Saturday, 9 July 2022

The Farmer-General, his wife, her lover and ... a fireplace



Madame de  La Pouplinière by Quentin La Tour, Musée Antoine-Lécuyer, Saint-Quentin, c.1741 [Wikimedia]

 

 

 It feels high time to cheer ourselves up with some sexual scandal. One of the century's most talked about liaisons involved the notorious duc de Richelieu and Thérèse des Hayes, the wife of the Farmer-General Alexandre de La Pouplinière. The most sensational feature of this affair was the spectacular discovery by the cuckolded husband of a specially constructed fireplace in his wife's room, which allowed her lover secret ingress from the adjoining house.

The exact details of the case are difficult to unravel.  In 1912 Émile Campardon  published the official records from the police archives of the Châtelet.   Otherwise, apart from a few surviving letters by Mme de La Pouplinière, there is little in the way of reliable testimony;  the duc de Richelieu is the subject of a host of legends, and all his supposed memoirs are suspect. Likewise the Memoirs of Marmontel should be treated with caution (See Cucuel, p.153) 


A happy marriage 

 Alexandre Jean Joseph Le Riche de La Pouplinière (1693-1762) became a Farmer-General at the age of twenty six. He was not merely rich, but well-educated, socially adept and an accomplished musician.  He was known  for his lavish table and brilliant company.  He frequented the theatres and playhouses of Paris. He also enjoyed a certain success with women,  having spent three years in exile for stealing the mistress of the prince de Carignan.  In October 1737,  on the insistence of Cardinal Fleury, La Pouplinière  married his current mistress Thérèse Boutinon des Hayes, the daughter of the celebrated comedienne "Mimi"  Dancourt, who had herself made a debut on stage to some acclaim.   He was forty-five, his bride just twenty-four. 

According to Collé Louis XV himself directed Cardinal Fleury to remind him of his Christian duties "Monsieur, the King's goodness is not reserved for those who live in public scandal, as you yourself do with Mademoiselle Deshayes". (Cited Collé, 1.20-27). The real sponsor was more likely to have been Madame de Tencin.


It proved to be a felicitous union.  For ten years, under her husband's careful guidance, Thérèse developed as a gifted musician and able hostess, the centre of a glittering social circle.  She animated the gatherings at his hôtel, 59  rue de Richelieu, which he acquired in 1739, and later at the château de Passy.   

At this time La Pouplinière became patron to a brilliant group of musicians, artists and writers, which included Rameau, Van Loo, Vaucanson, Quentin La Tour. The chief prize  was Rameau, who lodged with him in the rue de Richelieu and led his private orchestra. Voltaire celebrated the lady of the house under the name "Polymie".  Rousseau frequented this society briefly: at the end of 1745 a performance of his ballet Les Muses Galantes laid on by La Pouplinière excited contemptuous comments from Rameau, resulting in a stand-up quarrel and Rousseau's rapid exit.  La Pouplinière himself wrote several plays, which were performed in his own private theatre, often with Thérèse in the lead role, plus a number of prose works, notably Tableaux et mœurs du temps dans les différents âges de la vie published in 1750. 
 
Never did a private man live more like a prince, commented Marmontel, who was a particular beneficiary of his hospitality. 

Despite  the attentions of such notables as the marquis de Meuse, the abbé de Sade, and the maréchal de Saxe, Thérèse remained faithful to her husband.  He, by all accounts, was  besotted.  Certainly he showered all manner of gifts upon her, jewels, sumptuous furniture, magnificent carriages.  A picture by Carle Van Loo depicts him, flute in hand, staring adoringly at her image:

By Carle Van Loo, c. 1739 [Wikimedia]


The affair

The man  set to spoil this idyll was Armand du Plessis, duc de Richelieu, Lieutenant-General, Academician,  consummate courtier and intimate of the king.  He was already in his forty-ninth year, twice widowed, a little "usé et chiffonné" as d'Argenson puts it.  But he still cut a handsome figure, and displayed an easy charm, "as bold in the boudoir as on the battlefield".  His well-deserved reputation as a womaniser seemed rather to fascinate those he met than repel them.

