43 thoughts on “For Anton!

  1. Dear Giselle, I hadn’t seen this message and it’s just now going back to our summer correspondence that I found it. Your work seems quite advanced. Could you possibly send me a sample, like act three on Berri’s move to La Muette and the visit of Peter the Great ? I’d be real thrilled to read it. Greetings. Anton

  2. I recently found this short reference to Berri’s short life.
    A good example I think of how the young princess is turned into a paradigm of “ugliness” : incestuous, short, obese… debauched, etc… I find it quite incredible that such a chauvinist portrait can still be written… and unfortunately there are several other similar portraits of Berri published recently which likewise turn her into a “female monster”…

  3. I hope you’re doing fine and imagine you are busy on other writing projects with very little time available for your Chateauxenespagne right now. All the Best. Anton

    1. Hi Anton, I’m in Luxembourg for a couple of weeks with not much internet access, will get back to my blog on my return. Hope you’re doing OK Giselle

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      Monday, September 21, 2015, 12:27 AM +0200 from Chateaux en Espagne : >

      1. Good hearing from you Giselle ! Wishing you a very pleasant stay in Luxembourg ! Yes I’m doing fine although recent world news earlier this month quite affected me. Aylan Kurdy’s pictures on Bodroum beach kept haunting me for days… 70 years after the end of WW2…
        All the Best ! Anton

      2. Yes, the whole world was in distress after seeing those terrible photographs, I have been staying in the Ardennes where many of the civilian population became refugees in the winter of 1944-45, history is forever repeating itself.. Kind regards Giselle

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        Monday, September 21, 2015, 8:43 PM +0200 from Chateaux en Espagne : >

  4. Dear Giselle, depending on where you’re staying in the Ardennes, in some places civilians were also very much affected by the German invasion in August 1914. They were seeing francs-tireurs everywhere and summarily shot people as reprisals for imaginary attacks by armed civilians… The Ardennes must be beautiful right now in early autumn… Well I hope this new year won’t bring us more horrors… Anton

  5. I just happened to come across a rather puzzling mention in the volume 17 of the Journal du marquis de Dangeau, dated 27 February 1717 (pp.32-34) about Berri and the infant King Louis XV bringing to baptism the baby daughter of Madame de Mouchi. The footnote (pp.33-34) quotes the report of the ceremony published in “Le Nouveau Mercure” of March 1717 which lists the people who accompanied the duchess, Berri had come in a magnificent carriage escorted by a detachment of her guard and wore a splendid golden dress all covered with jewels. Officially the baby girl baptized was the legitimate daughter of Madame de Mouchi and her husband the Marquis de Mouchi but biographies of the Regent or of Berri (Erlanger, Henri Carré, etc.) mention that the real father was Madame de Mouchi’s lover… Riom…
    The lead role played by Berri in this lavish ceremony, together with the king, seems rather odd, considering that the splendidly dressed young widow was pregnant at the time and would secretly be delivered of a baby girl five months later, after a long stay in her castle of La Muette…
    How did Berri feel bringing to baptism the child of her girlfriend while carrying in her womb another baby girl probably also fathered by the same vigorous Riom, who, I guess, had by then also become her paramour. I imagine it must have been some months earlier in 1716 that Mouchi’s lover started to practise his “lovemaking skills” with the lascivious duchess, who soon got so fond of him…
    Berri must have known who was the real father of her girlfriend’s baby girl… and I guess that Mouchi probably also knew that Berri, her beautiful princess friend, acted as godmother for her illegitimate offspring while having gotten herself knocked up with Riom’s baby… I guess she must have found the situation rather funny…???
    See https://books.google.be/books?id=UUHR8BdrJ0cC&pg=PA33&dq=dangeau+17+berry+mouchy&hl=fr&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=dangeau%2017%20berry%20mouchy&f=false
    Odd situation…. I don’t know what to make of it… Was was the “real” nature of the relationship between the trio ???

    1. How intriguing! What on earth was Louis XV doing there? He was only 7. The magnificent dress and carriage was probably standard for Berri whenever she appeared in public, like a modern celeb! But yes, the dynamics of those relationships must have been strange. Did the women compare notes, one wonders? And Riom was reported to have been physically unattractive.

  6. Dear Giselle, the text clearly mentions that Berri and the King both carried Mouchi’s baby girl to be baptized… The infant King was present at other court events during the Regency… for example it’s for him that Voltaire’s “Oedipus” play was performed at the Louvre in February 1719 and Berri sat right behind him. Dangeau mentions that she fainted at some point during the performance because of the extreme heat in the room… although as we know her swoon had much more to do with her state of advanced pregnancy and the way the play was interpreted by the public as alluding to her incestuous relationship with the Regent….
    I wonder about Riom being unattractive or not… The Palatine mentions he was built like a Jackass… After all Saint-Simon isn’t very tender with the Duchess either and doesn’t depict her as a model of beauty… rather the opposite… But then the few existing portraits of Berri do show a rather seductive young woman even when her beauty seems to be on the wane (on the Frost museum painting). Well at least that’s my vision of these few “official” portraits of her… she seems rather alluring and witty… certainly mischievous…
    I wonder.. but maybe the data that can be retrieved from official court accounts such as the Nouveau Mercure, Dangeau, etc. do represent a valuable source of information on her. So far most histories of the Regency have portrayed her extensively on the base of Saint-Simon who gives a rather negative portrait of Berri, not only during her scandalous chilbrith and premature death but also in her downgrading relations with Riom. I don’t know but …the more I think of it the more I like your Amy Winehouse comparison…
    If possible I’d be real curious to read some excerpt from your draft that concerns her (the outline of your novel seems very arresting)….

