Marie Thérèse of France

Marie Thérèse de France (1778 – 1851)

(Marie Thérèse Charlotte; 19 December 1778 – 19 October 1851) was the eldest child of King Louis XVI of France and his wife, Queen Marie Antoinette. As the daughter of the king, she was a Fille de France, and as the eldest daughter of the king, she was given the traditional honorific Madame Royale at birth.

She married her cousin, Louis Antoine, Duke of Angoulême, the eldest son of the future Charles X. Once married, she assumed her husband’s title and was known as the Duchess of Angoulême. She became the Dauphine of France upon the accession of her father-in-law to the throne of France in 1824. Technically she was Queen of France for twenty minutes, in 1830, between the time her father-in-law signed the instrument of abdication and the time her husband, reluctantly, signed the same document.

Marie Thérèse was born at the Palace of Versailles, first child and eldest daughter of King Louis XVI of France and Queen Marie Antoinette, on 19 December 1778, eight years and a half after their marriage, and, as was the custom in France, in the presence of members of both the Royal Family and the Court. The birth of Madame Royale was followed by an ordeal where her mother almost died from suffocation and had to be bled by the attending surgeon. In order to let fresh air in the room in the attempt to revive her, the draught-proofed windows had to be torn open. As a result of this harrowing experience, Louis XVI banned public viewing, allowing only close family members and a handful of trusted courtiers to witness the birth of the next royal children.

Although her husband might have been disappointed with the birth of a girl rather than the long-awaited male heir, when she was revived, the Queen greeted her daughter (whom she later nicknamed Mousseline), with delight:

Poor little thing; you are not what they wanted, but we will love you nonetheless. A son would have belonged to the State; you shall be mine, and have all my care; you shall share in my happiness and soften my sorrows.

The Princess was baptised the same day, shortly after her birth, and named after the Queen’s mother, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria.

Madame Royale’s household was headed by her governess, the princesse de Guéméné, who later had to resign due to her husband’s bankruptcy and was replaced by one of the queen’s closest friends, the duchesse de Polignac. Louis XVI was an affectionate father, who delighted in spoiling his daughter, while her mother was stricter.

Marie Antoinette was determined that her daughter should not grow up to be as haughty as her husband’s unmarried aunts. She often invited children of lower rankto come and dine with Marie-Thérèse and encouraged the child to give her toys to the poor. In contrast to her image as a materialistic queen who ignored the plight of the poor, Marie Antoinette attempted to teach her daughter about the sufferings of others. On New Year’s Day in 1784, after having some beautiful toys brought to Marie-Thérèse’s apartment, she told her:

I should have liked to have given you all these as New Year’s gifts,but the winter is very hard, there is a crowd of unhappy people who have no bread to eat, no clothes to wear, no wood to make a fire. I have given them all my money; I have none left to buy you presents, so there will be none this year.

Marie-Thérèse was joined by two brothers and a sister, Louis Joseph Xavier François, Dauphin of France, in 1781, Louis-Charles de France, Duke of Normandy in 1785, and Sophie Hélène Béatrix, Madame Sophie, in 1786.

Life during the Revolution

As Marie-Thérèse was growing up, the march toward the French Revolution was gaining momentum. Social discontent mixed with a crippling budget deficit provoked an outburst of anti-absolutist sentiment. By 1789, France was hurtling toward revolt as the result of bankruptcy brought on by the country’s support of the American Revolution and high food prices due to drought, all of which was exacerbated by propagandists whose central object of scorn and ridicule was Queen Marie Antoinette.

As the attacks upon the Queen grew ever more vicious, the popularity of the monarchy plummeted. Inside the Court at Versailles, jealousies and xenophobia were the principal causes of resentment and anger toward the Queen. Her unpopularity with certain powerful members of the Court, including the Duke of Orléans, led to the printing and distribution of scurrilous pamphlets which accused the Queen of a range of sexual depravities as well as of spending the country into financial ruin. While it is now generally agreed that the Queen’s actions did little to provoke such animosity, the damage these pamphlets inflicted upon the monarchy proved to be a catalyst for the upheaval to come.

The worsening political situation however had little effect on Marie-Thérèse, as more immediate tragedies struck when her younger sister, Sophie, died in 1787, followed two years later by the Dauphin, Louis-Joseph, who died of tuberculosis, on 4 June 1789, one month after the opening of the Estates-General.

Move to the Tuileries

When the Bastille was stormed by an armed mob on 14 July 1789, the situation reached a climax. The life of the 11-year old Madame Royale began to be affected as several members of the royal household were sent abroad for their own safety. The comte d’Artois, her uncle, and the duchesse de Polignac, governess to the royal children, emigrated on the orders of Louis XVI.

The duchesse de Polignac was replaced by the marquise de Tourzel, whose daughter Pauline became a life-long friend of the Princess.

On 5 October, a mixed cortège of working women and armed men from Paris marched to Versailles, intent on acquiring food believed to be stored there. After the invasion of the palace in the early hours of 6 October had forced the family to take refuge in the king’s apartment, the crowd demanded and obtained the move of the king and his family to the Tuileries Palace in Paris.

