The History Of The Mareschalless De La Ferté


The Marquess de Beuvron believing himself handsome enough to be happy, was not contented with the leavings of so many; and Madame d’Olonne being not more faithful to him, he not only resolved to see neither of ’em, but also to ruin their Reputations in the World. As he durst not brag publicky to have lain with two Sisters, he gave ’em to understand that he had enjoy’d that happiness with one, and that it was only his own fault that he had not arriv’d to it with the other. Those who knew ’em both, had no hardship to believe it, but many believing it was malice that occasion’d his railing, the injury he thought to do their Reputations, excited only in them a curiosity to see such remarkable Ladies…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So! – it is with an altered perspective that I returned to The History Of The Mareschalless De La Ferté. Possibly because, in this instance, he was dealing with people much more widely known, the anonymous author does reel himself in a bit, with this narrative being far less sexually explicit; but otherwise, it is business as usual.

The author starts out by introducing his new cast of characters:

What I have told you of Madam de Lionne, shews a great condescention in one who had aspired to Charm even the King; yet it is nothing in Comparison of what I am going to relate concerning the Mareschalless de la Ferté, who is my other Heroess; but one so Illustrious, that it would be difficult to find her fellow, should you seek throughout Paris, which is nevertheless a Marvellous place for such kind of Discoveries. However, she was no sooner thrown from the aspiring hopes I have before mention’d, but she began to endeavour to comfort her self: And it seem’d not difficult, since he who had made her forget so Charming an Idea, was not one of extraordinary merit. She was of a good Family, and the Mareschal prov’d himself more couragious when he marry’d her, than he had before done by all the Warlike enterprises he had ever attempted. For she must either have been chang’d at nurse, or resemble the rest of her Relations who were so inclin’d: a fair Example whereof was to be seen in her Sister the Countess d’Olonne, whom Bussy has endeavoured to render famous to his Abilities, tho’ he has very much fail’d in it. The Copy falling so short of the Original. This Lady, tho’ of an indifferent Beauty, and far beneath her Sisters, had nevertheless so good an Opinion of her self, that she thought it her right to Charm the World…

The narrative then offers an unpleasant sketch of the Maréchal de la Ferté, “the Mareschal” – the most brutal Man that ever was – who is shown using threats and violence against his erratic wife, in an effort to keep her in line when his military duties call him away from home. In particular, he warns her against keeping company with her sister, the Countess d’Olonne, who is less than pleased at being cast in the role of corrupting influence:

And as Revenge is commonly the darling sin of Women; she could not rest till she had place’d him in the same rank with her own Husband, that is, till she had contriv’d a pair of Horns for him. Having discover’d her intentions in this to the Marquess of Beuvron who lov’d her, she desir’d him to render her that service, in hopes, that being both handsom and witty, it would not be difficult for him to supplant a Jealous Coxcomb, who could never have pleas’d her Sister any other way than by making her Fortune.

The Marquess, while attracted by the idea of bagging sisters, suspects that the Countess is trying to palm him off so that she can move on to the Duke de Candalle. He shows his jealousy so clearly, she abandons the notion of using him as her tool; though not the notion itself. After some reflection, she comes up with an alternative lover for her sister:

…she fixt upon her own Husband, in whom she fancy’d, she had heretofore observ’d some kind looks towards her Sister, by which she concluded her not indifferent to him; and besides she thought it not ill Policy to amuse him with some engagement, that he might not pry so narrowly after her affairs.

The Countess is right about her husband, but this plan falls through too: the Count d’Orlonne being so aware of his own shortcomings that he can bring himself to make no real attempt to seduce his sister-in-law. Exasperated, the Countess then fixes upon a certain Valet de Chambre in her sister’s employ, who helps her scheme along by being reticent about his background. The Countess brings the young man to the Mareschalless’ attention, suggesting to her that he is, in reality, some young lord who is in love with her, and has adopted the disguise of a servant to get close to her. The Mareschalless is intrigued and flattered, as she intended; while she also takes opportunities to urge the young servant on. He is dazzled, but doubtful; and hesitates in a manner that frustrates the Mareschalless, and forces her to make the first move:

…he, who was afraid of being guilty of any disrespect that might occasion his discharge, had still continued so dull not to have profited by the opportunity, had not the Lady, who kindly interpreted his proceedings, forc’d him into her lap, where she made him so many advances, that he could no longer be in doubt of his good Fortune. At these signs he took Courage, and the Bed being not yet made, the half hour he remained with her, was so well employ’d, that she conceiv’s a great esteem of his merit…

The affair being so unlikely, and the Mareschalless’ lover living under her roof, the intrigue goes undiscovered by the spies placed by the Mareschal, as well as by the world at large. This does not suit the Countess d’Olonne, who is perfectly prepared to sacrifice her sister to make a fool out of her brother-in-law: she sends him an anonymous letter informing him of the intrigue. Despite his low opinion of his wife, the Mareschal can hardly believe such a thing, and determines to hide his doubts and keep watch upon her himself:

His resentment was not the less for being conceal’d, on the contrary, it disturb’d his quiet both Night and Day; which afforded no little joy to the Countess d’Olonne, who was so clear sighted to discern through all his false disguises, he suffer’d all the torture she could wish him…

However, the Countess reckons without the jealousy of the Marquess de Beuvron who, angry at being made to share her favours, secretly gives her away to the Mareschalless. She, terrified of her husband’s violence, immediately breaks off the affair—or tries to: the young man, tempting fate, digs in his heels when she tries to dismiss him from the household; time enough for the Mareschal, who has plans of his own, to offer him a position in his own service. The young man foolishly takes this as a sign that the cuckolded husband does not know about the affair, a misapprehension which costs him his life:

For taking a Journey not long after this, towards his Government of Lorain, by the way Assassinated him with his own hand, that no one might know what was become of him…

The Mareschal takes pains to advertise the disappearance of his servant, whose body is found some time afterwards, and his own anger at the cowardly crime:

The Garrison of Luxemburgh, having at this time sent Parties abroad, this Murder was attributed to them, and the Mareschal seem’d to be so incens’d at it, that he commanded a Village in that Duchy to be burnt, tho’ it was under Contribution.

Though to the world at large the Mareschal is innocent, those closest to him know better. The Countess sends the Marquess to warn her sister (without giving away her own part in the matter), and the Maraschelless takes heed, altering her conduct and confining herself to home and family parties. This attempt to allay her husband’s anger backfires, however, because “family party” means the company of the Count d’Olonne, who finds his passion for his sister-in-law becoming uncontrollable. Meanwhile, the Marquess de Beuvron, having had several private meetings with the Mareschalles while they planned the best way to placate her husband, also finds his inclinations drifting from one sister to the other. Granted, a few days earlier he was urging her to behave herself at all cost; but, oh well…

The Mareschalless is surprised by the Marquess’ sudden declaration; doubtful that he means it; and frightened of her husband. The Marquess has an answer for all this—that since he is so well known as the Countess d’Olonne’s lover, no-one will suspect them, including the Mareschal; that he is fed up with the Countess’ infidelities; and that, while the Countess is generally deemed the most beautiful women in Paris, he finds himself drawn to the Mareschalless’ less obvious charms.

The Mareschalless doesn’t quite believe any of this but, having lived all her life in her sister’s shadow, the thought of stealing her lover is too tempting. The mere fact of it is not enough for her, however:

She ask’d him which (meaning she or her Sister,) afforded him the most ravishing transports, and he…laying aside his discretion, freely confess’d, her self without Comparison: She see,’d not to believe him, pretending his Raptures did not appear to her violent enough, but this was only to give him the opportunity to begin again; which he perceiving, acquitted himself so well of his Duty, that she was forc’d to confess that if he did not love her, his treatment of her had very much the appearance of it…

The smokescreen of the Marquess’ long-standing affair with the Countess operates as anticipated—except, curiously, in one quarter. The Count d’Olonne, having turned a blind eye to the Marquess’ affair with his wife, is infuriated to find him beforehand with the Mareschalless, and picks a violent quarrel with him.

In the end it is the Countess who must act as peacemaker, inviting de Beuvron to a private supper with herself and the Count as a public show of friendship and reconciliation. The Count, however, afraid that this reconciliation may mean a resumption of the earlier affair, determines to do his best to ruin the Marquess with her, and excuses his conduct in terms of defending his sister-in-law’s reputation. This ploy fails in its intent, the Countess concluding, correctly, that he is is driven by his desire for the Mareschalless, but dismissing the notion of the Marquess cheating on her as ridiculous.