  7. Dear Anton, I’ve been working on other things so the headings in the project just represent an outline rather than a fully fledged draft. But here is a little fragment. I’d be interested to know what you think. Sorry for the lack of accents, as they are troublesome to insert with my keyboard. And, ‘Riom’ or ‘Rions’ ? It seems to vary according to the source:

    The Duchesse de Berri moved into the Luxembourg Palace the way a small tornado moves across a plain. Encased in the black silk and white velvet of her widowhood, she swished and rustled down the marble corridors, her heels tapping insistently on the chequered floors. The servants hid out of the way if they heard her in time. Every piece of furniture, every length of drapery was inspected and, if not to her liking, too heavy, too dusty, too quaint, had to be replaced by something more modish.
    ‘That thing must date back to Marie de Medicis!’ was her favourite complaint. The craftsmen of Paris stood humbly in line, awaiting orders and hoping they would be paid at the end of their troubles. She insisted on her own detachment of Guards.
    Orleans heaved a deep sigh. Two vertical lines were starting to punctuate his smooth brow, like a ditto mark.
    ‘I’ve just come from a Council of the Regency where we’ve had to agree massive reductions on the establishments. The national debt is three thousand million livres. Our revenue is a hundred and forty five million livres. Our expenditure is a hundred and forty two million livres. This leaves -’
    ‘It’s security around the Palace, Papa. Anyone can walk through the Luxembourg Gardens. Only yesterday Riom had to eject some lunatic.’ She smiled intensely at her gallant, who bowed towards Orleans, in silence.
    ‘As I was saying, my infant Lucifer, this leaves three million to pay the interest on three thousand million. We are having to borrow money just to pay our interest, and interest rates are going up, not down. Saint Simon says we should declare bankruptcy. And you’re asking me to pay for a whole regiment of foppish gallants to escort you to the Opera and back, to which, as the Dowager Duchesse de Berri, you are not entitled, as you are only a Princesse de France and not a Princesse of the Blood’.
    She pouted her full soft lips.
    ‘I’m still the most important princess.’
    ‘No you’re not. It’s a question of precedence, as well.’
    ‘You’re the most powerful man in France aren’t you? So who’s to say I can’t have it – only you! You’re just being mean!’
    He continued to protest the need for economies but she held firm.
    ‘It was only yesterday, Papa, that some drunken canaille tried to insult me. A filthy old man, dressed in rags, drunk or mad, shouting abuse, pointing at me. I was terrified.’
    Riom started to laugh.
    ‘I soon chased him off for you, didn’t I,’ he sniggered, and then realising his tone was too familiar in the presence of her father, added: ‘Your Royal Highness.’ The Comte de Riom was only a minor noble, a second son, but was the nephew of the Comte de Lauzun. He was broad chested and blond, with bright blue eyes and bad skin; his stubbly face was disfigured by a shaving rash. From the back his well cut coat showed strong arms and shoulders and a narrow waist and hips; his legs were muscular.
    ‘The chevalier had to beat the old man with the flat of his sword in the end,’ said the Duchesse.
    ‘It was the only way he could be controlled, your Royal Highness.’ said Riom. ‘He only shut up when he fell to the ground vomiting, and was dragged away by onlookers.’
    ‘You can’t leave me to suffer this sort of insult undefended,’ said the Duchesse, making a moue.’Anyway, if you need to make economies, why did you continue la Maintenon’s pension?’
    ‘Because if I don’t, she’ll stay at Court and stir up a hornet’s nest of all my enemies. Maine, Toulouse, all the bastards of the late King, your dear mother included. Better to pay her off and get her out of the way to St Cyr.’
    ‘So, you care more about her than me?’ She had a way, when she chose, of making dark shadows appear under her eyes, as though she might burst into tears.
    Orleans surrendered to his daughter. Sighing, he sat back in his armchair and held out his arms.
    ‘Very well, little widow. Come to Papa. My beautiful white baby.’ Berri duly perched on his lap, although the chair creaked as her weight bore down on her father. As she leant back on him her little feet kicked up into the air amidst her underskirts. She hung about his neck and kissed his cheek. He caressed her face, and rested his hand lightly on her plump belly.
    ‘You’ve gained weight, my dear. And your dinner seems to have a certain liveliness, almost a kick to it.’
    ‘Oh, I’ve been eating a lot recently,’ said Berri. ‘And I think the heat makes me swell up.’
    ‘Kiss me again then, kiss your dear Papa,’ he smiled, his lips parting as she cradled his face in her hands and put her lips to his smoothly shaven cheek. Then, her weight tiring him, he put her off his lap, but she lingered beside him, half leaning on the arm of his chair. Riom’s eyes narrowed as Berri smiled down at her father, her fat manicured fingers massaging his neck and shoulders.
    ‘Shall I have my guardsmen, then, Papa?’ she crooned.
    Orleans sighed, leaning forward so that she could rub his back and grunting with contentment as she did so.
    ‘Very well, my delicious little morsel,’ he said.’I don’t want to start a fight with you. I know what it’s like.’
    ‘And my brave Riom to be the captain?’
    Still leaning forward, Orleans lifted his head and looked up at Riom. The young man returned his gaze with blank blue eyes. Orleans opened his mouth but closed it and shrugged his shoulders, Berri continuing to massage. When he agreed to Riom’s new post she ran her thumbs hard up and down the back of his neck.

