Marie of Orléans – A life cut short

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Princess Marie of Orléans was born on 12 April 1813 as the third child and second daughter of Louis-Philippe, King of the French, and his wife, Maria Amalia of Naples and Sicily. She was one of ten siblings and her elder sister Louise became Queen of the Belgians. Marie was born in Palermo, Sicily, where the then Duke of Orléans was living with his family. Her father would not become King of the French until 1830, but the family was recalled to France after the fall of Napoleon which restored King Louis XVIII – brother to the ill-fated King Louis XVI – to the throne.

Napoleon’s brief return after his escape from Elba saw the family flee to England. They first lived at the Star and Garter Hotel in Richmond, before moving to a house later known as Orléans House at Twickenham. King Louis XVIII was returned to his throne after Napoleon’s final defeat, but the family was not permitted to return until 1817. They returned to the Palais Royal on 15 April 1817. The family began to spend a lot of time at their country house at Neuilly. On 16 September 1824, her parents were present at the deathbed of King Louis XVIII. He was succeeded by his brother the Count of Artois, now King Charles X.

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The new King raised the entire Orléans family to the style of “Royal Highness” which had previously only be accorded to Maria Amalia, as the daughter of a King. Her father was now third in the line of succession behind the Duke of Angoulême, now known as the Dauphin, and the young son of the Duke of Berry. Marie grew up in a large family, and she and her sister Louise – being only a year apart in age – were grouped together. They were appointed a governess named Mademoiselle de Malet. She was described as being “a woman of solid piety and education, of a tender and devoted soul.”1 Marie was a diligent student and could almost read alone by the age of three. She was known to be the dominant sibling. The children studied in the morning and took exercise in the afternoon. In 1827, Maria Amalia took her children swimming and noted that it was Marie’s first time in the sea. Eventually, the boys were sent away to school while the girls received their education at home. They studied geography, science, history and modern languages. Marie studied English, Italian, German and Spanish and the girls were also taught drawing and music. Maria Amalia also often took her daughters to the theatre, where Marie became entranced with the sets and costumes.

The years between 1825 and 1830 were ones of domestic bliss for the family. However, by 1830, her father was out of favour with the King. They were also standing on the edge of another revolution. Soon, the Liberal Constitutional Party, which had an immense majority, looked towards her father as the solution. Her mother spent a lot of time in prayer. The children were sent away to Villiers Coterets while Maria Amalia and her sister-in-law remained behind at Neuilly. While her sister-in-law was in favour of the Duke taking the crown, Maria Amalia was adamant that he was an honest man and would do nothing against the King. The King eventually abdicated in favour of the Duke of Berry’s 9-year-old son and appointed Marie’s father as Lieutenant-General of the Kingdom and regent. His son the Dauphin also signed the document 20 minutes later. However, Marie’s father eventually accepted the crown for himself after he agreed to accept a constitution.  In August 1830, Marie’s father was declared, “King of the French by the Will of the People”, rather than “King of France by the Grace of God.”

The departure of her sister Louise in 1832 hit Marie hard, though she managed to hide her grief from her sister. She later wrote, “I love you so, I don’t enjoy anything without you.”2 She became ill around this time but survived the illness. Her brush with death seemed to make her more melancholic than she already was. She also began to attend the morning service at Saint-Roch every day. After the death of Louise’s eldest son, Marie wrote to her sister, “I saw myself dying in my imagination. However, I resigned myself, and I urged Nemours (her brother) to take the example of my death, so young, to be persuaded by the nothingness of life, the need to work for each other.”3

marie orleans
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From 1832, Marie found refuge in art, and her art has become her legacy. She was a student of Ary Scheffer and painted and did sculptures. She sculpted several images of Joan of Arc, and many of these have survived. She had lessons from Ary Scheffer almost daily, and she became somewhat of an artistic advisor for her family. She offered Louise her advice for making costumes for a ball. Her family also focussed on finding her a husband. Even if Marie had wished to devote her life to sculptures, her mother had instilled in her the thought that a woman’s duty was marriage and motherhood. Although her future husband, Duke Alexander of Württemberg, was no great catch, he was a nephew of Louise’s husband. Marie and Alexander were married on 17 October 1837 in a Catholic and Lutheran ceremony.

Joan of Arc by Marie (public domain)

The newlyweds travelled to Germany where they met the Duke and Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (the father and stepmother of Albert, Prince Consort – the husband of Queen Victoria). They also visited the Württemberg court at Stuttgart. They spend the winter at Gotha where they did not live in the palace but in a smaller house. In the early morning of 26 January 1838, Marie’s small stove – used to heat her chocolate for the mornings – overturned and set her muslin bed curtains alight. Marie was able to escape in her morning clothes with her maid while her husband tried to save some valuable objects. The house burned down completely. Marie lost several albums of drawings, papers and books, which were probably more precious to her than her jewels. They left Gotha in March, settling in Neuilly where Marie would give birth to her first and only child.

On 30 July 1838, Marie gave birth to a large and healthy boy named Philip. However, Marie recovered only slowly from the birth. Marie had been feeling ill since the end of 1836, and she was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis. The doctors recommended that she travel to the gentler air of the south. At Fontainebleau, she was able to say goodbye to her family. Louise was also there, and she whispered to her, “Louise, don’t forget me.”4 Marie and her husband set off for Genoa on 5 November.

marie orleans
Marie’s tomb – Photo by Antoine Ier – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Marie seemed revived by the trip and wrote happy letters home to her mother about the beautiful landscape. However, the wind in Genoa was rather harsh, and in December they moved to Pisa, where Marie requested her pencils and papers. She drew an image of the Virgin and Child. She soon took a turn for the worst and her brother, the Duke of Nemours, was shocked to see her much changed. On 1 January, she begged her husband to convert to the Catholic faith and requested that he raise their son as a Catholic. She also made her confession. On 2 January, she made a second confession and received Extreme Unction. She told her brother, “Tell Mamma how much I love her, and that I am glad she is not here to be grieved by my sufferings.”5 Her last words were, “I was happy, I am 25 years old but I know how to die, and I die happy.”6 She “endured her agony with admirable courage and resignation”7, dying at 8 o’clock in the evening.

The news of her death reached her family in France on 8 January. Her body was transported to Dreux by boat where her funeral was held on 26 January in the presence of the Orléans and Württemberg families. Her son was raised in the Tuileries until the revolution of 1848. French writer Jules Janin wrote, “The King has just lost a darling daughter, France an accomplished artist, the artists have lost a sister.”8

  1. Marie d’Orléans, 1813-1839, Princesse et artiste romantique p.16
  2. Marie d’Orléans, 1813-1839, Princesse et artiste romantique p.26
  3. Marie d’Orléans, 1813-1839, Princesse et artiste romantique p.27
  4. Marie d’Orléans, 1813-1839, Princesse et artiste romantique p.30
  5. The Life of Marie Amélie, Last Queen of the French 1782-1866 by C.C. Dyson p.262-263
  6. Marie d’Orléans, 1813-1839, Princesse et artiste romantique p.30
  7. Marie d’Orléans, 1813-1839, Princesse et artiste romantique p.30
  8. Marie d’Orléans, 1813-1839, Princesse et artiste romantique p.33

About Moniek Bloks 2732 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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