Richelieu first encountered La Pouplinière in 1744, possibly at the home of a mutual friend Mme de La Martellière.  He "was very welcoming to him because he had a charming wife" (Vie privée de Richelieu  II,43).  According to the prince de Montbarrey, who was well-informed, La Pouplinière was betrayed by his pretensions as a playwright, since it was Richelieu, as First Gentleman of the King's Bedchamber, who had charge of performances at Court. He seemed "more dangerous by reputation than in person".  Richelieu, for his part, was intent on seduction, "without love, through pure libertinage".  (Mémoires  1, p.107).  It was even suggested that, before the advent of La Pompadour,  he wanted Madame La Pouplinière as a prize for his royal master.  By 1745, in the few months before the Battle of Fontenoy, it becomes clear that Richelieu was acting on his own account.  Madame succumbed to his advances only with trepidation  In a letter dated 7th February 1748, she recalls her fear at his first proposition; it was a year before she dared to think of such a thing, though now she had become unconcerned and carefree in her infidelity.  [Trois lettres, p.105]

Richelieu, after Nattier. Musée d'Aquitaine

The reason for her initial resistance seems to have been her sincere attachment to her husband.  As to La Pouplinière, the abbé Huber in 1745 claimed that he was still in love with his wife.  However, anonymous notes concerning the affair tormented him, and he soon succumbed to a mixture of wounded pride and violent jealousy. It was doubtless after one of these tip-offs that the confrontation of 22nd April 1746 occurred.  

On Sunday 24th April 1746 Madame de La Pouplinière sent for a commissioner of the Châtelet to make a formal complaint against her husband.  The official arrived in the rue Richelieu, to find her in her bed -  with its beautiful indienne hangings -  sick, and dipping bloodstained cloths into a ceramic basin.  She informed him that the night before, her husband had hurled abuse at her, grabbed her by the hair, forced her to the ground and kicked her so hard that she still bore the marks.  Vernage, her physician, had been obliged to bleed her three times, twice on the feet and once on the arm. Several days later she testified that La Pouplinière, far from regretting what had happened, had shown his contempt in front of witnesses; he had threatened that, if she dared to show herself at his table, he would hurl the place set for her to the floor and chase her ignominiously out of the dining room  (Campardon (1880), p.103-111) After these traumatic events,  Madame de La Pouplinière, remained confined to her bed for several more days.   The marquis d'Argenson later speculated that a blow that she had received to the breast was the cause of the cancerous tumour that eventually killed her. 

La Pouplinière's biographer Georges Cucuel comments that such a display of aggression seemed out of character, though there can be  no denying the reports from the Châtelet  (p.155). Perhaps Madame's account was a little exaggerated.  La Pouplinière was no doubt  in a state of exasperation  as a result of the flood of scurrilous letters and haughty demeanour of his wife.  A satire sent to him at this time referred to the stick which had "destroyed the beautiful face" of  Thérèse des Haye (Cucuel.p.155).

Despite the fact that La Pouplinière appeared to be anxious to be rid of his wife, he seems to have resigned himself to her continued presence.  He passed two miserable years, torn apart by jealousy and hatred: "It is difficult to conceive how two beings so strongly alienated could live together" (Marmontel).  Meanwhile Madame's agonies were made worse through the absence of her lover.  At the end of December 1746 Richelieu had been sent on mission to Dresden; and  in September 1747 he left definitively for the defence of Genoa, where he was made a Marshal of France.  She continued to play her role as society hostess. It was, for instance, at one of La Pouplinière's gatherings  in January 1747 that the duc de Croÿ first met Voltaire.


What was Thérèse's motivation?

According to her early 20th-century biographer, the marquis de Ségur, those who knew Madame La Pouplinière were unanimous in their praise for her beauty, her grace, her lively mind and natural eloquence. Regarding her character, they were less positive;  some felt that she was more cunning than feeling, more calculating than truly passionate. Rousseau, who was the victim of her displeasure, was told by his friend Gauffecourt that she was "spiteful and scheming"; d'Argenson saw her adultery as motivated primarily by ambition.  

In Ségur's view her surviving letters prove her sincerity  - and he is surely correct. In them Thérèse depicts herself as a woman of impetuous passion, a  Rousseauist avant la lettre:

- I am sensitive  and quick to throw myself out of a window for anything that upsets me, and I am perpetually so.  My imagination is always in motion.  Plans, fears, fatigues, annoyances: I am insane!..
- I would do without everything rather than fail to achieve my goals. If I was at war, I would like to command the army, or stay in my room."  
- I never crave anything weakly, even a glass of orgeat! 

