Court Memoirs of France Series— Complete

Author: Various

Section XIII.

Editor in continuation:

I am again, for this and the following chapter, compelled to resume the pen in my own person, and quit the more agreeable office of a transcriber for my illustrious patroness.

I have already mentioned that the Princesse de Lamballe, on first returning from England to France, anticipated great advantages from the recall of the emigrants. The desertion of France by so many of the powerful could not but be a deathblow to the prosperity of the monarchy. There was no reason for these flights at the time they began. The fugitives only set fire to the four quarters of the globe against their country. It was natural enough that the servants whom they had left behind to keep their places should take advantage of their masters’ pusillanimity, and make laws to exclude those who had, uncalled for, resigned the sway into bolder and more active hands.

I do not mean to impeach the living for the dead; but, when we see those bearing the lofty titles of Kings and Princesses, escaping with their wives and families, from an only brother and sister with helpless infant children, at the hour of danger, we cannot help wishing for a little plebeian disinterestedness in exalted minds.

I have travelled Europe twice, and I have never seen any woman with that indescribable charm of person, manner, and character, which distinguished Marie Antoinette. This is in itself a distinction quite sufficient to detach friends from its possessor through envy. Besides, she was Queen of France, the woman of highest rank in a most capricious, restless and libertine nation. The two Princesses placed nearest to her, and who were the first to desert her, though both very much inferior in personal and mental qualifications, no doubt, though not directly, may have entertained some anticipations of her place. Such feelings are not likely to decrease the distaste, which results from comparisons to our own disadvantage. It is, therefore, scarcely to be wondered at, that those nearest to the throne should be least attached to those who fill it. How little do such persons think that the grave they are thus insensibly digging may prove their own! In this case it only did not by a miracle. What the effect of the royal brothers’ and the nobility’s remaining in France would have been we can only conjecture. That their departure caused, great and irreparable evils we know; and we have good reason to think they caused the greatest. Those who abandon their houses on fire, silently give up their claims to the devouring element. Thus the first emigration kindled the French flame, which, though for a while it was got under by a foreign stream, was never completely, extinguished till subdued by its native current.

The unfortunate Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette ceased to be Sovereigns from the period they were ignominiously dragged to their jail at the Tuileries. From this moment they were abandoned to the vengeance of miscreants, who were disgracing the nation with unprovoked and useless murders. But from this moment also the zeal of the Princesses Elizabeth and de Lamballe became redoubled. Out of one hundred individuals and more, male and female, who had been exclusively occupied about the person of Marie Antoinette, few, excepting this illustrious pair, and the inestimable Clery, remained devoted to the last. The saint-like virtues of these Princesses, malice itself has not been able to tarnish. Their love and unalterable friendship became the shield of their unfortunate Sovereigns, and their much injured relatives, till the dart struck their own faithful bosoms. Princes of the earth! here is a lesson of greatness from the great.

Scarcely had the Princesse de Lamballe been reinstated in the Pavilion of Flora at the Tuileries, when, by the special royal command, and in Her Majesty’s presence, she wrote to most of the nobility, entreating their return to France. She urged them, by every argument, that there was no other means of saving them and their country from the horrors impending over them and France, should they persevere in their pernicious absence. In some of these letters, which I copied, there was written on the margin, in the Queen’s hand, "I am at her elbow, and repeat the necessity of your returning, if you love your King, your religion, your Government, and your country. Marie Antoinette. Return! Return! Return!"

Among these letters, I remember a large envelope directed to the Duchesse de Brisac, then residing alternately at the baths of Albano and the mineral waters at Valdagno, near Vicenza, in the Venetian States. Her Grace was charged to deliver letters addressed to Her Majesty’s royal brothers, the Comte de Provence, and the Comte d’Artois, who were then residing, I think, at Stra, on the Brenta, in company with Madame de Polcatre, Diane de Polignac, and others.

A few days after, I took another envelope, addressed to the Count Dufour, who was at Turin. It contained letters for M. and Madame de Polignac, M. and Madame de Guiche Grammont, the King’s aunts at Rome, and the two Princesses of Piedmont, wives of His Majesty’s brothers.

If, therefore, a judgment can be formed from the impressions of the Royal Family, who certainly must have had ample information with respect to the spirit which predominated at Paris at that period, could the nobility have been prevailed on to have obeyed the mandates of the Queen and prayers and invocations of the Princess, there can be no doubt that much bloodshed would have been spared, and the page of history never have been sullied by the atrocious names which now stand there as beacons of human infamy.

