Madame Guillotine » madame elisabeth http://madameguillotine.org.uk Kill them all if they won't eat cake Tue, 19 May 2015 09:02:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 http://i0.wp.com/madameguillotine.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Screen-Shot-2014-10-26-at-14.21.26-54f0b20av1_site_icon.png?fit=32%2C32 » madame elisabethhttp://madameguillotine.org.uk 32 32 Madame Élisabeth – Une Princesse au Destin Tragique 1764-1794http://madameguillotine.org.uk/2013/09/24/madame-elisabeth-une-princesse-au-destin-tragique-1764-1794/ http://madameguillotine.org.uk/2013/09/24/madame-elisabeth-une-princesse-au-destin-tragique-1764-1794/#comments Tue, 24 Sep 2013 12:10:27 +0000 http://madameguillotine.org.uk/?p=14911 2013-09-24 12.18.34

I was massively disappointed not to make it to Paris in time to see the much anticipated exhibition about Madame Élisabeth, the youngest sister of Louis XVI, who was fated to share his family’s imprisonment and would eventually be guillotined in May 1794 at the age of thirty.

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Parish register of Notre Dame de Versailles with the baptism record of Madame Élisabeth 1764. Photo: Archives des Yvelines.

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Madame Élisabeth, Vigée-Lebrun, 1782. Photo: Musée national des Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon.

Long term readers of this blog will know that I’ve always been very interested in Élisabeth’s story and, in fact, have written about her at great length in past with a particular interest in her interactions with the rest of her family, her intellectual life and her experience of the Revolution. Whatever your feelings about the aristocracy and the deservedness of their fate, it’s hard not to sympathise with Élisabeth, a woman of enormous devoutness and kindness, who eschewed the decadent machinations of court life and instead devoted herself to good works. Even Robespierre was opposed to her execution and did what he could to save her, without success.

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Presumed portrait of Madame Élisabeth, Vigée-Lebrun, 1780-5. Photo: Musée national des Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon.

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White muslin gown allegedly worn by Madame Oberkampf, c1787. Photo: Musée de la Toile de Jouy.

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Clock made for the apartments of Élisabeth’s niece, Madame Royale, 1778. Photo: Musée national des Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon.

Anyway, despite not making it to the exhibition, I still managed to get my hands on a copy of the accompanying catalogue, which goes into great detail about all sorts of aspects of Élisabeth’s life – from her profound piety to her plans for her house at Montreuil to her, sometimes conflicted, loyalty to her brothers during imprisonment. It really is a most fascinating read and I feel like I know even more about her than I had done previously.

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Madame Élisabeth Playing the Harp, Leclercq, 1783. Photo: Musée national des Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon.

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Caraco worn by Madame Élisabeth, c1780-90. Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.

The illustrations are also marvellous – charting the wonderful pieces that were collected together for the exhibition – from portraits of Élisabeth, her family and friends to pieces of furniture destined for her use at Versailles and Montreuil to her own books to the simple white muslin dresses that she would have favoured. There is an incredible richness and depth to the choice of items you can see in the book and if you can’t read French (the text is all in French) then the illustrations tell their own story – of a good hearted, devout and simple life devoted to family, friendship and innocent pleasures.

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Lock of Madame Élisabeth’s hair, 1794. Photo: Musée Carnavalet.

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Madame Élisabeth, after Brachard, 1821. Photo: Cité de la Céramique, Sèvres.

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Madame Élisabeth de France, the King’s Sister, Fleury, 1817. Photo: Musée national des Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon.

It is easy to become rather mawkish when talking about someone like Élisabeth but this book reminds us that she herself was far from milquetoast and in fact had a very vigorous intellectual interest and had an enormous amount of courage and self will as evidenced by her continued refusal to escape Paris with the rest of her fleeing relatives and instead remain at the side of her brother and his family. Foolhardy perhaps but there is no doubting Élisabeth’s devotion and loyalty to those that she cared for.

