  Behind him – far behind – eight centuries of absolute power disintegrate.  In the dust of a doomed carriage that wanted to escape the ruses of an inexorable destiny.

Louis XV dies of smallpox on 10 May 1774.  This terrible illness leaves in its wake a halo of terror and suspicion.  A medical book which appears that year affirms that it is “the most general of all”.  Ninety-five people out of every hundred in France contract it.  One in seven dies from it.

Care is taken to avoid the people who frequented the King during his illness.  For this reason, the young successor cannot even consult the ministers who advised his grandfather, right at his bedside.  Louis-Auguste, as well as his two brothers, rapidly decide – in spite of the reprobation of the court elders – to have themselves innoculated.

During the few days which follow the operation, France lives in fear.  Everyone waits for news of the King, who is suffering fever and discomfort.  But, rapidly, the menace disappears and the people forgets its fear and praises the audacity of the Children of France.  Voltaire says:

“History will not forget that the King, the Count of Provence and the Count of Artois, all three very young, taught the French, by being innoculated, that you must face danger to avoid death.  The nation was touched and instructed.”

So, one by one, all those who had guided the steps of the future King Louis XVI left the scene, leaving him alone to assume the heavy burden which incumbs to the heir to the French Crown.  To complete this sad picture, we must also note the disappearance of his governor Mr de La Vauguyon, in 1772, followed several years later by that of Abbot Soldini, his confessor.


On 11 June 1775, during the Festival of the Trinity, the King is consecrated at Reims.  He struggles a bit under the thirty square feet of his heavy mantel, even though it is raised by the Grand Ecuyer.  He had murmured when hearing of the death of his grandfather, Louis XV:

“My God, protect us, we are too young to reign.”

The prophecy of the Austrian Empress comes true, and he can’t escape it.  The unctions of the holy oil open wide the doors of the kingdom to him…

The 6 August is a great day for the royal family.  A beautiful child is born.  But the mother is the Countess of Artois and the King is “still at the same point” according to Marie-Antoinette’s own expression.  The unhappy wife is unable to conceal her chagrin “to see an heir [born] which is not from her”.  At the announcement of his sister-in-law’s pregnancy, Louis XVI again consults a doctor.  We learn from a letter sent by Marie-Antoinette to Marie-Therese that this doctor says

“just about the same as the others that the operation was not necessary and that there was every hope without it”.

To resume, there was every reason to hope… and every reason not to hope, for time was passing and age was advancing.  Inside and out, in the salons and in the corridors, mocking words were starting to be heard.

“Each asks quietly:/Can the King?  Or can’t He?/The sad Queen desperately tra la la, tra la lee.”

Tired of these songs, the Dauphine finally obtains from her husband the promise that

“if nothing has been decided in the next few months, he will decide, himself, on the operation”…

In the Spring, Joseph II visits Marie-Antoinette.  The Emperor comes to give advice to his sister… and to get his own idea of the King.  He reports to his brother Leopold:

“This man is rather weak, but not stupid;  he has notions, he has judgement, but there is an apathy of body and mind.”

After her brother’s visit, Marie-Antoinette tries to get closer to her husband.  And at last, the miracle happens.  On 30 August 1777 – seven years after their marriage – she announces to her mother the news that all Europe awaits:

“I am in the most essential happiness of my whole life.  My marriage has been perfectly consummated for more than a week;  the proof has been reiterated, and again yesterday more completely than the first time.”

A few months later, the Dauphine, with great joy, declares to her husband jokingly:

“I come, Sire, to complain about one of your subjects who is so audacious as to give me kicks in the stomach…”

On 19 December 1778, a girl is born.  Louis XVI is at last a father – not only the father of the nation, father of twenty-seven million French – but father of a little Marie-Therese-Charlotte whom he immediately cherishes tenderly.

