“The beauty of her face, her figure, her voice, her declamation – everything foreshadowed a perfect actress,” said Virgee Lebrun of Raucourt in her Memoirs.
TRQ: Mlle Raucourt , Born March 3, 1756
French tragedienne and director of the Théâtre Louvois, Françoise Marie AntoinetteSaucerotte, called Mlle Raucourt, was born in Nancy, France. Raucourt was born into a family working in the theatre, and when they travelled to Spain to work, she began acting at the age of twelve.
Returning to France, at the age of fourteen, Raucourt’s performance as Euphmie in Belloy’s Gaston et Bayard earned her recognition. At the age of sixteen, Raucourt debuted to great acclaim as Dido at the Comédie Française in 1772. She not only earned praise from King Louis XVI and Napoleon I, but Queen Marie-Antoinette would eventually become Raucourt’s benefactor. Tycoon Nicolas Beaujon organized a lottery to support Raucourt financially.
Raucourt, notorious for her affairs with men and women, soon caught the attention of Madame de Phalaris, a mistress of the Regent also known for her own relationships with prominent women. Rumors circulated that Raucourt and opera soprano Sophie Arnould lead the Sect of Anadrynes on the Rue des Boucheries-Saint-Honoré. Raucourt’s relationship with the opera singer ended badly and dramatically: two male friends were recruited to represent them in a duel to the death. Afterwards, Raucourt moved on to Jeanne-Françoise Souque for another controversial affair.
These affairs, given the times, posed a risk for Raucourt’s career. Even though she played to packed houses, Raucourt’s controversial private life would often eclipse her professional fame. In fact, she suddenly disappeared in 1776. At the age of twenty, Raucourt vanished from Paris, spending three years either in prison for debt, and feeling from scandal after scandal in the capitals of northern Europe.
She returned to France in 1779 under Marie-Antoinette’s protection, and began performing again at the Théâtre Français. She was a triumph as Cleopatra in Phèdre, in a role well suited to her. Unfortunately, on the outbreak of the Revolution, she along with all the other royalist members of Comédie Française, faced imprisonment for another six months.
While in prison, Raucourt fell in love with Henriette Simonnot de Ponty, and would be her partner in life. Soon after her release, Raucourt would be named director of the Théâtre Louvois. Napoleon would go on to give her a pension after she was commissioned to direct a company to tour Italy. In Milan, Raucourt was especially well received.
Raucourt returned to Paris a few months before her death. She died on January 15, 1815. When the rector of Saint-Roch church refused to admit Raucourt’s body for a funeral service, fifteen thousand people rioted, broke into the church and carried her inside. Only when Louis XVIII sent an almoner to direct the priest to perform the service was further violence averted. Raucourt is buried at Père Lachaise.
After the funeral, Raucourt’s brother organized a lifetime income for de Ponty, who remained as the leaseholder for the couple’s house.