 Spurred on by her husband's treacherous ill treatment, she threw herself into the affair with renewed intensity: 
 
- Can I be certain that I am worthy of being loved by you always?  My dear heart, I believe so; but I believed the same ten years ago.  There is no comparison, but I am the same woman.

A scurrilous plate  from La Pouplinière's
Les Moeurs du temps (1750) [Wikimedia]


- My dear heart, I think sometimes of your return and that, however far away it might be, it must eventually come.  My dearest heart, what a moment that will be for us!  How our souls will be united!  How we  will intertwine, one with another!  It suffocates me to think about it, for it takes away my breath.  My darling, I would prefer to die with you than live with another....

(quoted  in Ségur, 1911)


Madame was perhaps more in love with grand passion than with Richelieu himself. Was he worth it?  According to some reports, Richelieu was genuinely attached to this latest mistress, who was so devoted despite his wrinkles and dried up appearance (See d'Estrée, chpt.xx)  Most of his letters are lost.  His remaining billets d'amour are  mannered in style;  as their recipient complained:

My dearest heart, why do you write to me so coldly, I who live and breath only for you?  I did not find in your letter those expressions, those sentiments, that come from the soul and give as much pleasure to write as to read. [letter of 21 January 1748]

Ségur  commented that the two lovers used the same words, but with a difference in tone;  genuine emotion in one case, amused caprice in the other.  Neither was very discreet.  Richelieu was always tempted to advertise his amorous successes. ( "In truth, you compromise me, take care, my love").  Thérèse was too uncompromising. When Mme de Boufflers advised her to continue to display affection towards her husband, she refused imperiously. 


Frontispiece to Émile Campardon, La cheminée de madame de  La Poupelinière ( Paris, 1880) 


The Chimney

Matters finally came to a head on the afternoon of 28th November 1748.  Thérèse was absent from home, attending a public review of the Maréchal de Saxe's regiment of  "Uhlans" (Lancers). Following a tip-off,  La Pouplinière took the opportunity  to make a search of his house, whereupon he discovered the infamous fireplace in her cabinet de musique.  According to Marmontel, he was accompanied on his search by the lawyer Ballot de Sauvot and by Vaucanson, who (naturally) was most admiring of the mechanism. (See Reading 3)

 Details concerning the fireplace are furnished at some length in the  report written by the  Commissioner of  the Châtelet who was summoned to the scene (See Reading 1).  An opening had been made into the cabinet from the adjoining house, concealed on Madame's side by the back-plate of the fireplace which was furnished with hinges. 

There is no eyewitness statement apart from that of Madame herself. Neither Vaucauson nor Ballot left an account, though it seems likely that Marmontel used their testimony.   La Pouplinière subsequently summoned a mason and a locksmith to demolish the device in the presence of the Commissioner.  He stated simply that he supposed someone intended to make an attempt on his life, or that of his wife, or other members of his household.   Several witnesses are listed as present  -  La Pouplinière's secretary Pierre Frémin, the comte d'Igny and a notary called Cartier,  but these individuals too remained discreetly silent.

In contrast at least two sets of memoirs attributed to the duc de Richelieu describe his seduction of Madame La Pouplinière and the modifications to the fireplace in gloating detail.  Although there are doubtless embellishments,  the basic tale is  plausible, especially given Richelieu's well-attested love of deception and theatre.  He was said to have rigged up a similar contraption thirty years previously, in this very same rue Richelieu, in order to enter the rooms of  Mademoiselle de Valois (by way of her jam cupboard!).  

Richelieu had rented an apartment in the adjoining house,  the  maison Tarade, 57 rue de Richelieu, under an assumed name and installed a caretaker there.  He tasked one of his men, Desnoyers, to organise the modifications to the fireplace, which took place in the utmost secrecy.   The work must have been carried out at the end of 1746 or at the beginning of 1747.

Once the connecting entrance was finished,  Richelieu reportedly made weekly visits, emerging from the fireplace "like a salamander".  According to the version of the story in the Nouveaux Mémoires du Maréchal duc de Richelieu, he always brought along his valet Saphano, whose job it was to win the confidence of Mme de La Pouplinière 's chambermaid, a certain Madame Dufour.  When he realised Stephano had grown fond of the woman, he dismissed him as too great a risk and persuaded Madame similarly to fire her maid.  It was she who subsequently betrayed them.  This may well be basically true.   D'Argenson, who was writing immediately after the event,  thought the source of the rumours regarding the secret door had been a disgruntled maidservant.  Barbier (vol.iv, p.327) confirms;  Madame had paid off her maidservant with a pension of 600 livres but ill-advisedly allowed it to fall into arrears.

