Femme of the Week: Madame de Tencin | Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century: Femme of the Week: Madame de Tencin

July 10, 2009

Femme of the Week: Madame de Tencin

If ever a girl grew up with a thick cloud of scandal about her, Claudine Alexandrine Guerin de Tencin, was one. Born into a proud yet poor family, she found herself forced at an early age to join a convent. This path of life, while chosen by many, was not the direction she saw herself take, nor did she want to, and resisted it while she could. She was unable to marry "suitable to her birth" and the only other option the family saw was to become a nun.

Reluctantly she gave in and took her vows to the church. Possibly it was a blessing for her, that she resided in a convent in a prominent social area. It was located at the far end of a popular and fashionable promenade, and friends would often come to visit. Claudine Alexandrine was sociable, pretty and talented, and she afforded no shortage of friends. The visitors were not wholly welcomed and as the convents' cardinal noted the girls vowed to leave the world behind not bring the world to them.

After so long she decided she could not go on living the life she had accepted, and began work to leave the church. She had to renounce her vows, and five years after that she was moved to Lyon as a Cannoness. But she was still unhappy and wanted full freedom. She moved in, I believe, with her brother (right), who was not the best example for an impressionable young lady. (I know he appears as a Cardinal in the portrait but we will get to that later!) While living there she made her leave from the church permanent.

Along the way she picked up some tricks and developed some talents! For starters, she was quick with her words and could manipulate people to seeing things her way. A very useful skill to possess! She was both charming and graceful and with this type of charisma it was rather easy to do so. Once at her brothers place she immediately found herself amongst a few new suitors! His friends could not help but be infatuated by, and desired, his beautiful younger sister. What a prize!

She did fall in love at one point with a different fellow, leaving her brother's friends in the dust. This was the type of love that blinded the ambitious Claudine, and by accident, she got pregnant. The pregnancy would have been an incredible scandal, ruin for her and her brother if it were found out so she had the baby in secrecy at home. The baby was soon found on the steps of Saint Jean le Round and taken in by another lady. Crisis adverted!

More Scandal!
Well perhaps not fully adverted, this little spot in her history would be a dark one for years after her death, and a major spot on her reputation. The scariest maybe weirdest point in her life was when an ex-lover came over to her house, and shot himself in the head. As if that was not tragic enough for her, things got worse! He left a note explaining that Claudine Alexandrine had plotted to kill him and had robbed and cheated him. She was immediately arrested and sent to the Bastille! After a few days of investigation she was released as there was no real evidence of his claims, and the note was so bitterly written it looked as if he was the one plotting her ruin!

Aside from this scandal she was very active and intelligent and wanted her voice heard in the world of...politics! At one point she started hanging out with the Regent, and during one conversation she brought up the big pink elephant in the room. Philip, so taken aback that this charming and lovely lady had the audacity to talk politics gave a snotty short reply, to which she dropped the subject.

She later found herself having an affair with Dubois (Cardinal), from whom her and her brother reaped the benefits. (wealth and titles).

Later in life she put politics on the back burner and began to write. She published novels but tried to remain anonymous,even writing up fake dedications in her texts. She was rather good, I recommend Mémoires du comte de Comminge which is said to be somewhat autobiographical!


  1. Wow, how intriguing! Thank you for this interesting insight :)

  2. Her story is so interesting- and I LOVE memoirs. So, I'll have to take not of this;) Her gown is gorgeous (almost looks rouge-lamé) Beautiful!

  3. This is truly one of my favourite blogs. I am always learning here, and about things I want to learn about :) What a life she had!

    Oh and about the balloon chandelier, its from a Toronto french country store called Chatelet. They also have a gorgeous extravagant ship one!

    Hope you're having a great week so far!