Reading in Progress: Richelieu's Affair with Thérèse, or The Secret of the Chimney

First Gentleman of Bedchamber : The Life of the Duc de Richelieu : Courtier, Warrior, Man of Affairs, and Marchal of France - Hubert Cole

The book review is going to be ridiculously long if I add all the interesting bits, so I thought I'd put this one story in its own post. (And I snagged the Secret of the Chimney title from another book I'll cite in the review - the affair didn't have just one title.) It's also one of the best of the many stories of Richelieu's affairs because it has some artful sneaking around and weird detail, as well as the awfulness of husband-wife relations of the 1700s (I'm assuming everyone thinks wife beating is horrible). I'll link to several French wikipedia google-translations because there's often not much in the English wikipedia about many of the people involved.


Confession: I am lazy and am not adding all of the French accents, despite actually having had multiple years of French classes. Basically I've had enough French to feel guilty over leaving out accents. Sorry to all my French profs out there. [Later: Since I typed that I've given in and started to add a few of the accents. Guilt inspires some mild editing, at least.]


First, a link to the duc de Richelieu in question, as there were many: Armand de Vignerot du Plessis (here's a more detailed French wikipedia entry)


Catherine Françoise Thérèse Boutinon Hayes (or Françoise Thérèse Boutinon Catherine Hayes or Boutinon Therese Hays, Madame de la Poupliniere - there are loads of variations) was an actress who through her beauty had managed to snag a wealthy man as a husband: Alexandre Joseph Rich of Pouplinière of Cheveigné. (I'm going to refer to them as just Richelieu, Thérèse and La Pouplinière.)

La Pouplinière doesn't worry about having Richelieu around his wife, p 160-162:


"...Richelieu's amatory reputation did not worry him, for he knew that Thérèse was frigid by nature, refusing his own infrequent demands now that she was no longer impelled by cupidity to accept them. Enfeebled by earlier excesses, he was willing to accept his wife's refusals so long as he could enjoy the envy in other men's eyes; and he watched contentedly as she turned down one distinguished suitor after another...

Had La Poupliniere understood Richelieu's character better he would have realized that this was precisely the sort of challenge that he could never resist accepting. There were still very few women who could withstand him when he really set his mind to it, and sometime in 1744 he successfully seduced Thérèse in an armchair which he had given her and which she thenceforth kept as a love-totem in her boudoir. This cold, unkindled, desirable women suddenly discovered that she had fallen in love, desperately, deeply, without restraint. ...Inevitably, La Poupliniere was told one day that his wife was in the habit of receiving Richelieu in private and for long periods. He forbade Thérèse to see Richelieu, and she assented so meekly that his suspicions increased and he had her watched. ...

There were guests for supper that evening in the mansion ...and nobody noticed anything unusual in La Poupliniere's sulky behavior; he had often been bad-tempered recently. But when all the company except one of Thérèse's women friends had left, he flew into a furry, accusing his wife of disobeying and betraying him; as she got up from the table, he boxed her ears with such force that she fell to the floor. Her friend began to protest but was given such a thundering cuff in her turn that she ran out of the house and went in search of Richelieu; La Poupliniere returned to his wife, who was still lying on the floor, and kicked her repeatedly in the face and the chest until his rage was exhausted, hurting her so badly that her doctors had to bleed her three times the next day and twice more within the following twenty-four hours.

Richelieu was in a quandary. He could not go to plead for Thérèse or offer her his protection, because La Poupliniere was a common man behaving in a common way; it was even possible that he might go so far as to strike Richelieu, who could scarcely demean himself by demanding satisfaction in a duel. ...

A nobleman, in his less formal moments, might punch his wife in the head or kick her in the ribs, but he would do it strictly privately and without fuss, and seldom for such a frivolous reason as suspecting her of adultery. He would take it for granted that his wife would have a lover, and perhaps several."


Even after this episode the two didn't stop seeing each other. (Richelieu was the type that seemed to have more fun because sneaking around was required.) Richelieu disguised himself and rented the house next door to La Pouplinière.

p 162-3: "...He entered communications with Thérèse by the seduction of her maid, Mademoiselle Dufour (although, to conserve his energies, he entrusted this task to his Italian valet, Stefano); and he prepared to make entry into Therese's boudoir from an adjoining room on the second floor of his own house. evening two masons, who had been collected in a hired carriage and driven to Richelieu's house with their eyes blindfolded, were taken up to the second-floor room, where they removed the back of the fireplace on his side and on Thérèse's and replaced hers with a similar sheet of iron mounted on hinges and bolted on Richelieu's side. The work was completed in a single night when La Poupliniere was away from home, and from that time forward Richelieu would tap on his side of the iron backplate, wait for Thérèse's answering tap to signal that the coast was clear, and then slide back the bolt; when he emerged from the chimney to join Therese in one house, Mademoiselle Dufour made the reverse journey to Stefano in the other."


In this way Richelieu continued to see Thérèse. The only catch was that the maid, Dufour, was susceptible to bribery, as well as trying to blackmail Thérèse for more money to remain silent. La Pouplinière paid Dufour to spy on Thérèse and to steal Richelieu's letters to her. Finally La Pouplinière decided to search Thérèse's bedroom, since he was sure Richelieu was somehow getting access to the house. He brought in his lawyer and a well known mechanical engineer to inspect the room, and it was then that they found the trick door. In the French wikipedia page for Thérèse it notes that the engineer was so impressed that he called it "beautiful work" and didn't want it destroyed because it was a "masterpiece."


La Pouplinière was furious, and it was lucky that when Thérèse comes home after he's made this discovery that there were plenty of witnesses around (or so I think, judging by the earlier beating) because although La Pouplinière immediately tells her she must leave his house he does agree to pay her money to buy furniture and a regular yearly allowance.


p. 175: "...Soon Paris was ringing with songs about Richelieu's latest exploit and the toy-sellers were offering tiny models of chimneys with revolving backplates, some of them made of gold or decorated with precious stones and much admired as novel Christmas presents. "Nothing was ever better invented," Louis wrote to him in admiration, "and it was easy to identify the inventor. I regret not having seen it myself, for I could not have resisted trying it. But you must console yourself that you will henceforward be able to get your little comforts more easily and without spoiling your clothes with soot." "


The Louis in question was Louis XV, and he's more of a pig than Richelieu, in various ways I'll not rant about here. Frankly my favorite part of this story is the fact that Parisians loved it so much that they bought model chimneys to give as gifts.


There's not a happy end to Thérèse story, but then that's true for a good many of Richelieu's lovers. She remained in love with him for many years and, as usual with him and women, he wasn't quite as eager to see her once the forbidden nature of the affair was removed. So he wrote and visited less and less. Thérèse fell ill which what was apparently cancer and eventually died. Near the end she reconciled with her husband, having given up her love of Richelieu.


I haven't been able to find any images for those toy chimneys btw, just references to other books that tell the story. And of course there's no mention of what happened to the chair Thérèse kept as a souvenir, though I did wonder what happened to it. You'd think her husband would have burnt it or something.