By Gabrielle Ferreira
This summer has brought a little taste of Versailles to Museum Textile Services. In my previous blog I told you about Wheaton College's 18th-century Robe à L’Anglaise originally belonging to the Duchesse de Choiseul (1734-1808). In this post I will tell you a little more about the Duchesse behind the dress...
The Duchesse de Choiseul, born Louise Honorine Crozat du Châtel, was a member of the French elite. Her family’s immense wealth sprung out of the ingenuity of her grandfather Antoine Crozat (ca.1655-1738). Antoine, along with his brother Pierre, were merchants and amassed a great fortune for their family during their lifetime. Antoine’s wealth even led him to become the first private owner of French Louisiana in 1712. Antoine soon became the financial counselor to Louis XIV.
At the age of 12, the Duchesse was betrothed to Etienne-Francois de Choiseul (ca. 1719-1785). Her new husband was a soldier and a diplomat, and some sources suggest he was the inspiration for the character of the Vicompte de Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos. By other accounts, they had an extremely happy marriage that lasted nearly 30 years. Some sources paint a less flattering picture of the Duchesse as a tyrant.
Together with her husband, the Duchesse de Choiseul traveled to Rome, and then Vienna, where Etienne-Francois had secured a post with the help of his patroness, Madame de Pompadour. Etienne-Francois was a principal author of the Second Treaty of Versailles, which united France and Austria against Prussia in May, 1757. When the Austrian beauty Marie Antoinette married France's Louis XVI in 1770, the Duc de Choiseul took it as a personal victory.
What did her husband's political career mean for the Duchesse? It would have cemented her position in society and required her to dress for court. Her Robe à L’Anglaise reflects the style and fashion that grew out of the reign of Marie Antoinette. The fine silk, generous rouching, lace, and chenille trim all attest to the wearer's wealth and would have been a requirement for attendance at the court of Versailles.
The Duchesse gracefully survived the French Revolution, and we are delighted here at MTS that her Robe à L’Anglaise made it to the 21st century.
For further readings on the Duchesse and her fashion, see:
A Duchesse of Versailles : The Love Story of Louise, Duchesse de Choiseul (1961) by Margaret Trouncer
Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution (2007) by Caroline Weber.