Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Duc de Berri

Having heard and written down at the time all the accounts I heard of the assassination of the Due de Berri, and of the birth of his posthumous son,—aware that my informants were ultra-royalists, I was not a little amused in hearing yesterday from the E.s, the story of the liberals. In the royalist history, the variations are unimportant; but our friends, I see, are very much inclined to believe that the Duc de Bordeaux is not the child of the Duchess, but the offspring of one of his mistresses, of the mother of les petites anglaises mentioned in the letter of Madame de Grontault.*

True it is that, among the known and undisputed facts, there are many suspicious circumstances; the extraordinary privacy of the birth,—the unaccountable delaissement of the Duchess though all Paris knew that the accouchement was daily, nay hourly, expected—the wonderful strength of the Duchess, whom Henry saw at the window, within the first forty-eight hours, I think—her known partiality for Mademoiselle, and her indifference to the boy—the one, she says, 'est mon enfant, l'autre c'est l'enfant de la France;' the fact of her having escaped a miscarriage after such a shock and such exertions. Another singular circumstance—the extravagant liberality and attention displayed not by the Duchess only but by all the royal family to les petites anglaises (now Comtesses d'Issou-dun) and to their mother, would be thus accounted for.

The most suspicious part of the story is, that the proces-verbal giving the account of the birth of the child, which was proclaimed by authority, was altered: in the first copy, only half-an-hour was said to have elapsed between the time when the ladies took leave of the Duchess and that when they were not only safe in their nests but so fast asleep that they could not hear her bell. In a second, this was made an hour. Still the certainty that the fable (if fable it be) must have been fabricated within the first twenty-four hours after the assassination of the father, and the coincidence with the circumstances which had been brought forward to shake the legitimacy of the young Napoleon, are in my mind strong evidence against this story.

It is singular that, the day after, I heard a report which, admitting both stories to be true, would furnish a striking instance of poetical justice. This child, this pretender, is so little promising in body or mind, that Charles Dix considers himself under the necessity of marrying to provide another heir. It is impossible not to wish that the Duc de Chartres, who has had a good, quiet, unprincely education, and is said to do great credit to it, is not left to take his chance.

They say that while the cannon were firing to announce the birth of the Duc de Bordeaux,—after the twenty-four (I think) which mark the birth of a female, while everybody was listening for the twenty-fifth which was to announce an heir, the Due de Chartres said, ' Now we shall see whether I have a wife or a master.'

* The Duke's English mistress, who attended his death-bed, as related by Madame de Gontault, in a letter (transcribed by Miss Wynn) narrating 'all the circumstances of the assassination and his death. The doubts relating' to the birth of the Due de Bordeaux were not more plausible than those thrown on the birth of the Chevalier St. Georges, which are now rejected as preposterous.


Anonymous Barbara Stephenson said...

As an early modernist, I love this blog, and as a French historian, this excerpt is fascinating! However, your OCR had trouble with this one, especially with "duc" -- it shows as "due" in several places.

9:14 PM  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Thanks Barbara. I really should have picked that up originally, but this is often a late-night job. I think I've fixed them all now.

11:04 PM  

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