The downfall of the Comtesse de Stainville

10 January 2012

The first chapter of my book Blood Sisters is set in the early 1770s and is based on an incident that involved the unattractive, rather boorish army officer Jacques Philippe de Choiseul, Comte de Stainville and his beautiful wife, Thérèse de Clermont d’Amboise who married on 3 April 1761 in Paris when the groom was forty and his bride barely fifteen. Jacques was the younger brother of the powerful Duc de Choiseul, advisor to Louis XV while Thérèse was the daughter of the Marquis de Reynel. The match produced two daughters: Marie-Stéphanie on 10 November 1763 and Françoise-Thérèse on 8 December 1766. The marriage was not a happy one and both parties were unfaithful – Madame de Stainville was the long time mistress of her husband’s cousin, the Duc de Lauzun as well as enjoying liaisons with her brother in law, the Duc de Choiseul amongst others.

The Comte de Stainville, as was the custom of the time got away with his various infidelities but Madame la Comtesse was found out when she fell madly in love with the actor and singer Clairval and began to meet with him in her home with little regard for social niceties.

Her downfall is outlined in the memoirs of her lover, Lauzun:

‘Mme. de Stainville meanwhile lived in apparent ease of mind, and her trust seemed to know no limits. The talk of the town at this moment was a fancy-dress ball which the old Marechale de Mirepoix,’ still crazy for pleasure, intended to give at the Hotel de Brancas to the young people of the Court and town.

Twenty-four couples are to perform a ballet which is to be the great feature of the evening. The costumes, all of the rarest magnificence, are borrowed from Eastern lands : there will be Sultanas, Chinese, Indians, Dervishes, Rajahs, what not. The dancers are divided into six sets of four couples each. The Due de Chartres and Mme. d’Egmont will lead the first set, and Mme. de Stainville is to be in it ; her costume is that of a German peasant-girl, and her partner is the Prince d’Henin.

Mme. de Stainville never missed a rehearsal, and was conspicuous for her grace and brilliant beauty. On a certain Tuesday, three days before the ball, a gay supper at Mme. de Valentinois’ brought together all the performers in the famous figure dance; every one was in the highest spirits excepting Mme. de Stainville, who was in the deepest dejection ; her eyes filled constantly with tears, and her friends could not rouse her from her thoughts. The young woman’s depression was only too natural. Her husband, having arrived the day before from Metz, where he was in command, had reproved her for her conduct in a violent scene, and had told her that he intended asserting his rights and placing her in a convent.

What had immediately led to this action cannot be known. It is certain that he had procured a lettre de cachet from his brother, the Due de Choiseul. Mme. de Stainville went home after the supper at Mme. de Valentinois’ full of terrible apprehensions. They were only too well founded. That same night, the night of the 20th-21st January, 1767, at three in the morning, the Comte had his wife placed in a post-chaise, seated himself by her side, and carried her to Nancy, where, armed with the King’s written order, he shut her up for the rest of her days in the Convent of the Filles de Sainte-Marie.

A waiting-maid and a footman who were suspected of having been in their mistress’s confidence were also shut up, she at Sainte-Pelagie and he at Bicetre. There was even a talk of imprisoning Clairval too, but the Due de Choiseul opposed it, that the public might not be deprived of a favourite actor.

All M. de Stainville’s friends had done their utmost to persuade him against such a scandal ; they besought him to have patience, or, if he were bent on carrying out his purpose, at least to choose a better and more fitting moment ; but he would listen to no one.

The scandal was, in fact, tremendous. The young wife, brutally snatched away on the very eve of a ball of which she would have been the queen, was regarded as a victim, and the world had no mercy on him. But he had at least the decency to place all his wife’s fortune in the hands of the guardians of his children.

When M de Stainville’s second daughter (Françoise) was going to be married, the young girl declared she would never consent unless her mother were present at the ceremony. He was forced to yield, and Mme. de Stainville came out of the convent for a few days. By the intervention of the Duchesse de Choiseul she was then invited to return to her family; but she had become very devout, and refused to leave the convent. She died soon after in a frame of exalted piety.

Her lover, Lauzun was devastated by her fall from grace but was soon consoled by Lady Sarah Bunbury, one of the famous Lennox sisters. As to Madame de Stainville, she died, presumably of natural causes in her convent at the start of the French Revolution.

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