The scandalous Duchess of Berry was born as Marie Louise Élisabeth of Orléans on 20 August 1695 at the Palace of Versailles to Philippe II, Duke of Orléans and Françoise-Marie de Bourbon, who was a legitimised daughter of Louis XIV of France.
She was near death several times in her young life. At the age of six, she suffered a near-fatal illness, and her father himself nursed her day and night to save her. At the age of ten, she caught smallpox, and she was presumed dead for over six hours.
At the age of 15, it was decided that she should marry Charles, Duke of Berry, who was the youngest son of the Grand Dauphin. The marriage took place on 6 July 1710 at the Palace of Versailles. The following year the new Duchess of Berry gave birth at the Palace of Fontainebleau to a baby girl. She lived for only two days. This death was blamed on the King who had made the Duchess travel with the court to the Palace of Fontainebleau. The barge the Duchess was travelling in hit a pier and nearly sank. Apparently, the Duchess almost died.
On 26 March 1713, she gave birth to her second child, a son. He was given the title Duke of Alençon, but he died just three months later after an attack of convulsions. By the end of that year, rumours flew around that the Duke of Berry had taken a mistress and in turn, the Duchess also took a lover. When it became public knowledge, the Duke threatened to send her to a convent, and it’s even recorded that he kicked her in public. Apparently she intended to flee with her lover, but fortunately for her, her husband died suddenly on 5 May 1714 after a hunting accident. She was pregnant at the time, either by her husband or her lover. She gave birth on 16 June 1714 to a daughter who died the next day.
By 1716 the Dowager Duchess was known for her balls. She claimed to be ill that year, officially with a bad cold. She gave birth to a girl, who only lived for three days. If she intended to keep this pregnancy a secret she had no luck, as it was soon public knowledge and ridiculed. Another pregnancy was rumoured in 1717 as she was hiding in her Château de la Muette. The pregnancy was openly mocked:
Very big with child
The fruitful Berry
Said in a humble posture
Very sorry at heart :
Lord, I will no longer have such lusty ways
I only want Rions,
Sometimes my dad,
Here and there, my guards. 1
Voltaire even wrote a play about the situation and the presence of the Duchess at the premiere added to its success. She was visibly pregnant, suggesting poor judgment! She gave birth to a baby girl in July 1717. This daughter appears to have survived to adulthood. According to one writer she became a nun.
She gave birth to another baby girl on 2 April 1719 after an excruciating labour of four days. The child was stillborn. The father was rumoured to be her lieutenant of the guards. She nearly died giving birth, and during the crisis, she was refused absolution and the sacraments unless she removed her lover from the palace. After the crisis was over the Duchess secretly married this lieutenant, Sicaire Antonin Armand Auguste Nicolas d’Aydie, perhaps hoping to lessen the scandal.
Though her health had not fully recovered from the childbirth, she gave a reception in honour of her father. She apparently caught a chill that exacerbated her condition. She died on 21 July 1719, still only 23 years old. An autopsy revealed that the Duchess was again pregnant. She is buried in the Basilica of Saint-Denis.