Marie Antoinette has always fascinated readers worldwide. Yet perhaps no one knew her better than one of her closest confidantes, Marie Thérèse, the Princess de Lamballe. The Princess became superintendent of the Queen’s household in 1774, and through her relationship with Marie Antoinette, a unique perspective of the lavishness and daily intrigue at Versailles is exposed.
Born into the famous House of Savoy in Turin, Italy, Marie Thérèse was married at the age of seventeen to the Prince de Lamballe; heir to one of the richest fortunes in France. He transported her to the gold-leafed and glittering chandeliered halls of the Château de Versailles, where she soon found herself immersed in the political and sexual scandals that surrounded the royal court. As the plotters and planners of Versailles sought, at all costs, to gain the favor of Louis XVI and his Queen, the Princess de Lamballe was there to witness it all.
This book reveals the Princess de Lamballe’s version of these events and is based on a wide variety of historical sources, helping to capture the waning days and grisly demise of the French monarchy. The story immerses you in a world of titillating sexual rumours, bloodthirsty revolutionaries, and hair-raising escape attempts and is a must read for anyone interested in Marie Antoinette, the origins of the French Revolution, or life in the late 18th Century.
Marie Thérèse of Savoy was born on 8 September 1749 as the daughter of Louis Victor, Prince of Carignano and Landgravine Christine of Hesse-Rheinfels-Rotenburg. On 31 January 1767, she married Louis Alexandre de Bourbon-Penthièvre, Prince de Lamballe. He was a grandson of Louis XIV’s legitimised son, Louis Alexandre de Bourbon, Comte de Toulouse.
She had been handpicked by his father for her piousness and modesty, in hopes of taming his libertine son. Just over a year later Marie Thérèse was widowed when her young husband died, reportedly of venereal disease. She inherited a considerable fortune.
Marie Thérèse’s sister-in-law was now heiress to her parents’ enormous fortune, and she married Philippe d’Orleans, then Duke de Chartres, later Duke of Orléans. Marie Thérèse was present for the royal ceremony and was presented to the new Dauphine, Marie Antoinette not much later. They became close, and their close relationship would later be mocked during the French Revolution.
She became superintendent of the Queen’s household following the ascension of Marie-Antoinette’s husband to the throne in 1774. She was rivalled in the Queen’s attention by Yolande de Polastron, Duchess of Polignac.
Marie Thérèse returned to Tuileries out of loyalty to the Queen, but she had prepared her will. She continued her service to Marie-Antoinette until the attack on the palace on 10 August 1792. She was later imprisoned in the Temple prison with the royal family. They were separated on 19 August and Marie Thérèse was taken to the La Force prison. On 3 September she was brought before a tribunal which demanded that she swore to her hatred of the King and Queen. Marie Thérèse refused to denounce them, and she was taken away with the words, “take Madam to liberty.” The words, despite their positive literal meaning, were code for a death sentence. Marie Louise was thrown into the crowd, who murdered her within minutes. Some say she was gang-raped and her breasts were cut off. All we know for sure is that she was decapitated and that her head on a spike was paraded in front of Marie-Antoinette’s window.
Marie Antoinette’s Confidante: The Rise and Fall of the Princesse de Lamballe is a comprehensive look at quite an unknown woman. It is well written, though perhaps it is a bit too much like a novel at times and I began to wonder if fact had begun to meet fiction. The line is quite thin. However, it is a good book, and I am glad someone took this woman from the shadows. She deserves to be remembered for more than her gruesome death.