Madame Montansier’s Marvelous Adventure

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Madame Montansier’s Marvelous Adventure
Except for a brief spell during the French Revolution, most women in France were prevented from owning property or land right up to modern times. The only way a woman could be financially independent was to be an unmarried heiress… or use her wits and talent (and, often, looks) to carve out a life for herself. Few, however, were as successful — and lucky — as the 18th-century theater manager Madame Montansier. This woman truly had the luck of the devil. Although she was only a modestly-talented actress, she became mistress of the Intendant of Martinique, ran a string of theaters, escaped the guillotine despite her friendship with Marie-Antoinette, persuaded Napoleon to let her open a theater after he had clamped down on them, and finally died at the venerable old age of 89. Whew! In a world that has been dominated by men until recent times, she stands out as an early female entrepreneur and theater impresario (actually, should that be impresaria?). Mlle Montansier (1790). Author unknown. Wikimedia commons Like many people in the theater, Montansier did not live under her real name. She was born as Marguerite Brunet in 1730 in Bayonne and was evidently an independent and strong willed girl from an early age. At the age of 14, she was sent to live with an aunt in Paris, Hyacinthe Montansier, from whom she later took her stage name and who owned a fashionable dress shop. There, Marguerite quickly learned how to capitalize on her looks to attract men. One in particular, a young and ambitious (and married) Councillor in the Parlement de Paris named Hurson, fell for her. When Hurson was promoted to the post of Intendant, or administrator, of the Windward Islands on Martinique, he ensured that Marguerite arrived shortly after himself and his wife. What he was not expecting was his mistress disembarking on the arms of a husband! Marguerite and a young fortune-hunter called René Bordelais, who had left his own wife in France, had struck up an acquaintance on board ship. To make her look respectable he had agreed to pass himself off as her husband. Hurson was having none of that and the hapless Bordelais was soon shipped off back to France. IIe Vue du Fort Roÿal de la Martinique », vers 1750. by François Denis. Public domain. At first, life on Martinique was exotic and exciting but it was not Paris, and after a while its limited attractions started to pall. Basically, Marguerite was bored and started to take a little too much interest in the new men who regularly arrived on the island. Fearing that she would leave him, Hurson offered her a dress shop to manage and keep her occupied. At the time, there was very little regulation of business affairs and everyone practiced “under the table” deals. The problem with Marguerite was that she was not discreet and being under the protection of the Intendant only went so far. Eventually she was denounced and the authorities were forced to act, eventually sending her back to France. Never one to sit on her hands, Marguerite decided to open a gaming house on the fashionable Rue Saint-Honoré. It was an astute choice of location and the house quickly became the place to see and be seen, frequented by raffish and wealthy young clients. Through them she acquired another entrée to Parisian high society and became the mistress of the Marquis de Saint Contest.
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Lead photo credit : The Palais-Royal in 1800. Unattributed. Bibliothèque nationale de France. Public domain

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Pat Hallam fell in love with Paris when she was an adolescent. After many years of visiting, in 2020 she finally moved from the UK to live here and pursue her passion for the city. A freelance writer and history lover, she can spend hours walking the streets of this wonderful city finding hidden courtyards, bizarre and unusual landmarks and uncovering the centuries of history that exist on every street corner (well, almost). You can find the results of her explorations on Instagram @littleparismoments.

Comments

  • Linda Aylesworth
    2023-06-16 01:00:10
    Linda Aylesworth
    Wonderful stories! Thank you for publishing this. I so enjoyed reading and look forward to more

    REPLY

    • Pat Hallam
      2023-06-19 04:04:06
      Pat Hallam
      Thank you Linda. There is a biography of Mme Montansier but unfortunately it is in French :( She was an extraordinary woman.

      REPLY

  • Beth Gersh-Nesic
    2023-06-15 07:32:36
    Beth Gersh-Nesic
    What a fabulous portrait of an "unsinkable" woman. Merci beaucoup, Pat.

    REPLY

    • Pat Hallam
      2023-06-19 04:06:17
      Pat Hallam
      She definitely was! I find it fascinating that a few women, at least, could 'make it' in a masculine world at that time. Thank you Beth.

      REPLY

  • Martha Sessums
    2023-06-14 05:06:02
    Martha Sessums
    Thanks for telling Montansier's story. I love that she also has a cameo role in the computer game "Assassin's Creed". I'll have my gamer grandson check it out.

    REPLY

    • Pat Hallam
      2023-06-19 04:07:45
      Pat Hallam
      Haha! Don't let anyone say computer games can't be educational! Thanks for your comment Martha.

      REPLY