The news spreads rapidly throughout the kingdom.  The whole of France sinks into the intoxication of this happy event.  To show her joy, the Empress of Austria sends her daughter two vases in petrified wood, decorated with precious stones.  But these fragile objects, broken during the trip, never arrive at their destination…  Is this another omen?  In any case, the euphoria does not last long…

The King could have started to enjoy life from this day on.  But it seems that destiny decided otherwise.  Two of the three children who are born in the following years rapidly leave the land of the living, abandoning their father to the torments of History in the making.  Here and there, riots break out in the street and a dull rumour of discontentment starts to rumble.  Everywhere, oppositions are born.  The King tries to resist for a time.  But he is not prepared for an affrontment.

To be continued.

On 19 April 1770, Mr de La Vauguyon’s function as governor of the Dauphin comes to an end.  This is because his pupil, aged fifteen-and-a-half, puts an end to his childhood by marrying, by procuration, the Archduchess Marie-Antoinette, daughter of the Empress Marie-Therese of Austria.  The Dauphin’s mother-in-law gives him the following advice:

“Love […] your duties to God, I say to you, my dear Dauphin, and I said it to my daughter.  Love well the peoples over whom you will only too soon reign.  Love the King, your grandfather, inspire and renew this attachment in my daughter;  be good like him!  Make yourself accessible to the poor;  it is impossible that in acting like this, you will not be happy.”

Upon the arrival of the Dauphine in France, she will receive these wishes from an old lady, aged one hundred and five, who had never been ill:

“Princess, I make vows to heaven for you to live as long as I have and as free from infirmities.”

Marie-Antoinette answered:

“I desire it to be so, if it is for the good of France.”

The festivities last several days.  On 16 May, the grounds and palace of Versailles are decked out for the marriage ceremony.  Boats pack the rivers and the gardens swarm with people.  Triumphal arches glow with thousands of little lamps so that this celebration will be placed under the sign of Light.  The festivities look as if they will be spectacular.  However, a few formalities have to take place first.

At one o’clock, the ceremony begins.  Louis-Auguste makes a few mistakes in his responses and Marie-Antoinette signs the marriage act with an enormous ink-blot.  Nothing very serious.  But, as they leave the church, a big storm breaks.  A capricious cloud pours down great buckets of water, inundating the marriage feast preparations.  The celebrations are postponed.  And this heavenly anger only serves to announce the drama which will explode a few days later in Paris.

An over-dense crowd crams into the Rue Royale to join the festivities on the boulevards.  One hundred and thirty-two people perish trampled or suffocated.  The tolling of the bells for this event announces the approaching end of the solemnities.  On 8 June, a tornado closes them definitively by blowing away the Temple of the Sun which had been erected to celebrate the union.  So many bad omens were accumulated during these days of national celebration…

The first months of the marriage pass without any noteworthy incidents.  In the Prince’s diary, only frequent indigestions are noted, along with a few blood-spittings and temporary stomach weakness.  But the future King commits no excesses… anywhere.  Rumour even has it that the young husband is rather late in accomplishing his conjugal duties, limiting himself to the courtesies codified by sacrosanct “etiquette”.  On 15 June 1770, it is reported to Marie-Therese that King Louis XV speaks of

“the cold countenance of the Dauphin, underlining however “that he should be left alone”, that he was extremely “timid and unsociable”, and that he wasn’t “a man like others” “.

Whatever the cause, everyone is surprised and worried about this abnormal situation.  Rumour spreads not only in Versailles, but also in all the European courts.  The “matrimonial state” of the Dauphin fuels the conversations of the salons and the couple becomes everyone’s laughing-stock. 

Marie-Antoinette occupies herself as best she can.  She learns to ride a horse and follows the royal hunts.  She plays with the children of her chambermaids.  She teases the dogs in the palace grounds.  Her impatience grows from day to day.  To her wifely frustration is added that of the woman who ardently wants to be a mother.  But she holds a gleam of hope.  She is told that, according to a doctor’s report, Louis-Auguste

“is well-constituted, he loves [his wife] and is full of goodwill, but he is of a nonchalance and a laziness which leaves him only for hunting”.

