The Tragic Story Of The Heiress Locked Away For 25 Years By Her Mother

These days, people typically marry whomever they choose. There are exceptions, of course; some cultures still practice forms of arranged marriage, for example, while some wealthy families may still expect their children to marry within their social class. A century ago, though, and particularly when it came to aristocratic families in Europe, things were different. A few years ago, Prince Harry fell in love with and married a divorced American woman, and save for the random bit of pearl-clutching in the British media, few people batted an eye; nearly a century earlier, though, when his great-great-uncle Edward VIII did the same thing, it almost brought down the British monarchy, as Britannica explains.

Another person who was exceptionally invested in her children not marrying beneath them was a French woman named Louise Monnier. So invested was the aristocrat in her children marrying the right person that when her daughter, Blanche, fell in love with the wrong man, Mme. Monnier punished her in an extremely gruesome fashion.

Blanche Monnier never saw sunlight for 25 years

On May 23, 1901, as MamaMia reports, French authorities received an anonymous tip that a "spinster" was being held in filth and squalor in the home of one Madame Monnier. When police first showed up to ask questions, the older aristocrat tried to prevent them from coming inside, but they forced their way in anyway. Once they made it to the room where Blanche was being kept, they were horrified by what they saw — and smelled. "As soon as light entered the room, we noticed, in the back, lying on a bed, her head and body covered by a repulsively filthy blanket ... The air was so unbreathable, the odor given off by the room was so rank, that it was impossible for us to stay any longer to proceed with our investigation," a report read. Indeed, police would later determine that Blanche Monnier spent 25 years locked in the room, never seeing sunlight or even another human, being fed rancid food, and forced to live in her own filth.

What was Blanche's crime that earned her such a terrible punishment? According to All That Is Interesting, she had made the mistake of falling in love with the wrong man. Specifically, she'd become smitten with a lawyer, whom her mother deemed "penniless" and unworthy, and when Blanche refused to marry someone else, her mother locked her away for the next two-and-a-half decades.

The aftermath

Blanche Monnier was found to be so extremely emaciated when she was rescued that, according to MamaMia, she weighed only 55 pounds. She was taken to a hospital, where staff would report that, despite her condition, she was surprisingly lucid and noted that it was good to be able to breathe fresh air again, as All That's Interesting notes. Though she recovered, somewhat, physically, she would deal with mental health issues for the remainder of her life. And of course, during her imprisonment, her beloved died so she never got to marry him or even see him again.

How was a woman with a house full of servants able to imprison her daughter for 25 years? One theory suggests that the servants were too terrified of their mistress to speak up — though it may have been a servant who secretly tipped off the authorities, per All That's Interesting.  

Blanche's brother, Marcel, was sentenced to 15 months in prison for his role in his sister's fate but, after appeals, was set free. Madame Monnier died not long after her arrest. Blanche would live until 1913, dying in a psychiatric hospital at the age of 64, 12 years after she'd been set free.