Welcome to the website for our AHRC-funded research project, ‘The Duchesse d’Elbeuf’s Letters to a Friend, 1788-1794’, which is running from January 2019 to December 2020. The project is a collaboration between Queen Mary University of London and the University of Exeter.

The project will introduce an exciting new voice to academic and public discussion of the French Revolution: an extraordinary eyewitness account by Innocente-Catherine de Rougé (1707-94), the dowager duchess of Elbeuf. This project’s Principal Investigator, Professor Colin Jones, discovered a set of six notebooks in the French national archives which the duchess used to write a detailed, personal commentary on the Revolution from late 1788 through to the violent turmoil of the Terror of 1793-1794. This account, which takes the form of a series of letters to an unnamed friend, has never been studied before, and this project will establish the duchess’s work as an important resource for academics – as well as exploring its value for students and the general public.

The Elbeuf Letters are striking not only for being written from a perspective that has previously been largely hidden to historians – that is, a woman of high aristocratic status articulating overtly Counter-Revolutionary views – but also for having been composed largely at her Parisian home, the Hôtel d’Elbeuf, situated a matter of yards from the authorities running France from the Tuileries Palace complex. They offer significant new material for the study of Counter-Revolution, and for the wider, interdisciplinary study of women, the emotions, gender and the self. Our project aims to make this remarkable document more widely-known and appreciated by historians, students and the general public.

Our principal objectives are:

To make the Elbeuf Letters available to the scholarly community and the general public, in two ways:

  1. a published French transcription of the Elbeuf Letters in their entirety (around 80,000 words), diffused as an edition including a scholarly commentary;
  2. an English translation of select passages of the text (around 10,000 words), to be made available in a searchable open-access online format via this website.

On the basis of the complete text, to explore how the Elbeuf Letters help us:

  1. to discover more about this remarkable figure, so as to gain a richer sense of her perspective and her representative status in the Revolution;
  2. to gain insight into the relationship between Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Paris during the French Revolution and notably during the Terror;
  3. through additional research to explore how the Letters can give insight into significant aspects of the culture and politics of the Revolutionary decade, including the emotions, the role of gender, women’s writing, and the epistolary form.

This website provides additional background information and project updates, and is also where you will be able to access translated extracts from the Letters by the end of the project. During the course of this project we will be involved in a range of other activities, including an exhibition with UCL Art Museum and other public events, a graduate student ‘Webinar’, the writing of scholarly articles, and engagement with A-Level students and teachers.

Please subscribe to the Project blog so that you can stay updated on our progress!

Professor Colin Jones, QMUL (Principal Investigator)
Dr Alex Fairfax-Cholmeley, University of Exeter (Co-Investigator)
Dr Simon Macdonald, QMUL (Postdoctoral Research Associate)