Secret Memoires of Lamballe-Hausset
“The Empress-mother was thoroughly aware of all that was going on. Her anxiety, not only about her daughter, but her State policy, which it may be apprehended was in her mind the stronger motive of the two, encouraged the machinations of an individual who must now appear upon the stage of action, and to whose arts may be ascribed the worst of the sufferings of Marie Antoinette.
“I allude to the Cardinal Prince de Rohan.
“At this time he was Ambassador at the Court of Vienna. The reliance the Empress placed on him favoured his criminal machinations against her daughter’s reputation. He was the cause of her sending spies to watch the conduct of the Dauphine, besides a list of persons proper for her to cultivate, as well as of those it was deemed desirable for her to exclude from her confidence.
“As the Empress knew all those who, though high in office in Versailles, secretly received pensions from Vienna, she could, of course, tell, without much expense of sagacity, who were in the Austrian interest. The Dauphine was warned that she was surrounded by persons who were not her friends.
“The conduct of Maria Theresa towards her daughter, the Queen of Naples, will sufficiently explain how much the Empress must have been chagrined at the absolute indifference of Marie Antoinette to the State policy which was intended to have been served in sending her to France. A less fitting instrument for the purpose could not have been selected by the mother. Marie Antoinette had much less of the politician about her than either of her surviving sisters; and so much was she addicted to amusement, that she never even thought of entering into State affairs till forced by the King’s neglect of his most essential prerogatives, and called upon by the Ministers themselves to screen them from responsibility. Indeed, the latter cause prevailed upon her to take her seat in the Cabinet Council (though she took it with great reluctance) long before she was impelled thither by events and her consciousness of its necessity. She would often exclaim to me: ‘How happy I was during the lifetime of Louis XV.! No cares to disturb my peaceful slumbers! No responsibility to agitate my mind! No fears of erring, of partiality, of injustice, to break in upon my enjoyments! All, all happiness, my dear Princess, vanishes from the bosom of a woman if she once deviate from the prescribed domestic character of her sex! Nothing was ever framed more wise than the Salique Laws, which in France and many parts of Germany exclude women from reigning, for few of us have that masculine capacity so necessary to conduct with impartiality and justice the affairs of State!’
“To this feeling of the impropriety of feminine interference in masculine duties, coupled with her attachment to France, both from principle and feeling, may be ascribed the neglect of her German connexions, which led to many mortifying reproaches, and the still more galling espionage to which she was subjected in her own palace by her mother. These are, however, so many proofs of the falsehood of the allegations by which she suffered so deeply afterwards, of having sacrificed the interests of her husband’s kingdom to her predilection for her mother’s empire.
“But Maria Theresa was wary, even in the midst of the credulity of her ambition. The Baron de Neni was sent by her privately to Versailles to examine, personally, whether there was anything in Marie Antoinette’s conduct requiring the extreme vigilance which had been represented as indispensable. The report of the Baron de Neni to his royal mistress was such as to convince her she had been misled and her daughter misrepresented by Rohan. The Empress instantly forbade him her presence.
“The Cardinal upon this, unknown to the Court of Vienna, and indeed, to every one, except his factotum, principal agent, and secretary, the Abbe Georgel, left the Austrian capital, and came to Versailles, covering his disgrace by pretended leave of absence. On seeing Marie Antoinette he fell enthusiastically in love with her. To gain her confidence he disclosed the conduct which had been observed towards her by the Empress, and, in confirmation of the correctness of his disclosure, admitted that he had himself chosen the spies which had been set on her. Indignant at such meanness in her mother, and despising the prelate, who could be base enough to commit a deed equally corrupt and uncalled for, and even thus wantonly betrayed when committed, the Dauphine suddenly withdrew from his presence, and gave orders that he should never be admitted to any of her parties.
“But his imagination was too much heated by a guilty passion of the blackest hue to recede; and his nature too presumptuous and fertile in expedients to be disconcerted. He soon found means to conciliate both mother and daughter; and both by pretending to manage with the one the self-same plot which, with the other, he was recommending himself by pretending to overthrow. To elude detection he interrupted the regular correspondence between the Empress and the Dauphine, and created a coolness by preventing the communications which would have unmasked him, that gave additional security to the success of his deception.
“By the most diabolical arts he obtained an interview with the Dauphine, in which he regained her confidence. He made her believe that he had been commissioned by her mother, as she had shown so little interest for the house of Austria, to settle a marriage for her sister, the Archduchess Elizabeth, with Louis XV. The Dauphine was deeply affected at the statement. She could not conceal her agitation. She involuntarily confessed how much she should deplore such an alliance. The Cardinal instantly perceived his advantage, and was too subtle to let it pass. He declared that, as it was to him the negotiation had been confided, if the Dauphine would keep her own counsel, never communicate their conversation to the Empress, but leave the whole matter to his management and only assure him that he was forgiven, he would pledge himself to arrange things to her satisfaction. The Dauphine, not wishing to see another raised to the throne over her head and to her scorn, under the assurance that no one knew of the intention or could prevent it but the Cardinal, promised him her faith and favour; and thus rashly fell into the springs of this wily intriguer.
