Madame Laure Junot describes the inspection of her trousseau and the bridegroom’s gifts to the bride, on the eve of her marriage in 1800.
I retired to my chamber, and was just then informed that Mademoiselle L’Olive, and Mademoiselle de Beuvry were in the saloon, and that they had brought, in two coaches, the articles which composed my trousseau and corbeille;* the two baskets which were to contain them followed on a truck; that of the trousseau, in particular, was so large that no coach could contain it….
* We have no words directly synonymous lo these—both signify the bridal paraphernalia.—The trousseau is that part of it which is furnished by the bride’s family. The corbeille is the bridegroom’s present. The several articles composing each, will be best illustrated in the text.—Translator’s Note.
[there follows an interlude of negotiations about the time and place of the wedding ceremony with mother, brother, and betrothed.]
“Do me the favour, monsieur, my son-in-law, to take your leave for the present [says Laure’s mother]; I must show the lady her trousseau, and hear her opinion of my taste; we shall afterward both sit in judgment upon yours.”
On entering the saloon, though it was large, I found myself much in the situation of Noah’s dove, without a place of rest for my foot. From an immense basket, or rather portmanteau, of rose-coloured gros-de-Naples, embroidered with black chenille, made in the shape of a tombstone, and bearing my cipher, an innumerable quantity of small packets, tied with pink or blue favours, strewed the room; these contained full-trimmed chemises with embroidered sleeves; pocket-handkerchiefs, petticoats, morning gowns, dressing-gowns of India muslin, night-dresses, night-caps of all colours and all forms; the whole of these articles were embroidered, and trimmed with Mechlin lace, or English point. Another portmanteau, of equal size, of green silk embroidered in orange chenille, contained my numerous dresses, all worthy, in fashion and taste, to vie with the habiliments already described. This was an hour of magic for a girl of sixteen. Time passes away; mature years have already arrived; old age will follow; but never can this moment, of my mother as she now appeared, be effaced from my mind. How eagerly did she watch my eyes, and when the peculiar elegance and good taste of any article of her own choice elicited my admiring exclamations, how did her fine black eyes sparkle, and her smiling rosy lips display the pearls they enclosed! Who can describe a mother’s joy on such an occasion, or the effect it produces on the heart of an affectionate daughter! Taking my head between her two hands, and kissing my eyes, my ears, my cheeks, my hair, she threw herself on a settee, saying, “Come now, mathia mou, [Greek words, meaning light of my eyes; a most caressing expression, which my mother habitually used towards me.] seek something else that will please you.”
The trousseau being fully examined, the corbeille next demanded inspection.
At this time the custom of giving a basket or case for the articles of the corbeille was not yet exploded; fifty or sixty louis were spent upon a species of basket covered with rich silk or velvet, and highly ornamented, which stood for six or twelve months on the dressing-table of the bride, till becoming tarnished and worn, it was no longer ornamental, and was consigned to the lumber room, to be eaten by the rats, in spite of its finery. Now they do things with more sense, and lay out the money upon a valuable chest, which endures at least. Mine then was an immensely large vase, covered with green and white velvet, richly embroidered with gold. Its foot was of gilded bronze, its cover of embroidered velvet, surmounted by a pine-apple of black velvet, transfixed by an arrow, from which were suspended on each side a crown, the one of olives, the other of laurel, both cut in bronzed gold.
This corbeille contained Cachemire shawls, veils of English point, gown trimmings of blond and Brussels point, dresses of white blond, and black lace; pieces of India muslin, and of Turkish velvet, which the general had brought from Egypt; ball-dresses for a bride; my presentation dress, and India muslin dresses embroidered in silver lamas. Besides all these, there were flowers bought of Madame Roux; ribands of all sizes and colours; bags or as we now say, reticules), they were then all the fashion, one of them English point; gloves, fans, and essences. At each side of the corbeille was a sultan; the first formed two cases: one containing all the implements of the toilette in gold enameled black; the other all the apparatus of the work-table—thimble, scissors, needle-case, bodkin, &c., all in gold set with fine pearls. The other sultan contained the jewel casket, and an opera-glass of mother-of-pearl and gold set with two rows of diamonds. The casket contained settings for an entire suit of ornaments without the stones; six ears of corn and an enormous comb (which, on account of the immense quantity of my hair, was as large as those now worn), all of gold, set with diamonds and pearls, containing a portrait of General Junot by Isabey, for the resemblance of which his name will vouch; but of a size more fit to be affixed to the wall of a gallery than to be suspended from the neck; but this was the fashion of the day, and Madame Murat had one of her husband, also painted by Isabey, and larger than mine. The casket contained also a number of superb topazes, brought from Egypt, of an incredible size, oriental corals of extraordinary thickness, which I have since had engraved in relief at Florence by M. Hamelin, and several antique cameos; all these were unset. The bridal purse of gold links connected together by delicate little stars of green enamel, the clasp also enameled green. The sum of money it contained would have been too weighty for it had it not consisted of bank-notes, except about fifty louis in pretty little sequins of Venice.
