Femme of the Week: Marie-Jeanne Laboras de Mézières, Madame Riccoboni | Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century: Femme of the Week: Marie-Jeanne Laboras de Mézières, Madame Riccoboni

April 25, 2009

Femme of the Week: Marie-Jeanne Laboras de Mézières, Madame Riccoboni

"It is not always the lover a woman regrets when compelled to cease to love, it is the feeling, the charm, the joy of loving, joy so great that nothing can replace it."
Marie-Jeanne Laboras de Mézières (b. 1714, Paris) was not a lady of the court, yet had been born into a family once wealthy and noble, the Béarn. The family had been stripped of their wealth, and when she was a young girl she lost both her parents and had to live with an aunt. Marie-Jeanne was well educated, and grew up with fortunate looks, dark eyes, fair skin and an even figure. Where she lacked rank and wealth she made up for with wit and charisma.

At 18 she caught the eye of a well off Englishman. She was 18 and in love, and he was older and surely saw her as a mere distraction, as she was not of rank or wealth to consider for marriage! A fact of life she would learn from experience.

Marie-Jeanne would later publish her letters to her English man under the title "Letters of Mistress Fanni Buttlerd to Milord Charles Alfred de Caitombridge Earl of Plisinte Duke of Raflingth." The story tells of Fanni who is a young girl who makes mistakes and falls in love all the while putting full trust into her man. From this first edition with origninal letters (so they seem) we can tell that this 'first love' really affected Marie-Jeanne later in life, at least as a growing and learning experience.

She (Fanni or literally Marie-Jeanne) sacrifices everything for him, but he, nothing. She loses virtue and modesty, but who could be blamed but herself? Through the collection of letters you pity her, but she has learned what it means to be young, ignorant and too trusting. Whether the experience left her bitter or just damaged, it did her well. Think, Alanis Morissette... her realization of the lesson learned turned to creative energy and by 1734 she had received a role as an actress in the French play "The Surprise of Love."

She married François Riccoboni, also an actor who had written many popular plays. His parents were very successful, both actors and authors. Marie-Jeanne discovered a taste for literature and writing after meeting her husbands family. Her marriage had cooled after a few years, however she remained devoted to her absent husband. A loss of love left her miserable, but tough and she knew she needed to convince herself to deal with it. She really focused on writing as an escape, something to look forward to.

So she wrote, and she was good. So good, in fact, François began to consult her for writing advice! He went as far as publishing under her name! Now, by 1757 she decided to publish her work, and that is when she pulled out those letters between her and that Englishman that scared her heart. The style of telling a story through letters was a bit popular, yet she published anonymously. Eventually her identity was revealed, even though she did not want it to be. (friends with big mouths!)

Her later works such as The History of the Marquis of Cressy and Juliette Catesby. By 1761 she received a pension from the court, but continued to write, because it was really her passion! Eventually she was accused of not being the true author of someworks, but the claims were later dismissed. With the revolution she lost her pension, and became incredibly poor. Madame Ricconboni died on December 6, or 7th, 1792.

Image credits: Demarteau, Gilles-Antoine, 1750-1802., Flemish, active in France, French. After Vincent, François-André, 1746-1816. Head of a Woman, 1788. Color crayon manner engraving on laid paper. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. 


  1. Oh gosh, what a life! Thanks for this, I'll have to check out a few of her works in the future ;)

  2. So interesting, this makes me want to know more about the letters. I think it's amazing how similar of a situation (her giving her all, and him giving none) many women still experience today. Some things never change!

  3. WOuld you say she would be referred to as a "Dame de Qualite" as a person with Noble ties, though long impoverished nobility?