We all know Yolande de Polignac, a decried person and even one of the most hated figures of the Ancien Régime, but also one of the very close to Marie-Antoinette. Nathalie Colas of the Francs has spent years of research, confronting documents, memoirs, diaries, cartoons and pamphlets and brings a fresh look at this relationship that most people ignore in his recent book "Madame de Polignac, intimate of Marie-Antoinette».
The origins and youth of Yolande de Polastron
Yolande Gabrielle Martine de Polastron was born in 1749, of a mother from Normandy of the nobility of dress and of a father governor in Dordogne, knight of the royal and military Order of Saint Louis, from a very old family established in Guyenne from 1004 whose family coat of arms is in the armorial of the companions of Joan of Arc at the siege of Orleans in 1429.
At the age of three when her mother died, she was entrusted to her aunt, the Countess of Andlau, who welcomed her as her daughter. Yolande meets her cousins Aglaé and Henri Antoine as well as a nephew Hyacinthe de Vaudreuil who is nine years older. She will grow up with them, in tenderness and respect, and a great friendship will be born with this big brother Vaudreuil.
Like any young girl, she enters the Maison des Dames de Panthémont where life is very pleasant, interspersed with visits, talks, posture lessons, dance, music and drawing, all of which are useful for young girls to achieve. a beautiful union.
Vaudreuil, sick of the lungs, does not marry her although sensitive to the beauty of Yolande as mentioned by the Duke of Lévis "she is beautifully beautiful, she is the most heavenly figure you can see", but the presents to one of his friends Jules François Armand de Polignac, captain in the royal regiment of Poland. Yolande is 18, Jules is 22, the wedding takes place in July 1767.
Madame de Polignac
Jules de Polignac is a gentleman, and contrary to what we have read, Yolande does not arrive empty-handed, owning five houses, one in the Marais, the other four on the Place Dauphine opposite the statue of Henri IV. .
The young couple settled in the family castle of Claye-en-Brie on the road to Meaux. Diane, Jules's sister, although descendant of the Mancini family and with a difficult and touchy character, adopts this so kind and young sister-in-law. Living as country lords, they organize parties, receptions and meet people.
In May 1768, Yolande gave all her love to her newly born daughter, Aglaé. She lacks fortune, never complains as the visiting Baron de Besenval observes, but does not often appear at Court. She cannot, however, miss the festivities for the marriage of the Dauphin and Marie-Antoinette in May 1770. During a ball, we notice her on the arm of the Marquis de Belzunce, then of the Duke of Bourbon where “she evolves lightly in the first radiance of her radiant beauty ”. But back in her countryside, she resumes her habits as a housewife, mother for the second time of a little Armand, surrounded by her family and of course by Vaudreuil.
Countess Jules at Court
His sister-in-law, brought up countess after the wife of Charles d'Artois, takes the young couple already known to the Court, Jules's uncle being the First Squire of Artois. Yolande immediately arouses the admiration of all "affectionately polite, decent, obliging, with an exquisite amenity" while Vaudreuil fraternizes with Artois.
Marie-Antoinette met her during a walk in the park in the spring of 1775 and encouraged her to come to court more often. The Queen appreciates every day a little more the spontaneity of Yolande who ends up entering her intimacy, spending several hours in her entourage, to such an extent that Ambassador Mercy-Argenteau tells the Empress of "her fear of to see the Countess de Polignac become a lady of attics too quickly, too young and above all without relatives capable of appearing at Versailles ”.
All eyes are on Countess Jules (so-called), all conversations revolve around her, newspapers all over France mention “the Queen's favor has passed to Madame la Comtesse Jules de Polignac. She is pretty, gentle and honest and deserves the kindness with which Her Majesty will honor her ”.
From this moment, the courtiers show jealousy, Madame de Lamballe the first when the Queen announces to her that "Madame de Polignac is mistress in her house at Trianon". Yolande remains imperturbable and never expresses a word too much. Faithful to her parents and friends, she receives Vaudreuil, Jules, Diane, her cousins, the Baron de Besenval, the Duke of Coigny, the Prince de Ligne, the Comte d'Artois, the Comte d'Adhémar and the Comte d'Esterhazy . The company of Trianon is simple, the conversation of the Countess Jules is "a chat not sparkling, but of a playful simplicity which takes the place of a brilliant spirit and which puts people in confidence".
