Françoise de Choiseul – A guillotined Monegasque Princess

Marie Thérèse de Choiseul
(public domain)

Françoise de Choiseul was born on 8 December 1766 as the daughter of Jacques Philippe de Choiseul, Duke of Stainville and Marshal of France, and Thérèse de Clermont.

She was described as a “delicate girl, fair-skinned, with pale hair set off by violet eyes, and had a charming manner.”1

On 6 April 1782, she married Prince Joseph of Monaco, the younger brother of Honoré IV, Prince of Monaco. Their first child was born shortly after their second wedding anniversary. Princess Honorine Camilla was born on 22 April 1784, followed by Princess Athénais on 2 June 1786. Their third daughter, Princess Delphine, was born on 22 July 1788, but she died in infancy.

The Monegasque royals lived in Paris at the time, and during the French Revolution, Joseph travelled abroad to try and obtain enough money to extricate the entire family. However, this action caused him to be seen as a suspected enemy of the people, and he was not allowed to return to France. Françoise was with him at the time, but tragically, they were separated from their two daughters, whom they had left in the care of a governess.

On 4 March 1793, after the execution of King Louis XVI, Monaco officially became a part of the French Alpes-Martimes département. By then, unable to stand being apart from their daughters any longer, Françoise had returned to Paris and was immediately arrested. Luckily, her brother-in-law managed to secure some money for her, and she was released on a bond. However, Honoré IV, his elder son Honoré (the future Honoré V), his estranged wife Louise and their younger son Florestan were imprisoned and remained so. They were considered to be enemies of the people and were imprisoned in the barracks at the rue de Sèvres. Louise and the children were eventually rescued after the Grimaldi family doctor faked a release order.

Françoise was arrested again in September 1793. Joseph was still under high suspicion, and Françoise began to fear the worst. As the charges were being read against her, Françoise claimed to be ill to be allowed to lie down in another room. She managed to escape from this room and made her way to a convent on the rue de Bellerchasse. The nuns took her in, but when the convent was raided three months later, she was arrested again. From prison, Honoré appealed for the safety of his family.

On 25 July 1794, Françoise was ordered to appear before the Revolutionary Tribunal, and she appeared before them the following morning. One of her fellow inmates wrote, “She showed not the slightest sign of emotion. She… kissed her maid and took leave of us just as though parting from fellow travellers whose company had been pleasant and agreeable during a long journey.”2

That same day, Françoise was condemned to death as an enemy of the people. However, she claimed to be pregnant and named a dead prisoner as the child’s father, and she was promptly returned to a cell. While in the cell, she broke a small window pane with her shoe and cut off two locks of her hair. She enclosed them in letters – one was addressed to her daughters, the other to their governess. She then wrote a note asking for the public prosecutor.

When no one came for her that day, she wrote a second note, which read, “I give you notice, Citizen, that I am not with child. I wanted to tell you in person, and now, having no hope of you coming, I inform you in writing. I did not soil my lips with this lie for fear of death nor to avoid it, but to give myself one more day so that I could cut my hair myself instead of having it cut by the executioner. This is all I could leave to my children, it had at least to be clean.”3

On 27 July 1794, at five in the afternoon, Françoise was guillotined. Just 24 hours later, with the execution of Maximilien Robespierre, the reign of terror ended. Would she have survived if she had just waited to send her note? Her last words were reportedly to a fellow victim, “Be brave, my dear friends; crime alone displays weakness.”4

Her body was interred in one of the two mass graves in the Picpus Cemetery.5

  1. The Grimaldis of Monaco by Anne Edwards p.84
  2. The Grimaldis of Monaco by Anne Edwards p.85
  3. The Grimaldis of Monaco by Anne Edwards p.86
  4. Monville, Forgotten Luminary of the French Enlightenment by Ronald W. Kenyon p.24
  5. Monville, Forgotten Luminary of the French Enlightenment by Ronald W. Kenyon p.25

About Moniek Bloks 2749 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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