Diary of John Adams, volume 4

April 30. Thursday. 1778.

May 2. Saturday. 1778.

[May 1. Fryday. 1778.] JA [May 1. Fryday. 1778.] Adams, John
May 1. Fryday. 1778.

May 1. Fryday. 1778. Dined with the Duke D'Ayen, the Brother1 of the Duke de Mouchy and the Father of the Marchioness de la Fayette. The House, the Gardens, the Walks, the Pictures and Furniture all in the highest Style of magnificence. The Portraits of the Family of Noailles, were ancient and numerous. Among them was a Picture of Noailles the Ambassador, in England at the time of the Regency when the Duke of Sommersett was at the head of it. The Negotiations of this Ambassador are in print and in my Possession.2 We were shewn into the Library, which was very large, and into all the Rooms and first Suite of Chambers in the house. The Rooms were 83very elegant and the furniture very rich. The Library was begun by the Ambassador and augmented by Cardinal Noailles in the Time of Lewis the fourteenth and Madame De Maintenon, who was his great friend. He is represented by Mr. Malesherbes in two Volumes which he wrote upon Toleration in the latter part of his Life to have contributed much to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The Cardinals Picture We also saw.

The Duchess D'Ayen had five or six Children contrary to the Custom of the Country, I saw no Amie there and this family appeared to be the most regular and exemplary of any that I had seen.

When I began to attempt a little conversation in french I was very inquisitive concerning this great Family of Noailles and I was told by some of the most intelligent Men in France, ecclesiasticks as well as others, that there were no less than six Marshalls of France of this Family, that they held so many Offices under the King that they received Eighteen millions of Livres annually from the Crown. That the Family had been remarkable for Ages, for their harmony with one another and for doing nothing of any consequence without a previous Council and concert. That, when the American Revolution commenced, a family Council had been called to deliberate upon that great Event and determine what part they should take in it, or what Conduct they should hold towards it. After they had sufficiently considered, they all agreed in Opinion that it was a Crisis of the highest importance, in the Affairs of Europe and the World. That it must affect France in so essential a manner, that the King could not and ought not to avoid taking a capital Interest and part of it. That it would therefore be the best policy of the Family, to give their Countenance to it as early as possible. And that it was expedient to send one of their Sons over to America to serve in her Army under General Washington. The Prince de Poix as the Heir apparent, of the Duke de Mouchy, they thought of too much importance to their Views and expectations to be risked in so hazardous a Voyage and so extraordinary a Service, and therefore it was concluded, to offer the Enterprize to the Viscount de Noailles, and if he should decline it, to the Marquis de la Fayette. The Viscount after due consideration, thought it most prudent to remain at home for the present. The Marquis, who was represented as a youth of the finest Accomplishments and most amiable disposition, panting for Glory, ardent to distinguish himself in military Service, and impatient to wipe out a slight imputation which had been thrown, whether by Truth or Calumny upon the Memory of his father who though he had been slain in Battle was suspected to have lost his Life 84by too much caution to preserve it,3 most joyfully consented to embark in the Enterprize.4 All France pronounced it to be the first page in the History of a great Man.

This Family was in short become more powerfull than the House of Bourbon. At least they had more influence in the Army, and when they afterwards united with the Duke of Orleans, the Le Rochefoucaults, the Le Moignons Lamoignons and a few others, the World knows too much of the Consequences. If they advised the calling of the Assembly of Notables The Wisdom of their Family Councils, had certainly departed.5


A mistake of memory for “Nephew.”


Antoine de Noailles is meant. His mission to England and that of his brother Francois in the mid-16th century are dealt with in René Aubert de Vertot d'Aubeuf, Ambassades de Messieurs de Noailles en Angleterre, Leyden, 1763, 5 vols., which remains among JA's books in the Boston Public Library. The volumes bear marginal pencil markings and underlining in the text by JA.


Apparently quite untrue. Lafayette's father died gallantly in the battle of Minden, 1759. There was, however, a Noailles general in the 18th century who was somewhat notorious for his cautiousness in the field. See Gottschalk, Lafayette , 1:3, 26.


As CFA points out in a note (JA, Works , 3:150), the story of a Noailles family council approving Lafayette's enlisting in the American cause is pure legend and contrary to fact. Gottschalk has narrated Lafayette's “escape” from his family and France in 1777 in definitive detail ( Lafayette , 1:97 ff.).


The members of the Noailles family bore so many different titles and offices, and JA's allusions to them are so casual and at times inaccurate, that it may be well to list and briefly identify in one place those whom JA knew or frequently mentioned. (This information is drawn from Dict. de la noblesse , Hoefer, Nouv. Biog. Générale , and La Grande Encyclopédie , which, however, vary slightly from one another in giving the forenames of some of the Noailles.)

At this time there were two branches of the Noailles family powerful at court and in the military and diplomatic affairs of France. They were headed by two brothers: (I) Louis, Due de Noailles, and (II) Philippe de Noailles, Duc de Mouchy.

I: Louis, Due de Noailles (1713–1793), known until his father's death in 1766 as the Due d'Ayen, was a general and from 1775 a marshal of France; he was grandfather of Adrienne de Noailles, Lafayette's wife, and died of grief after the execution of Louis XVI.

His son was Jean Louis Francois Paul de Noailles (1739–1824), Due d'Ayen from 1766 and Due de Noailles after his father's death in 1793; like most of his family he had a military career, but he was also known as a wit and an amateur of science; during the Revolution he was an émigré in Switzerland, returning to France with the restoration of 1814. By his wife, Henriette Anne Louise (d'Aguesseau) de Noailles, he had five daughters, one of whom, Adrienne, married Lafayette. His wife died by the guillotine in July 1794, together with her mother-in-law and her daughter Anne, Vicomtesse de Noailles (see below).

A younger brother of the preceding was Emmanuel Marie Louis, Marquis de Noailles (1743–1822), successively French ambassador at The Hague, London (1776–1778), and Vienna.

Anne de Noailles (1758–1794), niece of the preceding, daughter of the Due d'Ayen and sister of the Marquise de Lafayette, married in 1773 the Vicomte de Noailles (see under II, below), her first cousin once removed. Her death by the guillotine is mentioned above.

Her sister Adrienne (1759–1807) married in 1774 the Marquis de Lafayette.

II: Philippe de Noailles (1715–1794), long known as the Comte de Noailles and then as the Due de Mouchy, in 1775 became a marshal of France; he was guillotined in June 1794.

The elder son of the Due de Mouchy was Philippe Louis Marc Antoine de Noailles (1752–1819), Prince de Poix, soldier and émigré.

The younger son of the Duc de Mouchy was Louis Marie, Vicomte de Noailles (1756–1804), who served under Rochambeau in America, 1780–1782, became a member of the Constitutional Assembly in 1789, took the popular side, and later continued his military career under Napoleon, being mortally wounded in a sea fight off Cuba. In 1773 he had married his first cousin once removed, Anne de Noailles, sister of Adrienne, who the following year married Lafayette.