Franklin: Is Cunégonde Inspired by a Real Noblewoman?

When William Temple Franklin arrives in France with his grandfather Benjamin Franklin, he is welcomed by Cunégonde in Apple TV+’s historical series ‘Franklin.’ The young French woman flirts with Temple and stirs romantic feelings in the heart of the American boy. As his stay in the European country progresses, Temple even starts to entertain the idea of getting together with her, despite the warning of his friend. In the third episode of the show, she gifts him a locket as a sign of her affection for him. Cunégonde is based on a real French maiden Franklin and Temple met during their time in France!

Cunégonde and an Unmaterialized Marriage

Cunégonde was the daughter of Anne Louise Brillon de Jouy, a French musician and composer who excelled in playing the harpsichord and piano, and Jacques Brillon de Jouy, a tax clerk. The Brillons hosted Benjamin Franklin and William Temple Franklin when they arrived in France to seek the aid of the country to win the Revolutionary War against Great Britain. Cunégonde and Temple grew fond of each other during the latter’s visit, only for Franklin to consider a marriage to tie them together. At the time, the young American was twenty-one, whereas Cunégonde was sixteen.

“Cunégonde would make a wonderful wife, and the fresh-faced, long-lashed Temple was well on his way to becoming a distinguished gentleman,” reads Stacy Schiff’s historical non-fiction book ‘A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America,’ the source text of the biographical series. Since Temple liked Cunégonde, he didn’t oppose the proposal raised by his grandfather. But he didn’t want to be separated from Franklin either. “Franklin assured him [Temple] that were Temple to marry Cunégonde, he too would remain in France. Temple was delighted. He would be thrilled if his grandfather would arrange the marriage,” added Schiff in her book.

Cunégonde and Temple’s marriage, however, didn’t materialize. The Brillons needed a Catholic as the groom of their daughter. Franklin and his family were Protestants. Even though the statesman tried to reason with the French parents by stating the similarities between every sect of Christianity, Temple’s religion was unacceptable for them to see him as the husband of Cunégonde. Furthermore, the Brillons wanted a proper Frenchman to wed their child. “The Brillons would need a son-in-law who could assume Monsieur Brillon’s post; he must be familiar with French law and custom, and a Catholic,” reads Schiff’s book.

Cunégonde eventually married General Antoine Marie Paris d’Illins, the grandson of Claude Pâris la Montagne, a renowned French banker who lived under the reign of King Louis XV. After rejecting Temple, the Brillons didn’t end up liking their son-in-law. “As it turned out, Brillon took a dislike to his new son-in-law, whom he dismissed as nouveau riche,” revealed ‘A Great Improvisation.’ Cunégonde’s husband died in the Battle of Ocaña, which was a part of the Spanish War of Independence, which ended with the Spanish victory.

In Kirk Ellis and Howard Korder’s series, Cunégonde is presented as a lady who is older than Temple, a young boy who hasn’t yet learned the nuances of romance and sexuality from a woman. As their relationship grows, Temple becomes more “educated” about the affairs of the heart.

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