Thursday, 7 July 2016

The most astonishing thing

In 1670, Anne Marie Louise d'Orléans, granddaughter of Henry IV, stunned the masses by falling in love not with a king but with Antoine Nompar de Caumont, duc de Lauzun, a relatively lowly member of society known widely for his “unique” looks. One person who found the news particularly amusing was Madame de Sévigné, who hastily and with much enthusiasm informed her cousin of the impending marriage--a marriage which, incidentally, was called off just days later.

(Portrait of Madame de Sévigné by Claude Lefèbvre, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Monday 15 December 1670

What I am about to communicate to you is the most astonishing thing, the most surprising, the most marvellous, the most miraculous, most triumphant, most baffling, most unheard of, most singular, most extraordinary, most unbelievable, most unforeseen, biggest, tiniest, rarest, commonest, the most talked about, the most secret up to this day, the most brilliant, the most enviable, in fact a thing of which only one example can be found in past ages, and, moreover, that example is a false one; a thing nobody can believe in Paris (how could anyone believe it in Lyons?), a thing that makes everybody cry ‘mercy on us’, in short a thing that will be done on Sunday and those who see it will think they are seeing visions – a thing that will be done on Sunday and perhaps not done by Monday. I can’t make up my mind to say it. Guess, I give you three tries. You give up? Very well, I shall have to tell you. Monsieur de Lauzun is marrying on Sunday, in the Louvre – guess who? I give you four guesses, ten, a hundred. Mme de Coulanges will be saying: That’s not so very hard to guess, it’s Mademoiselle de La Vallière. Not at all, Madame. Mademoiselle de Retz, then? Not at all, you’re very provincial. Of course, how silly we are, you say: It’s Mademoiselle Colbert. You’re still further away. Then it must be Mademoiselle de Créquy? You’re nowhere near. I shall have to tell you in the end: he is marrying, on Sunday, in the Louvre, with the King’s permission, Mademoiselle, Mademoiselle de … Mademoiselle … guess the name. He’s marrying Mademoiselle, of course! Honestly, on my honour, on my sworn oath! Mademoiselle, the great Mademoiselle, Mademoiselle, daughter of the late Monsieur, Mademoiselle, granddaughter of Henri IV, Mademoiselle d’Eu, Mademoiselle de Dombes, Mademoiselle de Montpensier, Mademoiselle d’Orléans, Mademoiselle, first cousin of the King, Mademoiselle, destined for a throne, Mademoiselle, the only bride in France worthy of Monsieur. There’s a fine subject for conversation. If you shout aloud, if you are beside yourself, if you say we have lied, that it is false, that you are being taken in, that this is a fine old tale and too feeble to be imagined, if, in fine, you should even abuse us, we shall say you are perfectly right. We did as much ourselves.

Good-bye, letters coming by this post will show you whether we are telling the truth or not.