Sunday, August 25, 2013
"The best way to mend a broken heart is time and girlfriends."
Gwyneth Paltrow said, according to a quote source website, "The best way to mend a broken heart is time and girlfriends." The website doesn't explain the context in which Ms. Paltrow made this observation, but maybe she should've added wine to the list. I wish it had been Kirsten Dunst that said it since this she played Marie Antoinette in a movie, which would make it more applicable, but I don't always get what I want.
The Princesse de Lamballe's and Queen Marie Antoinette's friendship began with the Queen offering consolation to a broken-hearted Princesse. It seemed like a good idea to launch into this story with some lame humor, at the risk of seeming insensitive, because the story gets progressively more dark and depressing as it goes along...
Given the insulated, often lonely, life she led, it's no wonder that Marie Antoinette so valued her intimate female friendships. The first and most long-lasting of them was with the Princesse de Lamballe.
Formerly Princesse Marie Louise of Savoy, she married the Duc de Penthièvre's son, the Prince de Lamballe, when she was seventeen years old and attained the title of Princess de Lamballe. Like most royal and aristocratic marriages of the day, it was arranged by their families. Nonetheless, the Princesse recorded in her memoirs that her husband-to-be was so anxious to get a pre-official presentation look at her that he joined the group that traveled to meet her when she arrived in France, disguised as a page. She was so taken with the page that during the journey to Paris, she exclaimed, "I hope my prince will allow his page to attend me, for I like him much. What was my surprise when the Duc de Penthièvre presented me to the Prince and I found in him the page for whom I had already felt such an interest! We both laughed and wanted words to express our mutual sentiments. This was really love at first sight."
Alas, their bliss was short-lived. The duc de Penthièvre had selected Princesse Marie Louise hoping that her beauty and purity would influence his son to abandon his dissolute lifestyle. A lifestyle he shared with his sister's husband the infamous duc de Chartres. Didn't happen. Within two years he had sold her diamonds, run off with an opera singer, and died of a venereal disease.
The Princesse de Lamballe softened the edges of the story in her memoirs by blaming it on the brother-in-law, the duc de Chartres, for leading her husband astray. She claims that he did so because she had rejected his advances. Maybe and maybe, but the duc de Chartres, later, after he'd inherited the title of duc d'Orleans, went on to turn his family residence, the Palais Royale, into a den of iniquity, crawling with thieves, prostitutes, radicals, and gambling, to fund his debts. He was also rumored to have used his intimate knowledge of Versailles to direct the mob up the stairs to Marie Antoinette's bedchamber in the early morning hours of October 6, 1789, the day the Royal Family was forced to abandon the chateau for the decidedly less comfortable lodgings at the Tuileries. THEN, as a revolutionary, the self-styled Philippe Égalité, he voted for the death of his own cousin, Louis XVI. He is (dis)credited, by historians, as contributing to the delinquency of the Prince de Lamballe, but it wasn't simply because the Princesse de Lamballe shut him down. I'm pretty sure he was just a bad guy.
Sorry, I tend to go off on a tangent when Chartres/d'Orleans/Égalité's name comes up.
For better or for worse, the Princess' heartbreak over the death of her husband, who died in her arms, led to her friendship with Marie Antoinette. In her own words, "It was amid this gloom of human agony, these heart-rending scenes of real mourning, that the brilliant star shone to disperse the clouds, which hovered over our drooping heads… it was in this crisis that Marie Antoinette came, like a messenger sent down from Heaven, graciously to offer the balm of comfort in the sweetest language of human compassion. The pure emotions of her generous soul made her unceasing, unremitting, in her visits to the two mortals (she and her husband's grieving father) who must else have perished under the weight of their misfortunes…. From that moment I became seriously attached to the Queen of France."
The Princesse's attachment to the Queen spanned twenty years - from the light, heady years of Versailles and the Petit Trianon to the dark years of the Tuileries and Tower. (In the interest of good taste, I resisted the urge to make a head-less association with the Tuileries and Tower. If it's within parentheses, it doesn't count.)