Helena, comtesse de Noailles
Anna Maria Helena ("Cosvelt" or Coswell), comtesse de Noailles (ca. 1826 – 1908) was an English noblewoman. De Noailles married Charles-Antonin, second son of Antoine-Claude-Just de Noailles, duc de Mouchy and prince-duc de Poix in Paris, 25 April 1849. The marriage was short-lived, and their only child died at birth the following year. She was known for opposing vaccination and vivisection, as well as financially supporting Elizabeth Blackwell during her struggle to become the first female doctor in the United States.
Madame de Noailles was a wealthy woman with houses in England, Paris, Montpellier and the French Riviera, which she moved between frequently. When she was 40, she saw at the Paris Salon of 1863 a portrait of a young girl by the artist Ernest Hébert.
Madame de Noailles attempted to buy it but it had already been sold to Baron James de Rothschild. She therefore decided to adopt the model, named Maria Pasqua (because she had been born within a few hours of Easter Sunday). Her Italian father, Domenico, had brought her to Paris to be adopted for the price of two bags of gold with which he would use to create a vineyard. Madame de Noailles agreed to adopt her on the conditions that she was brought up a Catholic and that she would be treated as an equal, not a servant. Madame de Noailles kept her word but since she was eccentric, Maria Pasqua's childhood was an extraordinary one.
Not only did Madame de Noailles move constantly from place to place but she imposed curious rules and regulations on her adopted daughter. These included the wearing of loose clothing. Maria was sent to a Catholic boarding school in Sussex, England, and Madame de Noailles enforced her rules on clothing and thus Maria was excused from wearing school uniform. Maria was also given her own supply of fresh milk from de Noailles's personal dairy herd. Madame de Noailles encouraged her cows to graze near open windows believing the methane they produced was good for her health.
In her later life, she tried to encourage Maria's son Samuel to become a vet rather than enrolling at medical school. She believed that children brought up on milk were less likely to become drunkards. She also promised Maria's husband Philip that she would give him some money from the sale of land in England, which if he would not take would instead help needy Armenians. Philip turned down the offer.
Madame de Noailles also left England every winter for fear of catching flu. When Maria grew up she and her family were instructed to do the same. Madame believed the climate to be unhealthy when leaves fell, especially from oak trees, which she thought England had too many of. When Maria and her children were at home, Madame de Noailles would only eat food served on plates behind a two-foot-high silk screen, for reasons de Noailles never revealed.
Other habits included sleeping with a loaded pistol beside her bed, even in hotels; having a string of fresh onions hung on her bedroom door to protect her from infections; wrapping silk stockings stuffed with squirrel fur around her forehead to prevent wrinkles; eating large amounts of fresh herring roe to prevent bronchitis. She also believed that port wine should be drunk at sunset, mixed with a little sugar and diluted with soft rainwater collected from the roof of their house by her servants.
Maria recorded that de Noailles once shrieked in terror at her staff because a piece of blue silk covering her brass bedroom door handle had fallen off and she feared that the glaring light shining off it was damaging her eyes. Her fear of glaring light led her to put red glass in the lower half of all her windowpanes, claiming it was healthier and more cheerful.
Madame de Noailles never let go of her grip on Maria Pasqua even after her marriage. She wrote constant letters to both Philip Shepheard and Maria, advising Philip on how to manage his land and to Maria herself on the best way to bring up her children.
When Madame de Noailles was visited at her house in the south of France by two of Maria Pasqua's children, she instructed them to accept no invitations to afternoon tea after 5 o'clock, believing that most people caught flu at this time because of dangerous miasma in the air at the end of the day. On one occasion a visitor was wearing some high-heeled shoes, which de Noailles asked to examine. She then threw the shoes on a fire, believing that flat shoes were better for general health.
In her will Madame de Noailles endowed an orphanage for the daughter of clergymen, where inmates were made to follow several of her 'rules'. Potential inmates were examined by two independent phrenologists to ensure that they were "firm spirited and conscientious". In addition, none of the girls were to be vaccinated and no girl under ten was to be taught any mathematics except for multiplication tables.
- Annuaire de la noblesse de France, 1905; "Coswell" and "Caswell" are not included in Burke's Landed Gentry nor in G.E. Cokayne, The Complete Peerage.
- Amos, William (1985). The Originals: Who's Really Who in Fiction.
- Noailles genealogy
- Lloyd, John; Mitchinson, John (5 November, 2009). The QI Book of the Dead. London: Faber and Faber. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-571-24490-4.
- Wojtczak, Helena. "Biographies". British Women's Emancipation since the Renaissance. Retrieved 2009-11-13.
- Goffin, Magdalen (2009). Maria Pasqua, p. 29. Faber and Faber, London. ISBN 978-0-571-25034-9.
- Lloyd and Mitchinson, p. 168-169
- Goffin, Magdalen (2009). Maria Pasqua, p. 128. Faber and Faber, London. ISBN 978-0-571-25034-9.
- Lloyd and Mitchinson, p. 170
- Lloyd and Mitchinson, p. 169
- Lloyd and Mitchinson, p. 169-170
- Lloyd and Mitchinson, p. 171
- Lloyd, John; Mitchinson, John (5 November, 2009). The QI Book of the Dead. London: Faber and Faber. pp. 167–171. ISBN 978-0-571-24490-4.