The Secrets of the Princesse de Cadignan
by Honore de Balzac

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Etext prepared by John Bickers, jbickers@templar.actrix.gen.nz
and Dagny, dagnyj@hotmail.com





THE SECRETS OF THE PRINCESSE DE CADIGNAN

BY

HONORE DE BALZAC



Translated By
Katharine Prescott Wormeley



DEDICATION

To Theophile Gautier




THE SECRETS OF THE PRINCESSE DE CADIGNAN



CHAPTER I

THE LAST WORD OF TWO GREAT COQUETTES

After the disasters of the revolution of July, which destroyed so many
aristocratic fortunes dependent on the court, Madame la Princesse de
Cadignan was clever enough to attribute to political events the total
ruin she had caused by her own extravagance. The prince left France
with the royal family, and never returned to it, leaving the princess
in Paris, protected by the fact of his absence; for their debts, which
the sale of all their salable property had not been able to
extinguish, could only be recovered through him. The revenues of the
entailed estates had been seized. In short, the affairs of this great
family were in as bad a state as those of the elder branch of the
Bourbons.

This woman, so celebrated under her first name of Duchesse de
Maufrigneuse, very wisely decided to live in retirement, and to make
herself, if possible, forgotten. Paris was then so carried away by the
whirling current of events that the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse, buried
in the Princesse de Cadignan, a change of name unknown to most of the
new actors brought upon the stage of society by the revolution of
July, did really become a stranger in her own city.

In Paris the title of duke ranks all others, even that of prince;
though, in heraldic theory, free of all sophism, titles signify
nothing; there is absolute equality among gentlemen. This fine
equality was formerly maintained by the House of France itself; and in
our day it is so still, at least, nominally; witness the care with
which the kings of France give to their sons the simple title of
count. It was in virtue of this system that Francois I. crushed the
splendid titles assumed by the pompous Charles the Fifth, by signing
his answer: "Francois, seigneur de Vanves." Louis XI. did better still
by marrying his daughter to an untitled gentleman, Pierre de Beaujeu.
The feudal system was so thoroughly broken up by Louis XIV. that the
title of duke became, during his reign, the supreme honor of the
aristocracy, and the most coveted.

Nevertheless there are two or three families in France in which the
principality, richly endowed in former times, takes precedence of the
duchy. The house of Cadignan, which possesses the title of Duc de
Maufrigneuse for its eldest sons, is one of these exceptional
families. Like the princes of the house of Rohan in earlier days, the
princes of Cadignan had the right to a throne in their own domain;
they could have pages and gentlemen in their service. This explanation
is necessary, as much to escape foolish critics who know nothing, as
to record the customs of a world which, we are told, is about to
disappear, and which, evidently, so many persons are assisting to push
away without knowing what it is.