Apart from Marie-Antoinette and his sister, Sophie Piper, there was another woman who made a great impact on Axel von Fersen’s life; Eleonore Sullivan, née Franchi.
Born in Italy in 1750, Eleonore was known for her many affairs in the European courts. She was initially a dancer in Venice, when a german lord brought her to perform in Stuttgart. She had two children with him, one boy and one girl, that he raised. Later, she appeared at the Austrian court, where she seduced a young prince Joseph, before being kicked out by Maria Theresa. She then married a wealthy Irish merchant by the name of Sullivan, who brought her to India, where she met Quintin Crauford, an even wealthier man who would soon be a spy for the British. Crauford brought Eleonore to Paris in 1783, where she would meet Fersen.
At this time, Fersen was desperately trying to save Marie-Antoinette and her family, and both Eleonore and Crauford, who also cared for the queen, assisted him in any way they could. They are both often mentioned in Fersen’s correspondence with the queen.
Fersen’s relationship with Eleonore was long and complicated; it was obvious that he cared for her, and towards the end of and after the revolution he even considered proposing to her, but she would not follow him to the ‘cold climates’ of Sweden. Since Crauford was violently jealous of Eleonore’s many affairs, she would hide Fersen in their attic whenever he came to Paris.
In 1793, Fersen wrote in his journal that he would stay with her for as long as he could, but if there was a chance that Marie-Antoinette would survive, he neither could nor would stay. When the queen was finally executed, Eleonore wept with him, but Fersen wrote that; “at times, I even hated her”. He complained that her feelings for him were no longer the same, and the many dramas of the Crauford-household made him weary.
Eventually, their mutual indecisiveness led to a permanent break-up, and Fersen returns to Sweden for good. She died in 1833.
source: Herman Lindqvist, “Axel von Fersen - kvinnotjusare och herreman”, 1991.