The young husband even assures his wife himself that he “loves her tenderly”… and that he “estimes her even more”.  However, the months pass and the Dauphine starts to get tired of waiting.  She says:

“The coldness of the Dauphin, young husband aged twenty, toward a pretty woman, is inconceivable to me.  In spite of the assertions of the Faculty, my suspicions are growing as to the physical constitution of this prince… “

In reality, it should be remembered that, at his marriage, the young man was only sixteen.  He had been raised in the aversion of the sins of the flesh.  The devout people’s teachings had stopped at the chapter on guilt.  Of women, he knows only the severe judgement of his preceptors, who saw in them replicas of the first temptress.  This is perhaps the reason for the reserve which the Prince feels toward these singular creatures.

We know that this moral righteousness will be the subject of a dispute with his grandfather, Louis XV.  Since the death of his wife Marie Leszezynska, the King diverts himself by making frequent visits to the “little houses” of the Parc-au-Cerfs…  Rapidly, the Countess du Barry becomes his “favourite” and the Prince does not hide his reprobation.

Gradually, however, time will bring the two men together, and it is another heart-wrenching moment for the young boy when he is told that his grandfather is living his last instants.  Blood-lettings succeed each other, but they don’t work.  A doctor discovers a suspicious rash, which removes all interrogation on the illness…  and at the same time, any hope of a cure.  The infection progressively covers the whole body and a sickening odour spreads throughout the apartments.  On 10 May 1774, smallpox kills the King.

To be continued.

The Dauphin’s diary, started in 1766, rarely mentions outings and distractions.  Pierrette Girault de Coursac speaks of a “sort of incarceration”.  This was his father’s wish, and his mother continues to apply it.  Mr de La Vauguyon’s intercession is necessary for the child to obtain permission to take a riding lesson or follow a hunt in an open carriage.

But soon, the Dauphin will no longer have to obey the Dauphine’s orders.  Just when the child was beginning to conquer, through his piety and his uprightness, the affection and confidence of his mother, destiny sets off the first signs of alarm.

Although the doctors wanted to hide the fact, the state of health of Marie-Josephe of Saxe could no longer conceal the cruel truth.  While caring for her husband, she had caught pulmonary tuberculosis.  The symptoms are unmistakable:  continual coughing, suffocation, fever, extreme thinness…  A visitor will even write:

“I thought that I was talking to death itself, she was so disfigured.”

Her entourage watch, powerless, her terrible demise.  Friday 13 March 1767, having used up her last strength, she falls into a fainting fit after having drunk a cup of chocolate.

On this day, there is only one line in the Dauphin’s diary:

“Death of my mother at eight o’clock this evening.”

However, we must not make the mistake of drawing hasty conclusions about the dryness of this note.  It is in a jagged writing, hiding extreme suffering and inerrable pain.

In the weeks which preceded the death of his mother, there are many mentions of the Dauphin which show his sickly aspect and his sombre expression.  His red eyes even lead some people to think that he is suffering from a precocious myopia.  As for his general allure, it is no better.  The boy is thin, even skinny, his walk is clumsy.  All of these elements combined start a rumour that the child will soon join those who have preceded him into the kingdom of the dead.

In fact, this rumour demonstrates the secret wish of the whole court.  The death of the prince would leave the position free for the Count of Provence, loved by all.  Xavier of Saxe writes at this epoch:

“My Lord the Dauphin is very delicate and Monsieur the Count of Provence will always be a great catch… “

This rumour is so amplified that it will influence even those who, later, will search through the prince’s Journal.  There where it is written:  “I was confirmed”, they will think that they have read:  “I was infirm”.  And, in the list of expenses written in the book, you would never guess that the “glasses” acquired are…  astronomical glasses, or telescopes.

Mr de La Vauguyon profits again from the circumstances.  From this moment on, there will be no more obstacles to the application of his educational theories.  In the diverse manuals which he used, he highlights virtue as being the most important.  He affirms that “if he ignores firmness” the sovereign will call down upon his person “the anger of the heavens, the hate of his subjects and the scorn of nations”.  He insists:

“Firmness is for all men, and particularly for Princes, a virtue so absolutely necessary that without it all others are nothing.  In fact, however Pious, however Good, however Just you may be, if you are not Firm, you will understand no principle, your best dispositions will have no effect…  Born virtuous without really being so, you will accept that vice triumphs and dares to oppress merit and innocence.”