The Queen quickly offered him the office of lady of the palace, then of lady of the ward; Yolande refuses, wanting to keep her peace; Mercy is very happy ...
The hawking and various gossip begins; Fontainebleau looks like a battlefield for the ladies where the Princess de Lamballe rules the privacy of Marie Antoinette, especially when Yolande tries to soften the grief of the Queen who still has no children; unjustly accused of encouraging the Queen "to live in private and to have her society", the Countess Jules asks to leave the Court, but the Queen refuses, does not let her go, admits her to balls, circles, hunting. of the king, even in the royal coach and proposes to her husband the survival of the office of First Squire, causing a general outcry and resentment towards the Polignacs (this office was intended for the Noailles). Despite these favors, Yolande remains on her guard, knowing the fragility of her position, especially since the Polignac clan uses her for the appointment of a new Minister of War or the Swiss embassy for her father-in-law, the charge of historiographer of France for his uncle, a pension for his aunt, the Countess of Andlau, who was driven out and exiled.
Yolande favorite and confidante of the Queen
The Jules are finally housed in Versailles, in a four-room apartment in a privileged location, at the top of the marble staircase. The most prominent person at Court among the ladies who are each more sparkling than the next, Yolande remains simple, dresses and adorns herself with taste, "simply combing her hair in ample and graceful straw hats, she has a natural, an enchanting demeanor, a walk with a natural abandon ”, and has never appeared in the account books of the official seamstress of the Court. She's a favorite, but doesn't have the flaws that come with this title. The king is conquered, he will sometimes "taste the restful sweetness of his conversation" and frequently finds this intimate society "which is cheerful, we have fun at nothing, it's a perpetual recreation, we sing and we play the comedy ".
Finally, happy news is announced: the Queen is fat! She shares this immense joy with Yolande who stays with her, while the Princess of Lamballe makes a serious mistake by being absent from her post for a race in Holland. During her rest with her parents in summer, Yolande is called back urgently by the King "so that the Queen could have the relief of being able to talk with the person to whom she grants the most confidence and friendship". Finally in December, “Madame Royale” was born, but no one noticed the malicious remarks and pamphlets against the King and Queen in the spring of 1779; the Comte d'Artois is not to be outdone, accused of being the lover of the Countess Jules.
Having become a mother, the Queen puts her relationships in order, but absolutely cannot do without Yolande, even sharing a measles that ends in a reunion during a private meal. Likewise, on her return from Spa waters, Yolande is awaited by the Queen who should have attended a Saint Hubert meal, hence a new scandal accusing Marie-Antoinette of “tastes for people of her sex”.
Yes, the Queen prefers Yolande despite the latest requests from the Polignac clan which annoyed her (land in Lorraine, county of Bitche, boarding house for Vaudreuil), but She no longer supports the princess of Lamballe, who moans constantly, with her fits. of jealousy, followed by nervous breakdowns. To be forgiven, the King and the Queen will ensure the marriage of the young Aglaé with the Count de Gramont, high Duke of Guiche on the day of the ceremony; as a dowry a land of 35,000 pounds of income and 400,000 pounds to pay off the debts of the family; the marriage of her sister to the Chevalier de Deux-Ponts Forbach and that of her younger brother to the Esparbès de Lussan family.
On the verge of giving birth again, Yolande retires to Passy where the Queen visits her every day and remains by her side until the birth of Jules Junior despite the questions that arise "the child of Mme de Polignac is he from the Queen or from Mr. de Vaudreuil? "
Recovered and returned to court in the spring of 1780, Yolande attended various weddings; joy is back, we play at the theater where the Queen herself is an actress, followed by a meal with the royal family and the actors ... for a short time, because Yolande is once again called upon to work with the Queen to grant responsibilities to each other, replacements of ministers, notably Maurepas in the War and Sartine in the Navy, as well as the allocation of compensation for leaving posts. The discontented King attacks the Queen who blames Yolande. With her usual calm and noble tone, she handed over her office and all her goods received to Him, and wished to leave the Court. Marie-Antoinette, who did not expect such a reaction, "bursts into tears and throws herself at Yolande's knees to beg her to forgive him and tells her all the regret for having offended her". Despite her firmness, Madame de Polignac takes the Queen in her arms and obviously forgives her. In the process, Jules de Polignac was raised Duke and the post of Grand Fauconnier of France was awarded to Vaudreuil, obviously making people jealous and envious.
