I’ve been reading a biography of Louise de Crozat, Duchesse de Choiseul every night before going to sleep. It’s a curiously restful and delightful book and I love being lulled into sleepyness with tales of the halcyon days at Chanteloup, during the heyday of the Choiseul family. It’s also nice to read about a historical person who was lauded and admired everywhere she went and by everyone who knew her for her goodness, sweetness of character and general niceness.
There is so much in this book that I want to share but I’ll start off with a trio of lovely little scenes from life at Chanteloup, before the death of Louise’s husband, the Duc, the Revolution and the diminishment of the family’s enormous fortune.
I loved the Choiseul couple’s close friend (he had a huge crush on the Duchesse and rightly so as she sounds adorable) and chronicler of life at Chanteloup via his letters to Madame du Deffand (Madame de Choiseul’s best friend) Abbé Barthélmy’s description of Amèlie de Boufflers, Duchesse de Lauzun (whose Paris home was to become the Hôtel de Biron after her rakish husband, Armand, who was Madame de Choiseul’s nephew and probably Monsieur de Choiseul’s son – still with me?) inherited the title of Duc de Biron in 1788) making omelettes:
‘Madame de Lauzun goes tomorrow and that is the greatest event in these regions. Do you know that no one in France possesses to a higher degree a quality which you never knew she possessed, and that is the making of scrambled eggs? It is a real talent. She can’t remember when she learnt. I think it must have been when she was born. Chance uncovered this gift and immediately it was put to the test. Yesterday morning, epoch forever memorable in the history of eggs, at luncheon, all the necessary implements for this great operation were brought in. A chafing dish, new porcelain… some broth, salt, pepper and some eggs. And here is Madame de Lauzun, who at first trembles and blushes and then afterwards with intrepid courage breaks her eggs, crushes them in the saucepan, turns them to right and left and round about with a precision and success quite unparalleled. One has never eaten anything so excellent. The experiment was made on a small scale as there were only six eggs. It will be tried tomorrow on a bigger scale.’
I love the details of life at Chanteloup – I loved reading about the immense ball that the Duc held for the servants of his friends who had visited him during his exile during the end of Louis XV’s reign, which was in every way the equal of the balls that he threw for their masters and mistresses. I also loved learning more about the splendid Chinese style pagoda he built in the grounds, inside which were stone tablets carved with the 210 names of the people who had visited Choiseul at Chanteloup during his exile. He was clearly enormously grateful to those who had stood beside him and keen to show his gratitude as after all, exile from Paris and, more to the point, Versailles, at this time was social and political death.
‘Etienne François, Duc de Choiseul, moved by the tokens of friendship, kindness and attention with which he was favoured during his exile, from a great number of people eager to come to this place, built this monument to show his eternal gratitude.’
In October 1778, there was a wedding held at Chanteloup between the Duc’s eldest niece Marie-Stéphanie de Choiseul-Stainville and her cousin, Claude-Antoine de Choiseul-Beaupré, who was raised as Chanteloup. The young couple would inherit the titles of Duc and Duchesse de Choiseul when their uncle died.
‘Before dinner we went to the cabinet de toilette of (the Duchesse) where the presents were displayed. I have not enough talent to describe them. Numberless poufs of all shapes and colours… cuffs most splendidly dripping with blonde lace, coats, dressing-jackets. After dinner, the new bride brought into the drawing room presents for the company; a purse for everyone; the ladies got a fan in addition to this; the bishops and abbés a gold cord for their hats.’
‘We gathered in the drawing room at noon. The men in the uniform of Chanteloup; the ladies, as arranged, in blue dresses with yellow ribbons. You will dispense me from describing the rest of the clothes to you; all that I can say to you is that it was a very fine succession of ventres bleus. The married pair were dressed in… Oh, as for those two, I can tell you nothing. At twelve thirty, we went to the chapel, the archbishop closed the procession… looking vey well, he did not preach a sermon, as arranged; he said the prayers of the ritual, the curé said Mass, the bridal pair said yes, and we left as we had come.’
‘We dined as usual. We were twenty seven at table. We played cards until seven when the comic opera began… Supper and everybody went to bed. No fireworks, no noise.‘
A very quiet, restrained wedding then. It’s always interesting to see how weddings were conducted during this period.
Mademoiselle d’Orliac described life at Chanteloup:
‘This moving noisy motley company, what do they all do there? They dine, they sup in full court dress, smothered in all their diamonds. They call on each other in their private rooms. They act plays and the little Duchesse excels. They compose verses and the Chevalier de Boufflers is the most inspired. They write fairy stories and the most successful is the one that Madame de Choiseul dedicates to Madame de Brionne: La princesse enchantée. They play billiards, backgammon and reversi. The Duc is at his tapestry loom telling court anecdotes. They do gold threadwork, they work on gold or ivory shuttles. Balbâtre is here with his harpsichord and gives evening concerts. There are hunts, there are calls, the abbé breaks his collar bone, the Duc injures his wrist. There are outings on the lake, Madame de Coigny sings with Vaudreuil in the bedecked frigate and the banks are lit up with multi coloured little lamps. They go to see the harvest. They are fill of admiration for the thirty thousand golden sheaves which resemble peasant women grouped for tittle-tattle. The tables are served every day for forty to sixty guests. The life they lead is untiringly joyous, dazzling and witty.‘
Sigh. Say what you like about the French aristocracy of the eighteenth century, but they really knew how to enjoy life.
I’ll end here with a description by Horace Walpole of the outfit worn by the Duchesse de Choiseul at the wedding of her nephew, the Duc de Lauzun and Amèlie de Boufflers in February 1766.
‘I supped last night with the Duchesse de Choiseul, and saw a magnificent robe she was wear today for a great wedding between a Biron and a Boufflers. It is of blue satin, embroidered all over with a mosaic diamond wise, with gold; in every diamond is a silver star edged with gold, and surrounded with spangles in the same way, it is trimmed with double sables, crossed with frogging and tassels of gold; her head, neck, breast and arms, covered with diamonds. She will be quite the fairy queen, for it is the prettiest little reasonable, amiable Titania you ever saw – but Oberon does not love it. He prefers a great mortal, Hermione, his sister.’
This last was a reference to rumours that the Duc de Choiseul was overly close to his nasty sister, Béatrix, Duchesse de Gramont.