Jeanne de La Motte-Valois, London, and the Pleasure Gardens

A prospect of Vauxhall Gardens. By Samuel Wales c. 1751.

Jeanne de La Motte-Valois, the instigator of the Affair of the Diamond Necklace and the heroine of her own story, fled to England following her daring escape from the Salpêtrière prison in Paris. (For more information on how and why she ended up in prison, take a look at The Short Story or my extensive post on Jeanne, which I linked to above.)

It’s no secret that the English had no liking for the French. They were perennial enemies (see, for example, the Hundred Years War). Jeanne had embarrassed the French monarchy through her plot to steal a diamond necklace, so the English welcomed her to London. Once she arrived, Jeanne began writing memoirs that were sensational and damaging to Marie-Antoinette’s reputation. They were also largely fabrications of Jeanne’s imagination. In any case, Jeanne made herself even more of an enemy of the French king and queen than she had already been. Jeanne was also in a bad spot financially, with creditors on her tail. On top of this, Jeanne had a history of suicidal thoughts and tendencies.

So, when Jeanne fell from the third story of her home in London and died as a result of her injuries, it wasn’t clear whether she went over the rail accidentally, was pushed, or jumped. It still isn’t clear whether her death was an accident, a homicide, or a suice. I wrote more extensively on the matter in this post here.

A friend who follows this blog pointed out a passage in this book from 1896 (The London Pleasure Gardens of the Eighteenth Century). The passage talks about the Temple of Flora, one of the pleasure gardens that were common in London at the end of the 1700s. While describing the Temple of Flora, the author points out that a translation of Jeanne’s memoir (her Life) placed Jeanne’s death in a house across the street from the Temple.

This is an interesting tidbit of information, not only because it gives a more precise location for the scene of the accident (or incident). It also gives us some insight into late-18th-century London. Pleasure gardens were more or less exactly what they sound like: they were garden that had flowers, benches, music, galas, dancing halls, food, drink, and fireworks. They were a combination of park, county fair, and assembly hall. Vauxhall and Ranelagh were two of the most popular of these pleasure gardens. It was common for people of all stations to venture out for entertainment to the various gardens that appeared all around London at the time.

The Rotunda at the popular Ranelagh Gardens. 1754 by Thomas Bowles.

The Temple of Flora was not one of the largest of these pleasure gardens. It was located just beside Westminster Bridge, on the left when going towards the obelisk (unfortunately, I’m not sure what is meant by “the obelisk”, since the obelisk doesn’t seem to exist any more; however, the direction is east). It was separated from the Temple of Apollo by Oakley Street (now Bayliss Street). It had a hothouse with a statue of “Pomona”, a gloss of Flora. The gardens offered refreshments in the form of orgeat (a sweet drink), lemonade, confectionaries, strawberries, and cream. For a few years in the early 1790s (the exact time period Jeanne lived nearby), the Temple of Flora was a fashionable spot. By the late 1790’s, it went downhill, and it appears the gardens were closed around 1796 (a few years after Jeanne’s death). Since she lived right across the street, it’s likely that Jeanne visited the Temple of Flora many times.

To read more about the Temple of Flora and other pleasure gardens, click here to read from The London Pleasure Gardens of the Eighteenth Century.

Thanks to Nico Hofstra for the tip!

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2 thoughts on “Jeanne de La Motte-Valois, London, and the Pleasure Gardens

  1. Ah very cool, thanks. The Obelisk is still there, just follow the street untill you see that round square, i dont know how old it is, but it was probably allready there when Jeanne lived there.

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