    ‘Men with bad skin are more virile,’ murmured Madame de Mouchy to the Duchess, when they were alone.
    ‘How do you know that?’ Berri arched an eyebrow.
    Mouchy fluttered her eyelids by way of answer and then she started to relate a poisonous tale of the cruelty of de Lauzun to La Grande Mademoiselle.
    ‘It was said that he always had her in tears,’ she said. ‘He would question her as if her were her jailer, criticise her clothes, her friends and her conduct until she knew not how to continue. Yet she adored him with a passion. She was the richest heiress in Europe and if he could have got his hands on her estate he would have been a happy man.’
    Mouchy was Berri’s favourite of her ladies in waiting; she knew all the gossip. She was no longer young, and of a Spanish appearance, small, thin, and dark, and garrulous, with white teeth and violently red lips. Beside Berri’s curvaceous candlewax skin she was like a smouldering wick. She was fascinated by Orleans.
    ‘He’s a fine man, your Papa.’ Mouchy’s face took on a hungry expression.
    ‘He’s old enough to be your father, as well,’ warned Berri.
    ‘Oh, when he’s with you he looks at no-one else. He’s never given me a second glance. How old is he?’
    ‘He doesn’t look more than thirty-five. In possession of all his powers still. The most powerful man in France. Graceful, good humoured, generous, what more could a girl want?’
    ‘He’s got a mistress already.’
    ‘Oh, De Parabere? That Diana woman? What does he see in her? She’s got a face like an upside-down milk jelly, all dewlaps and wobbly bits.’
    Berri laughed.
    ‘It wasn’t Diana, it was Minerva.’ De Parabere had been painted draped over Orleans in the costume of Minerva, wearing what appeared to be a brass coal scuttle on her head.
    ‘Same thing. I liked the Adam and Eve painting of them, though. Does your father really look like that under his clothes?’
    ‘I really couldn’t tell you,’ shrugged Berri. ‘How much longer do you think I should wear this mourning for? Obviously it’s over a year since Charles died, but I ought to keep it on for grandpere for a little longer, three more months do you think?’
    ‘Six weeks at the most, I should say,’ replied de Mouchy. ‘It’s not as if he was popular. Surely you saw the crowds partying on the plain of St Denis?’
    ‘I think I should order something a little more feminine,’ said Berri. ‘I’d like to entertain a little I think, discreet dinners, card parties – lansquenet – that sort of thing. Send for Madame Guizon, my dressmaker, tomorrow. My dresses are getting too tight anyway.’ She weighed her bosom in her hands, lifting her breasts, and smiling down at their fullness, and thought of Riom. Then she looked up at Mouchy, and smiled.
    ‘One can’t be a widow forever,’ she said, softly.
    Mouchy did not return the smile.

  8. Dear Giselle, I think I like the general tone and the image of Berri’s weighing her bosom in her hands. The dialogues are very lively and witty. But then I wonder if it’s not too early to introduce Riom since Saint Simon does mention Berri’s numerous “passades” before she fell for him. We know she already had love affairs while her husband was still alive and can imagine that she pursued them after the death of the Duc, although not openly since the King would certainly frown upon her “bad behavior”. But the fact is that she probably never really behaved as “a widow” when the King was still alive since she gave birth to a daughter at the end of January 1716, less than five months after Louis XIV’s death… And the father of that girl who died just three days after birth was certainly not Riom. Maybe still La Haye… or someone else ?
    It would be interesting to see when Riom is first mentioned as part of her guard. La Rochefoucauld was in charge of the guard and said to be one of Berri’s lovers. I also wonder if you don’t put too much emphasis on her fatness. It seems she always gained much weight when she got pregnant but otherwise I can not imagine that someone who strove to be some kind of a fashion idol wouldn’t also somewhat refrain her over indulgence in food and liquor and do her best not to become real obese… And once she became a widow and could no longer be openly pregnant it would certainly be wise to attribute her rapid gains of weight to her food excess… if only to account for her growing corpulence when she had to conceal her undesirable fecundity… The Palatine excerpt in which she complains about her grand-daughter’s being sick because she’s so overly fat is written while Berri has reached the term of her pregnancy and is about to give birth…
    A rather interesting mention of Berri’s “illness” at the Luxembourg in 1719, I think in the Nouveau Mercure (or is it the Mercure Galant..; I have to look for the exact reference) presents her critical state as if it were the consequence of a severe indigestion… so that Berri recovers once she’s finally relieved of the excess of food endangering her… a funny way to “lessen the scandal” of her perilous childbirth by presenting it as the fatal consequence of her notorious overindulgence in food and drink.
    Riom or Rions, Berry or Berri, Mouchy or Mouchi, La Haye or La Haïe… I don’t think it makes much difference since you find both in contemporary sources.
    Anyway, I very much enjoy reading you and think it would make a real fun and well documented historical novel. In any case a novelist always has the privilege to interpret the “fact of history”, even the more so in this case where the historical sources are rather scanty and much has to be interpreted or is really a matter of imagination… Thus thank you so much for sending me this fragment… I much enjoyed reading it and of course encourage you to go ahead with this project…

  9. Actually Saint Simon mentions very clearly that the Marquis de la Rochefoucauld remained captain of Berri’s guard until April 1719, thus right after the scandal of her delivery (see http://rouvroy.medusis.com/docs/1709.html) and he was replaced in this function by the young comte d’Uzès. On the other hand Riom was nominated governor of the castle of Meudon right when the Duchess received this new property in the Fall of 1718. I think Berri was smart enough never to reveal to openly her “strong bondage” to Riom so that he seemed to be just one of the men she fancied; at least until the dangers she underwent in childbirth and the scandal provoked by Languet compelled her to declare herself more openly… If she projected herself as the first Lady of France and wore such splendid dresses why would she tarnish her image of pride and beauty by making a show of herself in the company of this nobody who just had the advantage of his prowess in bed ? Things had to be more or less kept secret, even if the secret soon became public knowledge, inspiring scurrilous songs, etc. but then he wasn’t the only one to be named as her lover, even her father was…
    I think Saint Simon clearly wants to further tarnish her memory by depicting her not only as utterly mad with pride but also as a mere toy in Riom’s hands, the easily fooled victim of her unbriddled passions and of her sexual appetite… The life of constant pleasure and excess that she led plus her clandestine pregnancies would explain why she endangered her health… but well the dangers suffered in labor do explain I think why she declined so rapidly in spring 1719, for who could have survived such an ordeal, in those times of obstetric horror… even a more leading a totally normal life would probably have perished and then her harrowing confinement was just seen as the divinely ordained “rightfull punishment” she deserved for all her debauchery… And Saint Simon hammered the last nails in her coffin transmitting us her reputation of emblematic utterly grotesque Crackpot incarnation of Sin…

