On 5 August 1776, Marie Thérèse gave birth to her second child. It was a daughter who was named Sophie. When the young girl died after a short illness at the age of 7, Marie Antoinette wrote that “the Comte d’Artois was afflicted as he should have been by the death of his daughter, that means very touched at her death, and during her illness. Indeed, this child had a reason and a sensitivity, until her end, beyond her age, but he knew her too little to be in despair, and I find that he was very good and, above all, very natural on that. For the Countess of Artois, who feels nothing, she was no more distressed by the death of her daughter than by anything else.”1
By then, the relationship between the two had cooled considerably. After becoming Queen, Marie Antoinette had “continued to amuse herself almost childishly with the Provences and the Artois, granting them liberties ordinarily given in families, but suddenly, remembering that she was the Queen, ‘she indulged in remarks on the superiority of her rank and slightly mortifying comparisons for the other princes and princess.'” Marie Thérèse and her sister joined forces with the so-called Mesdames (King Louis XV’s aunts) and enjoyed gossiping on all the details of Marie Antoinette’s life and even distorting those details.2
Marie Thérèse gave birth to two more children, another son who was named Charles Ferdinand, Duke of Berry and a short-lived daughter named Marie Thérèse. But it was well known that her husband “neglected his wife and spent a great deal of time with opera girls.” 3 He also continued to spend a lot of time with Marie Antoinette while his wife’s relationship with the Queen had deteriorated. Meanwhile, Marie Antoinette had given birth to a daughter, also named Marie Thérèse, in 1778 and a son – named Louis Joseph – in 1781. Two more children, Louis Charles and Sophie, were born in 1785 and 1786. Marie Thérèse’s brief reign as the mother of the probable heir was over.
At the outbreak of the French Revolution, many members of the French royal family were being publicly mocked. Marie Thérèse was falsely accused of having given birth to an illegitimate child.4 The day after the Storming of the Bastille, the Count and Countess of Artois were advised to leave the country. They ended up in Turin, the capital of Sardinia, where Marie Thérèse’s father now reigned. In Turin, they were also reunited with the sister of King Louis XVI and the Counts of Provence and Artois – Marie Clotilde. She was married to the future King Charles Emmanuel IV of Sardinia, Marie Thérèse’s brother.
Her husband left Turin in 1791, leaving behind his wife and children. Her father was pleased to take charge of the education of her two sons, but by the middle of 1792, her husband wanted to call his sons to him in Koblenz, where a small court in exile had formed. The boys were now in their teens, and he wanted his sons to fight at his side. Marie Thérèse was alarmed by this development, but nevertheless, they left to go be with their father.
Although Marie Thérèse and her sister were both in Turin, their shared exile did not bring them closer. However, Marie Thérèse did find solace with Marie Clotilde. She was so “disillusioned with the attractions of the world” by “the example of the virtues of the future Queen of Sardinia” that she almost joined a convent.5 It was Marie Clotilde who convinced her that the convent wouldn’t be for her.
Marie Thérèse soon “gave way to a sombre melancholy, which of late had developed into an alarming morose condition.”6
At the end of January 1793, rumours began to reach Turin that King Louis XVI had been executed. By early February, the news was confirmed, and Marie Clotilde was described as having shown “great courage.” 7 Marie Thérèse attended a funeral service for her brother-in-law and promptly disappeared from public view for the next few days. Her husband was “overcome with horror when he learnt that the greatest criminals the world has ever known had just crowned their numberless sins by the most horrible of all crimes.” 8 Just nine months later, Marie Antoinette was also executed, and the news reached Turin on 19 November. The Count de Maurienne simply wrote, “We have gone into mourning for the Queen.”9 Marie Thérèse’s response has not been left to us.
The children of Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI were still being held captive. Their son – now the titular King Louis XVII – was held in abominable circumstances and tragically died on 8 June 1795. The empty title now passed to Marie Thérèse’s brother-in-law and sister. Madame Royale, the daughter of Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, would remain in captivity until the end of 1795.
If Marie Thérèse was hoping for peace, she wouldn’t get it. Her father’s army was defeated by the French under Napoleon Bonaparte in 1796, and she and her sister fled to Novara. She was able to return the following month while her sister continued on to Austria. Unfortunately, the return would be brief as nearly the entire kingdom was seized in 1798. Marie Thérèse travelled to Graz in Austria, where she was allowed to stay.
In 1799, the grand match between her eldest son, the Duke of Angoulême and Madame Royale was made. Even though she and her husband were now completely estranged – he was living in Edinburgh with his mistress – he told her that she was not to attend the wedding, but she did send her new daughter-in-law a present – a dressing case.
As Marie Thérèse’s final illness took hold in 1805, she asked that upon her death, her heart should be enclosed in an urn and placed in the urn of her “saintly friend” – Marie Clotilde. Marie Thérèse died on 2 June 1805 in exile in Graz. Her wish was fulfilled in 1839 by her son, the Duke of Angoulême. The rest of her body rests in the Imperial Mausoleum in Graz. Her husband became King of France in 1824, and thus she was never Queen.
- Lettres de Marie-Antoinette volume 2 p.32
- Marie Antoinette: the last Queen of France by Evelyne Lever p.64
- Marie Antoinette: the last Queen of France by Evelyne Lever p.80
- Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p.321
- Joséphine de Savoie, comtesse de Provence, 1753-1810 by Tony-Henri-Auguste Reiset p.291
- A sister of Louis XVI, Marie-Clotilde de France, queen of Sardinia (1759-1802) by Louis Leopold d’Artemont p.61
- Joséphine de Savoie, comtesse de Provence, 1753-1810 by Tony-Henri-Auguste Reiset p.293
- In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin C. Vovk p.261
- Joséphine de Savoie, comtesse de Provence, 1753-1810 by Tony-Henri-Auguste Reiset p.294
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