yolande de polignac

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Yolande Martine Gabrielle de Polastron, The Duchesse de Polignac, was one of Marie Antoinette’s favourites and was considered to be one of the greatest beauties at court. She became Governess to the Queen’s children, but escaped France after the storming of the Bastille, dying in Austria shortly after hearing about Marie Antoinette’s execution.

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Madame de Polignac

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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History Meme: Gabrielle de Polastron, Duchesse de Polignac

Being the great beauty of Marie Antoinette’s exclusive circle, Gabrielle de Polastron single-handedly hauled her family up to the highest place of the pre-Revolutionary high society. Her husband, Jules de Polignac, was quickly made the duc de Polignac and her the duchesse de Polignac. The revolution was not kind to her and she fled France after the storming of Bastille. She died, in Switzerland, two months after the queen’s beheading, reportedly of ‘a broken heart’.

Yolande Martine Gabrielle de Polastron, Duchess of Polignac (8 September 1749 – 9 December 1793) was the favourite of Marie Antoinette, whom she first met when she was presented at the Palace of Versailles in 1775, the year after Marie Antoinette became the Queen of France. She was considered one of the great beauties of pre-Revolutionary high society, but her extravagance and exclusivity earned her many enemies.

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Recent portrayals of the Duchesse de Polignac on the big screen

Being the closest confidant of queen Marie Antoinette, the duchess always managed to secure a spot in films about the queen. She is sometimes portrayed as the ‘bad girl friend’ and other times a source of comfort for the queen. Above pictures are how the duchess appeared in Sofia Coppola’s  eccentric take on history and Benoît Jacquot’s more recent French historical drama respectively.

(Top) Rose Byrne in Marie Antoinette.

(Bottom) Virginie Ledoyen in Les Adieux à la Reine(Farewell, My Queen)

Rose Byrne as the Duchesse de Polignac and Kirsten Dunst as Queen Marie Antoinette in Marie Antoinette (2006).

Yolande Gabrielle Martine de Polastron, Duchesse de Polignac

The closest confidante of Queen Marie-Antoinette died in Vienna on this day in 1793, just a couple of months after her adored friend (Marie Antoinette). Although not a regular beauty, the Duchesse de Polignac had a freshness and prettiness about her that was immensely attractive and captivated all who encountered her.

Yolande is usually portrayed in books and films as Marie-Antoinette’s “bad girl” friend, responsible for leading the young queen of France into a wild, decadent lifestyle. Often depicted as a greedy, spendthrift slut, Gabrielle preferred simplicity, was a devoted mother and loyal friend of both Louis and Antoinette. 

[A friend of the duchesse wrote, of her final months:]

“She did not stop crying. For six months, a deep sadness, great sufferings without certain causes weakened her each day more.”

A last blow hit her when they were forced to announce to her this horrible news: on October, 16th, 1793, Marie-Antoinette had been beheaded in Paris. This was the true beginning of Madame de Polignac’s agony.

She could not survive the queen, and she herself died on December, 9th, 1793, one month and a half, precisely, after her friend.

A witness told of her death: “Her last sigh was but her last breath, and to tell this in one word, her death was as sweet as she herself had been. She was buried in Vienna and they wrote on her tomb her name only, followed by this mention: ‘Dead from suffering’ on December 9th, 1793.”