A Childhood at Versailles consists of the first 5 chapters of the memoirs of Mme de Boigne (1781-1866), née Adèle d’Osmond, who was a French salon hostess and writer. She was born in the Château de Versailles and lived at the court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette until her family fled to England during the Revolution. Later in her long life, she married a rich soldier of fortune 30 years her senior, hosted a brilliant salon in Paris, and became an intimate of the last French queen, Marie-Amélie, consort of King Louis Philippe (r. 1830-1848). Childless herself, Mme de Boigne addressed her memoirs to her nephew. The memoirs were not published until 1907, under the title Récits d’une tante, or An Aunt’s Tales. They’ve never been published in English, as far as I know, so I’ve decided to translate the first 5 chapters, the ones that take place mainly at Versailles, and post them here on this blog for interested readers to enjoy for free.
The chapters are quite lengthy, so I’ve broken each one into several parts. In Part 1.5, Mme de Boigne describes the behaviour that set malicious tongues wagging about Marie-Antoinette.
“This excellent prince (Louis XVI) had a great deal of difficulty in overcoming a timidity of spirit, joined to boorishly free manners, the fruit of his childhood habits, which did him no favours with those who only saw this uncouth shell. With the best intentions of being obliging to someone, the King would advance towards him until his back was against the wall. If he could not think of anything to say, which happened often, he would give a great bark of laughter, turn on his heels and walk away. The victim of this public scene always suffered from it, and if he was not a regular at Court, he would go away furious, persuaded that the King had wanted to do him some kind of insult. In private, the King complained bitterly of the way he had been raised. He used to say that the only man for whom he felt hatred was the Duc de La Vauguyon7, and in support of this sentiment he cited instances of the abject toadying addressed by the Duc to his brothers and himself. Monsieur had less repugnance for the memory of the Duc de La Vauguyon.
M le Comte d’Artois shared the King’s opinion. His happy disposition, his charm, perhaps even his frivolity, made him the spoiled favourite of the whole family. Though he committed stupidity after stupidity, the King scolded him, pardoned him, and paid his debts. Alas, the one that could never be made good was the discredit heaped on his own head and on the Queen’s!