    1. Hi Anton, I think the problem with Saint-Simon is that he was the most appalling snob and much older than Berri, a veteran of Louis XIV’s Court. The other sources are not too great. Dangeau is an old man too. I wish that Orleans himself had left memoirs. Of all the characters of that age he is perhaps the most complex. And then there are Liselotte’s memoirs, of which I must try to obtain a fuller version. The duc de Richelieu’s memoirs are mostly about his own sexual adventures. Mme de Stael was in the service of the Duchesse du Maine and gives some insights into the court but did not really encounter the Duchesse de Berri. There are a few of Voltaire’s letters but he was in prison or in exile for a fair amount of this period and was an outsider to Court circles.
      I will get back to this novel one day, writing it perhaps for an audience of one person! But for the moment I am half way through a novel set in Victorian England and my ‘hero’ is having a painful showdown with his wife. Duty calls. And I only have one day a week for my writing, the rest being spent in gainful employment!

  10. Dear Giselle, I know there are unfortunately few “useful” sources and that would give a “more balanced” view of Berri. I wish she had lefft some kind of memoirs, or letters. I wonder if there are more extensive version of Liselotte’s letters. In French I only saw very abridged or selective publications. I think there’s more in German but I don’t think there’s any full length version of what she wrote. Parrt of her correspondence hasn’t been conserved anyway. Some other potential sources have to be traced, like the memoirs of that Prussian ambassador who collected gossips for his king supposed to be much interested in them. They were written in French but I have no idea where they are now (I found reference to them in A French economic history of the 18th century and at the time they were conserved in the archives of the DDR but I vainly tried to locate them on the Internet). I just found a very interesting iconographic study of Mademoiselle de Charolais portraits and can email it to you – just send me your email).
    Dangeau is an old man but he does give quite a bit of information on court events and at least gives us some basic chronological data on Berri and her ceremonial life. I think that aspect of her short life should be explored a bit more, if only because Court life and ceremonies clearly did matter to her, even if she made a point of transgressing all rules… or most of the time it seems.
    I really believe that pasting together what you can also find in the Mercure and similar official news should enable you to establish a more detailed historical basis. But in any case I think much will have to be imagined, but judging from what you wrote I think you are very skilled and make excellent use of the data you gather… I also think that you have the understanding and the cultural distance necessary to produce a less judgmental and character-assassinating portrait of Berri (I think it’s about time) also not trying to “redeem” her by pushing aside embarassing details of her private life (for example by having her marry Riom right from the start of their affair…)
    Anyway I’m pretty much in the same situation, with very little time available for a real in depth study of this matter.
    But as I mentioned earlier I very much like your writing and also your approach of Berri’s character. I also very much like that idea of your parallel narrative with Voltaire and Berri as main protagonists. So, I am most intersted in any further development of your novel project, whenever you get back to it, and in the meantime if I find stuff that might interest you I will send it to you.

  11. Dear Giselle, things seem to be moving a bit in France on the occasion of the 300 anniversary of the Régence, although so far I have seen surprisingly little. I think it’s a real good opportunity to publish something about that time period, for example to commemorate the first performance of the Oedipus play, the only real direct “confrontation” between Voltaire and Berri, who at the time is clearly at the apex of her magnificence but already on the way to her “dishonorable” end… thus 2018-2019… or maybe on the occasion of Voltaire’s arrest in 1717, another key moment in his “affair” with Berri… well here’s the link to the programme of conferences and events organised at that private château Mongenau, South of Bordeaux !!! Funny place for an evocation of Joufflotte’s short life…

  12. Dear Giselle,
    I retrieved a real puzzling source while putting some order among my piles of books and got hold of a book by Claude-Frédéric Lévy « Capitalistes et pouvoir au siècle des Lumières » It’s in Tome 3 « La monarchie buissonnière 1718-1723 », published in La Haye by Mouton in 1980.

    Talking about the Regent’s political and military activities in early 1719 Lévy mentions that Philippe’s occupations weren’t limited to such crucial issues and fully quotes an excerpt from a report sent by the Prussian representative in Paris to his king « ce rapport que le 10 avril [1719] le chargé d’affaires de Prusse adressait à son maître, particulièrement friand de ce genre d’informations et dont le réalisme reflète crûment les mœurs et les propos de la société régnante » (p.195)
    He then quotes :
    « Madame la duchesse de Berry est hors de tout danger : sa maladie provient d’une fausse couche qu’elle a fait à la fin du mois dernier : elle était grosse de sept mois et après avoir passé deux jours et deux nuits à table, elle fit une promenade à Meudon où la débauche recommença à l’occasion de l’arrivée de M. le duc d’Orléans, qui pour tenir compagnie à Madame sa fille, se mit également dans les vignes. Ils furent de retour ensemble le matin à trois heures et madame la duchesse de Berry se blessa si fort en descendant de son carosse que les douleurs de l’accouchement la prirent sur-le-champ ; on fut obligé de retirer l’enfant par morceaux ce qui causa apparemment que les arrières ne vinrent pas à propos, de sorte qu’ils restèrent dedans et mirent cette princesse en danger. »

    The source quoted for this excerpt is Deutsches Zentralarchiv n°89, f°85

    The Prussian resident at the time was Karl August Sellentin. It is dated 10 April, thus just a week after Berri’s scandalous confinement described by Saint-Simon. This brutal miscarriage caused by a fall is also mentioned by Alexandre Dumas in his « Chroniques de la Régence » (1849). But the description of the revelry preceding this dramatic delivery clearly alludes to incestuous relations between the princess and her father who joins his daughter’s in Meudon thus restarting the orgy that’s already been going on for two days. We can imagine the two coming back together and Berri, probably very drunk, making a nasty fall when climbing down the carriage thus violently bringing on labour. Then not only do they have to extract the baby in pieces from Berri’s womb but they don’t manage to take out the afterbirth… The fall and the consequent onset of labor must have had wtinesses among Berri’s servants which explain why the Prussian diplomat is able to report quite fast about this scandalous event to his monarch.

