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Madame de Polignac

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Queen Marie-Antoinette’s confidant (1749-1793)

With her charming good looks and “the most attractive and most solid” mind, Yolande de Polastron, who married Count Jules de Polignac, the nephew of “Madame Etiquette”, in 1767, met the dauphine Marie-Antoinette for the first time at her wedding at Versailles in 1770.

Marie-Antoinette was taken by the lively and cheerful Madame de Polignac, and the two developed a close friendship starting in 1774. She became part of the Queen’s inner circle. With her, Marie-Antoinette abandoned the protocol and etiquette of the Court and loved to get away from it by going to the Petit Trianon. A painting by the Queen’s official portraitist, Madame Vigée-Lebrun, shows Madame de Polignac dressed in a gaulle dress, a light, aerial fabric, and wearing a flowery hat, a testimonial to the carefree, simple life at the Trianon.

Madame de Polignac received the title of duchess in 1780 and, much to the Court’s surprise, was named Governess of the Children of France in 1782, a position that had been held by other noble families and was handed down from mother to daughter. She left her apartments, which were considered to be “the most beautiful apartments at Versailles” among those made available to the Court, to take up residence at the Governesses’ apartments, where she undertook renovation work.

But in 1789, the French Revolution forced her into exile, a victim of the libels against the Queen and her inner circle, notably criticising their lavish spending. She left Marie-Antoinette with deep sadness and continued to correspond with the Queen from Switzerland, Italy and then Austria. Marie-Antoinette was also pained by the absence of her good friend: “Farewell my most tender friend; it is terrible to say, but I must; I barely have enough strength left to send you a kiss,” she wrote. The Duchess of Polignac died in Vienna on 5 December 1793, fifty days after the Queen.

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