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21 February 1846: Marie Duplessis marries Count Edouard de Perrégaux

Marie DuplessisOn this day in 1846 occurred one of the most enigmatic episodes in the brief life of the Parisian courtesan Marie Duplessis  – her marriage to Count Edouard de Perrégaux at the Kensington Register Office in London.

Marie had met Edouard a few years previously, at a masked ball at the Paris Opera House in the rue Le Peletier. Edouard’s grandfather was Jean Frédéric de Perrégaux, a financier who had been made a senator by Napoleon Bonaparte and who became the first regent of the Bank of France. His son, Charles Bernardin, was made a count during the Empire. Edouard had fought in Africa against  Abd-el-Kader, the great opponent of France’s conquest of Algeria, and had acquitted himself very well. Afterwards, however, his conduct deteriorated. He contracted debts, which increased on his return to France. On the death of his father, he found himself with a very large fortune at his disposal. He proceeded to dispose of it as fast as he could, becoming involved in all the high life of Paris. On meeting Marie, Edouard rapidly dropped another courtesan, Alice Ozy, in order to take up with her, installing her in an apartment at 22 rue d’Antin.

As an amant de coeur, Edouard had to put up with his mistress having a roster of paying clients who took up most of her waking hours, with just a few hours at night reserved for him. Unsatisfied with this situation, wanting Marie to himself and to be with her all the time, Edouard rented a house for her in the countryside at Bougival with the intention of freeing her from this daily round of Paris – and from the exigencies of other men. Here for a few weeks the couple enjoyed a pastoral idyll, though they also made regular excursions into Paris to attend the Opéra and to eat at the Café Anglais or the Maison Dorée. Marie was flattered by Edouard’s exclusive passion for her and willing to reciprocate his love as far as she was able and for as long as he was able to continue supporting her. All he wanted to do was keep her happy, and he fell out with his family and friends as Marie continued to dissipate his fortune. It was around this time that Marie began to show signs of illness, coughing blood for the first time.

Then, on their return from a two-month stay in Baden, Edouard realised that he could no longer afford to keep on the house in Bougival. Marie felt she had been deceived as to the extent of Edouard’s fortune, and realised that she again needed to find other protectors to support her way of life. Or, as Romain Vienne puts it:

It was then that she noticed, by the sudden cooling of her sentiments, that she had loved him only superficially, in the intoxication of deceitful hopes; that she had been the dupe of lying appearances, and that she had built her projects on shifting sand.

Edouard did not make a complete break with Marie, but she returned to dispensing her charms elsewhere – including acquiring a wealthy new protector in the shape of the octogenarian Count Gustav Ernst von Stackelberg, a former Russian ambassador to Vienna, who set her up in style at 11 boulevard de la Madeleine.

And then, out of the blue, Marie and Edouard de Perrégaux were married in Kensington on 21 February 1846. Marie had obtained a passport from the Prefecture of Police on 25 January which described her as ‘Mlle Alphonsine Plessis, person of private means, living in Paris at 11, boulevard de la Madeleine’ and provided the following additional details:

22 years old, height one metre 65 centimetres, light brown hair, low forehead, light brown eyebrows, brown eyes, well-made nose, medium-sized mouth, round chin, oval face, ordinary complexion.

On 3 February Marie obtained a visa from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and she and Edouard set off for London. The address for both Edouard and Marie is given in the marriage register as 37 Brompton Row, Kensington.

Husband and wife never lived together after this mysterious marriage. It was perfectly regular according to English law, and Edouard could have made it valid for France by having it properly announced according to article 170 of the Civil Code. Instead he abandoned his wife immediately after the wedding and let her return alone to Paris. Marie kept the surname Duplessis but began to use the title of Countess for certain business matters. With the help of a specialist she designed her own coat of arms, using part of the arms of her husband, and had them emblazoned on her carriage, her linen and her silverware.

The rest of Marie Duplessis’s brief and eventful life is recounted in my book, Grandes Horizontales.

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Anniversaries

18 February 1847: Mary Duplessis’s belongings up for sale

Marie DuplessisOn this day in 1847 an announcement of the sale of the goods of the famed Parisian courtesan, Marie Duplessis, who had died only weeks earlier, appeared in Le Moniteur des Ventes. Viewing commenced at noon on the following Tuesday and the auction took place, in her apartment on the boulevard de la Madeleine, from Wednesday 24 to Saturday 27 February. Much of fashionable Paris attended the sale, fascinated to see the interior of an apartment few would have deigned to enter during the courtesan’s life. Among items up for sale were furniture, including pieces in rosewood and marquetry, wardrobes, beds, tables, dressing tables, armchairs, other chairs, mirrors and a piano by Ignace Pleyel, curios, including clocks and candelabras, clothes, silverware, diamonds, other jewels, curtains, carpets, books, pictures, horses and a carriage and its accoutrements. Despite the pecuniary difficulties she had been in before her death, which had led to her selling or pawning many of her more expensive clothes, Marie left a wardrobe of about 150 articles, including dozens of pieces of lingerie, 27 peignoirs, more than 30 gowns, masses of lace, boas and shawls. She also left a stash of invoices stuffed in a drawer, detailing the myriad purchases she had made over several years from dressmakers, milliners, restaurants, pastrycooks, florists, booksellers and other suppliers.

The sale realised just over 89,000 francs, of which nearly 50,000 went to her creditors, who had been waiting for her to die to claim at least some of what was owing to them.

The brief, turbulent life of Marie Duplessis is recounted in my book, Grandes Horizontales.

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Anniversaries

12 February 1850 – Baptism of Jeanne Sabatier

Notre Dame de LoretteOn this day in 1850, a baby was baptised at the church of Notre Dame de Lorette in Paris. The baby’s full name was  Fernande Ernesta Jeanne Sabatier (she would be known just as Jeanne) and her mother was Adèle, better known as Bébé, the younger sister of the famous courtesan and muse of the poet Charles Baudelaire, Apollonie Sabatier.

In 1848, at the age of only 16, Bébé had become the mistress of the artist Fernand Boissard, a development which initially came about through Boissard’s need for consolation after his previous mistress had left him for a Danish diplomat. In April 1849 Bébé and Boissard moved into a house together near the rue Frochot, where her sister lived, and in December Bébé gave birth, at her sister’s house, to her daughter Jeanne. Boissard, contrary to the expectations of all their friends, refused to acknowledge the child as his, though at Ernest Meissonier’s insistence he did agree to make some financial provision for her. Apollonie and Meissonier acted as godparents at the baptism. Bébé spent the next two years still hoping to marry Boissard, who kept stringing her along despite the fact that he was already becoming involved with a young woman called Edwina Broutta. Edwina was the same age as Bébé but belonged to a different world. She came from a wealthy family and was a musician, both qualities which appealed to Fernand Boissard who proposed to her in February 1852. The future looked uncertain for Bébé, who for the next few years continued to live in the shadow of her elder sister.

More about the world of Parisian courtesans, including the Sabatier sisters, can be found in my book Grandes Horizontales.