    On page 450 in the important bibliography concluding this third volume of his monumental study Lévy fully quotes his Prussian source among the various diplomatic sources he used :
    Deutsches Zentralarchiv, Merseburg, République Démocratique d’Allemagne, Auswärtige Bezihungen, Rep. II, Frankreich 89, n 84, 89, 90, 91, relations et dépêches du conseiller Sellentin. AE Correspondance Politique de Prusse, vol. 70, 73, correspondance de La Chambrier.
    Jean Le Chambrier was « ministre de Prusse à Paris » but the author of the excerpt quoted was it seems Sellentin… who probably wrote in French…

    The problem is that the German democratic republic no longer exists since 1990 and I wonder where can be that archive nowadays… It must contain other information about Berri’s tempestuous love affairs since the Prussian king would certainly be fond of such spicy court reports. Now this report does not necessarily contradict Saint Simon but certainly gives us a hint of the kind of rumors circulating among courtiers in early April 1719… I guess I should try making some enquiries in Prussian archives, trying to locate Sellentin’s despatches… They sure seem interesting…
    Considering what we know about Berri’s habit of having fun at all cost regardless of her condition and about her raucous behavior during earlier pregnancies, her fatal revelry doesn’t seem so surprising… because for example in January she did attend carnival balls and gave birth three weeks later, likewise in 1717, altough a bit more careful to hide her condition in La Muette she did also take the risk of attending some official ceremonies, etc. Plus it matches what Saint Simon writes about her banqueting and strong drinking that so ill-prepared the term of her pregnancy… But Saint Simon systematically dismisses rumors of incest and would thus certainly silence any rumor suggesting that Berri’s childbirth could have been provoked by the nasty sequels of a night of orgy in which her father clearly played a major rôle…

    1. The description of the miscarriage is awful! I presume that ‘se mettre dans les vignes’ refers to getting drunk. It’s possible that they merely stayed up late getting drunk together rather than committing incest. ‘Debauche’ could simply refer to a drunken feast. If memory serves, the Prussian King at that time was the father of Frederick the Great. He was an exceptionally strait-laced, militaristic and frugal individual, and his family regularly left the table whilst still hungry! The tales of gluttony and drunkenness may have been exaggerated for his amusement or irritation. If the archives were there in 1980 they are probably still in Berlin somewhere. Interesting discovery!

  13. Actually when you think carefully about it, this version would help explain why in 1719 Berri just didn’t wait for the term of her pregnancy in Meudon which she had obtained from her father a few months earlier when she was just 2-3 months pregnant. This is what she had done in 1717, retiring to La Muette until she gave birth and only making infrequent returns to Paris and her palace… But I guess she must have somewhat felt “invulnerable” after managing to “hide” her previous illegitimate births… or maybe she finally somewhat lost control… which proved fatal to her and caused the tremendous scandal reported so well by Saint Simon, leading her then to lessen the scandal by marrying Riom and this way also silencing the rumors of incest… which might very well have been true after all… and not just the fruit of Michelet’s imagination and of malicious gossip by Berri’s contemporaries… she certainly always had several affairs simultaneously and thus could certainly play the part of Jocasta while having Riom as her paramour… and sharing him with Mouchi (who possilby also had some king of intimate relation with her “mistress” ?

  14. Dear Giselle, well no the archives are said by Lévy to be conserved in Merseburg, which is a town South of Halle, in Saxony-Anhalt. After reunification quite many things were moved around, and i wonder where this pieces of archive ended up…
    Yes sure, “se mettre dans les vignes” must mean that they both got drunk (I think it’s an abridged form of “se mettre dans les vignes du Seigneur”). Maybe they didn’t actually commit incest, at least I don’t think they’d have intercourse right then amidst the other guests (and there were other guests I imagine), but the text alludes to an incestuous like situation… At least today I think that such a situation would inevitably reek of incest and raise strong suspicions about the true nature of their relationship… I imagine that the Prussian king must have been thrilled reading about this… trying to imagine the situation of that young widowed princess, 7 months pregnant (G. knows by whom !), holding a two days long banquet and then getting even more drunk in the company of her father, until late at night… and then right after getting punished for her debauchery while getting out of her carriage…
    I am sure that there must have been more of such reports, probably telling about rumors of incest, etc… What “really” happened that night in Meudon, no one will know, but the situation itself allows you to imagine just anything…
    In any case we know that whether she miscarried so late in her pregnancy or normally reached her term, her childbirth must have been a truly awful event, something real horrible that she miraculously survived… which makes Saint Simon’s desciption of it seem incredibly insensitive and cruel… He must have hated her… Not to mention Languet’s attitude… She must have been really brave to resist this spiritual blackmailing while being in the middle of this most extreme ordeal !