But as it turns out, the Countess has created a monster. Her desires being let off the leash via her consecutive affairs, the Mareschalless goes wild:

In effect finding her Husband more tractable at his return than she could hope, she stopped not at the Marquess de Beuvron, but associated with him many Comrades of all sorts. The Church, the Law, and the Sword, was equally well receiv’d by her, and not contented with these three States, she made a Favourite of a fourth. Those who were concern’d in the Revenue pleas’d her extreamly, and having a great inclination for Play, many believ’d her Interest engag’d her to it.

Indeed, the behaviour of the Mareschalless is so outrageous, it attracts notice in high places:

This happen’d whilst the King was young, and but little of his adroitness either in War or Love had yet appear’d; but as he had the inclinations of a great Prince, of all the Women about Court these two Sisters were the least in his esteem, and he could not forbear to say one day, speaking of the Countess d’Olonne, that she was a shame to her Sex, and that her Sister was going the way to be little better…

Meanwhile, we discover that the reason for the Mareschal’s unwonted compliance is his own secret affair. In fact, in order to keep him distracted, the Marquess has procured a pretty young prostitute and thrown her in the Mareschal’s way; and he, unknowing, has snapped at the bait:

He look’s very much upon her, and believing her as vertuous as she affeted to appear, it was not long before he made her an offer of his Heart. She at first refused it, and his passion was so enhanc’d by the denyal, that he openly Courted her. His Wife, to push the design, pretended to be offended at it, but he desisted not for this, neither car’d she much, for what she did, was only to make him believe he was not indifferent to her.

The girl eventually gives in, of course; and, primed by the Marquess, does her best to keep everyone happy:

She took great care to entertain him with the Vertue of the Mareschalless, under the pretext that having a Wife so commendable in all things, the Passion he had for her would no doubt be quickly expir’d.

No doubt.

Worried that she is overplaying her hand, the Marquess thinks it prudent to brings matters to a conclusion:

    …to prevent the worst, he caus’d her one day to be taken away by stealth, and carry’d her to Rouen, from whence he sent her to America.
    The Marechal made a great noise about it, and attributed it to his Wife’s Jealousie, which she did not at all deny. This occasion’d a breach for some time, but the Mareschal’s love fit being over, he was reconcil’d to her, and the Friendship he shew’d her, was so much the more sincere, as he believ’d a Woman capable of so much jealousie, could by no means be unfaithful to him.

The fortunes of the two sisters then shift. It is the Mareschalless who is courted by the public, her husband’s infatuation leading him to fund her various pleasures; while the Countess d’Olonne is shunned and despised. She finally stoops to a single lover, the undistinguished but wealthy Feruaques; excusing her connection with him under the guise of trying to arrange a marriage between the rich man and her comparatively poor niece, Mlle de la Ferté. But in time she stops making excuses, and the affair becomes open enough to alarm Feruaques’ family, who are afraid that, should the Countess be widowed, the foolish young man might be infatuated enough to marry her.

By this time, we are to understand that both sisters are “elderly” (they might be in their thirties); not that this has altered their desires, if it has their opportunities. The Mareschalless, being the younger, is still doing better; and it is at this point that the narratives of Gallantry Unmask’d and The History Of The Mareschalless De La Ferté begin to cross paths:

‘Twas not ill Fortune to an Elderly Lady, as the Countess was, to have the enjoyment of a Lover young and rich, but yet she fell far short of her Sister, who after she had tasted of all the Court, and even her Brother In Law, was so lucky to engage a young Prince of great Merit, the Duke of Longueville, Nephew to the Prince of Condée…

This arrangement was brokered by none other than our old acquaintance, the Count de Fiesque, who is one of the few men at court whom the Mareschalless has not “sampled”, and who she therefore regards as an actual friend. The Count is likewise a close friend of de Longueville, and warns the Mareschalless that her only hope with the young man is to reform her conduct, as the Duke is not one to be toyed with, and neither a man to share a woman’s favours. He promises her that if she can behave herself, he will put in a good word for her.

