The love affair between Marquis de Lafayette and Diane of Simiane began after Diane married Charles-Francois of Simiane, Marquis of Miremont. Charles-Francois was the son of François Louis Hector of Simiane and Marie Esther Emilie of Seveyrac. He had served in the American Revolutionary War with the famous French nobleman and general, the Count of Rochambeau, who had played a major role in helping the thirteen colonies win independence during the American Revolution.
Diane-Adélaïde of Damas d’Antigny was born in Paris on 25 January 1762, and Charles-Francois married her on 12 August 1777 when she was 15. However, it quickly became obvious to the 15-year-old that her husband, who was captain of the guard for the Count of Artois, was homosexual, and, therefore, Diane sought comfort in the arms of other men. Among the men who became a lover was Gilbert du Motier, Marquis of Lafayette, simply known as Lafayette. Interestingly, Lafayette had also served with Charles-Francois during America’s War for Independence.
Despite his homosexuality, Charles-Francois was prone to fits of jealousy over his wife. That partly may have been because she was considered the most beautiful woman in France at the time. Indicative of his great jealousy was a rumor that circulated after his death. He had been hunting when he was supposedly accidentally shot on 27 March 1787. However, some people alleged that it was no accident and that he purposely blew his brains out because he was intensely jealous of his wife’s relationship with Lafayette.
Lafayette’s wife, Adrienne, on the other hand, had long considered herself not good enough for her husband, and, perhaps, that is why Lafayette had another affair, prior to his relationship with Diane. Lafayette’s prior affair was with a woman named Aglaé, Countess of Hunolstein. Aglaé and Lafayette’s relationship fell apart partly because of constant gossip and partly because Adrienne’s family (the Noailles family), was extremely unhappy about the affair. Unhappiness with the Noailles in turn made Lafayette unpopular at Louis XVI’s court and also caused Aglaé to be shunned.
While the Adrienne’s family may have been unhappy about Aglaé, people reported that Adrienne was very tolerant of Lafayette and his mistresses. Adrienne’s daughter wrote of her mother that her mother expressed great concern over his mistresses. She also noted of her mother:
“She was terrified … of the intensity of her passion, and by that thought that she might always not be able to conceal it … and thereby become an embarrassment to him [Lafayette].”
Apparently, Adrienne’s family took Lafayette’s relationship with Diane with more grace than they did his affair with Aglaé. Whereas Lafayette’s affair with Aglaé lasted about a year, his relationship with Diane lasted over thirty years. It was also claimed that Adrienne found Diane to be a very nice woman and even suggested that her children call Diane “aunt.”
Exactly how Lafayette met Diane is unclear. She served as a lady-in-waiting to the Countess of Provence (wife of the future Louis XVIII) and perhaps he met at her Versailles. After Lafayette’s interest in Diane began, many people reported on his obvious affection towards her. For instance, Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun, a prominent painter, wrote in her memoirs that Lafayette visited her studio, “just to see the portrait that I was making of the pretty Madame de Simiane, to whom, it was said, he was paying court.”
One historian noted that Lafayette described Diane using such “adjectives [as] jolie, aimable, attachant, noble, sincère.” Besides being pretty, lovable, endearing, noble, and sincere, Diane was also said to be an educated woman who loved to read. The books she read were the types of books that other gentlewomen of this time period read. Among some of her favorite books were French translations of English fiction and historical novels, with most of these books ranging in date from the late 18th century to the early 19th century. One particular English writer that Diane read was Sir Walter Scott.
After the death of her husband, Diane never remarried and her relationship with Lafayette eventually cooled partly because she was more conservative in her political views than Lafayette. However, a sincere friendship remained between the two lasting until the day Lafayette died in 1834. One person who commented on their relationship wrote:
“The eighteenth century always claimed its rights, and this model husband none the less inspired a very tender passion, which in time changed into faithful friendship, in the most charming person at court, and the handsomest … — Madame de Simiane.”
Diane spent her later years at the Château de Cirey. The home had belonged to her adopted father. He was Louis-Marie Florent du Châtelet and he had married Diane-Adélaïde de Rochechouart and adopted Diane, who was Diane-Adélaïde’s niece. Louis-Marie was also the son of Gabrielle Émilie de Breteuil, Marquise du Châtelet, who was Voltaire’s lover and long-time mistress. The Marquise was highly gifted, adept at learning languages, and fiercely passionate about studying mathematics. After the Marquise and Voltaire began a relationship, they refurbished the Château de Cirey. Diane acquired the house in 1789, shortly before the Bastille was stormed, and this is where she died on Thursday, 9 April 1835.
- Auricchio, Laura, The Marquis, 2015
- Éloffe, Madame, Modes et usages au temps de Marie-Antoinette, Volume 1, 1885
- Gottschalk, Louis, Lady-in-Waiting: The Romance of Lafayette and Aglaé de Hunolstein, 1939
- Maurois, Andre, Adrienne: The Life of the Marquise de La Fayette, 1961
- Stillman, Michael, “Books from the Library of Diane-Adelaide de Simiane from Croft and Spademan” at rarebookhub
- The Nation, Volume 55, 1892