He also warns the prince against indecision, which is the consequence of weakness.  Absolute monarchy cannot pactise with these faults:  the king is the only master, it is up to him to make all the decisions.  He incites his pupil not to confuse this virtue with its corresponding vice:  stubbornness, which

“persuades a prince that he can do anything that he wants and everything that he has conceived without allowing him to listen to reason and submit his projects to a considered examination;  this makes him a sort of monster who becomes the flayer of the peoples whom God has given to his care”.

It has been concluded from this teaching that the virtue of firmness, so exalted by his preceptor, must have been lacking in the prince.  And this suspicion is not without some foundation.  The perspective of governing uncontestably causes him some fear.  Mr de La Vauguyon even evokes one day “a way of diminishing his terrors and weaken in him the idea of difficulties”.  But this doesn’t mean that the virtue of firmness is totally foreign to the prince.

In all of his writings, he places this quality above all others.  And it is not just vague theoretic elucubrations.  He insists also on its practical application and on the necessity, consequently, of preserving the absolute character of the French monarchy.  Gradually, he prepares himself for the duties to which he will be called.  He describes the arguments to which he will try to conform his conduct:

“I sense that I owe to God, to the choice that he has made for me to reign, to the virtues of my ancestors, to immediately leave childhood and make myself worthy of the throne on which one day I could be seated;  that for this reason, I should neglect nothing to become a really pious, good, just and firm prince;  that I can only acquire these qualities by hard work, and that I make the resolution to give myself up to it completely.”

In another Entretien, he even affirms that firmness is a natural character trait for him, of which he must avoid the excesses.  Gradually, he forges his character and believes himself ready to affront the tempests that the heavens might wish to send him…

Is he really?  His masters have certainly taught him the principles which should guide his reign.  But they painted him a picture of a paternal monarchy, while keeping him far away from the preoccupations of their times.  The education given to him, based on moralistic and rigoristic theories, show the flaws which will shake his timid authority…  This is why the pedagogy of Mr de La Vauguyon has been particularly criticised by posterity.

Apart from the contents of this teaching, the educator has been reproached with having voluntarily kept the prince in ignorance and fear to reinforce his own influence.  It would seem that the Duke of Berry was not deceived by this.  In fact, later on, when he had to choose a preceptor for his son, he will decline the services of the young Duke de La Vauguyon, saying to him:  “I am upset to have to refuse you, but you know that you and I have been raised very badly.”

To be continued.

One day, on the pretext that the Duke of Berry, future King Louis XVI, has not been assiduous enough in his studies, his father, the Dauphin, decides to punish him by depriving him of the Great Hunt of Saint Hubert, a sacred ritual in the royal family’s calendar.  The Dauphin’s entourage try to have the punishment attenuated, without success.  This punishment, inflicted while the Dauphin is already confined to bed, is however, the last he will give.

The 19 October, 1765, the Children of France are advised to prepare themselves for the death of their father.  The Duke of Berry is unable to hold back his tears.  Marie-Josephe of Saxe writes:

“In the conversation, the Dauphin says to the Duke of Berry:  “Well, my son, did you really think that I only had a cold?”  Then, laughing, and joking about it, he added:  “Doubtless, when you learned of my state of health, you said to yourself:  good, he won’t prevent me from going hunting any more!” “

So this last punishment remained engraved in the affective memory of this very sensitive child, and is singularly intertwined with this new tragedy.  A remorseless malediction seems to weigh down this young life, punctuated with miseries and sufferings.  He could repeat one of the last sentences of his father, which still resounds in his memory:  “I wish all sorts of happiness and benedictions for my children”, reasonably, he is unable to believe it.