Yolande duchess and governess of the Children of France
The Queen and Yolande, occupied by the presentation to the Court of the two recently married young girls, do not worry about the new pamphlets, especially since they are both fat and that they will give birth almost at the same time at the end of 1781 (Yolande a boy in September, a boy's Queen in October); it is the great joy between the two friends, Mme Vigée-Lebrun testifies "the Duchess of Polignac joined to her truly ravishing beauty, an angelic sweetness, the spirit at the same time the most attractive and the most solid".
Having the "stool", Yolande attends the Queen's various receptions, receives testimonies of consideration from the Grand Duke of Russia in May 1782, enjoys a table served on the ground floor, but refuses the vacant office of Housekeeper of the Children of France. Marie Antoinette understands, expresses her desire to have her friend by her side and with her help, She would take care of the education of her children, although this is not the custom. Faced with so much sincerity, Yolande cannot refuse yet.
The new Duchess is sworn in, takes up her new functions (responsible for the care and education of the two royal children, Madame Royale with a very difficult character and the Dauphin with very fragile health) and receives the Court three times a week, from of November 1782. Taking her new responsibilities very seriously, she does not realize that those around her push her to always ask for more, in particular the domain of Chambord !!! The King then proposed to set up a stud there, entrusting it to his brother Artois, the enjoyment of which went to the First Squire who was none other than the Marquis de Polignac, uncle of Duke Jules. Once installed, the Marquis carries out pruning work, repairing the surrounding wall, cleaning up ditches and cleaning up the river; magnificent stallions are bought, crown furniture arrives: Chambord takes the turn of a well-maintained royal house ... and Duke Jules asks for the survival of his uncle! In 1783, we think of the union of the son of Yolande with the granddaughter of Baron de Breteuil, a springboard for accession to the ministry; the Count of Adhémar is promoted Ambassador of France in London; the Polignac clan wants to have Calonne admitted to Finance to replace Lefèvre d'Ormesson; Cousin Hérault de Séchelles is the King's Advocate General.
Relations are cooling between the two friends
In the spring of 1784, the Dauphin was getting worse and worse despite Yolande's care; the enemies of the Queen are more and more virulent, the friendship which she brings to the Duchess Jules is the main cause and the Court awaits with joy, the decline of the favor of Yolande. The "Necklace affair" triggers hostilities; The rumors are rife ; Vaudreuil supports Cardinal de Rohan "poor being fooled and plucked"; the conspired Queen calls on Yolande to receive visitors.
Accused of having transformed the Queen, responsible for her main faults, the kingdom's deficit and even accused of crimes, Yolande is tired, especially disappointed by those around her who always ask and want more, her husband who tries to sell a debt to Vergennes. to get money “I tremble when I'm alone with someone I love; each woman, each man approaches me with a determined project, that of applying to my credit to obtain such a place, such a favor ”.
Yet Yolande remains equal to herself, supported by Vaudreuil always present, that the Queen jealous, to such an extent that she inquires about her presence before going to her friend and the courtiers feel the decline of the Duchess Jules. Some tell her that other ladies are more in favor with the Queen, to which Yolande replies "I esteem the queen too much to suspect her of wanting to move away from a friend, whom she has chosen, whose tenderness and dedication are well known to him. But if the queen stopped loving me, I would mourn the loss of my friend but I would not do anything to preserve her kindness ”.
The Queen, overwhelmed by gossip, always gets more angry with her friend. Yolande, to whom the doctors asked to take the waters, asks the King to accept his resignation, which of course is refused; but authorizes him to be absent, while retaining his place; as for leaving the Court, the King "knowing the immense sadness of the Queen in such a case, kneels before Yolande so that she remains governess". This immense favor excites the envious and increases their hatred; the texts become filthy, abusive and accusatory, the Polignacs and especially Yolande are treated as "hungry leeches" and for the people, the Queen must banish the Duchess.
In June 1787, Yolande, still in the waters of Bath, was called back to the Queen: the youngest child of the Children of France died; resuming her functions, she consoles the Queen and has the joy of discovering her apartment renovated and furnished with delicacy, while the pamphleteers announce an apartment transformed into a den dedicated to Priapus and Satan! In order not to amplify the rumors, Yolande asks Marie-Antoinette to come and see her on the sly and no longer in public. She remains his confidante, serving as an intermediary with Fersen, passing on the little words from one to the other.