The Mareschalless is so determined on this triumph, she takes heed of de Fiesque’s advice:

‘Twas thus that the Mareschalless, by the necessities of her temper, overturn’d the Laws of Nature; for, not considering that ’twas the Woman’s part to expect the Courtship from the Man, it is evident, that she first made Love to the Duke of Longueville. The Count de Fiesque, who beliv’d she would find it very difficult to discharge so many favourites for the sake and enjoyment of one, mention’d nothing at first, of this Conversation to the Duke; but when he found she began in earnest to effect her Promise, and had parted with the Count d’Olonne, the Marquess Dessiat, and many more too tedious to name; he thought himself oblig’d to perform his promise…

The Duke, meanwhile, is willing enough now that the “obstacle” of countless rivals has been removed; and the affair is delayed only because of a certain inconvenience on his part:

In fine, too much health had occasioned his sickness, for frequenting too often some brisk Ladies about the Court, he was forc’d to retire from theirs, to put himself into the Chirurgeons hands…

In order to make sure that nothing can happen immediately, the Duke insists upon the Count de Fiesque accompanying him to his first interview with the Mareschalless, in which each of them promises to give up all their other lovers and swears fidelity (the Mareschal notwithstanding) to the other:

…she, who thought those earnests not sufficient, threw her arms about his neck, and gave him a thousand amorous kisses: Had not the Prince been indispos’d, his temper had been too acknowledging to have omitted a suitable answer. But knowing that it was not in this Distemper, that a hair of the same Dog was to be taken for a Remedy; he broke off the entertainment as soon as he could…

All of the Mareschalless’ former lovers are aggrieved by their abrupt dismissal, but none so much as the Count d’Olonne, who has spent a small fortune on her, and is wounded in both his purse and his feelings. We get a sliver of historical fact here, as with great presence of mind, the Mareschalless puts her rejection of him down to the disrespect he has shown her sister by separating from her. (The d’Olonnes did separate after ten years of marriage, when Catherine-Henriette failed to produce an heir.) The Count, bewailing the cruel fate that involved him with the sisters, is not to be persuaded by either words or tears, and the two part bitterly.

For a time the Mareschalless is concerned that he might vent by telling her husband; and we now learn that the Mareschal, much afflicted by gout, has effectively withdrawn from public life and is the one person who knows nothing of his wife’s latest escapade.

The affair between the Mareschalless and the duke hots up, but even so, he has enough caution to resist when she tries to persuade him to spend the entire night with her. Instead, he compromises:

…he desir’d Fiesque to hire a House in his name. He took one near St Anthony’s Gate, where the Mareschalless, pretending to go walk, sometimes to the Arsenal, sometimes to Vincenne, often came through a back Gate. The Petticoats began to rise with these Interviews, and finding her self with Child, she was in some concern. Yet seeming to be careless of the resentment of her Husband, to shew the greater violence of her Passion to her Gallant, she contriv’d ways to hide her great Belly, and was brought to Bed in her own Apartment…

The baby is smuggled out of the house, and the Duke puts it out to nurse. Its existence is whispered about, however, and when the still bed-ridden Mareschal makes an enemy through his rapacious and often violent acquisition of other people’s land, he retaliates via an anonymous letter hinting at the infant’s parentage. The Maraschel tries to believe that this is just slander, but he can’t help but notice that the illness which has lately confined his wife to her own bed had the same duration as a traditional recovery period…

…the time of lying in being pass’d, the Lady’s distemper vanish’d, and she came into his Chamber in as good health as if she had ailed nothing. As soon as he saw her, he began to cry out as if he had a fit of his Pain, and the Mareschalless demanding the reason. Ah Madam, said he, when you cry’d out louder than I do, not long ago, I did not ask you the matter, and therefore pray let me alone…

Before long, France and Holland being at war, the Duke de Longueville is ordered into the field. this causes the Mareschalless less distress than we might expect, as a coolness has arisen due to jealousy on her part; and when the Duke is killed in action she shrugs it off.

(More historical fact here: the Duke de Longueville was killed in 1672. Before he left Paris, he had his bastard son legitimated, a common practice at the time, a sort of “spare heir” arrangement; although history does not seem to record the identity of the boy’s mother.)