As the political situation deteriorated, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette realised that their lives were in danger, and went along with the plan of escape organised with the help of Count Axel von Fersen. The plan was for the royal family to flee to the northeastern fortress of Montmédy, a royalist stronghold, but the attempted flight was intercepted in Varennes, and the family escorted back to Paris.

The Temple

On 10 August 1792, after the royal family had taken refuge in the Legislative Assembly, Louis XVI was deposed, although the monarchy was not abolished before 21 September. On 13 August, the entire family was imprisoned in the Temple Tower, remains of a former medieval fortress. On 21 January 1793, Louis XVI was executed on the guillotine, at which time her young brother Louis Charles became King Louis XVII of France for the royalists.

Almost six months later, in the evening of 3 July 1793, guards entered the royal family’s apartment, forcibly took away the eight-year old Louis Charles, and entrusted him to the care of Antoine Simon, a cobbler, member of the Paris Commune. Remaining in their apartment in the Tower were Marie Antoinette, Marie-Thérèse and Madame Élisabeth, Louis XVI’s youngest sister. When Marie Antoinette was taken to the Conciergerie one month later, in the night of 2 August, Marie-Thérèse was left in the care of her aunt Élisabeth who, in turn, was taken away on 9 May 1794 and executed the following day. Of the royal prisoners in the Temple, Marie-Thérèse Charlotte was the only one to survive the Reign of Terror.

Her stay in the Temple Tower was one of solitude and often great boredom. The two books she had, a prayer book by the name of The Imitation of Jesus Christ and Voyages by La Harpe, were read over and over, so much so that she quickly grew tired of them. But her appeal for more books were refused by government officials, and many other requests were frequently refused; on top of this, she often had to endure listening to her brother’s cries and screams whenever he was beaten.On 11 May, Robespierre visited Marie-Thérèse, but there is no record of the conversation. During her imprisonment, Marie-Thérèse was never told what had happened to her family. All she knew was that her father was dead, and she felt alone in the world. The following words were scratched on the wall of her room in the tower:

Marie-Thérèse Charlotte is the most unhappy person in the world. She can obtain no news of her mother; nor be reunited to her, though she has asked it a thousand times. Live, my good mother! whom I love well, but of whom I can hear no tidings. O my father! watch over me from heaven above, life was so cruel to her. O my God! forgive those who have made my parents suffer.”

Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte est la plus malheureuse personne du monde. Elle ne peut obtenir de savoir des nouvelles de sa mère, pas même d’être réunie à elle quoiqu’elle l’ait demandé mille fois. Vive ma bonne mère que j’aime bien et dont je ne peux savoir des nouvelles. Ô mon père, veillez sur moi du haut du Ciel. Ô mon Dieu, pardonnez à ceux qui ont fait souffrir mes parents.

In late August of 1795, Marie-Thérèse finally was told what had happened to her family, by Madame Renée de Chanterenne, her female companion. When she had been informed of each of their fates, the distraught Marie-Thérèse began to cry, letting out loud sobs of anguish and grief.

It was only once the Terror was over that Marie-Thérèse was allowed to leave France. She was liberated on 18 December 1795, on the eve of her seventeenth birthday, exchanged for Nicolas Marie Quinette, and taken to Vienna, the capital city of her cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II, and also her mother’s birthplace.

Exile

Marie-Thérèse arrived in Vienna on 9 January 1796, in the evening, twenty-two days after she had left the Temple.

She later left Vienna and moved to Mitau, Courland (now Jelgava, Latvia), where her father’s eldest surviving brother, the comte de Provence, lived as a guest of Tsar Paul I of Russia. He had proclaimed himself King of France as Louis XVIII after the death of Marie-Thérèse’s brother. With no children of his own, he wished his niece to marry her cousin, Louis-Antoine, duc d’Angoulême, son of his brother, the comte d’Artois. Marie-Thérèse agreed.

Louis-Antoine was a shy, stammering young man. His father, who viewed his eldest son as a crass embarrassment,tried to persuade Louis XVIII against the marriage. However, the wedding went ahead, taking place on 10 June 1799 at Jelgava Palace (modern-day Latvia). The couple had no children.

In Britain

The royal family moved to Great Britain, where it settled at Hartwell House, Buckinghamshire, while her father-in-law spent most of his time in Edinburgh, where he had been given apartments at Holyrood House.

The long years of exile ended with the abdication of Napoleon I in 1814, and the first Bourbon Restoration, when Louis XVIII stepped upon the throne of France, twenty-one years after the death of his brother Louis XVI.

The Bourbon Restoration

Louis XVIII attempted to steer a middle-course between liberals and the Ultra-royalists led by the comte d’Artois. He also attempted to suppress the many men who claimed to be Marie Thérèse’s long-lost younger brother, Louis XVII. Needless to say, these claimants caused the princess a good deal of distress.

