Madame Campan, first lady-in-waiting to Queen Marie-Antoinette, is famous for her Memoirs, a historical account of life at the court of Louis XVI. Close to the queen, she gives us a glimpse into the monarch’s private life and personality, but contemporary historians have cast doubt on the truthfulness of her writings.
Jeanne Louise Henriette Genêt, the future Madame Campan, received a literary education and learned Italian and English. At the age of 15 she joined the court of Versailles as reader to Louis XV’s youngest daughters. When Marie-Antoinette arrived in Versailles in 1770, she was appointed as the young dauphine’s second lady-in-waiting. Madame Campan was officially named the queen’s first lady-in-waiting 16 years later. Marie-Antoinette also entrusted Madame Campan with her treasury and made her the guardian of her jewels.
Madame Campan quickly became the queen’s friend and confidant, sharing her privacy and the secrets of the court for 18 years. In her Memoirs, a fresco of life at court under Louis XVI, she wrote about the queen’s life and personality and offered a highly personal, subjective view of events. During the Revolution she was separated from the royal family but corresponded with the queen. Afterwards, a penniless Madame Campan returned to her original calling as an educator and founded a famous girls’ boarding school in Saint Germain, where she brought up two of Napoleon’s sisters. In 1807 the emperor expressed his gratitude by appointing her director of the Legion of Honour school in Ecouen, a position she held until falling into disgrace when the Bourbons returned to power in 1814.