It was the Regency period in France, beginning in 1715 and was a hey-day of cynical license in the last legs of the aged Louis XIV. And Mme Alexandrine de Tencin found no lack of companions. Her vows from the convent formally annulled in 1715, she first made up the arrears of pleasure that she thought to be her due. From convent to court, and from bank to boudoir, she was a going concern, a force to be reckoned with…
The unnatural mother- she gave birth to d’Alembert and abandoned the baby- had now her fill of love, at least a kind of love. She set out to pursue another goal: money. In this pursuit she was aided by a happy chance, the vogue of the financial magician, the Scot John Law. Law had come bustling to Paris at the death of Louis XIV and had persuaded the regent to back his scheme for a managed, or mismanaged,economy, with a central bank issuing paper money and controlling the national colonies and industries.
All France went mad with speculative fever. Alexandrine and her brother, the Abbe de Tencin inveigled their way into intimacy with Law, and the genial Abbe persuaded him to renounce Presbyterianism in the interest of the bank and of the Abbe. Mme de Tencin then formed a company of her friends, relatives and lovers and opened a stockjobbing office. Thanks to inside information, the company cashed in just before the bubble burst,the famous Mississippi bubble, and Mme de Tencin was assured thenceforth of a comfortable living.
Her cupidity appeased, Mme de Tencin could now devote herself to the pursuit of power. This, through the disability of her sex, she could attain only by promoting her brother the Abbe. He was a handsome man, of much charm and grace; he had made a brilliant record as a theologian, was a doctor of the Sorbonne, and was prior of that institution. The malevolent could find no sexual lapse, and were reduced to accusing him, surely falsely, of a more than normal fondness for his sister. But his outward sufficiency masked a torturing self-doubt.
In letters to his sister he castigated himself repeatedly. “It’s no use,” he wrote, “You can’t make me believe that I amount to much. I have no memory; I am absent-minded, over-serious; I usually seem to myself very tiresome. When I try to do something really well it costs me very dear; and the good I would do is merely mediocre.”
Alexandrine made it her mission to waken his sluggard ambition and to charge her spirit with her own. Circumstances favored her. Abbe Dubois had conceived a desire for promotion. He pulled strings, and took all the grades of the hierarchy from priest to archbishop in a single day. But he still lacked a cardinal’s hat. To conduct the delicate negotiations for his elevation, he sent to Rome, in 1721, the Abbe de Tencin. Tencin triumphantly fulfilled his mission, at the cost of some eight million francs in bribes, and was rewarded with the archbishopric of Embrun, a small town in the French Alps….( to be continued)