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:
“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.