Madame de Tourzel

Another great post by Elena at Tea at Trianon on the Marquise (later Duchess) de Tourzel, who became governess to the royal children after the emigration of Madame de Polignac following the storming of the Bastille.

Elena reminds us that Marie-Antoinette wrote the Marquise on that occasion: “I
entrusted my children to friendship. I entrust them
now to virtue.”

I would add competency. Madame de Tourzel was a cultivated woman who had educated her own children (a rarity in the French nobility of the time.) She was also a kind, affectionate widow who endeared herself to both Madame Royale and the second Dauphin, Louis-Charles. The rambunctious little boy fell head over heals in love with Pauline, Madame de Tourzel’s seventeen-year old unmarried daughter. One of his main fears (and one which Madame de Tourzel did not hesitate to use to great effect) was to lose the young lady’s good opinion.

Madame de Tourzel is a gifted writer, and her Memoirs (unfortunately, to my knowledge, not translated into English) were an indispensable resource while I was working on Mistress of the Revolution. In particular the part relating the atrocities of the September prison massacres relied on Madame de Tourzel’s eyewitness account.

In her Memoirs, she brings to life the claustrophobic atmosphere of the much diminished Court under siege at the Tuileries Palace after the royal family had to leave Versailles. Her integrity shines through. Unlike Madame Campan, she never embellishes for the sake of melodrama, and she is not swayed by personal prejudices. Madame de Tourzel, Pauline and her other children survived the Revolution. Afterwards she led a very retired life, surrounded by the memories of the royal family.

Much to my regret, I was unable to find a portrait of Madame de Tourzel during the Revolution. Here is represented as an elderly lady during the Restoration. Note the bust of the Dauphin on the mantelpiece. She never doubted that the child had died in the Tower of the Temple (in which she was right, as we now know.)

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