Château de Coppet
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The Château de Coppet was built by Jacques Necker, a Genevois banker and Minister of Finance to the French king Louis XVI from 1776 until the Revolution in 1789. He seems to have been more liberal than his masters, and was rather disgusted by the ostentatious excesses of the regime he was publicly responsible for: in a uniquely privileged position, he built up a dossier carefully documenting the full extent of the financial corruption of the regime, eventually publishing the accounts in full. The revelations, it’s said, helped to initiate the Revolution.

In 1784, perhaps sensing the upheavals to come in France, Necker had bought the barony of Coppet to serve as a safe haven. His only daughter Germaine, then eighteen, was already gaining a reputation in the Paris salons for her intellect and vivacity, and had an array of suitors from whom she picked the man “she least disliked”, the stolid and self-important Baron de Staël Holstein, chamberlain to the Queen of Sweden. The marriage seems to have proved unsatisfactory for both of them, and the Baron took very much the back seat, overshadowed by his wife’s high profile and her passionate joie de vivre.

Necker retired to Coppet in 1790 after the Revolution, from when Germaine’s (now Madame de Staël’s) literary and philosophical salon began to attract the leading intellects of the day. The Swiss author Benjamin Constant (with whom de Staël may have conducted a long-lasting affair) was a regular visitor, as were the philosopher Schlegel, Chateaubriand, Lord Byron, and others. Madame de Staël organized life at the château around her constant flow of guests: lunch, it is said, was served at 5pm, dinner at 11pm, with musical soirées and lavishly staged playlets presented in the library in between, and debates and discussions afterwards which continued late into the night.

In 1804 Necker died, and the château passed into the hands of Madame de Staël, who was forced to remain there in permanent exile after 1806 following her persistent public denunciation of Napoleon. She died a celebrated writer and commentator in 1817, at the age of 51, and the château is still in her family to this day. The renowned portraitist Ingres painted Madame de Staël’s granddaughter Louise de Broglie, Countess of Haussonville, and proceeds from the recent sale of this masterpiece to a gallery in New York enabled the current Count to retain ownership of the château. The Haussonvilles now stay in Coppet for just a couple of weeks each summer, but still maintain the house in its original eighteenth-century grandeur.

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