I know this might be surprising because in the official portrait of the Princesse de Lamballe she is having a nip slip, but Polignac was supposed to be the slutty one. In spite of that, let’s talk about Lamballe’s nip slip and how weird female relationships and sex in general during this period were:
Relationships were all tinged by an element of sexuality, basically. Affairs at the French court were numerous. Really, really numerous. Big numbers. Size of the current US debt type numbers.This was in part due to the fact that marriages among aristocratic children were often arranged before the children were 7, so they weren’t destined to find love in their marriages. Marie Antoinette had her marriage arranged by the time she was 13 – and her husband, Louis XVI, had enormous difficulties performing sexually.
Marie Antoinette wasn’t alone in this situation – in fact, the popularity of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s epistolary novel La Nouvelle Heloise seemed to stress the importance of powerful female friendships. When I say “powerful,” I mean “extremely dramatic and full of feeling,” not friendships where women learned to be all they could be and protested Planned Parenting funding cuts.
Suffice to say, friendships between women at the time often contained elements of romance that might be lacking in other areas of their lives.
I know, I know, you’re rolling your eyes saying “yeah, I did actually realize that arranged marriages did not lead to necessarily happy homes; I am now reluctant to be a leg in your friendship chair” but I do think it’s worth pointing out the extent to which sexual relations flourished at the French court. It’s worth pointing out because it is shocking by our modern standards.