“Exulting to find Marie Antoinette in his power, the Cardinal left Versailles as privately as he arrived there, for Vienna. His next object was to ensnare the Empress, as he had done her daughter; and by a singular caprice, fortune, during his absence, had been preparing for him the means.
“The Abbe Georgel, his secretary, by underhand manoeuvres, to which he was accustomed, had obtained access to all the secret State correspondence, in which the Empress had expressed herself fully to the Comte de Mercy relative to the views of Russia and Prussia upon Poland, whereby her own plans were much thwarted. The acquirement of copies of these documents naturally gave the Cardinal free access to the Court and a ready introduction once more to the Empress. She was too much committed by his possession of such weapons not to be most happy to make her peace with him; and he was too sagacious not to make the best use of his opportunity. To regain her confidence, he betrayed some of the subaltern agents, through whose treachery he had procured his evidences, and, in farther confirmation of his resources, showed the Empress several dispatches from her own Ministers to the Courts of Russia and Prussia. He had long, he said, been in possession of similar views of aggrandisement, upon which these Courts were about to act; and had, for a while, even incurred Her Imperial Majesty’s displeasure, merely because he was not in a situation fully to explain; but that he had now thought of the means to crush their schemes before they could be put in practice. He apprised her of his being aware that Her Imperial Majesty’s Ministers were actively carrying on a correspondence with Russia, with a view of joining her in checking the French co-operation with the Grand Signior; and warned her that if this design were secretly pursued, it would defeat the very views she had in sharing in the spoliation of Poland; and if openly, it would be deemed an avowal of hostilities against the Court of France, whose political system would certainly impel it to resist any attack upon the divan of Constantinople, that the balance of power in Europe might be maintained against the formidable ambition of Catherine, whose gigantic hopes had been already too much realised.
“Maria Theresa was no less astonished at these disclosures of the Cardinal than the Dauphine had been at his communication concerning her. She plainly saw that all her plans were known, and might be defeated from their detection.
“The Cardinal, having succeeded in alarming the Empress, took from his pocket a fabulous correspondence, hatched by his secretary, the Abbe Georgel. ‘There, Madame,’ said he, ‘this will convince Your Majesty that the warm interest I have taken in your Imperial house has carried me farther than I was justified in having gone; but seeing the sterility of the Dauphine, or, as it is reported by some of the Court, the total disgust the Dauphin has to consummate the marriage, the coldness of your daughter towards the interest of your Court, and the prospect of a race from the Comtesse d’Artois, for the consequences of which there is no answering, I have, unknown to Your Imperial Majesty, taken upon myself to propose to LOUIS XV. a marriage with the Archduchess Elizabeth, who, on becoming Queen of France, will immediately have it in her power to forward the Austrian interest; for LOUIS XV., as the first proof of his affection to his young bride, will at once secure to your Empire the aid you stand so much in need of against the ambition of these two rising States. The recovery of Your Imperial Majesty’s ancient dominions may then be looked upon as accomplished from the influence of the French Cabinet.
“The bait was swallowed. Maria Theresa was so overjoyed at this scheme that she totally forgot all former animosity against the Cardinal. She was encouraged to ascribe the silence of Marie Antoinette (whose letters had been intercepted by the Cardinal himself) to her resentment of this project concerning her sister; and the deluded Empress, availing herself of the pretended zeal of the Cardinal for the interest of her family, gave him full powers to return to France and secretly negotiate the alliance for her daughter Elizabeth, which was by no means to be disclosed to the Dauphine till the King’s proxy should be appointed to perform the ceremony at Vienna. This was all the Cardinal wished for.
“Meanwhile, in order to obtain a still greater ascendency over the Court of France, he had expended immense sums to bribe secretaries and Ministers; and couriers were even stopped to have copies taken of all the correspondence to and from Austria.
