Gather in close, dear fabulous friends, because there is a bit of scandal in the story of our gal, Madame Tencin. You see, she was a beloved French salonniere and author born in 1682 in Grenoble, France, who was known for her charm and grace and admired for her way with words. She had her fair share of escapades, too. But I am getting ahead of myself….
Claudine-Alexandrine Guérin de Tencin, Baroness of Saint-Martin-de-Ré, was originally sent at an early age to join a convent. But Claudine soon found that this was not for her, and rumor has it that she escaped her convent to join her sister, Mme de Ferriol, in Paris where she soon established a salon frequented by wits and roués.
Claudine garnered quite the reputation around town and made tongues wag because of her numerous lovers and benefactors such as Guillaume Dubois, the future First Minister, and King Louis XV’s best friend, the Maréchal de Richelieu.
The story goes that our heroine even had an illegitimate son, Jean le Rond d’Alembert, with her lover Chevalier Louis-Camus Destouches, an officer in the French Army. Only a few days old, little Jean was left on the church steps of Saint-Jean le Rond de Paris.
And then there was poor Charles-Joseph de la Fresnaye who it is said committed suicide in Claudine’s own home. This resulted in her spending prison time in the dreary Chatelet and even Bastille, where our spirited Marie Antoinette would end up a quarter of a century later. But Claudine was eventually liberated and proven innocent.
After her horrid ordeal, she simply dusted off her petticoats and founded her own literary salon, which quickly became popular with the likes of Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle, Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, Charles-Irénée Castel de Saint-Pierre, Pierre de Marivaux, and Alexis Piron.
Hers was the first of the Parisian literary salons that admitted foreigners. Foreigners of distinction, bien sûr, including English guests Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke and Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield.
Claudine went on to write well-received novels such as Mémoires du comte de Comminge (1735), of course, they were written under the name of her nephews, MM. d’Argental and Pont de Veyle, as Claudine made sure to keep her writer’s identity carefully concealed as was customary for the female author of the 18th century.
A clever woman quite ahead of her time, our naughty and spirited friend, Claudine, died on the 4th of December 1749.
This morsel of historic fun is part of our Dames series, which celebrates the great salonnieres of the past.