  15. Tricky! I can’t find this correspondence in the bundesarchiv.de or on Gallica. I found a book on Google Books called ‘Power and Politics in Old Regime France, 1720-1745’ by Peter Campbell (2003) which has quite a good bibliography but only starts from 1720. Refers to Jean de Chambrier’s letters on p 390, but the correspondence seems to be archived in France, maybe copies…

  16. Dear Giselle, well yes I remember that when I had gotten Lévy’s 3 volumes work and had found this refrence to Berri’s miscarriage I had tried to locate the documents listed and was unable to find any trace of them… they msut be still somewhere in Germany but I wonder where they moved them after reunification… I guess maybe some 18th century German specialist would know ? I wonder…

    Anyway its real interesting because it’s crossreferences some other sources such as Dumas (see page 102) of the 1849 publication :
    You find the same mention of the Bohemian prediction followed by Berri’s fall and miscarriage in Touchard-Lafosse’s “Chroniques pittoresques et critiques de l’Oeil de Boeuf, des petits appartements de la cour et des salons de Paris, sous Louis XIV, la régence, Louis XV et Louis XVI”, vol 2 (1845 edition) pages 39-40
    but the datation of Berri’s misfortune is wrong (he mentions May)

    And if I remember correctly Richelieu also mentions her fall ?

  17. I would imagine reading over Dumas that the mention of a “miscarriage” really means that the baby died at birth, maybe because as mentioned they had to finally extract it in pieces. She must have been close to her term and as a consequence of her careless revelries went into labor unexpectedly when returning from Meudon to the Luxembourg. Already in 1714 when she gave birth on 16 June her baby girl is said to have been born prematurely in some of the historical sources although Madame de Maintenon clearly mentions first signs of Berri’s pregnancy around november 1713, meaning that the baby wasn’t born prematurely but just died soone after birth… anyway most of Berri’s pregnancies were troublesome (eg. extremely violent labor in 1713 when she gave birth to the duke of Alençon also said to have been born prematurely at seven months… her lifeways could partly explain these repeated troublesome pregnancies and deliveries I guess

  18. I had a quick search through Richelieu’s memoirs and I can’t find anything about the gruesome miscarriage. He writes that a daughter of Riom and Berri became a nun at Pontoise with a pension of 3000 livres. He goes into some detail about Berri’s final days.

  19. Dear Giselle, as I mentioned yesterday evening I don’t think she miscarried in March 1719 but I think that either she made a fall that was followed by the onset of labor (as mentions Sellentin) or maybe because of the careless way she’d behaved while so advanced in her pregnancy she went into labor unexpectedly when she had returned from Meudon to Luxembourg… so that she was forced to give birth there and not in Meudon where it would sure have been possible to better hide her “illness”… Yes I was wrong with Richelieu, I had read about that fall in a biography about richelieu and his time… I remeber now

    1. It looks an interesting event in lovely surroundings (although the chateau is not quite of that period). I had never heard of Florence Mothe but it appears she is an expert on the Regence.

      1. Dear Giselle, no Florence Mothe is a former journalist and novelist, born in Bordeaux. Her first historical novel (in which she very briefly mentions Berri) focuses on Bordeaux during the Régence but within the framework of the more global French context. Richelieu seems to be her main link between the local and the global, her local hero (Hermann Wallenberg, a German protestant who settled in Bordeaux) and the Regent’s court. She seems to have read much about the period but she is not an historian. I just got the novel and will try to find time to read it in the coming days but it seems to put much focus on Law’s bank. I also wonder what she means by “femme fatale”… fatal to herself maybe ? I also don’t know what she exactly mean by “existence brève mais féconde”… allusion to Berri’s repeated pregnancies I guess ? I am also unsure about “Berri as “prototype de ces créatures que le roman n’en finit pas de dépeindre”…I just wrote her asking if maybe she could send me the text of her conference but so far she doesn’t seem very talkative… So I’ll wait and see.

      2. I think the ‘feconde’ alludes to the pregnancies. The ‘prototype’ comment I think echoes what we were saying somewhere else in this thread about an iconic woman: ‘the prototype of those creatures who the novel will never finish portraying’.

        I think the story of Law’s bank is amazing, because it was the world’s first stock-market crash. The hype, the hysteria, the crowds pursuing the shares that could make them rich overnight, the extravagance, the rich running off with cartloads of money, the tumbling of confidence, the suicides…We have learned nothing in 200 years!!

      3. Dear Giselle, I had asked Florence Mothe for the text of her conference but so far I haven’t received it. Also it’s funny how some people still want to silence the silence the “scandalous” aspects of Berri’s biography. Some years ago I had written a short text about her on the en.wikipedia article dedicated to the “Chateau de la Muette” and I am surprised to discover that it had been edited out by some US contributor (“Kansas Bear”) who clearly doesn’t know historical sources from the time period but is certainly eager to edit out what information he feels to be not proper for a royal princess… and the problem with Wiki is that you are always at the mercy of such negative reaction from people with a somewhat Bigot and judgemental view of history… Even when it comes to a princess who died almost 300 years ago… I guess to them Berri must be either true to her royal status or else anything seen as a blemish must be silenced or silenced. Having lovers and illegitimate pregnancies shouldn’t then be mentioned at all…

      4. It is only women who get the judgmental reaction. Promiscuous men always seem to win approval. How fascinated the English are with King Henry VIII and his 6 wives! Imagine if Queen Elizabeth I had 6 husbands…One would hope that the modern world might have moved on, but there are people out there who are just as patriarchal as in the Victorian age.

      5. Dear Giselle, an old friend of mine who knows about my interest for Berri’s story. Just wrote me telling me that I should read what Marion Sigaut wrote about Voltaire underlining that according to her Voltaire was the only source for the accusations of incest between Berri and her father. And I’ve just listened to that French lady, historian of Voltaire and i’m quite shocked by the virulence of her attacks and then her recent works are published by Kontre Kulture a publishing house that’s clearly associated with the French ultra-right, their other key writer being Alain Soral, a notorious French anti-semite https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjGBV-0I7kc
        I also listened to one of her conferences about the Régence but in this case she limits her discourse to a defense of the Ancient Regime and talks about Cartouche.
        I really didn’t know about that lady and I’m not sure I want to read her. But I really wonder what sources inspire her claim that Voltaire entirely imagined the malevolent gossip about Berri’s incest ?