A few hours after the discovery,  Madame de La Pouplinière returned home accompanied by the maréchal de Saxe who attempted in vain to intercede on her behalf.  Saxe advised the Farmer-General to keep silent, but it was to no avail.  The humiliated husband was now intent on ejecting his wife from his household. She made two further depositions to the Chatelet complaining of her treatment at his hands (28th November and 12th December, reproduced in Campardon,  p.117- 37)  She was obliged to retire first to her mother's house in the chaussée d'Antin, then to later to apartments in the place Vendôme, and finally in the rue Ventadour.  From 1750 onwards she received an allowance from her husband of 12,000 livres annually, but evidently lived in much reduced circumstances. Richelieu continued to provide her with the services of his surgeon. She died of breast cancer in 1752.

For a brief period the affair was the talk of Paris and the subject of ribald songs; toy-sellers even stocked tiny models of chimneys with revolving back-plates.  



References

Émile Campardon, La cheminée de madame de  La Poupelinière ( Paris, 1880) 

Marquis de Ségur, "Une aventure d’amour", Public lecture read before the Académie française, 25th October 1911.  
Georges Cucuel,(ed) "Trois lettres de Madame de La Pouplinière"  Mercure (1912, No.97) p.99-105. 
_____,  La Pouplinière et la musique de chambre au XVIIIe siècle (1913) 

Paul d'Estrée, Le Maréchal de Richelieu (1696-1788) (Paris 1917), chapter XX.
https://www.gutenberg.org/files/64232/64232-h/64232-h.htm




Deposition of the Commissioner of the Chatelet, Charles-Élisabeth de Lavernée, 

 Lavergée reports that on Thursday 28th November 1748 he was summoned by the Farmer-General La Pouplinière to a room on the second floor of his house in the rue Richelieu. La Pouplinière wished to make a formal complaint against his neighbour, a certain sieur Berger, who had created a secret entrance into his house via an iron door disguised as a chimney back in his wife's cabinet.  He had summoned a master mason and locksmith to examine the chimney, in the presence of his secretary, Pierre Frémin, M. le comte d'Igny and the notary Cartier.  The two workmen detached the wrought-iron backplate from the right side of the chimney breast and uncovered an iron door.  Removing some plasterwork, they found a catch which opened the door from the far side.  In order to install this door, a hole had been made through the entire thickness of the wall, made good with fresh plaster, and with planks laid for the floor. The door measured three and a half feet high and three feet, seven pouces wide.  A further wooden door beyond gave a view into the adjoining room in the house of the said Berger...with its green carpet and cane chair.
Campardon, La cheminée de madame de  La Poupelinière  p. 112-116




From the Journal of the marquis d'Argenson, 29th November 1748

M. La  Popelinière, the Farmer-General married his wife out of personal inclination; he made her fortune, since she was the daughter of an actress, one of the Dancourts.  She ought to have been eternally grateful to him; but for several years she has outraged his honour with the duc de Richelieu.   Ambition drove her to it; she imaged that she could play a great role through the favour of this favourite.  The former reputation of the duke with women made him seem a good catch, even if he was well-used and frayed round the edges.  La Popelinière suspected.  Since M. de Richelieu had a little house near his own in Porcherons, he sold it; but he had another, larger property.  In Paris, in the rue de Richelieu, where he resided, the next-door house had some rooms which La Popelinière tried to rent in order to increase the size of his apartment.  He was refused; he offered to buy the whole house, only to meet with the same refusal.   No-one knew who owned or rented the property; it was a mystery.  La Popelinière gave up the project and forgot about it.

A chambermaid of Madame de La Popelinière, who had been dismissed, decided to take her revenge;  she revealed to M. de La Popelinière the great secret, that the house belonged to the duc de Richelieu, and that he had a carefully fitted door, which opened under a mirror, close to the bed of his mistress. 

