November 22, 2008

Femme of the Week: Madame la Marquise de Prie

"Madame de Prie was more than beautiful; she was seductive in everything."
Jeanne Agnès Berthelot de Pléneuf was bron in 1698, as the new century was dawning. Her mother took great pride in raising her, for her mother was known for her exceptional beauty, wit and numerous admirers. The apple did not fall far from the tree, Jeanne Agnes was a most gorgeous girl, who absorbed everything from her mother and her actions. Watching her daughter grow up, gifted with many charms of her own and both beauty and freshness, her mother felt she was a threat by stealing her own admirers. This paranoia - possibly well deserved, like mother like daughter - created a great deal of stress and hostility on the family. Possibly in effort to quell the rivalry between daughter and mother Jeanne Agnes was married off to the Marquis de Prie who was conveniently ambassador of the court of Savoy. For the first part of Louis XV's life, Jeanne Agnes was away at Turin with her husband, but their paths would cross soon enough. Her life goes on to be an exciting ride through Versialles, with too many details to duscuss here. So I am going to breif you with a Long Story Short. I will dub this, "Live Fast, Die Pretty."

When she reached the pretty age of 21 Madame la Marquise de Prie moved back to France. She arrived with more talent, beauty, charm and wit than ever. She was a celestial creature at court. Everyone felt that way about whether they liked her or not. One of her contemporaries stated:
"[he] did not think there ever existed a more celestial creature than Madame de Prie. She was the real flower of the sweet pea. A charming face, and even more graces than beauty; wit, genius, ambition, and supreme presence of mind, and with it all the most decent air in the world. Her fascination was great." -d'Argenson
As powerful as her charms were, her personality was able to dominate them. Some personality traits that have been remarked on by historians include her lack of couth at pubic functions, her personal ambitions, her arrogance (undoubtedly gifted from mom) and from her dad- the tendency to spend like there was no tomorrow. My favorite description of her is a human tigress. rawr.

She went to Versailles with the predetermined idea to win over Françoise-Marie de Bourbon's husband, Philip d'Orleans, and become his maîtresse en titre. She caught word that he did not let his mistresses touch political matters, and she wasn't just looking for a sugar daddy. She wanted to have some control over a country, and who wouldn't! She turned to the more mailable Louis Henri de Bourbon-Condé who would become the Premier Minister of France after d'Orlean's passing, and later the Prince de Condé.

It was a good choice. As the king was becoming a man, Madame de Prie wanted to find Louis XV a mistress, so that she could influence the lucky mistress who would influence the king. Genius plan...just flawless!

Flawless until she realized a mistress was probably not the safest way to grip the king. They are all usually such ambitions fame seekers! And she should know. So she decided she needed to find him a wife. Louis XV was betrothed to the Infanta of Spain, the young girl was being raised at Versailles waiting for her wedding day. The Infanta sent back to Spain. Yes it was as insulting as it sounded. Madame de Prie then had a list sent to her of all the eligible bachelorettes fit to marry a king. Of 100 names of lovely ladies, "44 were too old, 29 too young, and 10 impossible." 17 were left, and Jeanne Agnes thought she needs to pick the girl who would view her as a fairy godmother.

Well her choice was Maria Leszczyńska, the daughter of the deposed King of Poland, Stanisław I. This, dare I say, absurd ex man of power, was living in France, on a pension. So Maria was not quite living as the princess of luxury as one might imagine. She was even in consideration to marry a "neighborhood gentleman." So the news from Versailles that she was chosen to marry the King of France was an overwhelming miracle. * Poof! Fairy Godmother! *

All worked to her plan until she and her man decided the Kings influential and scheming tutor had to go. Louis was so upset to the man who he spend so much time with growing up, his mentor, that he fell depressed. New at his job, he had to be reminded that as King, he could recall the Abbe if he wanted. So he did! And the sneaky tutor tattled on Madame de Prie and the Prince de Condé. They were both forced to leave Versailles and live in different places.

In a fashion as glamorous as times she lived in, Madame de Prie makes her exit. She spent lots of money on her new home, and threw lavish parties. She separated herself from her old circle, in a "You'll miss me when I'm gone, baby" way. She had a lover, who was rather handsome. Being expelled from Versailles takes it's toll on ladies and as a result, "she had grown so thin that she was nothing more than a woman's head on a spider's body." She ended her own life at 27, by poison which had a different effect on her than she probably planned. When she was found, her toes were all black and her friend d'Argenson said,
"Here for those who give heed to it, is food for reflection on compacts with the devil, who comes at the agreed hour to twist our necks, though with Madame de Prie it was her legs."
Madame de Prie was portrayed by the talented Charlotte Rampling in La Dernière fête aka The Fall of the Marquise de Prie, which happens to have a rather fabulous soundtrack. If you in Canada or the USA and don't mind playing region 2 DVD's on your computer I suggest you pick up the movie for a fun night in the 18th century.


  1. Goodness, women from Versailles have issues!

    Ooooo, I love soundtracks, gonna have to look that one up at my library.

  2. oh how sad! poison at 27. see how miserable and self destructive these women were???
    on the outside...their lives were desirable but on the inside...hellish!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Thanks Lady Neferankh! The top portrait is by Jean-Baptiste Van Loo (1684-1745)

  5. this article and this woman really interesting me and i see name of book said that she wrote letters maybe you know where i can find her letters?
    i thank you

    1. Hi Anonymous!
      Great question, are you are referring to the following book?

      Berthelot de Pléneuf, Jeanne Agnès. 2008. [Jeanne Agnès Berthelot de Pléneuf, marquise de Prie correspondence]. Oxford: Electronic Enlightenment Project.

      To access it as an ebook you need a subscription to Electronic Enlightenment. You can find the physical book in libraries near you by entering your location in Worldcat's "Find a copy in the library" box. If you are not near any libraries that have it I would suggest requesting it as an interlibrary loan from your local library.

      If you are searching for primary materials like letters you may want to try ArchiveGrid:

  6. sorry i didnt understand what did you mean ?

    1. Sorry for the confusion, you asked about letters she wrote and the only book I could find with such correspondence is "Jeanne Agnès Berthelot de Pléneuf, marquise de Prie correspondence" :)