Marie-Thérèse found her return emotionally draining and she was distrustful of the many Frenchmen who had supported either the Republic or Napoleon. She visited the site where her brother had died, and the Madeleine Cemetery where her parents were buried. The royal remains were exhumed on 18 January 1815 and inhumed in Saint-Denis Basilica, the royal necropolis of France, on 21 January 1815, the 22nd anniversary of Louis XVI’s execution.

In March 1815, Napoléon returned to France and rapidly began to gain supporters and raised an army in the period known as the One Hundred Days. Louis XVIII fled France, but Marie-Thérèse, who was in Bordeaux at the time, attempted to rally the local troops. The troops agreed to defend her but not to cause a civil war with Napoléon’s troops. Marie-Thérèse stayed in Bordeaux despite Napoléon’s orders for her to be arrested when his army arrived. Believing her cause was lost, and to spare Bordeaux senseless destruction, she finally agreed to leave. Her actions caused Napoléon to remark that she was the “only man in her family.”

After Napoléon was defeated at Waterloo on 18 June 1815, the House of Bourbon was restored for a second time, and Louis XVIII returned to France.

On 13 February 1820, tragedy struck when the comte d’Artois’ younger son, the duc de Berry, was assassinated by the anti-Bourbon and Bonapartist sympathiser Pierre Louvel, a saddler. Although his father never recovered from the loss, the royal family was cheered when it was learned that the duchesse de Berry was pregnant at the time of her husband’s death. On 29 September 1820, she gave birth to a son, Henri, duc de Bordeaux, the so-called “Miracle Child”, who later as the Bourbon pretender to the French throne assumed the title of comte de Chambord.

Madame la Dauphine

Louis XVIII died on 16 September 1824, and was succeeded by his younger brother, the comte d’Artois, as Charles X. Marie-Thérèse’s husband was now heir to the throne, and she was addressed as Madame la Dauphine. However, anti-monarchist feeling was on the rise again. Charles’s ultra-royalist sympathies alienated many members of the working and middle classes.

On 2 August 1830, after Les Trois Glorieuses, the Revolution of July 1830 which lasted three days, Charles X, who with his family had gone to château de Rambouillet, abdicated in favor of his son, who in turn abdicated in favor of his nephew, the young duc de Bordeaux. However, in spite of the fact that Charles X had asked him to be regent for the young king, Louis-Philippe, duc d’Orléans accepted the crown when the Chambre des Députés named him King of the French.

On 4 August, in a long cortège, Marie-Thérèse left Rambouillet for a new exile with her uncle, her husband, her young nephew, his mother, the duchesse de Berry, and his sister Louise Marie Thérèse d’Artois. On 16 August, the family had reached the port of Cherbourg where they boarded a ship for Britain. King Louis-Philippe had taken care of the arrangements for the departure and sailing of his cousins

Final exile

The royal family lived in what is now 22 (then 21) Regent Terrace in Edinburgh until 1833 when the former king chose to move to Prague as a guest of Marie-Thérèse’s cousin, Emperor Francis I of Austria. They moved into luxurious apartments in Prague Castle. Later, the royal family left Prague and moved to the estate of Count Coronini near Gorizia, Italy. Marie-Thérèse devotedly nursed her uncle through his last illness there in 1836, when he died of cholera.

Her husband died in 1844, and he was buried next to his father. Marie-Thérèse then moved to Schloss Frohsdorf, a baroque castle just outside of Vienna. She spent her days there taking walks, reading, sewing and praying. Her nephew, who now styled himself as the comte de Chambord, and his sister joined her there. In 1848, after King Louis Philippe’s reign ended in a revolution, France again became a Republic.

Marie-Thérèse died of pneumonia on 19 October 1851, three days after the fifty-eighth anniversary of the execution of her mother, Queen Marie Antoinette. She was buried next to her uncle Charles X and her husband Louis XIX, in the crypt of the Franciscan Monastery church of Kostanjevica in Görtz, then in Austria, now the Slovenian city of Nova Gorica. Like her deceased uncle, Marie-Thérèse had remained a devout Roman Catholic.

After death

Later, her nephew Henri, the comte de Chambord, last male of the senior line of the House of Bourbon; his wife, the comtesse de Chambord (formerly the Archduchess Marie-Thérèse of Austria-Este, daughter of Duke Francis IV of Modena and his wife, Princess Maria Beatrice of Savoy); and the comte’s only sister, Louise, Duchess of Parma were also laid to rest there. Another occupant of the crypt is the famous antiquarian, the Duke of Blacas, who was allowed to be buried there in honor of his dutiful years of service as a minister to Kings Louis XVIII and Charles X.

Marie-Thérèse is described on her gravestone as the Queen Dowager of France, a reference to her husband’s twenty-minute rule as King Louis XIX of France.

3 Responses to Marie Thérèse of France

  1. N Berghan-Porter says:

    Thank you so much for your website. It has helped me to understand more about Marie Therese Charlotte’s life.

  2. Helen McCaffrey says:

    What a brave woman !

  3. Trevor Scott says:

    This princess had a very traumatic and interesting life. One can only admire her fortitude and resilience.

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