• Tue, Sep 11 2012

Shelved Dolls: Yolande Polignac & The Princesse de Lamballe – Lesbianism! Mean Girls! Beheadings!

It’s odd to think that this straightforwardness might have been part of Polignac’s appeal but remember that, while Marie Antoinette wasn’t great at managing the populous at large, she did really like doing nice things for people. I think she liked people feeling grateful towards her. Maybe it was because her mother wasn’t very nice to her. Maybe it was just who she was.

Yolande Polignac seemed only mildly enthusiastic about any of this kindness. She was said to have a very calm nature – though she was known to laugh a great deal – which Louis XVI approved of, especially in contrast to the Princesse de Lamballe. She wasn’t a fainter, basically. But that laughing may have also masked the fact that Marie Antoinette liked her much more than she liked Marie Antoinette.

However, she did give up her lover with extreme speed when Marie Antoinette said she didn’t like him.

The Princesse de Lamballe, on the other hand, was devastated. Just kept fainting dead away when Marie Antoinette kept paying so much attention to Polignac. What’s really tragic about this was that, because of her post as Superintendent of the Queen’s Household, the Princesse de Lamballe could never really break away from Marie Antoinette, and thus was forced to spend the rest of her life trying to regain her favor. Marie Antoinette’s affection – in letters and person – transferred to the Duchesse de Polignac, while the Princesse de Lamballe desperately spent a fortune at the Queen’s favorite dressmaker (Rose Bertin) so she and Marie Antoinette could dress alike.

Oh, yeah, that Superintendent position couldn’t be transferred. When you were given that position you were truly supposed to be the Queen’s best friend forever. 

It is items like this that make me amazed that people who love role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons don’t become absolutely obsessed with the French Court. They took all the things that might be normal like having friends and made up rules and rituals to accompany them. And furthmore, rules and rituals that could never be broken. I Seen one way that’s an incredibly orderly approach to life. Seen another way, that’s terrifying.

And either way, the Princesse de Lamballe spent the rest of her life pretty dolefully feeding Marie Antoinette breakfast in bed and staring at her with sad, moon-y eyes.

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  • Amanda

    I love this Shelved Dolls series. I look forward to reading them every week. And I’m probably a Lamballe.

  • BeccaTheCyborg

    I’m sickly and skittish. So I’m a Lamballe.

    I’m also a D&D nerd who’s obsessed with the French court .

  • Kj

    Totally a Polignac, complete with a history of penniless family.

    Also, “scuttling tarantula chair of friendship” has to be one of the funniest things I’ve read all week.

    • Amy

      Me too! I like that she seems kind of bad-assy too.

  • S. Park

    Probably an Anotoinette, as I am completely oblivious. What a great article! I love your Shelved Dolls pieces. This four-legged chair as a female friendship dynamic is an intriguing observation.

  • Elizabeth

    Ooh, do Maria Theresa!

  • Jenniwren

    Oh probably a Marie Antoinette. I’m also totally oblivious and given the opportunity I would definitely have a little fake farm so I could pop off and pretend to be a shepherdess or something.

    Also, I’m sure you’re aware but she never said that thing about the cake. That was something Rousseau made up to make the aristocracy look even worse than they were (which was a pretty hard job) and it was actually published years before MA married and came to Versailles. And it was also Brioche, which is sort of like French toast but cut thicker, not cake, in the original translation. The more you know!

    I’m always so fascinated (and also repelled) by the descriptions of the violence of the French revolution; I think it’s so easy to come away with the feeling that the peasantry were all bloodthirsty barbarians. And I’m not disputing there were a lot of dreadful acts. However. We’ll never know for absolutely sure which incidents were real, which were exaggerated and which were made up. Successive governments and international authorities tended to play up the violence because they didn’t want that happening here, thank you very much. But also, things were so BAD back there. Seriously, people were eating rats and cats and flippin’ grass to survive (and some reports say they were eating children, though this is probably an exaggeration too) and still having to pay taxes on top of that. These people lived in barbarity so it’s no real surprise that they wouldn’t just let the aristocracy off easily. It was one big old horrible mess, and bad times make bad people.

  • len132

    I always felt sort of bad for Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. It seems that they pretty much had no idea what was going on.

  • anya

    im confused. it says he died at 20 after being married for three years. that would mean that he was married at 17. but then the article goes on to say that he got married at age 20. “He was born the 6th of September, 1747. He was married the 17th of January, 1767″…was he married at 20 or did he die at 20?

  • MEB

    scholars claim that Marie Antoinette never said “Let them eat cake” sooo really, she’s an even nicer person than we thought.

  • Naomi

    I often aspire to be a Polignac (with varying degrees of success) and her background most closely resembles mine.

    Could we maybe get an article about Jeanne de Saint-Rémy de Valois or Lady Randolph Churchill?

    • MR

      Yeah, do one on Jennie Jerome, Churchill’s mom. What I heard about her growing up, she was a very interesting lady. You know she was born and raised on Kane Street in what is now Cobble Hill in Downtown Brooklyn. Old Brooklyn families remember these things even over a hundred years later.

  • MR

    Wow nice research, I promise to read it all. Again one guy’s take, but during the film I just couldn’t get Louie and his sex problem. Marie was so hot, yeah she could feed me wine and pastry anytime.

  • Sabrina

    Ok, I have a request! Can you do a column just on Marie Antoinette? I’ve always wanted to understand her story, only getting bits and pieces here and there, but have never found all of the info I want in one place.

    Also, does anyone have any good book recommendations on Marie Antoinette that wouldn’t be like reading a history book? I just checked out a brilliantly reviewed biography on her from the library, and thought I had finally found my source, but I could only get two chapters in because it was written like a text book with lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of quotes from historians. Puke.

    • Laura

      I own a zillion Marie Antoinette books! You might want to try historical fiction before getting into the more hardcore biographies. Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund is a good one and pretty accurate. The Secret Diary of Marie Antoinette by Carolly Erikson is fabulous to read, as it’s literally written like a diary. It’s not the most accurate, but it’s the most fun.

      My favorite MA book is Queen of Fashion by Caroline Weber. It’s a biography with emphasis on how she used her clothing as a political weapon. It also gives great insight on the court and what was going on at the time. I never really understood the Diamond Necklace Affair till I read this one.

      If the French Revolution is your bag, check out Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran. It’s fiction but does an AMAZING job of describing the tumult and hatred of the Revolution and how things got so crazy scary and out of control. It puts everything in context.

    • Sabrina

      Yay! Thank you! I will be checking out all of those!

  • Laura

    Amazing article! I never knew too much about either of their backgrounds. Poor Lamballe :(

    You should totally do articles on the Mitford sisters. I could talk about them for DAYS. Everyone in that entire family is unique and bonkers and fascinating.