Charlotte Saumaise de Chazan

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Entry by Evelyne Berriot-Salvadore, 2004

Charlotte de Brégy was the daughter of Bégnine de Saumaise, secretary-in-chief to Gaston d'Orléans (and brother of the author of the Dictionnaire des précieuses) and Marguerite Hébert, lady-in-waiting to the queen. At age eighteen, Charlotte joined the retinue of Marie de' Medici. She began an affair with Nicolas de Flécelles, Lord of Brégy, giving birth to an illegitimate daughter, Anne-Marie. The couple were married on June 18, 1637. On August 6 that year, she became an unpaid lady-in-waiting to Anne of Austria. She quickly became a favorite with both Anne and Cardinal Mazarin, which made her one of the most talked-about women at court, the object of flattery by poets and satirical darts in the gazettes. The demands of marriage and repeated pregnancies did not suit Charlotte, whose love of freedom and social advancement proved a greater lure. Using the influence she earned by faithful service of Anne of Austria and her support of Mazarin during the Fronde in 1649, she had her husband appointed to diplomatic functions that would remove him from court for long periods. He was first named ambassador to Poland before being sent to Sweden to serve Queen Christina, who appointed him Sweden's ambassador extraordinary to France in 1650. Charlotte obtained a separation of property in 1651 and a legal separation in 1673. After Anne of Austria's death in 1666, she became much less influential in Anne's second son Monsieur's retinue, although she still enjoyed the favor of Louis XIV. At the end of her life, much of her time was taken up by her lawsuit against her sons, Jean-Baptiste (born 1642) and Eléonor (born 1644), born of a marriage she long wished to dissolve. She disinherited them in her will dated July 2, 1692, leaving everything to her sole surviving daughter, Elisabeth (Anne-Marie, a nun at Port-Royal, died in 1684). Charlotte died at the Palais-Royal on April 13, 1693.

Charlotte de Brégy was more interested in amorous intrigue and literary salons held by certain women at court than in religion. She had a virtuoso talent that shone in all the literary genres fashionable in the mid-17th century -amorous poetry, light prose, epistolary conversation. She was a frequent visitor to Mlle de Montpensier's salon, contributing writings on the queen mother, Christina of Sweden, the princess of England, and the king to the collection of literary portraits published in 1659. Along with Mme de La Suze, she was very popular at court entertainments, composing epigrams on "questions of love" and turning a country outing to Saint Cloud into an allegory on the theme of love. She was particularly keen to shine in the genre in which Voiture excelled -exchanging playful, amorous letters with leading figures in society and at court, which highlighted both her social position and her ease with metaphors and witticisms. However, underlying the fashionable genres she wrote in, we can catch a glimpse of an ironic, even cynical philosophy towards virtue -her own and that of the world in general. La sphère de la lune and the later La réflexion de la lune sur les hommes are light pieces of prose and verse on the well-worn theme of the vices of sex that play with reversed images to indicate that the reader should be wary of things he thinks he knows well. The paradoxical criticisms of loose, inconstant women teach a bitterly learned lesson about the illusory nature of appearances and paint a clear-eyed picture of life at court. But it is impossible to resist the lure, leaving no choice but to accept the appointed role. Is this the vision of a philosopher or a court jester? Charlotte leaves the question unresolved, condemning both men and women to the grasp of vacillation and madness. Her contemporaries thought her worthy of inclusion in the Grand dictionnaire des précieuses and Le cercle des femmes savantes. While her writings have been largely forgotten, the witty epigrams on her love affairs and the satirical songs about her faded beauty and her tastes that had long since passed from fashion have survived. Today, Charlotte de Brégy is studied in the context of the précieuses; her collections of poems and letters have yet to arouse the interest of researchers.

(translated by Susan Pickford)


- 1652 : La sphere de la lune, composée de la teste de la Femme par Mad. de B***, à Paris, chez Antoine de Sommaville -- Mademoiselle de B***, 1652, La Sphère de la lune composée de la tête de la femme, Paris, Côté-femmes, 1992.
- 1654 : La reflexion de la lune sur les hommes par Mad. de B*** à Paris, chez Antoine de Sommaville.
- 1659 : «Portraits en prose de la Princesse d'Angleterre, de Mademoiselle de Choisy, du Roi, de Mademoiselle de Saumaise, de la Reine de Suède, de la reyne-Mère», in Divers portraits, à Paris, chez Charles de Sercy et Claude Barbin; Recueil des portraits et eloges en vers et prose dedié à son altesse royale Mademoiselle, à Paris, chez Charles de Sercy.
- 1666 : Les lettres et poesies de Madame la comtesse de B***, à Leyde, chez Antoine du Val.
- 1667 : Les oeuvres galantes de Mme la comtesse de B., à Paris, chez Jean Ribou (reproduction de l'édition précédente, avec seulement une table en plus).

Selected bibliography

- Berriot-Salvadore, Evelyne. Préface à Mademoiselle de B***, 1652, La Sphère de la lune, voir supra.
- Fukuy, Y. Raffinement précieux dans la poésie française du XVIIe siècle. Paris, Nizet, 1964, p.24, 295, 306-308.
- Goujet, Abbé. Bibliothèque françoise ou Histoire de la littérature française. Paris, H.-L. Guérin et L.-F. Delatour, 1756, t.XVIII, p.335-341.
- Mongrédien, Georges. «Une précieuse: la comtesse de Brégy». La Revue de France, 3, 1929, p.36-66.
- Id., «Brégy», in M. Prévost et R. d'Amat (dir.), Dictionnaire de Biographie Française. Paris, Librairie Letourey, 1956, t.VII, p.195.


- «Mme la Marquise de Bregy. Beauté serieuse. Une autre Tanaquil, femme d'Estat.» (Saint-Gabriel, Le merite des dames, Paris, Jacques Le Gras, 1660, p.292).
- «Belarmis est une pretieuse qui vit en celibat, quoy que son mary soit encore vivant. Son esprit a fait parler d'elle et l'a fait connoistre pour pretieuse, non seulement parce qu'elle parle comme elles, mais encore parce qu'elle ecrit fort bien en vers et en prose. Toute la Grece [la France] s'est partagée à l'occasion d'une querelle qu'elle eut avec une autre belle dont je tais le nom; elle tient ruelle et voit les autheurs les plus celebres. Sa demeure est dans le Palais que Seneque a fait bastir dans le quartier de la Normandie [le Palais Royal bâti par Richelieu].» (Le grand dictionnaire des Pretieuses par le sieur de Somaize, Paris, Jean Ribou, 1661; éd. Ch.-L. Livet, Paris, P. Jannet, 1856, t.I, p.38).
- «Belinde. Madame de Bregis. On ne doit pas s'etonner qu'elle s'applique particulierement aux belles lettres, puis qu'elle est Niece de ce grand Sommaise qui estoit entretenu par la Republique de Hollande.» (Jean de La Forge, Le Cercle des femmes sçavantes, Paris, Jean-Baptiste Loyson, 1663, p.16).

{{DEFAULTSORT:Saumaise de Chazan, Charlotte de}

Charlotte Saumaise de Chazan
Spouses Nicolas de Flécelles, sieur de Brégy
Also known as Charlotte de Brégy
Birth date 1619
Death 1693
Biographical entries in old dictionaries
Dictionnaire Pierre-Joseph Boudier de Villemert
Dictionnaire Fortunée Briquet
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