For his mother, it is also a fatal blow.  The idea of death attacking the royal family becomes an obsession for her.  Living in its constant company, she starts to call it to her, and ardently desire it.  She installs around her, black draperies and a copy of the funeral monument erected for her husband…  this tomb which seems to her “more beautiful than all the palaces of the universe”.  Jean-Francois Chiappe comments:

“Louis-Auguste, having lost his father, has a living corpse for a mother”.

She devotes her days to prayers and pious readings, inciting her children to spend their time in study and prayer.  She refuses all distractions and dresses austerely to make “her face as clear as her soul”.  In a highly symbolic gesture, she cuts her hair.

Once again, the new Dauphin has to assume the role of scapegoat.  The 31 March 1766, Easter Day, he occupies his father’s place at the church service, following the Mass for the first time as the second highest-ranking person in the kingdom.  This is another “dagger blow” for the widow, for which she blames the innocent boy.  Later, she will reproach him for not having spoken to her enough about the dead man – while accusing her father-in-law, Louis XV, of reminding her of him with too much insistence by his frequent visits.

Mr de La Vauguyon seizes on this painful event to present his pupil with a new example to follow in his Recueil abrege des vertus de Monseigneur le dauphin.  At his pressing invitation, the Duke of Berry plunges again into the horrors of illness and suffering.  From then on, his governor will profit from every occasion to revive his pain, like a fire that is stirred to stop it from going out.  One of these moments is the Requiem Mass sung for the repose of the dead man’s soul, accompanied by a funeral prayer which furnished a timely reminder of moral edification.

“The sad ceremony which you have just attended has renewed all your pain:  my eyes bathed in tears, saw yours flow.  We have therefore rendered our last duties to Mr le Dauphin…  He deigned to honour me with his friendship and his confidence, he gave me the greatest proof of that in charging me to take his place at your side and teach you to become worthy of him…  How many times did he say to me:  “Will my son know that, raised above other men, he remains, himself, a man?” “


It is therefore in this austere climate, encumbered by phantoms and spectres, that the prince’s childhood will continue.  Illnesses, deaths and sufferings one after the other.  The 23 February 1766, his great-grandfather – King Stanislas of Poland – succumbs from an atrocious accident.  After having revived the fire in his hearth, he approached it to warm himself.  But his clothes took fire and the poor man, screaming in pain, fell into the grate.  Before his death, he was able to leave a few precious words of advice to his great-grandson, commenting a work of Machiavelli in a prophetic tone:

“Of all the bad things which can happen to a nation, there are none for which attention to preventing them is not a remedy […].  But there are some bad things, according to a famous politician, like illnesses of langour and consumption, at first easy to cure and difficult to recognize, and as they progress, very easy to recognize and very difficult to cure.  There is no doubt that a prudent wisdom, which sees the unhappy things of State at an early stage, can easily prevent them from coming to a head.  But, if they haven’t been seen, and they explode and you are unable to discover the cause or the nature of them, then it is almost impossible to stop their course…” 

To be continued.

The 29 November 1760, the Duke of Burgundy is baptised.  The next day he is presented with the holy eucharisty for the first time.  He now knows that he is living his last moments, and prepares himself for the final act with calm and piety.  Right up until his death, he conserves his strength and lucidity.

When the last sacrements are brought, his greatest worry is not for himself, but for his younger brother.  His “brother de Berry”, as he calls him tenderly, has himself become ill.  He will not see his elder brother again – his ruthless rival and unequalled guide.

In the night of 20 to 21 March 1761, the Duke of Burgundy is delivered from his long suffering.  A few months before his tenth birthday, he fades away into the Easter light, a crucifix in his hands, calling:  “Mummy, Mummy…”

Lefranc de Pompignan reports:

“At six o’clock in the morning, the Duke de La Vauguyon went to see the King.  His Majesty was only too well prepared for the dreadful news.  He ordered the Duke to descend to My Lord the Dauphin’s.  He went straight away and sent word to the prince that the Duke of Berry was well and that the Duke de La Vauguyon was there.  These few words said it all.”

