François-Timoléon de Choisy

One of my favourite people of Louis le Grand’s court is the Abbé de Choisy. A 17th century transvestite who lived a rather adventurous life.

 

The abbé de Choisy as woman, image from the magazine “le Musée des familles” of 1855.

Born in 1644 in Paris, he came from a not too wealthy family, which managed to enter the ranks of noblesse. Francois was the last born son of Jean III de Choisy, seigneur de Balleroy, and Jeanne-Olympe Hurault de L’Hospital. His papa served as chancelier to Gaston de France, was a councilor of State and intendant of Languedoc.

His mama, a granddaughter of Michel de L’Hospital, who was an intimate of Louise-Marie de Gonzague-Nevers, Queen of Poland.  Jeanne-Olympe was on quite good terms with Anne d’Autriche and often called to court by the young Louis XIV to provide entertainments.

On these occasions, she took Francois with her and introduced him to Louis XIV’s brother. For some reason, she continued to dress the boy in gowns even after he had been breeched. Francois and Petit Monsieur got along rather well and often met for play-dates, two or three times a week, where both of them dressed up in gowns. His mother, who had a rather commanding attitude according to Francois, had his ears pierced and provided him with gowns, mouches, wigs and bling. She did not encourage him to plan for a military career or something like it, but to seek fortune at court.

Francois lost his father was he was twelve years old. By then he had developed quite the preference for women’s garments, even when maman did not tell him to wear them. Aged eighteen, he studied philosophy and theology at the Sorbonne and became an Abbé. During his time at the Sorbonne, Francois dressed in men’s garments, but returned to wearing gowns again shortly afterwards. Probably because Madame de Lafayette jestingly advised it.

Between 1669 and 1683, Francois lived a rather debauched life. He lived pretty much as woman, with the approval of the perish priest and his Bishop, in a house in the Saint-Médard district under the name of Madame de Sancy…. until the Duc de Montausier, who apparently inspired Molière’s Misanthrope, rebuked him in public.

Thus, Madame de Sancy retired to the provinces, the Château de Vouzay, and became the Comtesse des Barres to continue her adventures there. Seducing the daughters of good houses and actresses. Back in Paris, she took the name Madame de Sancy once more…. but all of it did cost Francois a pretty penny, making him always short on money.

As he fell ill in 1683 and saw himself close to death, Francois decided to take his Abbé responsibilities a bit more serious.

He retired for one year to recover and afterwards accompanied, from March 1685 to June 1686, Alexandre de Chaumont on a mission to Siam in order to attempt to convert the King of Siam to Catholicism. It failed, but Francois used his stay in Siam to write a journal on what he saw, for which he received much praise. Upon his return, he also received a couple of gifts for Louis XIV, which helped him with his financial troubles. The next year, 1687, Francois became a member of the Académie Française.

Dressed as a woman until his death, October 2 in 1724, he produced historical and religious works during the next years, like an eleven volume long History of the Church and memoirs on the reign of Louis XIV. The Abbé also wrote about his own adventures as Madame de Sancy and Comtesse des Barres.

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