It’s swelteringly hot here in the south west of England and I am currently reclining on a sofa trying to recuperate after a long walk with the boys to and from a hectic birthday party. They are both rosy cheeked and full of high spirits but I feel in dire need of a nap!
Have been busy trying to research the Choiseul family but keep coming up against dead ends. It’s like chasing ghosts, which is weird because the Choiseul clan were so immensely influential and celebrated in the eighteenth century and yet I now find myself really struggling to find the information that I need about them. Clearly they were like comets who blazed brightly for a very short time then faded away.
There are tantalising snippets though – mentions of a bracelet with the hair of Marie Antoinette and her children given by her to the Duchesse de Choiseul-Beaupré, who was Marie-Stéphanie de Choiseul-Stainville, the sister of Princesse Joseph de Monaco. It was probably given in gratitude for the exertions of her husband, the Duc de Choiseul during the ill fated flight to Varennes, for it was he who tried in vain to command the troops at the other end of the royal family’s route.
I’m perservering though and very much hoping that the National Archives will answer the questions that I have about them and about the mysterious early life of Princesse Joseph. Everyone knows the story of how her unfortunate mother, the Comtesse de Stainville was bundled into a carriage at three in the morning by her horrible husband and driven away to live out the rest of her days in a convent near Nancy – an event that must have struck terror into the hearts of every faithless aristocratic wife in Paris, but what of her two children?
The story goes that Madame de Stainville was forced to swear an oath saying that her youngest daughter, Françoise-Thérese, who was just one month old was her husband’s daughter and not that of the actor, Clairval, whom she had fallen madly in love with and it is believed that she left her two daughters behind when she went away, but the memoirs of the Princesse de Ligne, who was best friends with the elder Stainville girl, Marie-Stéphanie, at school, state that the two sisters met each other for the first time when the younger was twelve years old as she had been residing at a convent elsewhere before being transfered to the same school.
The Princesse de Ligne recounts that Marie-Stéphanie believed that her mother was an eccentric sort of woman who prefered to live in the country and did not wish to have any contact with her family until she was informed of the truth by another pupil at the school. A week later, fortuitously, Françoise-Thérese came to the school and the two sisters met for the first time. Where she had been living up to this point is left unsaid, but could it be that the younger of the two had been allowed to remain with her mother and had gone with her to the convent in Nancy? She was, after all, just one month old at the time of her mother’s disgrace and it was clear from the subsequent behaviour of the Choiseul family, who treated her with marked disfavour, that they did not quite believe that she was the daughter of the Comte de Stainville.
Another interesting point is that Marie-Stéphanie appears to have taken very little interest in her mother, as she was the petted favourite of her uncle, the Duc de Choiseul and his fearsome sister, Béatrix, Duchesse de Gramont, whereas the Princesse de Ligne reports that when she became engaged to Prince Joseph of Monaco, Françoise-Thérèse refused to set a date for the wedding unless the Choiseul family gave permission for her mother to attend, showing that she was much closer to the Comtesse than her sister.
This is all conjecture though and something that I need to find more information about. I’d better get back to it! I don’t know where to start though…