Béatrix de Choiseul-Stainville  

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Béatrix de Choiseul-Stainville, Duchess of Gramont (18 November 1729 Lunéville - 17 April 1794 Paris) was a French salonnière and bibliophile. She was known for her close relationship to her brother the Duke of Choiseaul and credited with an influential position at court during his tenure as minister in 1758–1770. She is also known for her attempt to become the official mistress of Louis XV in the 1760s, and her succeeding feud with Madame du Barry.



Early life

Béatrix was the daughter of François Joseph, Marquis de Choiseul, Marquis of Stainville, and Marie-Louise Bassompierre, and sister of Étienne François, duc de Choiseul. Unmarried, she was initially made canoness of Remiremont. When her brother was appointed minister, however, she was able to join him in Paris, and her negotiations were made to arrange a marriage for her, so that she would be able to attend court.

In 1759, she married Antoine VII, Duke of Gramont, governor of Navarre, after negotiations to marry her to Louis de Bauffremont failed. She separated from her spouse three months after the wedding, and lived thereafter in the household of her brother, over whom she was credited some influence in several affairs. While her sister-in-law was described as a timid character who followed her lead, her close relationship to her brother was well known.

Due to the position of her brother, she regularly attended court, became a significant figure in court life and a personal friend of Madame de Pompadour.

She was described as proud, overbearing, and spiteful but also intelligent, witty and attractive, despite not being conventionally beautiful.


Upon the death of Madame de Pompadour in 1764, Gramont had the ambition to succeed her as the official mistress of Louis XV. She shared this ambition with another friend of Pompadour, the Madame d'Esparbes, and their rivalry attracted attention at court.

Gramont's ambition was encouraged by her brother, but reportedly, she attempted to seduce the king in such a direct manner that he became alarmed and avoided her by accepting the advances of her rival instead.

According to court gossip, Madame d'Esparbes was on the point of being declared official mistress at Marly when Choiseul caused a scene to prevent it. Meeting her one day on the grand staircase, he took her by the chin and exclaimed: "Well, little one, how are your affairs progressing?", which caused a scandal at court and made Louis XV discontinue the affair.

The Choiseul party and Madame de Barry

Gramont continued her attempts to succeed as official royal mistress, and reportedly believed herself to be near success when Madame du Barry attained the position in 1768. The duchess de Gramont, in collaboration with her sister-in-law the duchesse de Choiseul and the princesse de Beauvau, (referred to as "the Choiseul-women") lead the noblewomen first in their efforts to prevent Madame du Barry from being presented at court, and then to ostracize her from it. One idea, suggested by the Mesdames de France was for the king to marry to either the Marie Thérèse Louise of Savoy, Princesse de Lamballe or Archduchess Maria Elisabeth of Austria (1743–1808), but the Choiseul party opposed a remarriage of the king, and according to Florimond Claude, Comte de Mercy-Argenteau:

"Persons in power, imagine that a queen, judicious and amiable, who would succeed in gaining the affection of her husband, might open his eyes to the irregularities and the enormous abuses which exist in all departments here, and cause much embarrassment to those who direct them. They are consequently of opinion that it behoves them to divert the mind of the King from ideas of marriage; and I have very strong proofs that Madame de Gramont, more interested than any one in the mamtenance of the present abuses, has succeeded in persuading M. de Choiseul to renounce his own predilections in this affair."

After the formal introduction of Madame du Barry to court, Gramont, duchesse de Choiseul and the princesse de Beauvau excused themselves from the king's private suppers of the Petits Cabinets, effectively demonstrating that it was socially unacceptable for noblewomen to associate with Madame du Barry. The king defeated the boycott by Gramont by enlisting initially the Marechale de Mirepoix (friend of Madame de Pompadour) and then several other noblewomen to integrate his mistress at court by acting as her companions.

When Madame de Barry was officially accepted at court, the conflict developed into a personal feud between the king's mistress and the Choiseul party. The Duke de Lauzun was sent to mediate a message of peace from Madame du Barry to the Duke de Choiseul, but when he arrived, Choiseul was in the company of his sister and received the message "with all the haughtiness of a Minister who is harassed by women and believes that he has nothing to fear," and declared that there was "war to the knife" between him and Madame du Barry, while Gramont "made some outrageous remarks, in which she did not spare even the King."

During the affair regarding the Duc d'Aiguillon, she was accused of participating in a conspiracy organised by Choiseul. Mercy reported to empress Maria Theresa that:"the Duc de Choiseul had had a violent altercation with the Duc de Richelieu, owing to the latter having declared that the Duchesse de Gramont, while passing through Provence and Languedoc, on her way to the waters of Bareges, had sought to stir up the Parliaments of those provinces against the decisions of the Court in the affair of the Duc d'Aiguillon."

The conflict between Madame du Barry and the Duke de Choiseul ultimately resulted in the dismissal and exile of Choiseul from court, for which Madame du Barry on at least one occasion blamed Gramont:

"The conversation after dinner took a more serious turn. She spoke with a charming frankness about the Due de Choiseul, and expressed regret for not having been on friendly terms with him ; she told us of all the trouble she had taken to bring about a better understanding, and said that, had it not been for his sister, the Duchesse de Gramont, she would have succeeded in the end ; she did not complain of any one and said nothing spiteful."

Later life and death

Béatrix de Choiseul-Stainville left court life when her brother was exiled and joined him and his wife in their life at Chanteloup. She became known as a distinguished bibliophile, and hosted a noted literary salon.

During the Reign of Terror, she was arrested and accused of providing funds for the royalist emigrees.

Questioned before the Revolutionary Tribunal, which was to condemn her to the guillotine, she was asked: "Did you not send money to emigrants?", she replied: "I was going to say no, but my life is not worth a lie!"

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