Author Elena Maria Vidal takes a brief look at the fascinating life of Zoe du Cayla, a French aristocrat and socialite who became the last favourite of King Louis XVIII of France. Like Gabrielle de Polignac at the court of Louis XVI, Madame du Cayla eventually used her friendship with the royal family to promote a conservative political agenda - in this case, furthering the cause of the Ultras, the far-Right of nineteenth century French royalism. Louis XVIII had come to the throne in 1814 with the intention of attempting to arbitrate between the Left, liberalism and the Right, in the hope of healing the political scars caused by the Revolution. However, after the assassination of his nephew, the Duc de Berry, by a republican terrorist in 1820, the ageing monarch moved further to the Right. Liberal monarchists, dismayed at their sovereign's new-found sympathy for the Ultras, tended to blame Madame du Cayla, in much the same way as devotees of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette had castigated Gabrielle de Polignac as a canker at the heart of government in the 1780s. Given the closeness of the obese King Louis to the radiant and sophisticated du Cayla, many assumed (then and now) that she was his mistress. However, Elena Maria Vidal argues persuasively that the relationship between the two was almost certainly platonic. The king's marriage to the late Queen Marie-Josephine had been childless; possibly on the grounds that Marie-Josephine may have been what we would now recognise as a lesbian, but equally possible because Louis himself had a very low sex drive (his correspondence with his close friend, the Duc de Lévis, certainly seems to hint at that). In any case, Elena Maria's view that Madame du Cayla was the king's favourite but not his mistress seems convincing. Du Cayla attended the King on his deathbed, where she managed to persuade him to receive the Last Rites of the Roman Catholic faith, which he had struggled to avoid, perhaps in the hope of denying his inevitable mortality.
For the article on Zoe du Cayla click HERE.