The day before yesterday, when  Mme de La Popelinière was absent at the review of the Lancers, her husband took the opportunity to summon his mother-in-law Madame Deshayes, and the Commissioner for the quarter, together with an architect and a master mason. The mirror and the door were opened up.  A thorough investigation was made,  the husband omitting nothing to establish his cuckoldry. A footman was sent to the plaine des Sablons to inform Madame de La Popelinière of what had happened; she was afraid.  After the review she threw herself at the feet of the Marshals  de Saxe and de Lowendal, pleading with  them to use their authority on her behalf.

The two generals accompanied Mme de La Popelinière back to her home; M de La Popelinière greeted them deferentially and thanked them for their civility.  The Marshal de Saxe was in his lancer's  uniform. Then he said to them, "But, Messieurs, what creature do you have here?"  They said, "Your wife".  He replied that he no longer regarded her as such and refused to receive her.  Nothing could persuade him out of his determination;  he told her he would let her know her fate, and that she must leave.  She went to stay with Mme de Souvré, her friend.  La Popelinière has sent her a settlement whereby she will receive an annual  allowance of ten thousand livres, plus a one-off payment of  five thousand livres for furnishings. 

She already has a cancer of the breast, from an earlier confrontation with her husband;  this will not improve her health. 
Journal et Mémoires, vol. 5, p.292 [on Internet Archive]



From the Memoirs of Marmontel: 

One day, when marshal Saxe treated the public with a review of his Hullands, in the plaine des Sablons, La Poplinière, more tormented than ever by anonymous letters, which repeated to him that his wife received Marshal Richelieu every night in her chamber, chose the time she was passing at the review to examine her apartment, and try to discover how a man could be introduced there in spite of the vigilance of a porter of whom he was sure.  He had with him, to aid him in his search, Vaucanson and Balot….

In examining the apartment of madame de La Poplinière, Balot remarked that, in the cabinet where her harpsichord stood, a carpet had been laid, and that in the chimney there was neither wood, ashes, nor fire-irons, although the weather was already cold, and there were fires in every other room.  By induction, he took it into his head to strike the plate that formed the back of the chimney with his cane; the plate sounded hollow. Then Vaucanson coming up, perceived that it was mounted on hinges, and so perfectly united to the lining on each side that the juncture was almost imperceptible. "Oh! sir." cried he, turning to M. de La Poplinière ; " what a beautiful piece of workmanship is this! and what an excellent workman was he who made it!  This plate is moveable, it opens; but its hinges are of such delicacy!..... No, sir; no snuff-box can be more highly finished. An excellent mechanic!"--" What, sir!" said La Poplinière, turning pale,"you are sure that this plate opens?”--“Certainly, I'm sure of it, I see it," said Vaucanson in an extacy of admiration: "nothing can be more wonderful."--"What have I to do with your wonder? we are not here to admire."--"Ah! sir, such workmen are very rare! I surely have very good ones, but I have not one who ......."--"Think no more of your workmen," interrupted La Poplinière; “but let me send for one who can force this plate."--" 'Tis pity," said Vaucanson, "to destroy so exquisite a piece of workmanship as that.”
Behind the plate, an opening made in the partition wall was closed by a pane of wainscot, which, covered by a looking-glass in the adjoining house, could be opened at will, and afford the clandestine occupier of the neighbouring room a free passage into the cabinet of madame de La Poplinière. The unhappy husband, who only sought, I believe, some legal means of getting rid of his wife, sent for a police officer, and had his discovery and his misfortune formally confirmed by a written declaration.

His wife was still at the review when she was told what was passing at home.  That she might at all events be admitted on her return, she entreated marshal Loewendal to accompany her; but the door was shut, and the marshal would not take on himself to force it.  She then addressed herself to marshal Saxe; “Let me but enter my house," said she to him," and let me speak to my husband, 'tis all I ask; you will have saved me.  The marshal desired her to get into his carriage, and when he arrived at the door got out and rapped himself.  The faithful porter, half opening the door, was telling him he could not enter.--"And don't you know me?” said the marshal; “I will teach you that no door is shut to me.  Come in, madame, enter your house." He took her by the hand, and walked up with her.
 La Poplinière, affrighted, came to meet him. "Why, what's all this, my good friend?” said the marshal; "a disturbance, a dispute, a scandalous public exhibition? You can gain nothing by all this but ridicule. Don't you perceive that your enemies are seeking to separate you, and that they employ every artifice to succeed?  Do not be the dupe of them.  Listen to your wife, who will fully justify herself in your eyes, and who only asks to live suitably with you." La Poplinière kept a respectful silence, and the marshal retired, recommending decency and peace.

