Marie Antoinette & Madame Élisabeth (Part one)

madame elisabeth
(public domain)

Élisabeth was born on 3 May 1764 as the daughter of Louis, Dauphin of France and Maria Josepha of Saxony in the Palace of Versailles. She was baptised the same day in the palace chapel by the Archbishop of Rheims in the presence of the King and the rest of the royal family. She was a frail child, and there were fears that she would die in infancy.

When her father died the following year, her brother Louis Auguste became the new Dauphin. She and her siblings, Louis Auguste, Louis Stanislas, Count of Provence, Charles Philippe, Count of Artois and Clotilde, were orphaned in 1767 when Maria Josepha died from tuberculosis.

Élisabeth and Clotilde were raised by Madame the Marsan, Governess to the Children of France. The two sisters couldn’t be more different. Clotilde had “the happiest disposition, which needed only to be encouraged and aided”, while Élisabeth was “proud, inflexible, passionate and had intolerable defects.”1 Nevertheless, they were quite close, and Clotilde taught her sister the alphabet.

The Abbé de Montégut, canon of Chartres, was appointed to tutor the children in 1774, and he instilled in Élisabeth the religious sentiments that would never leave her. When Élisabeth was 10, her grandfather King Louis XV died, and he was succeeded by her elder brother, now King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, barely out of their teens.

Élisabeth would remain at her studies for now, but Clotilde was destined to marry. The sisters were parted for the first time when Clotilde married the future King Charles Emmanuel IV of Sardinia. Marie Antoinette wrote to her mother, “My sister Élisabeth is a charming child, who has intelligence, character, and much grace; she showed the greatest feeling, and much above her age, at the departure of her sister. The poor little girl was in despair, and as her health is very delicate, she was taken ill and had a severe nervous attack. I own to my dear mamma that I fear I am getting too attached to her, feeling, from the example of my aunts, how essential it is for her happiness not to remain an old maid in this country.”2

Soon Élisabeth, too, would be considered for marriage. She seemed destined to marry a Portuguese Prince, but those negotiations were eventually broken off. Her hand was also sought by the Duke of Aosta and by Marie Antoinette’s brother Emperor Joseph II. None of these ever came to anything, and Élisabeth soon joined the court at Versailles. Nevertheless, she continued her studies, declaring, “My education is not finished. I shall continue it under the same rules; I shall keep my master, and the same hours will be given to religion, the study of languages, belles-lettres, instructive conversations and to my walks and rides on horseback.”3 In 1781, Elisabeth received her own residence at Montreuil from her brother. It gave her some freedom, and she often received visits from her brothers there. However, she was not allowed to sleep there until her 25th year.

She was surprised by Marie Antoinette at Montreuil, who said, “Sister, you are in your own house. This is to be your Trianon. The King, who gives himself the pleasure of giving it to you, gives me the pleasure of telling you.”4 Élisabeth often visited her aunt Louise, a nun at Saint-Denis and daughter of King Louis XV and Maria Leszczyńska, which worried her brother, the King. “I am very willing that you should go and see your aunt, but only on condition that you will not imitate her. Élisabeth, I need you.”5

Élisabeth devoted her entire day to her new home, laying out her farm and dairy. She had an overseer and befriended the local villagers. Soon, her milk went to the children and her fruits and vegetables to the sick. And thus, her life continued until trouble came.

In 1788, she wrote, “The King returns upon his steps, as did our grandfather. He is always afraid of being mistaken; his first impulse passed, he is tormented by a fear of doing injustice… It seems to me that it is in government as it is in education: one should not say I will, unless one is sure of being right; then, once said, nothing should be given up of what has been ordained.”6 Élisabeth turned to her faith, as proven by a handwritten prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.7

On 5 October 1789, the very day that the Parisian mob marched to Versailles and compelled the King to go to Paris, Élisabeth left Montreuil, never to return. From her terrace, she could see the first coming of the mob, and she had urged her brother to stand firm. “It is not Paris, Sire, that you should go. You have still devoted battalions and faithful guards to protect you. I implore you, my brother, not to go to Paris.” As her carriage pulled away from Montreuil, she bent forward to look at the trees. Her brother asked, “Are you bowing to Montreuil, sister?” She answered, “Sire, I am bidding it farewell.”8

From then on, Élisabeth would share in the royal family’s captivity.

Read part two here.

  1. The life and letters of Madame Élisabeth de France p.3
  2. The life and letters of Madame Élisabeth de France p.7
  3. The life and letters of Madame Élisabeth de France p.16
  4. The life and letters of Madame Élisabeth de France p.19
  5. The life and letters of Madame Élisabeth de France p.22
  6. The life and letters of Madame Élisabeth de France p.22
  7. The life and letters of Madame Élisabeth de France p.23
  8. The life and letters of Madame Élisabeth de France p.24-25

About Moniek Bloks 2734 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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