I’ve been reading about John Law: gambler, criminal, genius, founder of our monetary system. His story is nothing short of amazing, but it is the story of his wife Catherine that intrigues me most. 

Early in his eventful career, after a night of successful gambling, Law was introduced to Madame Catherine Seigneur (née Knowles, or Knollys, 1669 — 1747), an English noblewoman — a descendent of Anne Boleyn, in fact — who was married to a Frenchman. 

Although there are no images of her (regretfully), she is described as having “dainty features, a generous bosom and minuscule waist.” The Duc de Saint-Simon described her as “rather handsome,” but flawed by a birthmark that covered one eye and the upper part of one cheek.

Saint-Simon goes on: “She was proud, overbearing and very impertinent in her talk and manners.”

The few bits available give hints of her character: “…she was accustomed to say there was not a more tiresome animal in the world than a Duchess.” [Memoirs of the life of John Law of Lauriston]

Attracted to this clever, outspoken women, Law pursued her. She was a married noblewoman, and he a gamester with criminal record and a mysterious if questionable lineage. Such an alliance was unthinkable, but they were in France, far from home. And far from her husband, it would appear; at the least, there is no record of his objection. 

Law had a “knack” of winning at dice and games; when the pattern became visible, he was in the habit of moving on. But this time there was Catherine. He asked her to run away to Italy with him. 

To run off with Law would ruin Catherine’s reputation forever; there would be no turning back. One can only surmise that she was 1) miserable in her marriage, and 2) madly in love with John Law, for she agreed to this ruinous course of action. 

She became Lady Catherine Law, although marriage was impossible. News of her betrayal made a news journal in Paris. 

It was a peripatetic life: Genoa, Rome, Florence, Turin, Venice. At each city Law supported them with his gambling, successfully playing the tables — but all the while researching banking and finance. Over time — and countless moves, often “on the run,” and either in greatly feted glory or in hiding from an outraged mob — Catherine bore him two children, a son and a daughter. 

She seemed to have been game for it all. Their’s is surely a love story. If only I could discover more. 

{Image: an engraving from a print by Leon Schenk showing John Law as Controller General of Finance of France.}

 Source: The Moneymaker by Janet Gleeson — a fantastic biography. 

Note: This blog post was originally published by me on Hoydens & Firebrands; Roaring Ladies who write about the Seventeenth Century