Marie Antoinette & The Countess of Provence (Part one)

countess provence marie josephine savoy
(public domain)

Marie Joséphine of Savoy was born on 2 September 1753 as the third child and second daughter of the future KingVictor Amadeus III of Sardinia and Infanta Maria Antonia Ferdinanda of Spain. Her younger sister Marie Thérèse would later join her in France as the wife of the Count of Artois. Her parents would go on to have a total of 12 children, though not all of them lived to adulthood.

Her early years were dictated by the strict protocol of the Sardinian royal court with its almost convent-like habits. Each of the children had their own household, with a squire and a lady-in-waiting. Although the family was close, this upbringing had left her wholly unprepared for the future that lay ahead.

In late 1770, her future husband’s grandfather, King Louis XV of France, wrote to her grandfather, King Charles Emmanuel III of Sardinia, asking for her hand in marriage for his grandson. This request was received with the greatest joy and satisfaction. As they were closely related, a papal dispensation was required, which was granted.

The Count of Provence wasted no time in writing to his future bride for the first time. On 21 March 1771, he wrote, “My sister and cousin, I have received a very touching token of the esteem in which the King of Sardinia holds me, in granting you my wishes and those of the King, my Lord and grandfather, your consent to a union which adds to my happiness causes me as much as joy as gratitude. I have been waiting with the greatest impatience to be allowed to express it to you. I have asked the Baron de Choiseul, the King’s extraordinary ambassador, to present you with my portrait, and I ask you to accept it as a token of the feelings which are engraved in my heart for you and which will last as long as my life.”1

Marie Joséphine wrote an equally affectionate letter back, telling him about the “contentment I feel about our forthcoming union.”2 On 16 April 1771, the marriage contract was signed, and the proxy ceremony took place at 6 in the evening. She received a generous dowry and was provided with jewellery worth 200,000 pounds by her grandfather. From the King of France, she received 300,000 livres worth of jewellery. Her day of departure was set for 22 April, and she left very early in the morning. She was said to be “in a state capable of causing pity.”3

Upon arrival at the border, she underwent a similar handover that her future sister-in-law had undergone. On 12 May 1771, she was greeted by King Louis XV at Saint-Herem, and he was delighted by her. Two days later, Marie Joséphine married the Count of Provence in person at Versailles. Her new husband was quick to write to her mother to tell her how happy he was. Nevertheless, the King’s mistress, Madame du Barry, apparently complained that Marie Joséphine was reluctant to wash, to wear perfume or to pluck her eyebrows. Her father later wrote to her that she should spend more time at her toilette.4

The arrival of Marie Joséphine to the court of Versailles was not a happy occasion for Marie Antoinette. She had been married to the Dauphin for over a year, and the marriage had remained famously unconsummated. Marie Joséphine could theoretically produce a new heir quicker than Marie Antoinette and threaten her position at court. They certainly wasted no time in consummating the marriage, although by the following year, she sadly confirmed that she was not pregnant, “and it’s not my fault.”5

There were at least two confirmed pregnancies – in 1774 and 1781 – as a governess was appointed by the King for the expected children. However, both of these pregnancies ended in a miscarriage.6

In a letter from her mother, Marie Antoinette was advised to befriend the new Countess as “this will do you credit” and “it is said that she does not have a good figure; very shy, not of the world, but otherwise well brought up. In time, this could make a suitable liaison and friendship.”7 Marie Antoinette heeded her mother’s advice, at least on the surface, and referred to Marie Joséphine as her sister.8 In 1773, Marie Joséphine’s sister Marie Thérèse arrived to marry the youngest of the brothers, the Count of Artois. The following year, King Louis XV died, and he was succeeded by his grandson, now King Louis XVI, and Marie Antoinette. A new reign had begun.

Sarah Tytler wrote of the relationship between the sisters-in-law, “Marie Antoinette pined for fit company of her own age, and all the uncongeniality between her and her sisters-in-law did not come out in a day. The Dauphiness welcomed the Comtesse de Provence and the Comtesse d’Artois with her frank friendliness, and for a time, the increase of privileged young people brought a corresponding increase of sociality and animation in what was apt to be, to the princes and princesses the deadly liveliness of the Court of the blasé old King.”9

Read part two here

  1. Joséphine de Savoie, comtesse de Provence, 1753-1810 by Tony-Henri-Auguste Reiset p.9
  2. Joséphine de Savoie, comtesse de Provence, 1753-1810 by Tony-Henri-Auguste Reiset p.10
  3. Joséphine de Savoie, comtesse de Provence, 1753-1810 by Tony-Henri-Auguste Reiset p.19
  4. Louis XVIII by Philip Mansel p.13
  5. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p. 115
  6. Louis XVIII by Philip Mansel p.13
  7. Joséphine de Savoie, comtesse de Provence, 1753-1810 by Tony-Henri-Auguste Reiset p.53
  8. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p. 115
  9. Marie Antoinette: the woman and the Queen by Sarah Tytler p.58

About Moniek Bloks 2747 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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