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Madame Élisabeth, Dumont, 1843. Photo: Musée national des Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon.

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Chair from a drawing room at Montreuil, 1789. Photo: Musée du Louvre.

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Map of the domaine de Madame Élisabeth at Montreuil, Huvé, 1787-8. Photo: Bibliotheque nationale de France.

This book, Madame Elisabeth: Une princesse au destin tragique (1764-1794) really is a most remarkable read and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the life of this doomed princess. It certainly manages to paint a most evocative picture of another less worldly and more gentle and kinder side of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette’s Versailles and serves as a reminder that not everyone was prancing about as if on the set of Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

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The household of Madame Élisabeth, Almanach de Versailles, 1784. Photo: Musée national des Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon.

******

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This week…http://madameguillotine.org.uk/2013/08/24/this-week-6/ http://madameguillotine.org.uk/2013/08/24/this-week-6/#comments Sat, 24 Aug 2013 14:54:26 +0000 http://madameguillotine.org.uk/?p=14692 IMG_20130824_123425

From Whitechapel and the ever lovely Diggory Cat.

I’m not feeling too great right now so I’m posting this from the comfort of my bed, where I am currently covered in cats and books about Jack the Ripper as I work on From Whitechapel. It’s going well at the moment – I’ve written almost 78,000 words now and just cleared a writer’s block hurdle which held progress up for a few days.

It’s been a fairly quiet week to be honest, mostly involving writing, reading and watching a LOT of Miss Marple. Oops. I don’t really enjoy the summer holidays to be honest – I thought they were far too long when I was at school and am now even less enamoured with them as a parent. I adore my children, of course I do, but bloody hell, they are LOUD and also strangely unwilling to let me do any work. However, I know I’m lucky to be able to work from home the way that I do so I try not to complain too much as I’m sure I’ll miss these days when they’re all grown up and off to university blah blah fishcakes.

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New Vivien of Holloway dress, Tunnock’s tea towel JOY, lovely new necklaces from Bete Noire, a Mary Queen of Scots coin from the exhibition shop – it now lives in my purse so I’d better make sure that I don’t accidentally try to spend it!

I’m on a bit of a self improvement kick at the moment as I have a big birthday looming in a year’s time and have resolved not to enter the next decade looking my usual scruffy, unkempt and careless self. It was all very well not to brush my hair or know how to dress for my shape and eat and drink whatever I liked when I was younger but the fact is that I just can’t get away with that sort of thing any more and drastic action needs to be taken – therefore I’ve been investing in Nice Things to encourage me to dress better and take more pride in my appearance while at the same time losing weight and working on a proper cleansing routine and all the rest of it. It seems to be going quite well so far!

As long term readers of this blog will know, I’m a huge fan of Vivien of Holloway clothes, especially their pirate print dresses so I was overjoyed to snap this little beauty up on Ebay last week! They don’t seem to make tea dresses in a pirate print any more so I’m extra thrilled to now have one of my very own and will now have to think of somewhere suitable to wear it!

Our trip to Edinburgh gave me a new enthusiasm for my Scottish heritage, particularly the bit that involves Tunnock’s teacakes and caramel wafer biscuits. Oops. By some miracle I only put on 3lbs in my three weeks off my diet but I’m taking no chances from now on and have made a bargain with myself that I could buy a couple of Gillian Kyle Tunnock’s teatowels for my kitchen (one with a teacake label and the other with a caramel one) IF I faithfully promised not to touch the real thing until I hit my diet target. Ouch. It seems to be working so far though although I may have to add a few more Tunnock’s themed items to my home, just to make sure!

I recently decided as part of my self improvement drive that I need to start acquiring really good jewellery as I don’t generally wear any. These necklaces from Bete Noire, therefore, were a required purchase as I love their kitschy punk rock aesthetic and I’m also a sucker for anything that can be personalised. In fact, I love them so much that I’ve just ordered two more and have ideas for a few more that I might get later on.