The beginnings of the Revolution
Accused of deficit, Calonne was replaced by Loménie de Brienne who offered drastic savings with 173 charges removed from the Queen's house, including those of Polignac, Vaudreuil and Coigny. Yolande also restricts the staff, but rewards the good elements for arduous services. She knows how to make herself loved and respected, the compliments are real "Madame de Polignac does not leave the Dauphin, she is admirable with him, the Queen could not have confided her son better". Yes, the Dauphin appreciates Yolande very much, until the age of 6 when he is entrusted to men, his character and his feelings changing suddenly, slandering and hating Yolande!
At Trianon, nobody pays much attention to the news of the Estates General convened for May 1789, even when one learns of the “doubling of the votes of the Third Party”. Only the Polignac clan feels that there is danger, that disaster is imminent, while Yolande and the Queen are accused of various depravities and perversions.
In June, after the constitution of the National Assembly, it is the consternation in the living room of Polignac, but one supports the king against Necker who wanted "to spare the Third State". The various clans are formed: Yolande, the King and the Queen against Artois, Broglie and Breteuil wishing for austerity measures, facing the people who are rising up and who have just invaded the Invalides, shouting "Down with the Queen, down with them. Polignac ”. Yolande is ready to leave the Queen for her own good, in her interest and two days later, when the royal family is obliged to present themselves on the balcony at Versailles, Yolande is asked not to come, Madame Campan taking her place with the children. The people have noticed her absence and think it is the end of the Polignacs, adding "the Duchess is like moles, she works below, we will be able to dig to dig her up"!
The forced departure
French Revolution ")" /> That same day, July 16, 1789, the Polignacs were called at 8 pm, the Queen asked them to leave the place, to flee in the name of their friendship. It is extremely difficult, Vaudreuil kneels down and is forgiven. Before heading to Valenciennes, Artois and Vaudreuil take away a fainted Yolande and a purse given by Marie Antoinette for travel expenses as well as a little note "Farewell, the most tender of friends". The coach is ready to leave for Switzerland, Yolande disguised as a chambermaid, Jules negotiating, accompanied by Diane, Yolande's daughter and the newborn; At the destination, despite the stops caused by the peasants on the way, Yolande meets Necker who is not at all aware of the storming of the Bastille: it is July 24, 1789.
The family is organized with the help of traders and villagers, but the news is bad: killings, looting, severed heads throughout France. The only consolation is the word received from the Queen who assures her of "her friendship until death", the two friends being able to correspond through the intermediary of one of the ladies of the palace.
Exile in Italy
After two months in Switzerland, the Polignacs leave for Italy where the weather is better. In Turin, Artois finds the king his father-in-law and with his help, sets up the Turin Committee to save the royal family. The Polignacs were not welcome, so we left for Rome, hoping that Cardinal Bernis would welcome them. Joined by many nobles on the run, including Mme Vigée-Lebrun, we comment on the days of October 5 and 6 when the Queen became "the man to be slaughtered" as well as other gossip where "Yolande is accused of wanting to steal some paintings royals hanging in an old apartment in the Tuileries ”, which did not improve her health, especially since she was very angry with herself for having abandoned Marie-Antoinette. Fortunately, Bernis supports her and appreciates her great reason, her simplicity of manners, her mother's soul, her responses full of kindness, her detachment and her amenity in the face of the jealousy of the cardinal's friends, while Artois struggles and asks for aid to Austria, Sweden, England. The transition to the New Year (12/31/1789) is not cheerful, the hugs are done in tears.
New arrivals in Rome avoid the Polignacs. We learn that the King has given "his red book" in which are entered all the expenses of the Court, the pensions awarded and the names of the beneficiaries ... unfortunately the Polignacs are entered there "at all possible levels of all pensions of all kinds ". Some authors mention that pensions amounted to 7,500,000 francs in 1789; others insist that the Polignacs received "what was needed to hold a rank worthy of favor with the Queen in order to ensure her demands, but when the Revolution overthrew them, they had only debts and not wealth ”; others still estimate that the three large families in the entourage of the Queen and the King (the Noailles, Talleyrand and Polignac) received three million in benefit, but that only the Polignacs were faithful without reserve, devoted body and soul; and Philippe Delorme finishes "the Duchess of Polignac cashed in 14 years of favor, less than the Pompadour in a single year"!