“At the same crisis the Empress was informed by Prince Kaunitz that the Cardinal and his suite at the palace of the French Ambassador carried on such an immense and barefaced traffic of French manufactures of every description that Maria Theresa thought proper, in order to prevent future abuse, to abolish the privilege which gave to Ministers and Ambassadors an opportunity of defrauding the revenue. Though this law was levelled exclusively at the Cardinal, it was thought convenient under the circumstances to avoid irritating him, and it was consequently made general. But, the Comte de Mercy now obtaining some clue to his duplicity, an intimation was given to the Court at Versailles, to which the King replied, ‘If the Empress be dissatisfied with the French Ambassador, he shall be recalled.’ But though completely unmasked, none dared publicly to accuse him, each party fearing a discovery of its own intrigue. His official recall did not in consequence take place for some time; and the Cardinal, not thinking it prudent to go back till Louis XV. should be no more, lest some unforeseen discovery of his project for supplying her royal paramour with a Queen should rouse Du Barry to get his Cardinalship sent to the Bastille for life, remained fixed in his post, waiting for events.
“At length Louis XV. expired, and the Cardinal returned to Versailles. He contrived to obtain a private audience of the young Queen. He presumed upon her former facility in listening to him, and was about to betray the last confidence of Maria Theresa; but the Queen, shocked at the knowledge which she had obtained of his having been equally treacherous to her and to her mother, in disgust and alarm left the room without receiving a letter he had brought her from Maria Theresa, and without deigning to address a single word to him. In the heat of her passion and resentment, she was nearly exposing all she knew of his infamies to the King, when the coolheaded Princesse Elizabeth opposed her, from the seeming imprudence of such an abrupt discovery; alleging that it might cause an open rupture between the two Courts, as it had already been the source of a reserve and coolness, which had not yet been explained. The Queen was determined never more to commit herself by seeing the Cardinal. She accordingly sent for her mother’s letter, which he himself delivered into the hands of her confidential messenger, who advised the Queen not to betray the Cardinal to the King, lest, in so doing, she should never be able to guard herself against the domestic spies, by whom, perhaps, she was even yet surrounded! The Cardinal, conceiving, from the impunity of his conduct, that he still held the Queen in check, through the influence of her fears of his disclosing her weakness upon the subject of the obstruction she threw in the way of her sister’s marriage, did not resign the hope of converting that ascendency to his future profit.
“The fatal silence to which Her Majesty was thus unfortunately advised I regret from the bottom of my soul! All the successive vile plots of the Cardinal against the peace and reputation of the Queen may be attributed to this ill-judged prudence! Though it resulted from an honest desire of screening Her Majesty from the resentment or revenge to which she might have subjected herself from this villain, who had already injured her in her own estimation for having been credulous enough to have listened to him, yet from this circumstance it is that the Prince de Rohan built the foundation of all the after frauds and machinations with which he blackened the character and destroyed the comfort of his illustrious victim. It is obvious that a mere exclusion from Court was too mild a punishment for such offences, and it was but too natural that such a mind as his, driven from the royal presence, and, of course, from all the noble societies to which it led (the anti-Court party excepted), should brood over the means of inveigling the Queen into a consent for his reappearance before her and the gay world, which was his only element, and if her favour should prove unattainable to revenge himself by her ruin.
“On the Cardinal’s return to France, all his numerous and powerful friends beset the King and Queen to allow of his restoration to his embassy; but though on his arrival at Versailles, finding the Court had removed to Compiegne, he had a short audience there of the King, all efforts in his favour were thrown away. Equally unsuccessful was every intercession with the Empress-mother. She had become thoroughly awakened to his worthlessness, and she declared she would never more even receive him in her dominions as a visitor. The Cardinal, being apprised of this by some of his intimates, was at last persuaded to give up the idea of further importunity; and, pocketing his disgrace, retired with his hey dukes and his secretary, the Abbe Georgel, to whom may be attributed all the artful intrigues of his disgraceful diplomacy.
“It is evident that Rohan had no idea, during all his schemes to supplant the Dauphine by marrying her sister to the King, that the secret hope of Louis XV. had been to divorce the Dauphin and marry the slighted bride himself. Perhaps it is fortunate that Rohan did not know this. A brain so fertile in mischief as his might have converted such a circumstance to baneful uses. But the death of Louis XV. put an end to all the then existing schemes for a change in her position. It was to her a real, though but a momentary triumph. From the hour of her arrival she had a powerful party to cope with; and the fact of her being an Austrian, independent of the jealousy created by her charms, was, in itself, a spell to conjure up armies, against which she stood alone, isolated in the face of embattled myriads! But she now reared her head, and her foes trembled in her presence. Yet she could not guard against the moles busy in the earth secretly to undermine her. Nay, had not Louis XV. died at the moment he did, there is scarcely a doubt, from the number and the quality of the hostile influences working on the credulity of the young Dauphin, that Marie Antoinette would have been very harshly dealt with,—even the more so from the partiality of the dotard who believed himself to be reigning. But she has been preserved from her enemies to become their sovereign; and if her crowned brow has erewhile been stung by thorns in its coronal, let me not despair of their being hereafter smothered in yet unblown roses.”