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Catalogue for the recent Madame Élisabeth exhibition in Versailles, my miraculous All Saints dress, new lovelies from Illamasqua (blusher in SOPHIE and nail polish in Facet, The Crossbones ring from Bloody Mary Metal.

Sadly after all the going on about it, I totally failed to make it to France for the utterly fabulous exhibition about Madame Élisabeth, the youngest sister of Louis XVI, at her residence near Versailles. However, undaunted, I bought a copy of the exhibition catalogue which arrived last week amidst much excitement. It really is a great book with loads of extra information about the princess’ short and tragic life plus lots of fabulous illustrations of dresses, portraits of people she knew and so on. It’s brilliant. We’re currently planning to spend most of the October half term holiday in Paris so I’ll be sure to visit Versailles then to console myself for missing out.

The diet bit of my quest for self improvement has been going really well although I’m still finding it hard to get used to my ‘new’ shape and size and still think I look exactly the same as I did when I started. However, I couldn’t ignore the evidence when I managed to pull the zip up on an All Saints dress that I could barely get over my head when I first bought it four years ago! I’m SO thrilled as I desperately wanted this dress when I first bought it and was heartbroken when it wouldn’t fit – now I’m looking forward to it being too big for me…

If you haven’t already heard of Bloody Mary Metal and have a thing for chunky rock themed jewellery then I would recommend you pay them a visit right away. I’m madly in love with my crossbones ring, which as you can see can even make chipped nail polish, chewed fingers and scruffy cat hair covered clothes look amazing.

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Last but not least, today marks the sixth anniversary of the death of Sophie Lancaster after she and her boyfriend were set upon and horrifically beaten just because they were goths. As you can see from the rest of the post, I’m an alternative dresser myself and proud to be so and although it would be easy to take what happened that night six years ago as a warning to change my ways, to be afraid and to conform to how society thinks I should be, instead I feel like I owe it to Sophie to carry on and refuse to conform or be daunted and scared.

You can read my previous post about Sophie Lancaster here and also find out more about S.O.P.H.I.E which was set up by her mother to promote tolerance towards unconventional dressers here.

RIP Sophie, you’ll never be forgotten.

******

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Madame Elisabeth: a tragic princesshttp://madameguillotine.org.uk/2013/04/19/madame-elisabeth-a-tragic-princess/ http://madameguillotine.org.uk/2013/04/19/madame-elisabeth-a-tragic-princess/#comments Fri, 19 Apr 2013 16:10:33 +0000 http://madameguillotine.org.uk/?p=13541

Madame Elisabeth playing a harp, Leclercq, 1783. Photo: RMN–Grand Palais / Gérard Blot.

I can’t believe how much time has passed since I first wrote here about the upcoming exhibition at Montreuil about Madame Elisabeth, the youngest sister of Louis XVI. Anyway, it’s due to open on the 27th of April and there’s now a rather lovely website all about the exhibition and some of the exhibits.

It looks like it’s going to be as wonderful as I had expected and I’m really looking forward to taking a day trip to Versailles at some point in the next couple of months to have a look for myself!

Pages from Madame Elisabeth’s dress book, which she would use to select her clothes for each day by placing a pin by the relevant fabric sample. This one is for summer 1792, during which time she was in the Tuileries before being moved to the Temple in August of that year. Photo: Archives Nationales /Pierre Grand.

Madame Elisabeth: Une Princesse au Destin Traqique is running at her former private residence, Montreuil in Versailles from the 27th of April until the 21st of July – so I’d better get my skates on if I want to go and see it for myself!

Plan of the domain of Madame Elisabeth at Montreuil, 1787-8. Photo: Bibliothèque nationale de France.

If you want to know more about the life of Madame Elisabeth, who was destined to die on the guillotine in May 1793 just a few days after her thirtieth birthday, then I have a series of posts here.

