Princesse de Lamballe’s Travels: Anecdotes and Tales

The Princesse de Lamballe‘s travels included many places in and around France. Sometimes she traveled with the King and Queen’s court, her sister-in-law (Louise Marie Adelaide), or her adopted daughter (Madame de Lâge]. Sometimes these trips were for relaxation and sometimes they were targeted to help the princess’s health as she suffered from convulsive vapors and was said to faint at the slightest thing. For instance, numerous observers reported that she fainted from the smell of violets, at the sight of a lobster (even in a painting), or after hearing the famous castratro, Gaspare Pacchierotti.

Princesse de Lamballe. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

The first anecdote related to the Princesse de Lamballe’s travels is about a trip she took to the Fontainebleau Palace, located southeast of Paris some 43 miles away. It was a spot that King Louis XVI and his court traveled to annually, and during one of these annual trips in 1775, she and Marie Antoinette decided to relax by sailing on what the Queen called her Gondolas on a lake near the palace.

“[A] gondola window fell and hit the Queen, bruising her arm. The event so frightened the princess that she fainted, and when she awoke, she found the Queen solicitous for her welfare while everyone else tended to the Queen.”[1]

Princesse de Lamballe's travels - Marie Antoinette

The Queen, Marie Antoinette. Author’s collection.

The next year when they returned to Fontainebleau, the Queen had by then acquired a gambling habit. Thus, for the princess to even see the Queen, she found she was forced to throw card parties. Despite the princess being a conservative gambler and only winning or losing a preset amount before she stopped, her card parties were always extremely popular with the chevalier d’industrie, military spendthrifts, and fashionable women. In fact, “supposedly the women who attended sometimes returned from her parties with their ‘laps so blackened by the quantities of gold received … that they [were] obliged to change their dresses to go to supper.'”[2]

Besides visiting Fontainebleau, another of the Princesse de Lamballe’s trips included a small entourage of friends and her adopted daughter, Madame de Lâge. They went to south-western France, but during the trip they traveled incognito. On the way home, the princess gave her driver implicit instructions not to stop in Tours because she feared she would be recognized and wanted a peaceful ride home. However, as her coach and her entourage entered Tours, it became obvious to the populace that she was inside, and, consequently, the whole city soon turned out dressed to the hilt in their finery and wanting to pay their respects.

“With this rare demonstration of overt loyalty, the princess decided she had to stop, and at that point the archbishop requested that she and her party dine with them. The princess could not refuse, and those in the carriage ‘whipped out their rouge-puffs, powder-boxes, and pocket-mirrors, and made what hasty toilette they could … [but] felt dreadfully dowdy and undressed in their simple muslin frocks and straw hats.”[3]

After leaving Tours, the princess and her party traveled about 20 miles to the Loire Valley, where they stopped to stay with the princess’ friend. That night the princess and her entourage sat down to enjoy a wonderful savory stew, known as ragout. Unfortunately, “the ragout had been allowed to cool in a uncoated copper pot, which poisoned the food and make everyone sick.”[4] What saved the party was that the Princesse de Lamballe’s doctor was among those poisoned, and he helped everyone recover. However, the incident so upset the princess, when she returned home, she threw out all of her copper and replaced them with silver dishes.

The Princesse de Lamballe’s travels also once included a trip with her sister-in-law, the Duchess of Chartres, where they went to Holland in May of 1778. The princess and her sister-in-law traveled incognito under names of Countess of Joinville and Countess of Lisigny. For a few days, while they were in Amsterdam, they were accompanied by the princess’s Passy neighbor, the renowned polymath and Founding Father of America, Benjamin Franklin. A letter written by Charles William Frédéric Dumas, who was a man of letters living in the Dutch Republic and who served as an American diplomat during the American Revolution, noted a humorous incident that occurred after the women arrived in Rotterdam:

“[T]hey [were] dressed informally and without waiting for their attendants, asked to be taken to the Inn. In the smoking-room some Dutchmen took them for the actresses that were expected in town. They put away their pipes in deference to their sex, but one asked them what roles they played in the troupe. We sometimes play the leading roles, replied the Duchess.”[5]

Louise Marie Adelaide. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

While in Holland they also visited many sites, including the Hauge, Utrecht, and Gouda. At Gouda, they watched pipes being made, and the process of pipe making was so intriguing the women brought back boxes filled with pipes of all shapes, types, and sizes. They also had a tour of a famous silk factory owned by van Mollen. He appeared once wearing a sumptuous dressing gown and the Duchess and Princesse de Lamballe declared him to be the “porcelain man.”

One hurried and unexpected trip that the Princesse de Lamballe took was with Madame de Lâge. It occurred when the royal family attempted to flee France and the princess received word they were fleeing. In concert with their flight, the princess left traveling under the name of the Countess of Amboise. She and Madame Lâge headed to Aix-la-Chapelle, also known as Bad Aachen. It was also a popular ancient city located in Prussia where everyone went to bed late and rose even later. It had numerous health springs, and its chief spa season ran from May to August, making it a wonderful place to forget about failed escape plots. The town was also steeped in gambling and another appealing attraction was the hot sulfurous waters that people claimed had an uncanny ability to cure illness.

princesse de Lamballe's travels - princesse de lamballe

Princesse de Lamballe. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

The princess remained in Aix-la-Chapelle for some time but had a great desire to return and be with the Queen. The Queen forbade it, and after months of frittering away her time in Aix-la-Chapelle, Princesse de Lamballe finally received a letter from the Queen, asking her to return to Paris. A new constitution had been set up and the Queen wanted to reestablish her household. Delays stalled the princess’s departure, but finally on 29 October the fates aligned. The Princesse de Lamballe arrived in France on 4 November 1791 and, a few days later, she arrived at the Tuileries Palace. The princess did not greet the Queen empty-handed because she brought a special gift, a a lovable red and white spaniel that the princess named Thisbée, “a name that, in Ovid’s Metaphorses, signifies faithfulness to death.”[6]

References:

  • [1] Walton, Geri, Marie Antoinette’s Confidante, 2016, 71.
  • [2] Ibid, p. 86.
  • [3] Ibid, p. 137.
  • [4] Ibid, p. 138.
  • [5] –, “C.W.F. Dumas to the Commissioners: A Translation, 2 June 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives Harvard University Press, accessed February 8, 2017.
  • [6] Weber, Caroline, Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution, 2006, p. 358.

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