Anne Louise Germaine de Stael
22 April 1766 – 14 July 1817
Of all the women Napoleon Bonaparte knew, he hated Madame de Stael the most. She was the most famous woman in Europe during the nineteenth century.
She was born in Paris on 22 April 1766. Her parents named her Germaine Necker. Her father was Jacques Necker, a wealthy Genevese banker.
Jacques NeckerShe was raised in the lap of luxury.
Her father was often called upon to manage the deteriorating treasury of King Louis XVI. During the final days of the French monarchy Necker tried desperately to influence the King to adopt English practices. Queen Marie-Antoinette disliked him and when the king dismissed him on 11 July 1789, it led to the storming of the infamous Bastille by revolutionists.
Germaine’s mother was Suzanne Curchod. She was beautiful, cultivated and talented.
To further her husband's career, she held literary and political “salons” for her guests while in Paris. Germaine attended these salons where she brushed shoulders with some of the most intelligent men of her time including Voltaire, Rousseau, Lamartine, and Châteaubriand. She participated in lively discussions at these male-dominated occasions. At first, the men regarded her with a wary eye, but soon she gained their admiration for her quick wit and good looks. Although Germaine did not possess the beauty of her mother, she was deemed almost pleasant.
In 1786, at the age of 20, she married the Swedish ambassador to Paris, Baron Eric de Staël-Holstein.
Baron Eric de Staël-Holstein
Like most marriages of this time, it was pre-arranged and one of political convenience to unite the wealthy and intelligent Germaine Necker to the aloof, hard-drinking, poor, gambling, titled diplomat who was a full sixteen years older than her.
The marriage failed and they separated in 1797. It was rumoured that her two sons were the children of her lover Louis de Narbonne, one of King Louis XVI’s ministers.
When the French Revolution broke out in 1789, the Swedish Embassy in Paris provided Germaine and her friends with diplomatic sanctuary.
Like her mother before her and other rich and powerful women of this era, Germaine held some of the grandest salons of eighteenth century French society. These salons were a meeting place for writers, artists and critics where they could openly discuss opinions about politics and literature in addition to listening to music and poetry readings.
In 1793 during the period of the “Terror”, life in Paris became so dangerous that Germain fled her family residence at Chateau de Coppet near Geneva. By the end of the revolution in 1794 order, Germain returned to Paris and resumed her salons. She published several political and literary essays.
Napoleon Bonaparte seized power in 1799.
Because Germaine was interested in all men of power and brilliance, she decided to share with him her political views and ideas on how to form the new government.
Napoleon was not impressed. His impatience soon turned into irritation as Germaine's salon evolved into a liberal resistance group that annoyed Napoleon. Benjamin Constant was the leader of this group.
Napoleon was of the opinion that his speaches reflected strongly the political views of Germaine. As a result, Napoleon banished Constant and Germaine. Napoleon’s hostility towards her made her famous throughout Europe.
Never one to be intimidated, Germaine travelled throughout Germany between December 1803 to April 1804. Everywhere she went, she was treated with all the pomp and pagentry befitting a queen. When her father died, she returned to Chateau de Coppet and resumed residence there. Her home became the headquarters for an anti-Bonaparte movement. Fellow dissidents joined her and the group grew in size.
In 1811, at the age of 45, Germaine married John Rocca, a Swiss-Italian army officer nearly half her age. Their only son was born retarded.
Napoleon’s officers took an ever-increasing interest in her affairs and in 1812 she was forced to flee to Austria, Russia, Finland and Sweden before finally arriving in England in June 1813 where she remained for a year.
Napoleon fell in 1814. She returned to Paris and began holding her salons again. Soon thereafter, her health began to fail and she died on 14 July 1817.
It is said that Mme Germaine de Staël threw herself at every distinguished man but received little love in return.
She admitted, “I always loved my lovers more than they loved me”. Her greatest love was Benjamin Constant, a successful politician and novelist. She bore him a daughter named Albertine.
She was a hopeless insomniac and kept up a hectic pace. As a result, she rarely accomplished anything well. The novels she wrote and her philosophys were mediocre and often emulated the work of others.
But her gregarious personality overshadowed her faults. Her intelligent eccentricity and strong personality turned the heads and caught the notice of everyone she made contact with.
In addition to earning the moniker of the woman whom Napoleon hated most, she is also remembered as the champion of liberal republicanism and the empress of a vast realm of intelligence, talent and grace.