Lucie Dillon, Marquise de la Tour du Pin, was an ordinary woman who happened to live an extraordinary life. She was born in 1770 in a hôtel particulier on the rue du Bac, one of the exclusive precincts of Parisian fashionable life, and by the time she died, in 1853, in the quiet town of Pisa, she had seen France go through three revolutions, and witnessed the alternation of two republics, three kings and two emperors. She had watched Marie Antoinette dance at Versailles in a blue dress dotted with sapphires and diamonds; she had exchanged gossip with Talleyrand, amiable platitudes with Napoleon, and childhood memories (a branch of her family was Anglo-Irish) with the Duke of Wellington. She had been a guest at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball before the Battle of Waterloo, and had hosted endless receptions for visiting royals unsteady on their thrones. She had also witnessed the fury of the mob and the destructions of war; she had crossed the ocean on an American ship to escape the guillotine, and run a farm in Albany, New York, making butter and trading with the Iroquois. She had lived among exiles in England, Holland and Switzerland; lost, or sold to survive, most of her possessions only to replace them with a whole new load of court dresses, feathers, jewels and riding clothes, as fortunes went up and down and up again with the passing of regimes.

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