The royal family would never recover from this drama.  The Dauphin tried hard to distract his chagrin, every event revived his pain, every word opened the too recent wound.  Memories surged from everywhere.  They escaped from discussions with his dead son’s former valet, they seeped through the walls of the funereal apartments…  now occupied by the Duke of Berry.

It could be thought that the Dauphin would transfer his affection to this child who is now promised to the throne.  He didn’t.  His father was not far from accusing him of not being strong enough to mourn his elder brother, and of having then usurped his place by surviving him.  At the same time, he reproached him for not keeping up appearances.  He seemed excessively reserved, too entrenched in his timidity.

On top of this, his physical appearance is the complete opposite of that of the Duke of Burgundy.  He is blond, the dead boy was dark.  His eyes are blue like his mother’s, those definitively closed were black.  On the other hand, the Counts of Provence and of Artois have a lot going for them.  Their dark, sparkling eyes make them resemble, not only the Duke of Burgundy, but also their father.  Their characters help them too.  They are talkative and like to shine in society.  It is particularly noticed that the Count of Provence has the same impertinence as his dead brother.  Therefore, he is especially spoiled by his father, who considers him to be the genius of the family.

What remains for the unloved prince?  The consolation of being – after his father – the heir to the throne of France.  Although this is also a heavy burden to carry.  For such a destiny – particularly when it arrives by accident – is bound to cause jealousy and resentment.

In this, we find a whole court faction, tied to the philosophical currents.  At its head, the Duke of Choiseul, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who seized the slightest occasion to undermine the prince.  In 1761, when Charles III, King of Spain, asked the Duke of Berry to represent him at the baptism of the Count of Artois, Choiseul did everything he could to dissuade the monarch.  He didn’t succeed, but his hostility was thus exposed to everyone.

In the middle of these intrigues, the Duke of Berry continued his apprenticeship.  Mr de La Vauguyon himself composed philosophical works which presented exemplary figures to his pupil.  One of them was entitled Recueil abrege des vertus de Monseigneur de Bourgogne…  A second time, then a third and a fourth, the prince relived the terrible death of his brother with a lot of details on his atrocious sufferings.  Until this macabre scene was imprinted in the deepest part of his being.

This seems a very strange pedagogy.  But, for the governor, the deployment of sensibility is one of the conditions of the development of virtue.  So, the closer the example, the more it should mark.  This instruction goes hand in hand, of course, with the grandiloquent exaltation of the character of the Duke of Burgundy, whose every trait contributes to brushing a saintly model to be imitated in minute detail.  The lesson is supposed to be that, although unworthy of his martyr brother, he must do everything to try to acquire his qualities.  His preceptor repeats untiringly to him:

“It is time to answer the call of your high destiny.  France and the whole of Europe have their eyes fixed on you”.

At this school, the prince grows in age, in science and in wisdom.  And the Dauphin does not remain insensitive to his progress.  However, he reserves for him a particularly rigorous preferential treatment.  He allows him only a few distractions and brief, instructive outings.  His major preoccupation is to perfect his intellectual formation, while taking care that the court does not put him at the forefront and that the newspapers do not speak about him too much.

To be continued.

Apart from a few amusements, the princes’ time is mostly consecrated to study.  The future Louis XVI, Duke of Berry, in the company of his two younger brothers – the Counts of Provence and of Artois – continues his apprenticeship with Mme de Marsan.  This lady, ruled by the “devotion party”, firmly defends the cause of traditional monarchy and religion.  She dismisses all of the new ideas, especially those of the opposition faction, devoted to the cause of Philosophy.

