In addition to her two surviving children, Marie Antoinette also adopted four children.
“Armand” Francois-Michel Gagné
In 1776, Marie Antoinette’s carriage nearly ran over a five-year-old boy who had run into the road. Luckily, the carriage managed to stop in time, and Marie Antoinette learned that the boy was an orphan and was being cared for by his grandmother. She was reportedly so delighted by the boy that she asked to take him with her, and the boy’s grandmother agreed.
Henriette Campan later wrote in her memoirs, “A little village boy, four or five years old, full of health, with a pleasing countenance, remarkably large blue eyes, and fine light hair, got under the feet of the Queen’s horses when she was taking an airing in a calash, through the hamlet of St. Michel, near Louveciennes. The coachman and postilions stopped the horses, and the child was rescued without the slightest injury. Its grandmother rushed out of the door of her cottage to take it; but the Queen, standing up in her calash and extending her arms, called out that the child was hers, and that destiny had given it to her, to console her, no doubt, until she should have the happiness of having one herself. “Is his mother alive?” asked the Queen. “No, Madame; my daughter died last winter, and left five small children upon my hands.” “I will take this one, and provide for all the rest; do you consent?” “Ah, Madame, they are too fortunate,” replied the cottager; “but Jacques is a bad boy. I hope he will stay with you!” The Queen, taking little Jacques upon her knee, said that she would make him used to her, and gave orders to proceed. It was necessary, however, to shorten the drive, so violently did Jacques scream, and kick the Queen and her ladies.”1
She later added that the boy was quite unhappy and wrote, “The arrival of her Majesty at her apartments at Versailles, holding the little rustic by the hand, astonished the whole household; he cried out with intolerable shrillness that he wanted his grandmother, his brother Louis, and his sister Marianne; nothing could calm him. He was taken away by the wife of a servant, who was appointed to attend him as a nurse. The other children were put to school. Little Jacques, whose family name was Armand, came back to the Queen two days afterwards; a white frock trimmed with lace, a rose-coloured sash with silver fringe, and a hat decorated with feathers, were now substituted for the woollen cap, the little red frock, and the wooden shoes. The child was really very beautiful. The Queen was enchanted with him; he was brought to her every morning at nine o’clock; he breakfasted and dined with her, and often even with the King. She liked to call him my child, and lavished caresses upon him, still maintaining a deep silence respecting the regrets which constantly occupied her heart.”2
It was probably Marie Antoinette who changed his name from Jacques to Armand. He remained at court, although he did not have a formal role, and Marie Antoinette’s interest in him waned when she gave birth to her first child. He was killed in the Battle of Jemappes in November 1792.
Jean Amilcar was an enslaved child from French Senegal who had been brought to Marie Antoinette by Chevalier de Boufflers in 1787. Instead of taking him into her service, she had him baptised at Notre Dame de Versailles and gave him the Christian name of Jean Amilcar Müller. He was initially in the care of one of the Queen’s houseboys, but as the revolution became more imminent, it became more challenging to lodge him at the Tuileries. He was then placed in an institution for children at St. Cloud, and Marie Antoinette made monthly payments for him until August 1792, when the monarchy was abolished, and Marie Antoinette was imprisoned in the Temple. He was then turned away from the institution, and it was originally assumed that he starved in the streets.3
Another source states that the young boy finally entered the Liancourt school in 1796. Unfortunately, however, he became seriously ill and died at the age of 14.4
Ernestine was born as Marie-Philippine on 31 July 1778 at the Palace of Versailles as the daughter of Jacque Lambriquet and Marie-Philippine Noiret. Her mother was a chambermaid, while her father was a servant of the Count of Provence. Marie Antoinette renamed her Ernestine after the heroine in a novel. In order to prevent her own daughter from becoming too highhearted, Marie Antoinette installed Ernestine as her playmate. She ordered that Ernestine was to be treated the exact same way as Marie Thérèse. They were dressed the same and ate the same meals.
Nevertheless, Ernestine returned home to her parents every evening until her mother died in April 1788. Marie Antoinette then adopted the girl and had her stay at Versailles permanently. Ernestine received the same education as Marie Thérèse, which the Queen happily paid for.5
At the end of 1788, Ernestine received a pension of 12,000 livres from King Louis XVI “in consideration of the services of her deceased mother.” 6 Marie Antoinette doted on the girl, as shown by the expense reports, and she grew up as part of the family. She accompanied the family to the Tuileries in 1789 and underwent her confirmation with Marie Thérèse on 4 April 1790, and Marie Antoinette also attended in disguise.7 Just before the family was due to flee, in what is now known as the Flight to Varennes, Ernestine was sent to the country to visit her father.8 However, she returned to the Tuileries when the flight failed.
On 10 August 1792, Marie Antoinette ordered sub-governess Renée Suzanne de Soucy to bring Ernestine somewhere safe. During the flight, she was mistaken for Marie Thérèse several times. They eventually made their way to safety, and she was taken in by the family of Renée Suzanne de Soucy. Unfortunately, her biological father was executed in 1794.
According to the official records, Ernestine married a widower called Jean-Charles-Germain Prempain, on 7 December 1810. Unfortunately, she died on 30 December 1813.9 After being released, Marie Thérèse asked to be allowed to leave France with Ernestine, but she could not be found. When Marie Thérèse returned to Paris in 1814, she again tried to find Ernestine, but all that was left was a tomb.10
“Zoë” Jeanne Louise Victoire
Jeanne Louise Victoire was born in 1787 as the daughter of an usher in the royal household. She also had two older unnamed sisters. They were orphaned in 1790, and Marie Antoinette took over the expenses for the three girls.
Jeanne Louise Victoire was close in age to Marie Antoinette’s youngest son Louis Charles, and so Marie Antoinette adopted her and renamed her Zoë. Her elder sisters were sent to a boarding school at her expense. Before the flight to Varennes in 1791, Zoë was sent to join her sisters at the boarding school. However, their expenses stopped being paid when Marie Antoinette was imprisoned in the Temple.
While in the Temple, Marie Antoinette fretted over her adopted children. She learned that Zoë and her two sisters were taken to their father’s family at Brives la Gaillarde. Their further fates are unknown.11
- Memoirs of Henriette Campan
- Memoirs of Henriette Campan
- Marie Antoinette by Philippe Huisman p.143
- Une autre histoire by Claude Ribbe
- Marie-Thérèse by Susan Nagel p.47
- Marie-Thérèse by Susan Nagel p.48
- Marie-Thérèse by Susan Nagel p.93
- Marie-Thérèse by Susan Nagel p.102
- Marie-Thérèse by Susan Nagel p.368
- Marie Antoinette by Philippe Huisman p.144
- Marie Antoinette by Philippe Huisman p.144