Marie Antoinette & Madame Élisabeth (Part three)

madame elisabeth
(public domain)

Read part two here.

On 2 August 1793, Marie Antoinette was removed from the Temple to the horror of Élisabeth and Marie Thérèse. They cried themselves to sleep for weeks.1 They were searched almost every day but were left alone otherwise. Marie Antoinette wrote a last letter to Élisabeth before her execution, but the letter never reached Élisabeth, and they were not informed of Marie Antoinette’s execution.

She wrote, “16th October, 4.30 A.M.

It is to you, my sister, that I write for the last time. I have just been condemned, not to a shameful death, for such is only for criminals, but to go and rejoin your brother. Innocent like him, I hope to show the same firmness in my last moments. I am calm, as one is when one’s conscience reproaches one with nothing. I feel profound sorrow in leaving my poor children: you know that I only lived for them and for you, my good and tender sister. You who, out of love, have sacrificed everything to be with us, in what a position do I leave you! I have learned from the proceedings at my trial that my daughter was separated from you. Alas! poor child; I do not venture to write to her; she would not receive my letter. I do not even know whether this will reach you. Do you receive my blessing for both of them. I hope that one day when they are older they may be able to rejoin you, and to enjoy to the full your tender care. Let them both think of the lesson which I have never ceased to impress upon them, that the principles and the exact performance of their duties are the chief foundation of life; and then mutual affection and confidence in one another will constitute its happiness. Let my daughter feel that at her age, she ought always to aid her brother by the advice which her greater experience and her affection may inspire her to give him. And let my son, in his turn, render to his sister all the care and all the services which affection can inspire. Let them, in short, both feel that, in whatever positions they may be placed, they will never be truly happy but through their union. Let them follow our example. In our own misfortunes, how much comfort has our affection for one another afforded us! And, in times of happiness, we have enjoyed that doubly from being able to share it with a friend; and where can one find friends more tender and more united than in one’s own family? Let my son never forget the last words of his father, which I repeat emphatically; let him never seek to avenge our deaths.

I have to speak to you of one thing which is very painful to my heart, I know how much pain the child must have caused you. Forgive him, my dear sister; think of his age, and how easy it is to make a child say whatever one wishes, especially when he does not understand it. It will come to pass one day, I hope, that he will better feel the value of your kindness and of your tender affection for both of them. It remains to confide to you my last thoughts. I should have wished to write them at the beginning of my trial; but, besides that, they did not leave me any means of writing, events have passed so rapidly that I really have not had time.

I die in the Catholic Apostolic and Roman religion, that of my fathers, that in which I was brought up, and which I have always professed. Having no spiritual consolation to look for, not even knowing whether there are still in this place any priests of that religion (and indeed, the place where I am would expose them to too much danger if they were to enter it but once), I sincerely implore pardon of God for all the faults which I may have committed during my life. I trust that, in His goodness, He will mercifully accept my last prayers, as well as those which I have for a long time addressed to Him, to receive my soul into His mercy. I beg pardon of all whom I know, and especially of you, my sister, for all the vexations which, without intending it, I may have caused you. I pardon all my enemies the evils that they have done me. I bid farewell to my aunts and to all my brothers and sisters. I had friends. The idea of being forever separated from them and from all their troubles is one of the greatest sorrows that I suffer in dying. Let them at least know that to my latest moment, I thought of them.

Farewell, my good and tender sister. May this letter reach you. Think always of me; I embrace you with all my heart, as I do my poor dear children. My God, how heart-rending it is to leave them forever! Farewell! farewell! I must now occupy myself with my spiritual duties, as I am not free in my actions. Perhaps they will bring me a priest; but I here protest that I will not say a word to him, but that I will treat him as a total stranger.” (Translation by Charles Duke Yonge)

She was guillotined later that day.

Élisabeth and Marie Thérèse remained together but were refused even the simplest things, such as ointments for sores. When Élisabeth petitioned for clean underwear in March, she was told to wash it herself as the nation was sick of her demands.2 Initially, Élisabeth was not considered for execution, but on 9 May 1794, she was transferred to the Conciergerie.

Élisabeth embraced Marie Thérèse and assured her that she would return to her. She told her niece to have courage, firmness and faith in God.3 Just two hours later, she was brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal and was accused of having participated in the secret councils of Marie Antoinette and of having entertained correspondence with internal and external enemies, among other things. After her interrogation, she was brought to a cell. She was tried the following morning, and she and 24 others were declared guilty as charged. She was condemned to death by guillotine the following day.

Élisabeth asked to be taken to the common room where the others were waiting. She spoke to them calmly and “seemed to regard them as friends about to accompany her to heaven.”4

The following day, Élisabeth was cruelly placed on a bench nearest to the execution site, but she was to be the last to be executed. Élisabeth continually spoke the De Profundis. As the women passed by Élisabeth, they curtseyed and asked to be allowed to kiss her. Élisabeth replied, “Willingly, and with all my heart.”5 As the men passed by her, they bowed. She told them, “Courage, and faith in God’s mercy.”6 Finally, it was Élisabeth’s turn.

As she was fastened to the plank, her neckerchief came loose and fell to the ground. She asked, “In the name of your mother, monsieur, cover me.”7 They were to be her last words. Her body was taken to the cemetery at Monçeaux and flung naked into a mass grave. It is likely that her remains eventually ended up in the Catacombs of Paris.

Marie Thérèse, the only one of the family to leave the Temple alive, wrote of Élisabeth, “I feel I have her nature … [she] considered me and cared for me as her daughter, and I, I honoured her as a second mother.”8

In 1953, Élisabeth was declared a Servant of God and the cause for her beatification was officially introduced.

  1. The Fate of Marie Antoinette’s Daughter by Susan Nagel p.138
  2. The Fate of Marie Antoinette’s Daughter by Susan Nagel p.143
  3. The Fate of Marie Antoinette’s Daughter by Susan Nagel p.144
  4. The Ruin of a Princess by The Duchesse d’Angoulême p.104
  5. The Ruin of a Princess by The Duchesse d’Angoulême p.106
  6. The Ruin of a Princess by The Duchesse d’Angoulême p.106
  7. The Ruin of a Princess by The Duchesse d’Angoulême p.106
  8. The Ruin of a Princess by The Duchesse d’Angoulême p.283

About Moniek Bloks 2741 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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