Elisabeth joined her brother and his family in the Tuileries, where some semblance of social life was kept up. She and Marie Antoinette supervised the education of the Dauphin, Louis Charles, and Madame Royale, Marie Thérèse. In June 1791, she accompanied her brother and his family on their unsuccessful escape attempt, where she was disguised as the children’s nurse. Just one year later, she was mistaken for Marie Antoinette by a mob and was “exposed to the vilest of insults” for several hours. She was warned, “You do not understand, they take you for the Austrian”, upon which she replied, “Ah, would to God it were so, do not enlighten them, save them from a greater crime.” She also turned aside a bayonet against her breast, “Take care, monsieur. You might wound me, and I am sure you would be sorry for that.”1
When they were forced to seek refuge in the National Assembly, M. de La Rouchefoucauld wrote, “Madame Élisabeth gave her arm to Madame the King’s daughters; the Princesse de Lamballe en Mme de Tourzel followed. I was in the garden, near enough to offer my arm to Madame de Lamballe, who was the most dejected and frightened of the party; she took it. The King walked erect; his countenance was composed, but sorrow was painted on his face. The queen was in tears; from time to time, she wiped them and strove to take a confident air, which she kept for a while; nevertheless, having had her a moment on my arm, I felt her tremble. The Dauphin did not seem much frightened. Madame Élisabeth was calm, resigned to all; it was religion that inspired her. She said to me, looking at the ferocious populace, ‘All those people are misguided; I wish their conversion, but not their punishment.'”2
They were eventually taken to a former medieval fortress known as the Temple. They were settled into sparse rooms with folding beds. The Dauphin had one room with the Marquise de Tourzel, and Marie Antoinette slept in the next room with Marie Thérèse. The Princess of Lamballe slept in the antechamber while the King and his valet were in a room on the third floor. Finally, Madame Elisabeth and several waiting women slept in the kitchen.
They had arrived at the Temple with virtually nothing, but over the next few weeks, they were able to buy items to decorate their rooms. By then, they had been stripped of their attendants, including the Princess of Lamballe and the Marquise de Tourzel.
Unfortunately, on 2 September, they were disturbed during their daily walk, and an angry mob stormed the Temple that night. When the King asked what was happening, the guard responded, “Well, if you want to know, it is the head of Madame de Lamballe they want to show you, for you to see how the people avenge themselves on tyrants.”3 The Princess of Lamballe had been hastily brought before a tribunal, and she was lynched by the mob.
Following the horrors, the family tried to keep a routine in the Temple. The Dauphin received lessons from his father, while Marie Thérèse received lessons from her mother. They were permitted to talk walks in the compound and exercised there as well. Nevertheless, Louis Charles suffered from nightmares and was often visibly distressed and nervous. Finally, in September 1792, the monarchy was abolished, and France was proclaimed a republic. In October, the family was moved to the other tower. The King and the Dauphin were on the second floor, while Marie Antoinette, Marie Thérèse and Elisabeth were on the third floor.
On 11 December, Louis Charles was taken from his father to his mother, and he certainly sensed that something was wrong. The King’s trial had begun, and he was told he could see his children, but only if they did not see their mother or aunt as long as the trial lasted. Thus, he refused. The trial continued throughout December and early January. The vote for his execution ended with 361 in favour – a majority of just one. Due to this close majority, another motion for a reprieve was made, which was rejected with a majority of 70. 20 January 1793, he was informed that he would be executed within 24 hours. Later that day, he was finally reunited with his family.
He gave them their blessing but refused to spend the night with them. He promised to see them in the morning, but their sobs still echoed as they left him. He was executed the following day without seeing his family again to spare them the agony. Shouts of joy” reached the ears of Marie Antoinette and Madame Elisabeth, the latter of whom exclaimed, “The monsters! They are satisfied now!”4 Marie Antoinette was unable to speak, but she, Elisabeth and Marie Thérèse curtsied deeply for the new – titular – King – the seven-year-old King Louis XVII.
On 3 July 1793, Louis Charles was forcibly separated from his family. He “flung himself into my mother’s arms, imploring not to be taken from her”, wrote Marie Thérèse.5 Marie Antoinette refused to give him up, telling the guards they would have to kill her first. After being threatened that all would be killed, Marie Antoinette dressed him and handed him over. Louis Charles “kissed us all very tenderly and went away with the guards, crying his heart out.”6