Alone with her husband, Madame de La Poplinière armed herself with all her courage, and with all her eloquence. She asked him on what new suspicion, what new accusation, he had shut his door against her? And when he mentioned the plate at the back of the chimney, she was indignant that he should think her the accomplice of so culpable an invention.  Was it not rather into his apartment than into hers that its contrivers wished to penetrate?  And, to form clandestinely this passage from one house to the other, what more was necessary than to bribe a servant and a workman?  But how could he doubt the cause of a stratagem so visibly invented to ruin her in his opinion?  "I was too happy with you," said she, “and it is my happiness that has excited envy.  'Tis envy that dictated those anonymous letters; but, not satisfied without adding proof to accusation, this envy in her rage has imagined that detestable machine.  What do I say?  Ever since she has persisted to persecute me, could you not see what was the crime that irritated her?  Is there another woman in Paris whose repose and honour have been so violently attacked ?  Ah! because there is not another who has offended envy so much as myself, as I should still offend her if you were more just.  I contributed to the happiness of a man, whose understanding, accomplishments, consideration, and honourable existence are the torments of the envious.   It is you whom they wish to make wretched and ridiculous. Yes, this is the motive of those anonymous libels you every day receive; and this the success they hope for from this palpable snare they have laid for you."  Then throwing herself at his feet; "Ah! sir, restore me to your esteem, to your confidence, and, if I dare ask it, to your tenderness; and my love shall revenge you, while it revenges myself for the wrong our common enemies have done us."
Unhappily, too strongly convinced, La Poplinière was inflexible. "Madame," said he, "all the artifice of your language cannot make me change my resolution. We can live no longer together.  If you retire modestly, without disturbance, I will provide for you.  If you oblige me to have recourse to rigorous measures, to force you away, I will employ them; and every sentiment of indulgence and kindness for you will be stifled in my bosom." He allowed her, I believe, eight hundred pounds a-year, with which she went to live, or rather die, in an obscure retreat, forsaken by the splendid society that had so often flattered her, and that despised her when she was in misfortune. A slight swelling that she had in her breast was the germ of a corrosive humour that slowly devoured her. Marshal Richelieu, who sought elsewhere for new pastime and new pleasures, while she was consuming in the most cruel torture, did not neglect to pay her the duties of civility as he passed; and hence it was said, after her decease, “Indeed, M. de Richelieu has behaved most admirably to her! He did not cease to see her till her last moment."

It was to be loved thus that this woman, who at her own house, had her conduct been correct, would have enjoyed the public esteem, and all the comforts of an honoured and enviable life, sacrificed her repose, her fortune, and all her pleasures.  That which renders this delirium of vanity still more frightful, is, that neither her heart nor her understanding had any considerable share in it. Madame de La Poplinière, with a lively imagination, was of extreme coldness; but an intriguing duke had appeared to her, as to many others, a glorious conquest: this it was that ruined her.
Memoirs of Marmontel (English translation, 1827), vol. 1, p. p.159-64. [On Google books]



Journal of Collé, November 1748

On the 28th the Marechal de Saxe was holding a review of the hulans in the plaine des Sablons.  During this time M. de la Popelinière had a search made for an opening in the connecting wall of his house, by which the duc de Richelieu  had entered to sleep with his wife.

One would need an illustration to properly describe this tunnel of love ("trou de madame").  There was a chimney back, which opened like a door, from the neighbouring house, which had been rented for 2,400 livres by the duc de Richelieu and was inhabited by a caretaker, M...... Here the chimney back was concealed  by a mirror over the fireplace, which, on this side, was four feet lower than  than the corresponding fireplace in the house of M. de la Popelinière.  The mirror had a secret catch.  Although the wretched husband had been warned of the existence of the passage for six  months by anonymous letters, he still had great difficulty finding it. His wife, who was at the review, was warned that she had been discovered.  She could think of nothing better to do than engage the Marechal de Saxe to intercede with her husband.  The good marchal took her to M. de la Popelinière who declared to her flatly in his presence, that he no longer wished to live with her; that he would give her 8,000 livres of pension and 4,000 livres for furniture.  She tried to defend herself to the Marecal who said to her coldly: but madame, how can you explain this passage, which goes into a cabinet that only you enter.  Monsieur, le marechal, she replied with final impudence: it was so that I could escape from the furies of this man.....How could you escape from me that way, interrupted her husband, since the panel could only be opened from the house next door! 
Journal et mémoires de Charles Collé (1868), vol. 1, p.25-26, [Gallica (bnf.fr)]


