Philobiblon: Beware of lending money to royalty ...

Friday, March 17, 2006

Beware of lending money to royalty ...

My 19th-century "blogger", Frances Williams Wynn, is today spreading some gossip about French royalty and their hangers-on, and one in particular:

A Miss W., who some fifty years ago was an admired singer on the English stage, made a conquest of a Mr. A., a man of large property, who married her. Whether the lady's character was not immaculate, or whether, the march of intellect not having begun, actresses of the best character were not yet reckoned fit society for ladies, does not appear; certain it is that, finding she could not get any society in England, the A.'s went to establish themselves at Versailles, where they took a fine house, gave fetes, &c. &c. His wealth gave splendour; her beauty, her singing, her dancing, gave charm.

The Polignacs came to her fetes, and afterwards introduced her to the little society, to the intimate reunions, of which Marie Antoinette was a constant member. When adversity befell this object of admiration, of almost idolatry, Mrs. A. devoted herself, her talents and (better than all) her purse to her service. It was chiefly during the Queen's melancholy abode in the Temple that Mrs. A. most exerted herself. In bribes, in various means employed for the relief of the poor Queen, she expended between 30,000 and 40,000 sterling.

This of course was taken under the name of a loan, and soon after the Restoration Mrs. A. made a demand upon Louis XVIII.: every item of her account was discussed and most allowed, till they came to a very large bribe given to the minister of police, one to the gaoler, and bribes to various persons, to manage the escape of the Dauphin and the substitution of a dying child in his place.

Louis XVIII. Would not agree to this article, and insisted upon its being erased from the account as the condition upon which he would order the gradual liquidation of the rest of the debt. To this condition Mrs. A. would not accede: Louis XVIII. died: the accounts were again brought forward. Charles X. was just going to give the order for
paying the debt by instalments when the revolution came, and Mrs. A. seems now further than ever from obtaining any part of her money.

Don't suppose anyone has any idea of who Mrs. A might be?

French royalty is one subject that I've never really got into, although Miss Williams Wynn's words today do remind me of that delightful, whimsical little Steinbeck novel, The Short Reign of Pippin IV. Quite unlike his other work, but good fun.


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