Louisa Maria Stuart was born on 28 June 1692 as the daughter of the exiled King James II and Mary of Modena at the Château of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. James greeted her words with the infamous words, “See what God has given us to be our consolation in exile.” Her godfather was Louis XIV, and she received the name Louisa in his honour. She was the younger half-sister of Mary II of England, who now ruled England jointly with her husband and the future Queen Anne of Great Britain. Her elder (full) brother was James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender. She also had several illegitimate half-siblings.
Louisa was much more extrovert than her brother and enjoyed a more relaxed upbringing. She appears to have had a childhood crush on the Duke of Burgundy. Her godmother, Elizabeth Charlotte, Princess Palatine and Duchess of Orléans wrote to her aunt Sophia of Hanover that “the other day someone said before the little Princess of England that the Duc de Bourgogne was going to marry the Princess of Savoy. The dear child began to weep bitterly, and said she thought the Duc de Bourgogne would not marry anyone but herself, and that the day he married the Princess of Savoy she would go into a convent and remain single all her life. Nothing would console her, and she has been mournful ever since she heard the news.” She was just four years old at the time, and the Princess of Savoy was actually Princess Marie Adelaide of Savoy, a granddaughter of James II’s sister Henrietta. They became rather close in later life.
Louisa’s first surviving letter dates from 21 May 1700 in which she asks after her mother’s health and looks forward to her return. She signed herself, “your Majesty’s very humble and obedient daughter”. In 1701 her father suffered a stroke, and he went to take the waters at Bourbon, accompanied by his wife. Although they eventually returned to St. Germain, he would suffer a second stroke in July and a third in September. He held on for two more weeks, before finally dying on 16 September 1701. His final words to his nine-year-old daughter were, “Adieu, my dear child. Serve your creator in the days of your youth; consider virtue as the greatest ornament of your sex. Follow close the steps of that great pattern of it, your mother, who has been no less than myself overclouded with calumnies, but time, the mother of Truth, will, I hope, at last, make her virtues shine as bright as the sun”. She was led away sobbing.
Louisa had her first communion in 1704, and a short while later she made her debut at the French court. Her mother hoped that Louisa would catch the eye of the Duke of Berry, the King’s only unmarried grandson. Her brother became seriously ill, and for a few weeks, Louisa was on the brink of becoming the Jacobite hope. James recovered but was not well enough to escort her to the Twelfth Night Ball in January 1705, where her opening dance with the Duke of Berry only fueled the marriage rumours. During this time she was described by her illegitimate half-brother, the Duke of Berwick, “Her hair is very beautiful and of the loveliest tint of brown. Her complexion reminds us of the most delicate tints of the fairest flowers in spring; she has her brother’s features in a softer mould and her mother’s eyes. She has the plumpness one adores in a divinity of sixteen, with the freshness of an Aurora, and if anything more can be said, it is on the roundness and whiteness of her arms.”
Over the next three years, she enjoyed a growing friendship with the younger members of the French royal family, like Princess Marie Adelaide of Savoy who tried to play matchmaker between her and the Duke of Berry. She and Louisa shared a passion for balls and picnics. In 1705 the first signs of her mother’s illness, probably cancer, appeared. As her health began to improve again, James’s confessor wrote about Louisa, “the Princess is one of the most complete young ladies of her age, very witty and handsome, and of a most excellent good humour, which gains the hearts of all who know her.”
In March 1708 Louisa became unwell, and she developed a rash. It turned out to be the measles, and she infected her brother just as he left for Dunkirk where he hoped to depart to recover first his Scottish Kingdom and second his English Kingdom. Louisa, unaware that he was ill, wrote to him, “I am not unaware of what I owe to you as my King, yet, believing myself allowed to speak to you as my brother, I feel myself obliged to say that on this occasion, you must gather yourself all the virtues of our ancestors, and you must conquer or die.” The expedition was doomed to fail, but Louisa and her mother departed to the convent at Chaillot to pray for his success.
In 1710 the Duke of Berry married Marie Louise Élisabeth of Orléans and Louisa must have realised it would be difficult for her to find a suitable husband as an exile. Louisa and her mother were not invited to the wedding. Louisa devoted herself to her mother, and most of her time was spent at the convent. In 1711 she was invited to a hunting party by Marie Adelaide of Savoy, now also Dauphine of France. She provided Louisa with a horse and a riding habit, neither of which Louisa had. Excursions from the convent were few and far between. In November 1711 her brother arrived at the convent, and all three decided to depart for St. Germain and Louisa had particular difficulty in saying goodbye to a nun she had become good friends with. They visited again in early 1712 when one of the Sisters was ill and were escorted back to St. Germain the next day.
James fell seriously ill in 1712 with smallpox and Louisa, who had enjoyed quite a robust health, feared for him. He had already been ill for ten days when Louisa discovered the first signs of the disease on her body. Her mother was absorbed in attending to James, and for the first two days, the signs of Louisa’s illness went unnoticed. She soon developed diarrhoea and was seriously ill. She was bled on the feet, but this did not improve her condition. She became increasingly uncomfortable. By then, her mother had realised her daughter was in more danger than her son. Her feverish daughter told her, “Madame, you see before you the happiest person in the world. I have just made my general confession, and I have done my best to do it, so that if they were to tell me that I should die now, I should have nothing more to do. I resign myself into the hands of God; I ask of Him not life, but that His will may be accomplished on me.”
Her mother responded, “My daughter, I do not think I can say as much. I declare that I entreat of God to prolong your life that you may be able to serve Him and to love Him better than you have yet done.”
Louisa then said, “If I desire to live, it is for that alone – and because I think I might be of some comfort to you.”
The doctors could do nothing for Louisa except bleed her, which only weakened her more. She sank into a coma and passed away at 9 in the morning on 18 April 1712. The Duke of Berwick’s son wrote of her death, “Never did death affect me as this did. I loved the Princess. I would have sacrificed a thousand lives for her…I weep still whenever I think of it.”
Her mother kept the news from James for several days, fearing a relapse. In England some Tories wished that James had died instead of his sister, believing that if Louisa had been the survivor, the Act of Settlement might have been amended in her favour. Even her half-sister Queen Anne sent a message of sympathy to St. Germain. When James was finally told of her death, the funeral was already over.
Louisa’s heart was preserved in an urn at Chaillot, and her burial place is lost in history as the parish church at St. Germain was desecrated during the French Revolution. Her mother never fully recovered from Louisa’s death. Her health steadily deteriorated. At the end of July, she visited Chaillot and prayed at the tribune where Louisa’s heart was. Mary of Modena died on 7 May 1718 at St. Germain. Her brother went on to marry just one year later, but his two sons did not have any legitimate issue. The Jacobite claim then passed to the descendants of Louisa’s aunt Henrietta. 1