Marie Thérèse of France – Child of France (Part one)




marie therese angouleme
(public domain)

Marie Thérèse was born at the Palace of Versailles on 19 December 1778 as the daughter of King Louis XVI of France and his wife, Marie Antoinette. Crowds had surrounded the bed Marie Antoinette laboured in, and in an attempt to give his wife some privacy, King Louis constructed a tent, but it proved useless.

At 10.30 a.m., in view of hundreds of people, Marie Antoinette finally gave birth. As her daughter was carried away, Marie Antoinette slipped into unconsciousness. She was eventually rerived when the surgeon made a cut in her foot. The baby’s godparents were Empress Maria Theresa and King Charles III of Spain, for whom the Count and Countess of Provence stood as proxy. The Count of Provence also managed to imply that the King was not Marie Thérèse’s father.

Her birth came seven years after her parents’ marriage, and her gender was a disappointment, though not for Marie-Antoinette, who said, “Poor little girl, you are not what was desired, but you are no less dear to me on that account. A son would have been the property of the State. You shall be mine; you have my undivided care; you will share all my happiness, and you will alleviate my sufferings.”1

After the service, Marie Thérèse was handed to her governess, the Princess of Guéméné. The household for the new Madame Royale would employ nearly 100 people, and the expenses totalled 299,000 livres even before her first birthday. King Louis also showered 120,000 livres on his wife to spend as she saw fit. Marie Antoinette and Louis doted on the little girl, and Marie Antoinette even breastfed her for the first 18 days. This horrified her mother, and after being told off by her, Marie Antoinette stopped.

Just four months after Marie Thérèse’s birth, Marie Antoinette was being pressured into becoming pregnant again. Marie Thérèse could not inherit the French throne, and a son was needed. She became pregnant that summer but suffered a miscarriage in the early weeks. Marie Thérèse continued to thrive, and by October, she was beginning to teethe. By the following March, she was walking by herself but not talking very much yet. In June, Marie Antoinette had another miscarriage. Marie Thérèse suffered convulsions as a result of teething in September 1780.

In early 1781, Marie Antoinette fell pregnant again. As the pregnancy progressed, King Louis made arrangements to prevent another crowd in the birthing chamber. On 22 October 1781, Marie Antoinette gave birth to a Dauphin named Louis Joseph. King Louis told Marie Antoinette, “I present the Dauphin to his mother, the Queen.”2 The nation rejoiced at the birth of an heir, and festivities lasted for two weeks.

Although the public’s attention was on the Dauphin, Marie Thérèse was the apple of her father’s eye. When the Dauphin was a year old, the Duchess of Polignac replaced the Princess of Guéméné as governess. Marie Antoinette wished to be personally involved in her children’s education and personally instructed Marie Thérèse in needlework. Princess Elisabeth was given the task of religious and moral instruction while King Louis ordered a giant globe for the children.

Marie Antoinette had another miscarriage shortly before the Dauphin’s second birthday, but by the following summer, she was pregnant again. It also became clear that Louis Joseph had severe health problems, which would worsen over the years to come and would eventually prove fatal. On 27 March 1785, Marie Antoinette gave birth to a second son named Louis Charles. He was given the title Duke of Normandy. On 9 July 1786, a daughter named Sophie was born, although the little girl never thrived and died before her first birthday. Marie Thérèse doted on her little brothers, especially Louis Charles, and he went out of his way to make her smile.

Marie Thérèse also gained a playmate in one of her mother’s adopted children, Ernestine. Ernestine returned home to her parents every evening until her mother died in April 1788. Marie Antoinette then adopted the girl and had her stay at Versailles permanently. Ernestine received the same education as Marie Thérèse, which the Queen happily paid for. The Duchess of Polignac treated Ernestine as one of the royal children. But it was Marie Thérèse who was considered the prize of Europe and was much sought after as a bride. Serious consideration was given to her cousin Louis Antoine, Duke of Angoulême.

Marie Thérèse was still a young girl when the political situation in France started to deteriorate. On 4 June 1789, Dauphin Louis Joseph died at the age of 7, making Louis Charles the new Dauphin. For a little while, France seemed united in grief, but just two weeks later, the National Assembly, which intended to write a new constitution, was formed. On 14 July 1789, revolutionaries stormed and managed to seize control of the Bastille, a fortress and political prison.

Marie Antoinette was also looking to replace the Duchess of Polignac and found one in the Marquise de Tourzel. Madame de Tourzel came with her daughter Pauline and received plenty of instructions from Marie Antoinette. She told Madame de Tourzel to pay as much attention to Marie Thérèse as she would to do the Dauphin. She wrote that the Dauphin “loves his sister deeply, and with a full heart. Every time that something gives him pleasure, whether to go somewhere or something that someone gives him, his first inclination is to always request that his sister have the same.”3

The Duchess of Polignac, who had left the country for her safety, received a handwritten note from Marie Thérèse, which said, “Madame, I was very angry to learn that you had left. Please know that I will never forget you.”4 It was becoming quite dangerous to be serving the royal family, and on 5 October 1789, the market women of Paris marched on Versailles, intending to demand flour or grain from their King, as well as his assent to constitutional changes proposed by the Assembly.

Marie Thérèse later wrote, “My mother knew that their chief object was to kill her; nevertheless, in spite of that, she made no sign but retired to her room with all possible coolness and courage [after ordering all who had gathered there to retire also]. She went to bed, directing Mme. de Tourzel to take her son instantly to the King if she heard any noise during the night; she ordered all her servants to go to bed.”5

Read part two here.

  1. The Fate of Marie Antoinette’s Daughter by Susan Nagel p.23
  2. The fate of Marie Antoinette’s daughter by Susan Nagel p.35
  3. The Fate of Marie Antoinette’s Daughter by Susan Nagel p.66
  4. The fate of Marie Antoinette’s daughter by Susan Nagel p.67
  5. The ruin of a princess by the Duchess of Angoulême p.212






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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