Welcome to 'Lost in the Myths of History'

It often seems that many prominent people of the past are wronged by often-repeated descriptions, which in time are taken as truth. The same is also true of events, which are frequently presented in a particular way when there might be many alternative viewpoints. This blog is intended to present a different perspective on those who have often been lost in the myths of history.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Madame du Cayla

Zoé Victoire Talon, Comtesse du Cayla (1785-1852), was the favorite of Louis XVIII in his declining years, as is mentioned in the novel Madame Royale. Madame du Cayla had been educated by Madame Campan with the Bonaparte princesses. She became a lively young matron who suffered in an unhappy marriage. In 1815, she sought the King's protection and his help in keeping the custody of her children. Their friendship grew over the years and by 1820, after the assassination of the Duc de Berry, Louis XVIII kept Madame du Cayla as close to him as possible. By all accounts the relationship was platonic, Louis-Stanislaus being more susceptible to the delights of the mind than those of the flesh. As Lamartine is quoted as saying by Imbert de Saint Amand:
The king's sentiment for this attractive woman had from the first the character of a love which hides from itself, under the name of friendship, what the age of the King and the reserve of the woman did not permit to be to be avowed; he felt an affection for her which he styled paternal, and he called her his daughter, not daring through respect for himself and respect for her, to call her by any other name. (The Duchess de Berry and the Court of Louis XVIII)
Louis XVIII reserved his Wednesdays for keeping company with Madame du Cayla, in which they enjoyed games of backgammon peppered with a great deal of witty repartee. He bestowed upon her the Château de Saint-Ouen as her own, as well as jewels and porcelain. When not in her company he wrote her several letters a day. She was, it seems, the last and greatest love of a man otherwise known for his conniving. According to Hugh Noel Williams in A Princess of Adventure:
Gradually, Madame du Cayla succeeded in establishing almost as complete an ascendency over the mind of Louis XVIII. as she had over his heart, and used it without scruple in the interests of the ultra-Royalist party. 'From the day,' writes Pasquier, 'when M. Decazes had been taken from him by proceedings which had wounded his heart, his self-esteem, and his regard for the royal dignity, the King had only occupied himself with business so that it should not be said that he had given it up.' 2 Weighed down beneath the burden of his infirmities, he had begun to fall into a state of apathy which put him at the mercy of those who resolutely applied themselves to the task of governing him. Occasionally, a flicker of the old spirit would reveal itself, but it was speedily quenched; all he desired now was peace and quiet, and Madame du Cayla would give him none until he had surrendered to her will. To her influence may be traced the fall of the high-minded and patriotic Duc de Richelieu, who had refused to lend himself to the plans of Monsieur [Artois] and his friends ;8 the nomination of Villele as Prime Minister; the ignominious dismissal of Chateaubriand from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the acceptance by the King of the Septennial Bill of 1824 and other reactionary measures.
The attitude of the different members of the Royal Family towards the favourite is interesting. Monsieur, although he does not appear to have been a party to the plot woven around his helpless brother, at any rate in its early stages, did not scruple to take advantage of it, and repeatedly urged Madame du Cayla to 'ignore the things which spite and folly might say against her, and to enjoy in peace the noble use which she was making of the confidence and affection of the King.'4 The Duchesse d'Angouleme, on the other hand, could not bring herself to countenance a lady to whom gossip had attributed in her youth at least one unorthodox connection, and not only treated her with coldness, but expressed her displeasure at the intimacy which existed between her dame d'atours, Madame de Choisy, and the favourite. At the same time, we may venture to doubt if, at heart, Madame altogether regretted an intrigue which, however unworthy it may have been, had put an end to the dissensions in the Royal Family and was doing so much to promote the interests of the party whom she honoured by her protection.
As for the Duchesse de Berry, less fastidious in her choice of friends than her sister-in-law, she appears to have been on very good terms with the favourite, though she did not at all approve of the King's habit of referring to Madame du Cayla, even in the presence of his family, as 'his third daughter,' which seemed to place that lady on a footing of equality with the Duchesse d'Angouleme and herself; and, on one occasion, she expressed her sentiments upon the matter rather pointedly. However, the relations between the two ladies were, on the whole, excellent; indeed, Madame du Cayla appears to have entertained a real affection for the princess, since she remained faithful to her cause after the Revolution of 1830, corresponded with her frequently, and even intrigued on her behalf.
In spite of everything, it was Madame du Cayla who persuaded Louis XVIII to receive the Last Rites when he was mortally ill. As is related in The Living Age:
Nothing so perplexed and annoyed the Duchess d'AngouIeme and the Count d'Artois, in the last mouths of Louis the Eighteenth's life, as his obstinacy in refusing to receive the archbishop and to submit to the ceremonies which the Catholic Church imposes upon dying moments. He refused, as a condemned man would the visit of the executioner. At length Madame Du Cayla induced him to consent, and in so doing closed the door of the king's apartment against her for the rest of her days. Louis, grateful, made a will in her favor and left it on his desk. But Charles the Tenth entered his brother's cabinet, carried off all the papers, burnt the will, and made a beggarly compensation to Madame Du Cayla of a thousand a year for her life.
Madame de Cayla ended her days at her little palace of Saint Ouen in 1852. While some saw her as a schemer, others saw her as the last vehicle of grace for the ruthless Louis XVIII.


Christina said...

Thank you very much, Elena, for another wonderful 'story' of someone about whom I knew virtually nothing! How interesting!

Val said...

Elena - thank you very much for posting this! It really captured my attention! As Christina, I knew very little of Madame de Cayla. Thanks for this information :-)