The storms were now so fearfully increasing that the King and Queen, the Duc de Penthievre, the Count Fersen, the Princesse Elizabeth, the Duchesse d’Orleans, and all the friends of the Princesse de Lamballe, once more united in anxious wishes for her to quit France. Even the Pope himself endeavoured to prevail upon Her Highness to join the royal aunts at Rome. To all these applications she replied, "I have nothing to reproach myself with. If my inviolable duty and unalterable attachment to my Sovereigns, who are my relations and my friends; if love for my dear father and for my adopted country are crimes, in the face of God and the world I confess my guilt, and shall die happy if in such a cause!"

The Duc de Penthievre, who loved her as well as his own child, the Duchesse d’Orleans, was too good a man, and too conscientious a Prince, not to applaud the disinterested firmness of his beloved daughter-in-law; yet, foreseeing and dreading the fatal consequence which must result from so much virtue at a time when vice alone predominated, unknown to the Princesse de Lamballe, he interested the Court of France to write to the Court of Sardinia to entreat that the King, as head of her family, would use his good offices in persuading the Princess to leave the scenes of commotion, in which she was so much exposed, and return to her native country. The King of Sardinia, her family, and her particular friend, the Princess of Piedmont, supplicated ineffectually. The answer of Her Highness to the King, at Turin, was as follows


"I do not recollect that any of our illustrious ancestors of the
house of Savoy, before or since the great hero Charles Emmanuel, of
immortal memory, ever dishonoured or tarnished their illustrious
names with cowardice. In leaving the Court of France at this awful
crisis, I should be the first. Can Your Majesty pardon my
presumption in differing from your royal counsel? The King, Queen,
and every member of the Royal Family of France, both from the ties
of blood and policy of States, demand our united efforts in their
defence. I cannot swerve from my determination of never quitting
them, especially at a moment when they are abandoned by every one of
their former attendants, except myself. In happier days Your
Majesty may command my obedience; but, in the present instance,
and given up as is the Court of France to their most atrocious
persecutors, I must humbly insist on being guided by my own
decision. During the most brilliant period of the reign of Marie
Antoinette, I was distinguished by the royal favour and bounty. To
abandon her in adversity, Sire, would stain my character, and that
of my illustrious family, for ages to come, with infamy and
cowardice, much more to be dreaded than the most cruel death."

Similar answers were returned to all those of her numerous friends and relatives, who were so eager to shelter her from the dangers threatening Her Highness and the Royal Family.

Her Highness was persuaded, however, to return once more to England, under the pretext of completing the mission she had so successfully began; but it is very clear that neither the King or Queen had any serious idea of her succeeding, and that their only object was to get her away from the theatre of disaster. Circumstances had so completely changed for the worst, that, though Her Highness was received with great kindness, her mission was no longer listened to. The policy of England shrunk from encouraging twenty thousand French troops to be sent in a body to the West Indies, and France was left to its fate. A conversation with Mr. Burke, in which the disinclination of England to interfere was distinctly owned, created that deep-rooted grief and apprehension in the mind of the Queen from which Her Majesty never recovered. The Princesse de Lamballe was the only one in her confidence. It is well known that the King of England greatly respected the personal virtues of Their French Majesties; but upon the point of business, both King and Ministers were now become ambiguous and evasive. Her Highness, therefore, resolved to return. It had already been whispered that she had left France, only to save herself, like the rest; and she would no longer remain under so slanderous an imputation. She felt, too, the necessity of her friendship to her royal mistress. Though the Queen of England, by whom Her Highness was very much esteemed, and many other persons of the first consequence in the British nation, foreseeing the inevitable fate of the Royal Family, and of all their faithful adherents, anxiously entreated her not to quit England, yet she became insensible to every consideration as to her own situation and only felt the isolated one of her august Sovereign, her friend, and benefactress.


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Chicago: Various, "Section XIII.," Court Memoirs of France Series— Complete, ed. Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853 and trans. Holcroft, Thomas, 1745-1809 in Court Memoirs of France Series—Complete (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1909), Original Sources, accessed December 3, 2022,

MLA: Various. "Section XIII." Court Memoirs of France Series— Complete, edited by Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853, and translated by Holcroft, Thomas, 1745-1809, in Court Memoirs of France Series—Complete, Vol. 36, New York, Doubleday, Page, 1909, Original Sources. 3 Dec. 2022.

Harvard: Various, 'Section XIII.' in Court Memoirs of France Series— Complete, ed. and trans. . cited in 1909, Court Memoirs of France Series—Complete, Doubleday, Page, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 3 December 2022, from