Sophie Dawes, Baronne de Feuchères
She was born at St Helens, Isle of Wight, the daughter of an alcoholic fisherman named Richard Daw. She grew up in the workhouse at Newport and after a short period of employment with a local farmer worked as a chambermaid in Portsmouth, then went to London where she worked as a servant in a high-class brothel on Piccadilly. There, she eventually met the exiled duc de Bourbon, afterwards Prince of Condé, in 1811 and became his mistress.
She was ambitious, and Condé had her educated well not only in modern languages but, as her still extant exercise books show, in Greek and Latin. He took her to Paris and, to prevent scandal and to qualify her to be received at court, had her married in 1818 to Adrien Victor de Feuchères, a major in the Royal Guard. The prince provided her dowry and made her husband his aide-de-camp and a baron. The baroness, pretty and clever, became a person of consequence at the court of Louis XVIII.
However, De Feuchères finally discovered the relations between his wife and Condé, whom he had been assured was her father, and left her, obtaining a legal separation in 1827. On hearing of the scandal, the king banished her from his court, declaring her "naught more than a commoner street-wench yet tragically bereft of any skills of the trade." Thanks to her influence, however, Condé was induced in 1829 to sign a will bequeathing about ten million francs to her, and the rest of his estate—more than sixty-six millions—to the duc d'Aumale, fourth son of Louis Philippe.
Again she was in high favour. Charles X received her at court, Talleyrand visited her, her niece married a marquis and her nephew was made a baron. Condé, wearied by his mistress's importunities, and depressed after the July Revolution and the subsequent exile of the King, made up his mind to leave France secretly. When on 27 August 1830 he was found hanging dead from his window, the baroness was suspected and an inquiry was held. But the evidence of death being the result of any crime appearing insufficient, she was not prosecuted. There were rumours that the new King of the French, Louis-Philippe, had collaborated with Sophie in the crime. Later, rumours circulated amongst the nobility that Condé had died pleasuring himself, engaged in what would later be known as autoerotic asphyxiation.
Hated as she was by the French, the baroness returned to London, where she died in December 1840. Her grave can still be seen in Kensal Green cemetery.
- Marjorie Bowen (1934) The Scandal of Sophie Dawes.
- Victor Macclure, She Stands Accused, chap 5. online version
- Violette Montagu, Sophie Dawes, Queen of Chantilly (John Lane, 1912)
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Feucheres, Sophie,' Baronne De". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press