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Madame Elisabeth broochhttp://madameguillotine.org.uk/2012/09/03/madame-elisabeth-brooch/ http://madameguillotine.org.uk/2012/09/03/madame-elisabeth-brooch/#comments Mon, 03 Sep 2012 11:21:40 +0000 http://madameguillotine.org.uk/?p=12270

Madame Élisabeth brooch. Photo: Trinity Lane Antiques.

I really love this pretty brooch with a picture of Louis XVI’s unfortunate sister, Madame Élisabeth. It’s being sold by Trinity Lane Antiques, who believe it may have formed part of one of those amazing Sèvres portrait salon tables, so this probably formed part of a collection that included Marie Antoinette, the Comtesse d’Artois and maybe the Duchesse de Polignac and others.

Louis XV portrait table. Photo: The Bowes Museum.

They have an amazing example from around 1835 in the Bowes Museum in County Durham, but I couldn’t find a really good picture of it alas. I remember falling madly in love with it when I was a little girl though and was very pleased to be able to pay it a visit a few years ago. It has a porcelain plaque of Louis XV in the centre, surrounded by portraits of his daughters, daughter in law and other ladies of the court.

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Madame Élisabeth, the martyred princess of Francehttp://madameguillotine.org.uk/2012/03/20/madame-elisabeth-the-martyred-princess-of-france/ http://madameguillotine.org.uk/2012/03/20/madame-elisabeth-the-martyred-princess-of-france/#comments Tue, 20 Mar 2012 10:20:31 +0000 http://madameguillotine.org.uk/?p=10699

I’ve put together all of the links from a series of articles I wrote about the life of Madame Élisabeth, the youngest sister of Louis XVI a couple of years ago.

Élisabeth Philippine Marie Hélène de France was born at 2am on Thursday, 3rd May 1764, the daughter of the unusually devoted royal couple, the Dauphin Louis of France and his second wife Marie-Josèphe of Saxony, who was affectionately known as ‘Pépa’.

The royal couple were unusual for their domestic harmony and frank and open adoration of each other in a court where it was considered bad form to be openly affectionate towards one’s spouse. The Dauphin was a complicated character: he wrote to a friend that his soul was ‘always gay’ and indeed there was a liveliness and cheerfulness about him that made his company much sought after. However, he had also inherited the morbid nature of his parents, Louis XV and his devout Polish wife, Marie Leczinska and was obsessed with death and dying. His mother kept the skull of the delightful courtesan Ninon de Lenclos on her desk, garlanded with flowers and grinning toothily upon a velvet cushion. She called it ‘Ma chère Mignonne’…’

The infancy of Madame Elisabeth.

It is recorded that in the early days of their marriage, the young Saxony princess Marie-Joséphe had been horrified to witness her new husband and his sisters spending evenings dressed in black and walking slowly around the dim candlelit room murmuring ‘I am dead, I am dead, I am dead’ in a continuation of a favourite game from childhood. It was unacceptably morbid to a healthy young princess who adored dancing, laughter, being outdoors, having fun and celebrating life…

A Versailles childhood.

The orphaned children of the Dauphin and Marie-Josèphe de Saxe were a diverse bunch. At the time of their mother’s death, the eldest was the twelve year old Dauphin Louis-Auguste, a serious, sombre boy with low self esteem and a diffident manner. Next was the eleven year old Louis-Stanislas-Xavier, Comte de Provence, already overweight with a cruel, sarcastic yet indolent nature. Next was the nine year old Charles-Philippe, Comte d’Artois, the only one of the trio of boys to have inherited his handsome grandfather, Louis XV’s good looks, in particular his sparkling dark eyes, inherited from his mother Marie-Adélaïde de Savoie.

