The Execution of the Princess of Lamballe




princess of lamballe execution
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The Princess of Lamballe was a great favourite of Queen Marie Antoinette, which was no longer a good position to be in as the French Revolution broke out. Marie Thérèse Louise of Savoy was born on 8 September 1749 as the daughter of Louis Victor of Savoy, Prince of Carignano and Princess Christine of Hesse-Rotenburg.

On 17 January 1767, Marie Thérèse married the Prince of Lamballe in a proxy ceremony. He was the son of the Duke of Penthièvre, who in turn was a grandson of King Louis XIV of France and his mistress, Madame de Montespan. On 5 February 1767, the new Princess of Lamballe was presented at court to King Louis XV by her husband’s aunt, Maria Fortunata d’Este, the Countess of La Marche. Although she was initially happy in her marriage, her husband returned to his wanton ways soon enough. After just over a year of marriage, the Prince fell from his horse while his health was already weakened. His health worsened, and he was diagnosed with syphilis. On 6 May 1768, he died after an agonising struggle.

His 18-year-old widow retired to the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Antoine to recover from the shock. Just two years later, Marie Thérèse attended the wedding of Marie Antoinette of Austria and Louis Auguste, the Dauphin of France. She was formally introduced to her later that day, and despite the age difference of six years, the two quickly became close friends. She came to serve at court, and when Marie Antoinette became Queen in 1774, she was appointed Superintendent of the Queen’s Household. She did lose some of her influence when the Duchess of Polignac managed to secure the Queen’s favour.

Nevertheless, Marie Thérèse secured positions for her brothers at court. As the hatred for the monarchy grew, both the Duchess of Polignac and the Princess of Lamballe were the subject of pamphlets in which they were accused of having lesbian relations with the Queen. In one, Marie Antoinette tells the Princess of Lamballe, “If men ever dropped us, we could not be pitied for we know how to do without them.”1

When the Bastille was stormed in 1789, Marie Thérèse was travelling in Switzerland. When she returned to Paris, she found that the royal family had been taken to the Tuileries Palace, where they were under guard. They tried to continue living by their routines, but the guards were always watching. Marie Thérèse left court to care for her father-in-law in August 1789, but she returned to court after the Women’s March on Versailles in October. Marie Thérèse had not been informed beforehand that the royal family intended to flee in June 1791. They had said goodbye the evening before, and Marie Thérèse retired to Passy, where she received a note the following morning. It said that the family was fleeing France and that they wanted to meet her at Montmédy. Marie Thérèse told her staff that her father-in-law had fallen ill again and set off. But while Marie Thérèse reached Montmédy, the royal family did not. She sent a note to Marie Antoinette which read, “I…wait [for] your Majesty’s command, and I will hasten back to Paris to participate in your… captivity.” She wrote back, “Remain, my friend, where you are!”2

She eventually travelled to Aachen and remained in contact with Marie Antoinette, who kept telling her not to return. In October October 1791, Marie Thérèse was formally asked to resume her service, although this was in contradiction to the private letters sent by Marie Antoinette. Marie Thérèse, knowing the danger she was in, returned to France saying, “The Queen wants me; I must live and die near her.”3 On 12 November 1791, she was admitted into the presence of the King and Queen and life resumed at the Tuileries. By then, many of the others in service had left, including the Duchess of Polignac. On 10 August 1792, the family was forced to seek refuge with the Legislative Assembly, and it was decided that a more secure location was needed. On 13 August 1792, the family was moved to the Temple, a medieval fortress used as a prison, where they could be more easily guarded. It consisted of two structures, a palace and Tower, divided into a Great Tower and Small Tower.

On 19 August, the Princess of Lamballe was removed from the Temple for interrogation. Marie Antoinette pleaded to keep the Princess of Lamballe with her, claiming she was a royal relative. It was no use, and the Princess of Lamballe was taken to the La Force prison. Marie Antoinette’s daughter later wrote, “It was with difficulty [that] my mother could tear herself from the arms of the Princesse de Lamballe.”4 Marie Thérèse was interrogated by Jacques Nicolas Billaud-Varenne, as were the Marquise de Tourzel, the Dauphin’s governess, and her daughter Pauline who were removed from the Temple at the same time. The Marquise later wrote, “Se conceived a great friendship for Pauline and said the kindest things to us every day [expressing] the happiness she experienced by having us with her.”5

But while the Marquise de Tourzel and Pauline were eventually rescued, no such rescue came for the Princess. At 6 in the morning on 3 September 1792, gaolers entered the cell, demanding their names. They left as suddenly as they came, and Marie Thérèse and the Marquise began to pray out loud. Outside, an angry mob had formed. Five hours later, the two women (Pauline had been rescued first) were taken from their cell and into the courtyard. The Marquise later wrote, “We clasped each other’s hand… and I can state positively that she displayed much courage and presence of mind, replying without hesitation to all the questions put by the monsters who joined us for the sole purpose of contemplating their victims before leading them to death.”6 Eventually, the two women were separated as the Princess was sent to face the tribunal. Once again, the Princess was questioned and ordered to swear an oath stating that she hated all Kings and Queens. She refused and said, “I have nothing to answer. Whether I die sooner or later is a matter of indifference to me. I have made the sacrifice of my life.”7

The tribunal then declared, “Let madame be set at liberty”, which was actually code for the death sentence.8 As she was led outside, she was greeted by the sight of carnage. The death sentence was carried out by an angry mob. How the Princess died exactly has been the subject of many stories and rumours, saying she was gang-raped and had her breasts cut off. What we know for certain is that her dead body was stripped naked and that her head was cut off and put on a pike. The mob wanted to show Marie Antoinette the head of her favourite, and so a bloody procession headed to the Temple. Marie Antoinette could not see the crowd, but she could hear it and was told, “Well, if you want to know, it is the head of Mme. de Lamballe they wish to show you.”9 According to Marie Antoinette’s daughter, “that was the sole moment when her firmness abandoned her.”10

Her father-in-law later said, “I think I always hear her… I always think I see her sitting near the window, in the little study… with what assiduity she used to work there, from morning till night, at the labours of her sex, for the poor?… And this is the angel they have torn to pieces!”11

  1. The Wicked Queen: The Origins of the Myth of Marie-Antoinette by Chantel Thomas p.120
  2. Marie Antoinette’s Confidante: The Rise and Fall of the Princesse de Lamballe by Geri Walton p.167
  3. Marie Antoinette’s Confidante: The Rise and Fall of the Princesse de Lamballe by Geri Walton p.174
  4. Marie Antoinette’s Confidante: The Rise and Fall of the Princesse de Lamballe by Geri Walton p.189
  5. Marie Antoinette’s Confidante: The Rise and Fall of the Princesse de Lamballe by Geri Walton p.191
  6. Marie Antoinette’s Confidante: The Rise and Fall of the Princesse de Lamballe by Geri Walton p.194
  7. Marie Antoinette’s Confidante: The Rise and Fall of the Princesse de Lamballe by Geri Walton p.195
  8. Marie Antoinette’s Confidante: The Rise and Fall of the Princesse de Lamballe by Geri Walton p.196
  9. Marie Antoinette’s Confidante: The Rise and Fall of the Princesse de Lamballe by Geri Walton p.199
  10. Marie Antoinette’s Confidante: The Rise and Fall of the Princesse de Lamballe by Geri Walton p.199
  11. Marie Antoinette’s Confidante: The Rise and Fall of the Princesse de Lamballe by Geri Walton p.202






About Moniek Bloks 2730 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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