To cut everything short, Jules de Polignac takes his family to Venice. Well installed in a pretty house, Yolande enjoys the visits, the canals, the masses in music. The news follows, the King thanks the Polignacs for “their letters which are eagerly awaited and read with sensitivity; my soul is sad, I do not want to afflict yours, may your courage support you, take care of your health to take care of your friends in happier times; your friend's health is maintained despite all the pain that overwhelms her ”. But Marie Antoinette can no longer write, she "is forced not to pour her pain into the breast of the Duchess of Polignac"; under close surveillance, all his correspondence is checked. Yolande feels a growing sorrow for this forced silence, but can count on her sincere friends, although Vaudreuil is bored while waiting for the return of Artois in January 1791 with bad news: the emperor Leopold refuses to help.
In Yolande's living room, the emigrants comment on the news: Louis XVI has just given full powers to Breteuil, who is organizing the King's flight. Jules is then sent to the Emperor, but quickly it is the arrest in Varennes and the escort to Paris. Yolande goes from joy to horror, but must recover to convince those around her of the absurdity of the gossip (the Queen would make common cause with the Jacobins); but she collapses on reading the libels "accomplice of the Queen in debauchery, Madame de Polignac is equally so in crime, accused of having poisoned the ministers Vergennes and Maurepas" and Vaudreuil of answering "the accusations absurd can have no effect on the man of common sense! "
In the footsteps of Marie-Antoinette in Vienna
Jules de Polignac brings his family to Vienna to be protected by Leopold. Yolande is delighted to discover the places where Marie Antoinette spent her childhood and welcomes Fersen with great emotion. In August 1791, Fersen, Artois and Vaudreuil set up an escape project with the support of Léopold, but the emperor deceived them! Yolande is devastated, in intense pain, especially since she has just learned that “her respectable aunt, her real mother” Mme d'Andlau has just died.
Yolande no longer goes out, only the Prince de Ligne, passionate defender of Marie-Antoinette, is allowed to see her; Yolande "wears off and dies of grief at not receiving news from the Queen"; reading the gazettes led to torrents of tears (threatening armed crowd, crimes, investigation of the Tuileries, saving the king's supporters, arson, the royal family definitively imprisoned and accused of treason and perfidy).
August 10, 1792 marks the beginning of her profound illness: she no longer dries her tears, no longer smiles, no longer sleeps, no longer eats and becomes weak. The gazettes do not help matters, retracing the sad fate of Madame de Lamballe in September 1792. She easily imagines that she could have been in her place and remains bedridden when Vaudreuil informs her of the King's trial.
The end of Yolande de Polignac
In February 1793, when the Comte de Provence's letter announced the King's death, Vaudreuil stayed with Yolande for good: the symptoms were worrying, inflammation, continual pain, both moral and physical. He does not dare to tell Yolande that the royal children have been taken from their mother, that Marie Antoinette has been transferred to the Conciergerie, that the conspiracy of the carnation has expired, that the convention will judge all the enemies of the people and that the Queen's trial began in October. Artois warns Vaudreuil “I tremble at the blow that will be dealt to him; his son Armand must tell him the news, but not daring to tell the truth, he will let him believe that the Queen died of deprivation in prison ”. But Yolande is sane, reads the gazettes and understands the end of her friend. Inconsolable, she never leaves bed, it is the coup de grace and the beginning of her agony, her deep sadness and her acute pains will get the better of her; in the last days, the entry of her room is refused to her husband and her children.
She died slowly, after receiving aid from Christians on December 5, 1793 "family, friends, servants, all mourn her and ask to follow her". On her grave, three words are written "dead in pain".
Jules mourns his companion "never has there been a more perfect character than his". Having to ensure the maintenance of his family and after calculating his property, he gradually sells his valuables. Vaudreuil is struck with a death blow having lost the confidante of all his thoughts for 30 years and will live another two years with the rest of the family in Vienna. On the accession of Louis XVIII, he joined Artois who succeeded in forming a small court of emigrants in Scotland. Yolande's children, Armand and Jules, compromised in the attack against Napoleon, condemned to death, were only imprisoned for 10 years thanks to Joséphine's intervention. Vaudreuil and the Duke of Polignac died in 1817, Artois became king in 1824 taking Jules de Polignac junior as minister until 1830 only, accused of being the son of d'Artois and Yolande!
Madame de Polignac, intimate of Marie-Antoinette by Nathalie Colas des Francs. Tallandier, 2016.