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Adrienne de Noailles: Wife of Lafayette

Stew’s Introduction

I’m very excited to have Geri Walton as our guest blogger today. Geri is an accomplished history author specializing in an era that corresponds to the English Georgian Era (more on that later). Her blog title concerns a woman who led an extraordinary life and was witness to some of the world’s leading events. It is also about a woman whose passion for her husband likely resulted in her untimely demise. Her subject, the surrounding events, and Picpus Cemetery occupied several pages of my two-volume series on the French Revolution (Where Did They Put the Guillotine? A Walking Tour of Revolutionary Paris). Lafayette lived a long life and frankly, I’m amazed he never lost his head during the Revolution. Neither side (monarchy or revolutionaries) really liked him. Geri mentions Picpus Cemetery in her opening paragraph. It is my favorite Paris cemetery and only one of two privately owned cemeteries located in the city.

Meet Adrienne de Noailles and Her Family

Presumed portrait of the Marquise de Lafayette. Oil painting by anonymous (c. 1790). National Museum of Women in the Arts. PD-100+ Wikimedia Commons.
Presumed portrait of the Marquise de Lafayette. Oil painting by anonymous (c. 1790). National Museum of Women in the Arts. PD-100+ Wikimedia Commons.

One of the most interesting people buried at France’s Picpus Cemetery is Adrienne de Noailles (1759–1807), wife of the famous American Revolutionary War hero known simply as Lafayette (1757–1834). Adrienne was 14 years old when she married him. She was introduced to Lafayette through her father, a French nobleman named Jean de Noailles, Duke of Ayen.

Adrienne’s mother was Henriette Anne Louise d’Aguesseau. Henriette’s father sent her to a convent to be educated because her mother died shortly after she was born. At the convent, Henriette enjoyed reading and gardening and acquired superb mothering skills that resulted in her devoting her life to the betterment of Adrienne and her other children.

When Adrienne was not under the care of her loving mother, she and her older sister, Anne Jeanne Baptiste Louise (known as Louise), were instructed by a governess named Mademoiselle Marin. They studied geography, grammar, history and learned the “Catéchisme de Montpellier” by rote. Marin was “a little person, dry, thin, blond, pinched, susceptible, devoted to her duties and fulfilling them admirably” and doing so despite Louise and Adrienne’s constant teasing. Read More Adrienne de Noailles: Wife of Lafayette

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Grace Under Fire

Definition of Courtesan

Portrait of Grace Elliott. Painting by Thomas Gainsborough (c. 1782). Frick Collection. PD- 100+ Wikimedia Commons.
Portrait of Grace Elliott. Painting by Thomas Gainsborough (c. 1782). Frick Collection. PD- 100+ Wikimedia Commons.

From the 2016 edition of Merriam-Webster:  a woman who has sex with rich or important men in exchange for money : a prostitute who has sex with wealthy and powerful men.

Allow me to introduce you to a Scottish woman, Grace Dalrymple Elliott (1754–1823). She was one of the more intriguing personalities of her time (kind of like Kim Kardashian to some of today’s star gazers). While Grace’s exploits were dutifully reported at the time by several of London’s widely read gossip newspapers, she is virtually forgotten today (as I’m sure Kim will be forgotten 200 years from now).

Grace and the French Revolution

I always get excited when I find something new (at least to me) about the French Revolution. This is especially true when it comes from a contemporary source. This time it is courtesy of Grace’s memoirs.

Portrait of Mrs. Grace Dalrymple Elliott. Painting by Thomas Gainsborough (1778). Metropolitan Museum of Art. PD-100+ Wikimedia Commons.
Portrait of Mrs. Grace Dalrymple Elliott. Painting by Thomas Gainsborough (1778). Metropolitan Museum of Art. PD-100+ Wikimedia Commons.

What we really know about Grace comes from her book and memoir Ma Vie Sous La Révolution (Journal of My Life During the French Revolution) that was published by her granddaughter after Grace’s passing in 1823. Despite Victorian censuring and I’m sure lapses in Grace’s memory, the book provides an interesting glimpse into the Revolution from the view of a participant. Other than this brief memoir, historians (e.g., Joanne Major and Sarah Murden, co-authors of An Infamous Mistress) have had to piece together her life from various third party sources and historical records. Read More Grace Under Fire