Brought back to life in fiction
The TV series ‘Outlander’ by STARZ is by far one of the biggest successes in television of the past few years. The series is based on the books by Diana Gabaldon and tell the story of WW2 nurse Claire who accidentally travels through time and ends up in mid 18th century Scotland. Diana Gabaldon’s books are immensely popular – also because she includes real historical events and persons. May it be Charles Edward Stuart, the Pretender to the British throne, or Louise de Rohan, Claire’s Parisian friend. Louise introduces Claire to the Parisian society and even to the King himself. As Claire struggles with the birth of a stillborn daughter, she is there to help her. She also is portrayed as the mistress of Charles Edward Stuart.
The real Louise de Rohan was born on 15 August 1725 in Paris as Marie Louise Henriette Jeanne de La Tour d’Auvergne. Her parents were Charles Godefroy de la Tour d’Auvergne (1706–1771), Duke of Bouillon, and Maria Karolina Sobieska, the daughter of the King of Poland.
At first, she was supposed to become the wife of Honoré III of Monaco. However, the family’s plans changed. When
she was 17 years old, she married Jules Hercule Mériadec de Rohan, prince de Guéméné, on 17 February 1743. Two years later she gave birth to a son. In 1746 she suffered from smallpox but survived.
The affair with Bonnie Prince Charles
Her husband was away most of the time as he was a member of the French army, located in the Netherlands. In 1747 she met her cousin Charles Edward Stuart for the first time, and they fell in love with each other. They began an affair which they had to keep secret. Although adultery was widely accepted in high society, it had to be kept a secret. It was especially difficult for Louise, as her mother-in-law always kept an eye on her. Charles and Louise often escaped the other woman’s watch at midnight, but their affair had its consequences: Firstly, Louise’s mother in law once called the police to stop her from seeing Charles again. Secondly, Louise became pregnant.
To hide the scandal, Louise tried to seduce her husband to make him believe that he was the father of the child. To save the family name from ruin her father and her mother in law forced her to write a letter to Charles to end their affair. Marie Louise, however, threatened to kill herself if they did not allow her to see him again. Charles kept visiting the family, but he had already found a new love: Clementina Walkinshaw.
On 28 July 1748 Louise gave birth to her lover’s son. The boy, Charles Godefroi Sophie Jules Marie de Rohan, was accepted as a legitimate member of the Rohan family but died five months later. Louise’s mother-in-law had informed Charles’ father about the birth of his grandchild. It is unknown what Charles himself had to say about the child.
After the loss of lover and son, her life changed drastically. She became a faithful wife and later worked as the governess of the royal children. She was known for her luxurious balls and parties, and soon the couple was in deep debt. In 1783 their debt reached 33 million Francs. She had to give up her position at court, and her husband was no longer welcome there either. However, her marriage seemed to have been happy in the end.
There is no clear evidence for the date of her death. However, experts widely agree that she became a victim of the French Revolution and died in 1793 the same way as Queen Marie Antoinette: by guillotine. She was buried in the Feuillant convent, together with her second child.
Louise came “back to life” in 2016 as the second series of Outlander was released. The French actress Claire Sermonne plays the funny friend and supporter of protagonist Claire Fraser. Her portrayal of Louise made this extraordinary woman known to a wider audience. Although Outlander is fiction and likes to play with historical facts it shows what kind of life Louise must have led. What she knew and saw, what she believed in, and who she loved.