All this elegant present had been completed under the direction of Madame Murat, and did infinite honour to her taste. At this time such a corbeille was a treasure of great rarity; for the first time since the revolution, it had reappeared at the marriage of Mademoiselle de Dondeuville with M. Pierre de Rastignac. Madame Murat’s marriage followed after a considerable interval, and her corbeille was very rich; but as mine took place nearly a year later, not only was the corbeille more beautiful, but was composed with more conformity to ancient customs, and in a more refined taste. After this time the corbeille and trousseau again became common, but those which followed were copies, not models, as were Madame Murat’s and mine.
But of all these beautiful gifts, nothing delighted me so much as Junot’s affecting attention to my mother. She longed for a Cachemire shawl, but would never purchase one, because she said she could not afford one so good as she wished for; and I had determined that my wedding gift should be a red one, because that was the colour she preferred, but I had never whispered my intentions. However, together with my corbeille, came a small basket covered with white gros-de-Naples, embroidered in silks, with my mother’s cipher on the draperies, from which, the first thing that presented itself was a superb scarlet Cachemire shawl. The basket contained besides, a purse like mine, except that the enamel was a deep blue, and that within it, instead of money, was a topaz of a perfect oval round, the size of a small apricot; gloves, ribands, and two magnificent fans. I cannot describe how sensibly I felt this amiable attention. When I thanked the general for it, with an effusion of heart which I rather repressed than exaggerated, he replied, ” I foresaw what you now express; and if I had not loved her, who is about to become my mother, with filial tenderness, I should have done what I have for the pleasure I enjoy at this moment.”…
At nine o’clock in the morning, my toilette was commenced for the half dress in which I was to appear before the mayor [for the Civil marriage ceremony.] I wore an India muslin gown, with a train, high body, and long sleeves, then called amadis; the body, sleeves, and skirt embroidered in feathers and points, the fashion of the day, and trimmed with magnificent point lace. My cap, made by Mademoiselle Despaux, was of Brussels point, crowned with a wreath of orange flowers, from which descended to my feet a veil of fine English point, large enough to envelop my person. This costume, which was adopted by all young brides, differing only according to the degree of wealth of the wearer, was in my opinion much more elegant than the present bridal fashion. I do not think that it is prejudice for the past which makes me prefer my own wedding dress—that profusion of rich lace, so fine, and so delicate, that it resembled a vapouring net-work shading my countenance, and playing with the curls of my hair—those undulating folds of my robe, which fell round my person with the inimitable grace and supple ease of the superb tissues of India—that long veil, which draperied the figure without concealing it; to the robe of tulle of our modern brides, made in the fashion of a ball dress, the shoulders and bosom uncovered, and the petticoat short enough to permit every one to judge not only of the delicacy of the little foot, but of the shape of the ankle and leg. Then the head, also dressed as for a ball, and, as well as the shoulders and bosom, scarcely covered by a veil of stiff and massy tulle, of which the folds, or rather the pipes, fall without ease or grace around the lengthened waist and shortened petticoat of the young bride. No, this is not elegance.
Memoirs of the Duchess D’ Abrantés (Madame Junot), Laure Junot, Duchess of Abrantes.
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The lady’s titillating memoirs (written under the auspices of her lover Balzac and at a remove of many decades) do not spare Napoleon, who had (according to the Duchess), proposed to her mother Panoria after the loss of her first husband. The First Consul dubbed her “petite peste,” for her sarcastic wit, but he was indulgent with Madame and her husband, who had been his secretary and aide-de-camp. Napoleon had, in fact, arranged their marriage.
Despite Jean-Andoche Junot’s delightful wedding gifts, the marriage was not particularly felicitous. He and Madame Junot were both wildly extravagant and had multiple affairs. Junot was badly injured several times during his military service. The head wounds he suffered are said to have changed his character, temper, and judgement for the worse. Officially, he committed suicide as a result of his mental instability, but some say he faked his own death and fled to America.
The “petite peste” (pictured at the head of this post as painted by Goya) wrote her 8-volume Mémoires sur Napoléon, la Révolution, le Consulat, l’Empire et la Restauration, full of sparkling wit, delicious tittle-tattle (some of it true), and malice towards Napoleon. Rather unkindly, Theophile Gautier called her the “Duchess of Abracadantes.”