        By the way I found in Dangeau this rather puzzling and very interesting mention about Berri’s social life in December 1718 :
        ercredi 7 décembre 1718.— On joua l’opéra nouveau de Sémiramis (1). Madame la duchesse de Berry étoit sur l’amphithéâtre, où l’on avoit fait mettre un fauteuil, et il y avoit trente places pour les dames qui étoient avec elle ; il y avoit une estrade sous le fauteuil de madame de Berry, et l’on avoit mis une barrière à la moitié de l’amphithéâtre, afin que le reste des places ne fût point mêlé à celles qu’elle avoit retenues*. M. le duc d’Orléans étoit à cet opéra dans la loge de Madame, avec elle. (Journal du Marquis Dangeau, tome 17)http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k6383072j/f435.item.r=semiramis.texteImage

        Semiramis, the legendary founder of Babylon. Is it maybe a work by Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon (1717), Crébillon the father ? No probably rather André Cardinal Destouches’ lyrical opera. The first performance took place on 4 December 1718 at the Opera. The writer of the libretto was Pierre-Charles Roy, Voltaire’s rival at the time. This tragedy in 5 acts is available on Gallica http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b9058697j/f20.image.r=s%C3%A9miramis%20roy

        The Opera was Lully’s Académie royale de musique since 1673 (it will be destroyed by fire in 1763). It could hold some 1300 people (600 standing and 700 sitting). The auditorium had a horshoe shape and a machine could raise the floor to turn it into a ballroom.

        Berri’s coming to Semiramis performance with the ladies of her court was certainly quite a show. Not only was there a barrier separating her and the ladies of her court from the rest of the public, but then her chair stood on a podium so that she’d certainly tower above the audience. We can imagine her wearing some magnificent and flamboyant dress adorned with planty of jewels as usual. Berri was then just over 5 months pregnant and although the robe battante helped her to conceal her state, it probably started to show, if only because as with her previous pregnancies she probably gained weight rapidly. Rumors of her „interesting condition” probably circulated already. But we can imagine that at this stage she’d still manage to conceal her baby bump.

        Berri must have looked like some oriental queen sitting on her throne, bedecked with jewels, looking at the crowd with pride and contempt… But It’s hard to make sense of her doings, why did she make such a display of herself, especially in her condition. She must have known that rumors of her pregnancy would once more circulate among the public opinion and that when she participated in such public events she would attract the attention of the public gaze and that her silhouette, all of her gestures would be scrutinized and were likely to add fuel to the malicious gossips about her “shameful” fertility… What went through her mind ? Hard to understand her…


      6. Dear Anton, The testimony of the police informer Beauregard was that Voltaire said he had written all of it ‘Il me repondit que j’avois tort de ne le pas croire que c’etoit lui veritablement qui avoit fait tous les ouvrages qui avoient parue pendant son absence’. It was never clear whether Voltaire was boasting to the semi-literate Beauregard. But Voltaire was not part of Court circles, so if he had information about incest he would not have had it first-hand. I suspect that the rumours originated from the Duchesse du Maine and her entourage at Sceaux, whose patronage Voltaire enjoyed. The duc de Richelieu was in league with the Maines, a friend of Voltaire, and variously a lover of Berri, Charlotte-Aglae (Mlle de Valois), and of Mlle de Charolais, Orleans’ cousin, etc etc. The Maines hated Orleans bitterly and I suspect that a lot of the rumours against him came from either them or from Richelieu (who did not seem to hate Orleans but viewed him as a sexual rival, and would probably have found them highly amusing). It may well be that Voltaire put pen to paper on behalf of the Maines, but various other writers were also associated with the little coterie at Sceaux. I think that the statement that an individual is the only source of rumours is very difficult to evidence because we do not know what primary sources have been lost over the years, and in any case these pamphlets, verses etc were by their nature produced anonymously and often smuggled into France from neighbouring countries like the Netherlands and Switzerland.


  20. The text is nicely phrased and sure makes the topic arresting although I wonder what new facts Mothe managed to find. Characterising Berri as a “femme fatale” sure seems interesting. The “Le général baron Clouet ” mentioned in the first paragraph is a 19th century character and is thus another example fo the confusion between Joufflotte and Marie-Caroline. The novel by Mothe quoted at the end of the text takes place during the Régence but Berry has only a very minor role in it, just a couple of paragraphs about her death after giving birth to a stillborn child, but alreayd there Mothe hints at incest…

    1. I’m not sure about the ‘femme fatale’ designation. I can’t think of anyone whose death or despair can be ascribed to her. Her husband’s death was not her fault. What new facts are there, indeed? As I think you’ve said earlier, there are no memoirs or letters and all the information about her comes from observers who were outside the circle.

  21. Dear Giselle, well sure thanks for stating that clearly, I know that Voltaire was tightly associated with the bad press surrounding Berry after her first illegitimate birth in January 1716 and then of course in 1717 (when it’s mentioned or alluded to by various sources, including Saint-Simon in his additions to Dangeau) but it seems to me that putting the blame entirely on Voltaire is clearly a very biased stance. Actually I adivse you to watch fully Sigaut’s video because especially at the end she states clearly her political agenda. She’s out to trash Voltaire, not only as the emblematic herald of the French revolution but of multiculturalism in general. Her political agenda clearly matches the Front National but then she has also some antisemitic views (like Soral)… And she published a graphic novel about Cartouche (also published by Kontre Kulture) in which he main concern is to show the bandit as a true vilain (and thus not a “primitive rebel” as the late Hobsbawm liked to depict some pre-revolutionary bandits).