From the Memoirs of the duc de Richelieu

[Richelieu] should have been crowned with success in love; but the jealousy of M. de la Popelinière multiplied his obstacles.  Fortunately the house next door to the financier's fell vacant. He rented it under an assumed name and installed as caretaker a woman called Gérard, whose son was a police spy.  On examining the layout of this house, he found that the wall of one of the rooms adjoined the cabinet of Madame de La Popelinière.  He decided to knock a entrance through the chimney, so that he would be able to  visit the wife without the knowledge of  her husband.   A certain Desnoyer, a professional rogue and inveterate schemer, was placed in charge of the operation.

Two masons were chosen, promised ample reward, and instructed to work through the night, making as little noise as possible.  Desnoyer blindfolded them, put them in a carriage and took them by a roundabout route to the rue de Richelieu. Once in the chamber, their blindfolds were removed and they set about their task. The promise of a reward of fifty louis made them redouble their efforts.  The opening was made without noise, and a chimney back was placed on hinges, in such a way that it could be turned to allow an opening wide enough to pass through.   Everything was arranged so that there was no trace of the operation in the cabinet of Madame de la Popelinière.  When everything was  finished the masons,  who were escorted out with equal precaution, did not know where they had worked.
Vie privée du Maréchal de Richelieu (1791), vol. 2. p.55-6.


A minor chef-d'oeuvre resulted from their collaboration.

They made a hole in the adjoining wall at the height of the fireplace in Mme de la Popeliniere's cabinet de musique.  This was the room where she had her harpsicord and her favourite furniture; the boudoir where she retired for preference.

They carefully freed up the back-plate and installed hinges in iron fireplace so that it would pivot, allowing ingress to the furtive visiter.  On the other side a little door was formed by piece of wooden paneling which exactly corresponded to the chimney back.  This in turn was hidden behind a mirrored cupboard, so that even the most suspicious could not discern the secret....
An agreed signal, a few taps of the tongs on the back-plate in response was all that was needed.  I never arrived unannounced,  since I might  risk  the presence of a third party.
 Nouveaux mémoires du maréchal duc de Richelieu, 1696-1788 [On Google Books]

....Whilst Richelieu was occupied with the pacification of Languedoc, jealousy prepared great miseries for Madame de la Popelinière.  She had the imprudence to dismiss mademoiselle Dufour, her confidante, and the girl decided on revenge.  She had been abandoned by Stéphano, who might have curbed her indiscretion.  Left to herself, she let anger guide her and went to the financier. The mechanism of the chimney was soon explained.  It consisted of a little spring that turned the chimney back on a hinge, like a door and, in this way, provided a communication to the adjoining apartment.  La Popelinière absolutely believed the girl's report. In order to get his wife out of the way,  he took her to the Comédie-Française, then, on the pretext of making a call, he returned home where Dufour was waiting for him.  She went into the cabinet de toilette of her mistress and, since she was better informed than anyone else about the secret, soon proved the truth of her testimony
Vie privée du Maréchal de Richelieu (1791), vol. 2. p.85. [On Google Books]


The Aftermath: 

Letter from Louis XV to the duc de Richelieu

Nothing was ever better invented 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.
Quoted in Hubert Cole, First gentleman of the bedchamber: the life of Louis François Armand, maréchal duc de Richelieu  (1965) p.175.


From the Memoirs of Jean-Louis Giraud Soulavie

..the miserable husband, instead of  minimising his shame by concealing his misery, related this singular adventure in all its detail. 

In Paris, laughter is never on the side of the wronged husband.  The chimney back-plate was considered so fine an invention, that it earned infinite praise for Madame de la Poplinière who was credited with it.  Her name became so famous that it was given to sorts of things: it became fashionable to have skirts, fans and hairstyles à la Poplinière; some even went so far as to imitate the actual chimney à la Poplinière
Soulavie,  Mémoires historiques et anecdotes  (1802), p.29-31. [On Google Books]

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