The Duchesse de Chaulnes

17 August 2009

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Madame la Princesse de Lamballe was not the only unhappy young wife at the court of Versailles. One of Marie Antoinette’s ladies in waiting, the Duchesse de Picquigny (later to become Duchesse de Chaulnes) was also in a pretty depressing situation, which must surely have roused the sympathy of the young Dauphine.

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Madame de Picquigny was born Marie-Paule Angelique d’Albert de Luynes in 1744, the daughter of the Duc de Luynes. She grew up in the beautiful château of Dampierre before being married at a young age to Louis-Joseph d’Albert d’Ailly, duc de Chaulnes.

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Poor Marie-Paule was probably totally unprepared for the flamboyant and utterly mortifying personage of her husband’s mother, the Duchesse de Chaulnes, who was well known at court for her many lovers and her ridiculous behaviour, which was considered over the top and undignified even by Versailles standards.

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In a stark contrast to his mother, the young Duc de Chaulnes, who had once been engaged to Madame de Pompadour’s little daughter Alexandrine before her premature demise was an austere and rather eccentric character who was madly obsessive about gardening and horticulture. This was, of course, considered highly fashionable at the French court at this time but he definitely took it to excess and seems to have had more affection for his hot houses than for his wistful young wife.

From my Memoirs of Marie Antoinette:

‘Madame de Mailly on Madame de Chaulnes: ‘Marie-Paule always looks  miserable because her life really is a trial, poor thing. Well, for a start she is a daughter of the Duc de Luynes (this said with a significant look that I have yet to decipher) and then on top of that her husband is very strange indeed and cares more about his plants and trees than he does about her and as for his mother! Well, the old Duchesse has been a mortification to us all for many years now and is quite possibly the most annoying, ridiculous example of a sadly aging coquette that you could ever hope to meet. Of course she has never quite recovered from the blow of La Pompadour’s little girl dying before she could succeed in marrying her to her awful son. Monsieur le Duc is apparently so in love with his plants that he has refused to be a husband to the poor girl and so she affects to always wear white in order to either advertise her virginity or shame him into taking action, I am not sure which. It is admirable of course but imagine the scandal should she ever step out in anything coloured.’

Their marriage remained unconsummated and Marie-Paule, who seems to have had a turn for the melodramatic made the decision to always dress in white in order to signify her perpetual state of virginity. I’m not sure that this was an entirely dignified move either but it earned her a lot of respect at Versailles, where she was appointed one of Marie Antoinette’s first ladies in waiting and was amongst the entourage led by Madame de Noailles that welcomed her to France.

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