Marie Antoinette & The Countess of Provence (Part two)

countess provence marie josephine savoy
(public domain)

Read part one here.

After becoming Queen, Marie Antoinette had “continued to amuse herself almost childishly with the Provences and the Artois, granting them liberties ordinarily given in families, but suddenly, remembering that she was the Queen, ‘she indulged in remarks on the superiority of her rank and slightly mortifying comparisons for the other princes and princess.'” Marie Thérèse and Marie Joséphine joined forces with the so-called Mesdames (King Louis XV’s aunts) and enjoyed gossiping about all the details of Marie Antoinette’s life and even distorting those details.1

It was Marie Thérèse who provided the first heir of the next generation. On 6 August 1775, she gave birth to a son named Louis Antoine. Three more children followed, of which one – a son named Charles Ferdinand – survived to adulthood. After several years of marriage, Marie Antoinette gave birth to two daughters and two sons, of which one daughter and one son would survive to adulthood. Marie Joséphine was destined to remain childless.

The relationship between the Countess of Provence and Marie Antoinette deteriorated after Marie Antoinette became Queen. The same could be said for the King and his brother, who openly doubted the paternity of Marie Antoinette’s children.2 Marie Joséphine even claimed to be pregnant at the same time as Marie Antoinette, which turned out to be a lie.3

As the French Revolution began, even Marie Joséphine wasn’t safe from the rumours, with pamphlets declaring her supposed addiction to alcohol. Her sister was accused of bearing an illegitimate child.4 By then, the relationship with her husband was basically over as well. He had his favourites, and Marie Joséphine had found her own favourite in the form of Marguerite de Gourbillon. They would often spend their days together at the Pavillon Madame in Montreuil, which consisted of “a model village with twelve houses, dovecotes and windmills, a diary made of marble with silver vessels, as well as allegorical temples consecrated to love and friendship, a hermitage and a belvedere.”5

After the Storming of the Bastille, Marie Joséphine and her husband did not leave France, as the Count and Countess of Artois had done. They were moved to Paris along with King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, although they were lodged in the Luxembourg Palace. They often came to dine with the King and Queen and reportedly had quite some pleasant evenings together.6

In conjunction with the King and Queen’s plan to escape, the Count of Provence also mapped out an escape for him and Marie Joséphine. She knew nothing of the plan until the last minute when she was ordered to leave with one lady-in-waiting. At the end of their last evening together, the King, Queen and the Count and Countess of Provence shared a tender embrace.7

But while Marie Joséphine and her husband were reunited in Namur in Belgium, the King and Queen’s flight ended in Varennes. The Count’s reaction to being that his brother had been captured was reportedly one of indifference. The Marquis de Bouillé wrote, “There wasn’t a trace of tears in those eyes as dry as his heart.”8 The Count later wrote, “The joy I felt at seeing Madame again was poisoned by the thought of the position of the rest of my family and the comparison I made, in spite of myself, of their fate with ours.”11 It was Marie Clotilde who convinced her that the convent wouldn’t be for her.

On 4 February 1793, the court of Turin learned that King Louis XVI had been executed, and a service was held for him. In November, the news of Queen Marie Antoinette’s execution reached Turin. In June 1795, it was confirmed that their son, who had been proclaimed King Louis XVII, had also died. From Verona, Marie Joséphine’s husband declared “with the deepest pain, the death of his honoured lord and nephew, Louis XVII, and his accession to the throne bloodied by the misfortunes of his family.”12Joséphine de Savoie, comtesse de Provence, 1753-1810 by Tony-Henri-Auguste Reiset p.29613 While Marie Joséphine was addressed as Queen by some, it was an empty title as there was no Kingdom anymore.

Read part three here.

  1. Marie Antoinette: the last Queen of France by Evelyne Lever p.64
  2. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p. 201
  3. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p. 221n
  4. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p. 321
  5. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p. 246
  6. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p. 362
  7. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p. 395
  8. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p. 412
  9. Joséphine de Savoie, comtesse de Provence, 1753-1810 by Tony-Henri-Auguste Reiset p.2529

    After the reunion, Marie Joséphine first went to Bonn before travelling to Koblenz, where they were given the Palace of Schönbornslust as their residence in exile. This offer of refuge came from Clemens Wenceslaus of Saxony, Archbishop-Elector of Trier, who also happened to be the brother of the King and the Counts’ mother, Maria Josepha of Saxony. Marie Joséphine took up residence on the ground floor of the left wing, while her husband lived in the right wing. Slowly, life returned to relative normality, even down to the abundant spending.

    However, Marie Joséphine had no intention of staying in Koblenz for long, and she intended to return home to Turin – without her husband. She left Koblenz on 11 April 1792, and her husband insisted on accompanying her to Mainz. It took her 16 days to reach Turin, where she was reunited with her sister,  the Countess of Artois.

    Although they were now both in Turin, their shared exile did not bring them closer. However, Marie Thérèse did find solace with Marie Clotilde, the sister of their husbands who had married their brother. She was so “disillusioned with the attractions of the world” by “the example of the virtues of the future Queen of Sardinia” that she almost joined a convent.10Joséphine de Savoie, comtesse de Provence, 1753-1810 by Tony-Henri-Auguste Reiset p.291

About Moniek Bloks 2698 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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