The life and death of Princess Sophie

madame princess sophie
(public domain)

On 9 July 1786, Marie Antoinette gave birth to her fourth child – a daughter named Sophie.

As her labour pains began in the early hours of 9 July, Marie Antoinette continued with her routine, including attending Mass at the Royal Chapel. Finally, around 4.30 p.m., she could no longer deny that she was, in fact, in labour, and the ministers who had to be present were summoned for the birth. Just three hours later, little Sophie was born. She was named for Louis’s aunt, Madame Sophie, who had died four years earlier.

Sophie was baptised on the day of her birth in the chapel of Versailles. Her godparents were Marie Antoinette’s brother Ferdinand, represented by the Count of Provence, and Louis’s sister Madame Elisabeth.

It was likely that Sophie was born a bit premature, given the insistence of Marie Antoinette that she was not in labour and the fact that Louis had gone on a coastal tour so close to Sophie’s birth. As such, Princess Sophie had a difficult start in life. Marie Antoinette herself also had a slow recovery from the delivery and had trouble throughout the autumn.

Just a few weeks before her first birthday, Sophie died after “five or six days of convulsions”, probably following the cutting of a few teeth.1 The autopsy revealed that Sophie had never really developed as she should have. Marie Antoinette had invited her sister-in-law Madame Elisabeth to view the body of “my little angel.” She apparently told Marie Antoinette that little Sophie was happy now, “having escaped all life’s perils.”2

Madame Elisabeth later wrote to Madame de Bombelles, “Sophie died on the 9th of this month. The poor little girl had a thousand reasons for dying. Nothing could have saved her. My niece (Madame Royale) has been charming. She showed an extraordinary sensitivity for her age. Her poor little sister is happy now.[…] It is incredible, the day before, she was white and rose-coloured, not thinned out, charming.”3

Sophie’s body lay in a salon at the Grand Trianon, under a gilded coronet and a velvet pall. When Joseph Weber commented that she had not even been weaned yet, insinuating that the grief couldn’t really be that great, Marie Antoinette responded, “Don’t forget that she would have been my friend.”4

(public domain)

A portrait of Marie Antoinette and her children had to have little Sophie painted out shortly after her death. Nevertheless, in a poignant reminder, the Dauphin points to the empty cradle.

To mourn the loss of her daughter, Marie Antoinette withdrew to the Petit Trianon with Madame Elisabeth. Marie Antoinette had written to her, “Come, we shall mourn my poor little angel. I need all of your heart to console mine.”5

On the first of August, Marie Antoinette wrote to Landgravine Louise of Hesse-Darmstadt, “You can have no doubt, Madame, of the pleasure your letters always give me. I was very touched by the part you played in the loss I suffered of my youngest daughter. I was very saddened. Unfortunately, I have been expecting this almost since her birth, as this child never thrived or advanced for her age. Thank God the other three6 are doing well.”7

  1. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p.306
  2. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p.306
  3. Madame Élisabeth, sœur de Louis XVI by Marie Célestine Amélie de Ségur Armaillé p.52-53
  4. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p.306
  5. Lettres … à la Landgravine Louise de Hesse-Darmstadt p.39
  6. Her eldest son Louis Joseph would die two years later.
  7. Lettres … à la Landgravine Louise de Hesse-Darmstadt p.39

About Moniek Bloks 2734 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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