    Anyway, I think I will look closer at Dangeau, and read him over because it seems there’s quite a bit material about Berri in early 1719. Her social agenda was quite full it seems, in spite of her condition and what Saint-Simon writes about her trying to hide her pregnancy… Although I’m puzzled by a 1789 text translating Saint-Simon and which makes it all quite plain : ” She had become pregnant by Rions, and was indignant that the world should talk of what she had despised to hide : her pregnancy was arrived at its crisis, and this, ill-prepared by intemperance, soon became dangerous.” (Supplement to the Memoirs of the Duke de St. Simon, p.356 published in J. Johnson’s “Analytical Review: Or History of Literature, Domestic and Foreign, on an Enlarged Plan”, Volume 4)
    I think it states quite clearly that it’s once she’s taken “ill” at the Luxembourg that Berri finally cares about hiding her state : “She now shut herself up in a small range of apartments […]”
    Strange contrast with the ways the young widow handled her previous pregnancies, so that very little is known about her 1716 birth and not too much about her pregnancy in 1717… Did she feel herself to be fully above all the gossip, if only because of her foremost position and because she had already managed to somehow disguise her previous illegitimate births ?

  22. Dear Giselle, funny that in the Joconde data base the portrait of Berri by Largillière that’s in the Musée Condé of Chantilly is still mentioned as a portrait of her grand-mother the Palatine. I thought about it because I happened to see it today in a bookshop a large-sized publication about their collections in which it was also presented as an image of the Palatine : http://www.culture.gouv.fr/public/mistral/joconde_fr?ACTION=RETROUVER&FIELD_98=REPR&VALUE_98=princesse&NUMBER=94&GRP=1&REQ=%28%28princesse%29%20%3aREPR%20%29&USRNAME=nobody&USRPWD=4%24%2534P&SPEC=5&SYN=1&IMLY=&MAX1=1&MAX2=1&MAX3=100&DOM=All But unfortunately the quality of the reproduction. Anyway it means that there’s at least three different version of the same painting which I think can be taken as a “genuine” portrait of Berri (at least it looks very close to Desrochers’s engraving. Otherwise well I haven’t had much time available to do any more research or reading about Berri’s story maybe I’ll find some time over the two coming weeks during the end of the year holidays. Regards. Anton

  23. Interesting – I don’t think that portrait looks like la Palatine. In other portraits she is shown as having a high square forehead and what would nowadays be termed ‘attitude’. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portrait_de_Charlotte-Élisabeth_de_Bavière.
    I love Largilliere’s portraits but a lot of his ladies have the same facial expression and probably his paintings were a balance between portraiture and what was fashionable at the time – like modern fashion photography. I suspect a lot of attributions have been lost over centuries, through revolution and war, as paintings have changed hands.

    1. Dear Giselle, yes it’s often the problem it seems with portraits of that time period. Like that painting representing Louise Francoise de Bourbon https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Louise_Francoise_de_Bourbon_as_widow.jpg
      and which was often taken for a portrait of Berri in her widowhood. But if we look at the Desrochers engraving which is clearly labeled as a portrait of Berri then the womand portait in the Frost museum is without too much doubts I think a depiction of the same young woman. At least you see the same malicious and mischevous look. I don’t know but there is something in her look that clearly sets here apart from the other portraits which at times have been identified as representing her. Maybe it’s less striking on the Musée Condé copy… But you have to focus on the eyes and the mouth and then you see a rather young lady and not the somewhat chubby and heavy matron. Anton

  24. An interesting book came out last Fall about culinary life at the Court of the Sun king and the ealy 18th century : “Festins, ripailles et bonne chère au Grand Siècle”
    by Florent Quellier. It includes a chapter about festive overeating in which Berri is of course one the main characters depicted… but strangely, although the author evokes her sexual intemperance and alludes to the rumors of incest, the princess early death is attributed only to her alimentary excess, with a quote borrowed from the Palatine’s report about her grand-daughter’s severe “illness” and alarming “obesity” when she visits her in early April 1719 being used by the author to document Berri’s death as the consequence of her eating disorders…
    As if Quellier had not read Saint-Simon and didn’t know the real cause of Berri’s “illness” at the time, when she’s in the throes of labor… Thus again we have an historian who just adds to the “indigestion” myth as cause of Berri’s demise, thus reaffirming the “official” version of the story, attributing Berri’s death to her food cravings…
    As if the “illicit” pregnancies of the Duchesse were still a taboo topic, that souldn’t be put to writing in any “serious” history book… So that being the victim of some form of bulimia nervosa is seen as ok but having such a foremost princess being led to the grave by a harrowing childbirth should be silenced…. I am always surprised by such manifestations of judgmental and moralistic outlook… Which merely turn Berri into some kind of overly obese freakish character…
    Best Regards. Anton

  25. Hello, I wonder if you still worked on your Voltaire and Berri story which looked so promising… Anton

  26. Dear Anton,

    How kind of you to remember! But the short answer is no…

    My life turned upside down in June 2016 after the Brexit vote in the UK – I felt that I just couldn’t live there any more, and my partner felt the same. I had just finished the first draft of my novel about a Victorian coroner. I resigned my job in the UK health service, found a new job in Ireland, my partner took early retirement and we sold up in the UK and moved to Wexford in January 2017, where we have been really happy.

    Much of the 2 years since we arrived has been occupied by house alterations (I had nowhere for my desk when we first moved in), and I recently completed the second draft of that Victorian novel and sent it to a professional reviewer, who didn’t like it. She gave me a lot of suggestions which I have been half-heartedly trying to follow.
    Apart from short stories I have been feeling rather blocked with my writing. So maybe it would do me good to write something new.

    Thanks for your enquiry,
    Kind regards

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