The two girls followed: seven year old Marie-Adélaïde-Clotilde-Xaviere, who was known as Madame Clotilde, an overweight child with a sweet, endearing nature and a genuine love of music who was known at court as ‘Gros Madame’ (Madame Fatty) and then finally, the baby of the family, two year old Madame Élisabeth…’

The arrival of Marie Antoinette.

The betrothal of her eldest brother, the Dauphin Louis had been a source of intense interest at court for quite some time as preparations went on for what was to be one of the most magnificent wedding spectacles ever held at Versailles. Excitement had reached fever pitch by the time his bride, the fifteen year old Archduchess Marie Antoinette arrived at the palace at 10am on the 16th May 1770 and Madame Élisabeth, as the youngest member of the royal family must have been quite beside herself by the time the beautiful new princess, dressed in her splendid travelling costume of blue and white silk arrived in the royal apartments.

Madame de Marsan, who Marie Antoinette had been warned against and who she was to take one of her quick and unyielding dislikes to, was quick to push her favourite pupil, Madame Clotilde forward but the young Archduchess immediately knelt in front of the smallest princess, Élisabeth and gave her a quick hug…

An adolescent princess at Versailles.

On the 11th June 1775, Louis XVI was crowned in Rheims cathedral in the presence of most of the court as well as his family. His younger siblings were all present and his young sisters, Clotilde and Élisabeth were seated at the side of Marie Antoinette, who was so moved at one point that she had to leave her seat in order to hide her tears. ‘I could not resist it,’ she wrote to her mother. ‘My tears began to flow in spite of myself.’

Beautiful Montreuil.

Élisabeth’s life at Montreuil was marked with its simplicity and goodness. She loved to spend time with her friends, either picnicking in the grounds, gardening, working her printing press, doing embroidery or doing good works in the neighbourhood, where she was hailed as a saint by the local people who all had reason to be grateful to her charitable ways and sweet natured friendliness. Élisabeth was naturally very thrifty and would often refuse to buy things because she reasoned that the money could be better spent on helping the poor…’

The early days of the Revolution.

Change was in the air but life at Versailles carried on much as it had always done with the inhabitants doing their best to ignore what was happening outside their privileged bubble. The wife of a labourer who had been assisted by Madame Élisabeth requested a private interview at the end of September 1789 and told her that the people of Paris suspected the King of plotting to escape with his family to Metz and were planning to prevent this. Alarmed, Élisabeth immediately went to tell Marie Antoinette, who refused to believe that it was anything more than rumour and exaggeration.

On the 5th October 1789, Élisabeth was at Montreuil when then news arrived that an immense crowd of women were marching on Versailles. She left her house immediately and returned to the palace to be at the side of her brother and sister in law. The royal family gathered together, unable to escape the shouts of the mob that had gathered in the courtyard below them but assured that it would be impossible for them to actually get inside…’

The Tuileries.

While Madame Élisabeth busied herself with her books, her painting and her daydreams of happier days spent hunting or riding her beloved horses (Élisabeth was an amazing horsewoman and like her brother, the King, she was said to look her best when mounted on a horse), her brother and sister in law, Marie Antoinette were scheming to get themselves and their family away from France. They were frustrated by their imprisonment at the Tuileries and increasingly disillusioned with the Revolution and the National Assembly, which was becoming increasingly distanced from the needs of ordinary people…’

The Temple.

The royal family were depressed, exhausted and thoroughly demoralised. They had spent three days at the Feuillants monastery, with nothing but the clothes that they were wearing until the Countess of Sutherland, wife of the English ambassador sent them fresh linen. All of their clothes and belongings had been looted by the mob – the Queen’s famous collection of clothes now dispersed throughout Paris, where it was worn by the women of the streets.

When they were told that they were to be taken to the Temple palace, Marie Antoinette whispered in dread to Madame de Tourzel: ‘You will see, they will put us in the tower, and they will make it a veritable prison. I have always had such a horror of that tower, that a thousand times I begged the Comte d’Artois to have it pulled down; it must surely have been a foreboding of all that we would suffer there… you will see if I am not mistaken.’

