The French tragedienne Mademoiselle de Raucourt died on January 15, 1815. Her love affairs with men and women, of whom she preferred the latter, scandalised Europe. However, her royal admirers bailed her out of trouble, even after death.
The daughter of an actor, La Raucourt’s debut at the Comédie Française proved a great success. During much of her career, journalist Baron von Grimm wrote a secret twice-monthly Parisian newsletter for his subscribers among the German royalty. He covered art, literature, theatre, politics, and gossip. The baron was a fan.
“You can’t express the feeling that she made, and in living memory, we have seen nothing like it. She is only sixteen and a half; made to paint, the most beautiful face, the noblest, the most theatrical, the voice enchanting, a prodigious intelligence, she didn’t make a single mistake of intonation. In all her role, very difficult, there was not the slightest embarrassment, not even a false gesture.”
La Raucourt was soon internationally famous. But rumours of her affairs sometimes trumped the accolades for her acting. She enjoyed a stormy relationship with the opera singer Sophie Arnould, among many others.
The Mémoires Secrets, an anonymous French newsletter, specifically mentioned La Raucourt and Sophie in a 1774 item about lesbianism in Paris.
The vice of the tribades
“The vice of the Tribades is becoming very fashionable among our ladies from the Opera.”
Tribade, then French slang for lesbian, came via Latin from the Greek: to rub.
Baron von Grimm meanwhile gossiped to his Swiss secretary about a rumoured garden of Sapphic delight.
“There is, it is said, a society known as the Lodge of Lesbos… [Raucourt] is said to be one of the first mother priestesses of the Temple.”
According to the Mémoires Secrets, La Racourt allowed some men to attend as voyeurs or personal playthings.
“But it is she who will play the male because she has the authority of bearing, voice and of the gesture. Something manly emanates from the tragic actress; she delights in cross-dressing men; it is a necessary need which obliges her to always dominate.”
So now, the information in the underground scandal sheets diverged substantially from what was publicly known. Secret lesbian clubs? Men allowed to perv on the hot lesbian action? And then perhaps join in? A butch lesbian dominatrix pegging cross-dressers?
It all starts to sound suspiciously like a straight male fantasy. And that’s probably what it was. It was a time of Revolution and Mademoiselle de Raucourt was a favourite of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, a rumoured lesbian. Shit thrown at La Raucourt also stuck to the royals.
Pick the roses of pleasure without being exposed to the prick of the thorns
In 1791, with the Royal family under house arrest, an anonymous source distributed a pamphlet describing La Raucourt’s rumoured secret society as both lesbian and royalist.
She supposedly addressed her fellow members as c_ntsisters and glorified M2M buttf_cking and lesbianism.
“We, actresses, dancers, figurants, etc., have renounced f_cking in the usual forms to take refuge from the consequences.
“And, have taken an oath to make use of pricks and balls no longer, so as not to see our bellies get big and our waists become heavy and bulky – which f_cked us up! We agreed to f_ck and tongue each other. So as to pick the roses of pleasure without being exposed to the prick of the thorns.”
Fine words, but bullshit. Especially the idea that the actress would publicly support the monarchy in late 1791. The only womanly caress that would attract was the quick kiss of Madame Guillotine. Indeed, La Raucourt’s previous contact with the royals cost her six months in prison. But not all bad. She met her last partner there, Henriette Simonnot-Ponty, with who she lived for the rest of her life.
As emperor, Napoleon awarded her a pension. In 1808, she travelled to Germany to perform for him and Tsar Alexander of Russia.
No lesbians in this church
La Raucourt died in 1815 and put on a spectacular show even at her funeral.
“The funeral of Mademoiselle de Raucourt was near giving rise to a serious disturbance at Paris. The bigoted rector of the parish refused to receive her into the church. Upwards of 20,000 persons assembled, burst open the doors, and brought in the corpse. A volunteer put on the priestly habit and performed the ceremony. In the meantime, a messenger hurried to the King, who ordered the rector to say the service.”
Previously, by ancient tradition, the Comédie Française and the church of St Roch exchanged small gifts each year. But when the church slandered La Raucourt’s moral character and refused to bury her until ordered by Louis XVIII, the theatre was slow to forgive. As London’s Daily News reported decades later, it was 37 years before the Comédie Française agreed to reinstate the tradition.
Read more: January 14 <— On this day —> January 16
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