This strict and authoritative education, that Pierrette Girault de Coursac qualifies as “an almost hypnotic conditioning” deeply leaves its mark on the still malleable child.  Copying his governess, he repeats and engraves in his memory the principles which apply to a person of his rank, like a page from the Catechism:

“A prince is truly in God’s image, when he is just and when he reigns only to make virtue rule.  […]  The prince is established by God to be the model of all virtues to others.  […]  You are absolutely equal by nature to other men and consequently you should be sensitive to all of the troubles and all of the miseries of humanity.  […]  A prince should only divert and amuse himself after having exactly acquitted himself of his duties, and only for the time necessary to relax his mind, strengthen his body and take care of his health.  […]  Son of Saint Louis, be like your father;  imitate his faith, his zeal for religion.  Be holy, just and good like him.  […]  A throne cannot be overthrown when its foundation is reason and justice, when all that is bad is punished and all that is good is rewarded.”

Such a programme seems to plan long years of study;  but a brutal change will interrupt the course of this teaching.  The 8 September 1760, doctors and surgeons penetrate the child’s chamber.  They examine him attentively and declare to his mother that he is in good health.  Louis-Auguste quickly understands the significance of this impromptu visit:  he is going to have to leave his governesses to “pass to the men”.  He is only six years old, instead of the reglementary seven for this initiatic passage.

The upset caused to such a young child by this rupture can be imagined.  However, the Duke of Berry consoles himself rapidly.  He is going to join his elder brother, who had been entrusted to Mr de La Vauguyon in June 1758.  And this perspective, in spite of the rivalry which opposes the two princes, delights him.

The Duke of Burgundy is just as happy to see his little brother whom he has seen so little over the last two years.  He will again be able to exercise his authority over his younger brother and perfect his education.  It is even said that one day he calls him to make him listen – in the presence of their governors – to the list of his own qualities and faults, scrupulously written down in a book.  This exercise was supposed to be an example to him… as well as a counter-example.  “This will do you good”, proclaims solemnly the Duke of Burgundy, aged nine.  The Duke of Berry accepts without a blink these authoritive methods and rarely rebels against his brother to whom he devotes a faultless respect.

But fraternal friendship is not the only reason for this submission.  If the two brothers have been prematurely put together, it is because a new tragedy hovers over the family…  and the young prince is supposed to be a diversion.  For the last few months, the Duke of Burgundy has been showing strange symptoms.  At first, it was believed that he had an abcess on his hip, due to a fall he had made while playing with his cardboard horse.  A first operation had only made it worse.  General de Fontenay writes on 27 April these few words to the Dauphine’s brother:

“My Lord, I am very mortified to have only bad news to send you on the health of a nephew who is dear to you, and who is not less dear to the most tender sister and to a brother-in-law who answers so cordially to your friendship.  His state, from day to day, is becoming very unfortunate;  he is becoming feeble, his wound is of a colour which is worrying, and the pus is of a very bad quality.  He has been put on goat’s milk recently for his only food.  The doctors’ reports confirm My Lord the Dauphin and My Lady the Dauphine in the hope of his recovery, but the most gifted surgeons think very differently.  It is not known how to prepare this august couple for an event which would pierce their hearts.”


From this moment, the roles are inverted.  The Duke of Berry is no longer the little prince of second order.  Promised to the throne, he finds himself projected to the front of the stage.  Those who yesterday murmured about him, come to visit him, overflowing with civility.  At the same time, the ranks around the Duke of Burgundy become thinner.  People try to oppose the two brothers, to accentuate their rivalry.  One day, The Duke of Burgundy is even asked if, like Esau, he wouldn’t exchange his birthright for the good health of his brother.  He replies firmly:  “No, never, even if I must remain in bed all my life in the state in which I am.”

The Duke of Berry could have then profited from the occasion to display his qualities.  But he didn’t.  He remained very attached to his brother and later… very much later, he will give the Christian names of the Duke of Burgundy to his eldest son.

It is true that, throughout all of his suffering, the prince had to be admired.  To his preceptor who asked him if he regretted life, the child answered:  “I admit that I am losing it unwillingly, but I have made the sacrifice of it to God for a long time.”  This courageous manner of affronting death will deeply mark the memory of the Duke of Berry.  As for the Count of Provence, he will particularly remember the atrocious sufferings which gradually consume the dying boy.  It has to be admitted that his little body laminated with ulcers, shaken by an incessant cough, composes a dark picture…

To be continued.

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