The Marechalless’ next venture is with a certain M. Bechameil who, as a “mere citizen”, she feels should be willing to pay for his pleasure, and hers; and pay – and pay – and pay. Bechameil tries to rein in her demands, insisting upon a fixed allowance, to which she reluctantly agrees; but when he finds out she has been taking his money and cheating on him anyway, he breaks off the connection:

So that not being seis’d of the whole I am contented to part with what I had to the advantage of whom you please, or, to speak properer, to the first Comer; in doing whereof, I shall for the future employ my ten thousand Crowns in Manuring a ground which shall be till’d by me alone…

Things go from bad to worse for the Mareschalless. Not only does she have debts of her own, but when soon afterwards the Mareschal dies, she learns that he too was in debt, besides the stopping of his government stipend. Desperate, the Mareschalless begins holding card parties, at which (surprise!) she does not always play fair. She finds a partner in crime in the Marchioness de Royan, who has likewise been left in difficult circumstances, and threatened with a convent by her family. To circumvent this, she agrees to marry a brother of the Count d’Olonne – there was nothing in nature more horrible than this Chevalier…he had rather the air of a Cow than a Man – a marriage which the Count has a particular reason for bringing about:

Thus it was, that the Count d’Olonne fearing there should be no Cuckolds in the Family, took himself care of that Subject…

But the cheating being suspected, the Mareschalless’ card parties do not serve her as she hoped; and at last she is driven to try and steal the still-infatuated Feruaques from her sister:

For she was vex’d at the very heart, that her Sister, who was older than her by several years, and had not a better Reputation, should have a purse like that at her command…

At this time the whole family is at loggerheads, with the debauched young Duke de la Ferté finally driven to reprimand his mother, who responds in kind:

    The Mareschalless…told him that he truly had great reason to complain, who was not only despis’d by the Court but the Town. This was nothing but the truth, but as all truths are not to be spoke; he could not bear it, but reply’d, there was yet less on hers, who was an old Wh–e, and hereupon he reckon’d up all that had to do with her, and the sum amounted to threescore and twelve; a thing not to be credited, was not Paris sufficiently satisfied of the truth of what I say.
    The Mareschalless bid him not forget his own Wife, who was as much to blame as any body; but the Duke stopt her mouth by telling her, he very well knew he was a Cuckold, but that did not hinder his Father from being one beforehand, in marriage, and after his death.

The family quarrel soon achieves such proportions, it reaches the ears of the king. Even this cannot bring them into line, as each (rightly) considers themselves already ruined at court, and so sees no point in reformation:

The Duke de la Ferte, who knew his Reputation was already lost with him, concern’d himself for it no more than the Mareschalless who continu’d this way of living; so that perhaps I may some other time acquaint you of the rest of her life, as well as the Story of Madam de Lionne, if they are still so lucky to meet with those who will accept of ’em, and Age as well as Shame does not bring ’em to Conversion…

…an offer, I am not in the least sorry to say, that does not appear to have been taken up.

 

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5 Comments to “The History Of The Mareschalless De La Ferté”

  1. “Elderly” of course meaning “might only produce one or two children before dying of it”.

    I often complain about books without sympathetic characters, but this one also seems to have little in the way of plot progression: it seems more like a bunch of incidents strung together than a narrative. (It’s not unique in this of course, especially at this time.)

  2. I can picture the English snapping this up, and being totally! shocked! by those immoral French. Not being able to turn the pages fast enough to get to more of the scandalous! misadventures.
    Roger – ‘a bunch of incidents’? Is that what they’re calling it these days?

    • Well, that’s what I call it. If you want to get all hoity-toity I suppose you could say “picaresque”. 🙂

      • There was some life about Gallantry Unmask’d, but THOTMDLF felt completely like an exercise in filling out the required number of pages (and not just because it’s next to identical to exactly the same length).

        It’s simply a more classy-seeming (not in practice, of course) version of the rogue’s biography, a subgenre I nearly always find painfully tedious. The one thing you can say in favour of The English Rogue is that it was honest enough to feature English people: this shift to not-England scandal-stories is an early rumbling of literary gentrification.

  3. The English were, of course, totally envious of the French’s ability to let some people have a lifestyle which included, er, a bunch of incidents.

    This book reminds me of the recent essay by the supermodel Paulina Porizkova, comparing how women are treated in the various countries she’s lived in. To summarize, the Czech Republic sucks, Sweden is awesome, and the USA tells you it’s awesome but is lying. And the French… according to her, they still to this day have kind of the same awkward combination of libertinousness and uptightness that they were wrassling with back then.

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