Execution, 10th May 1794.

As the guillotine did its work, Élisabeth kept her gaze resolutely forward, showing no sign of fear and reciting the De Profundis as she waited her turn. Finally, there was no one else left and the executioner came for her. She refused his hand and instead went by herself up the steps to the scaffold.

Just before they tied her to the grisly plank of wood that would tilt her beneath the guillotine’s blade, her fichu of fine Indian lawn slipped from her shoulders, revealing the silver medal of the Immaculate Conception and tiny pocket book, which she had tied around her neck with a silken cord.

We are told that one of the executioner’s assistants, Desmarest, tried to remove the fichu, probably to steal it for his own but that Élisabeth stopped him, crying: ‘In the name of your mother, Monsieur, cover me!’ These were to be her last words.

It is said that as the blade fell down, ending the life of Madame Élisabeth, the square was filled with the beautiful scent of roses…’


Recommended further reading:

Madame Elisabeth. Days at Versailles and in prison with Marie-Antoinette and her family

******
Set against the infamous Jack the Ripper murders of autumn 1888 and based on the author’s own family history, From Whitechapel is a dark and sumptuous tale of bittersweet love, friendship, loss and redemption and is available NOW from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

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Madame Elisabeth exhibition 2013http://madameguillotine.org.uk/2011/10/19/madame-elisabeth-exhibition-2013/ http://madameguillotine.org.uk/2011/10/19/madame-elisabeth-exhibition-2013/#comments Wed, 19 Oct 2011 15:16:44 +0000 http://madameguillotine.org.uk/?p=9376

Beautiful and poignant miniature of Madame Élisabeth, sister of Louis XVI, who was guillotined in May 1794. This was painted by the Marquis de Lubersac, and given by the Comte d’Artois to the Marchioness of Buckingham in 1797.

I’m really thrilled to see that there will be an exhibition about Madame Élisabeth at her château, Montreuil in 2013, which I will definitely be visiting as I’ve wanted to visit her domaine there for ages and I am really interested in the life of this most unfortunate French princess and it’s definitely time she got a bit more attention on her own account! She barely even featured in the 2005 film, which was really unfair, I thought.

This princess never married and was allowed to stay on in Versailles close to her brother Louis XVI and her sister-in-law Marie-Antoinette. On her nineteenth birthday, Louis XVI gave her the Estate of Montreuil, a kind of country residence close to the Palace of Versailles. Music, science, painting, reading, embroidery and games: Madame Elisabeth, a pious and generous soul, spent her simple and happy days here surrounded by her friends. She came of age in 1789 on her twenty-fifth birthday and at last had the right to sleep in Montreuil. The events of the Revolution then decided otherwise.

This exhibition, coproduced with the General Council of the Yvelines department, will be held in the Residence and Orangerie of the Estate of Montreuil. The house, exceptionally opened to the public, will offer an evocation of the setting of the princess through the furniture and objects that surrounded her. The exhibition’s scenographic design will strive to restore the intimate atmosphere of Montreuil. The Orangerie will present the life of Madame Elisabeth, from her birth to her death, with the emphasis on her stays in Montreuil, through a varied selection of works: paintings, graphic arts and objects.‘ – From the Versailles website.

I wrote about Madame Élisabeth’s love for Montreuil as part of my series of posts about her life up to her execution at the age of thirty in May 1794.

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Madame Élisabeth, sister of Louis XVIhttp://madameguillotine.org.uk/2011/05/03/madame-elisabeth-sister-of-louis-xvi/ http://madameguillotine.org.uk/2011/05/03/madame-elisabeth-sister-of-louis-xvi/#comments Tue, 03 May 2011 16:01:33 +0000 http://madameguillotine.org.uk/?p=7748

In honour of the 247th anniversary of the birth of Louis XVI’s youngest sister, Madame Élisabeth, I’ve put together links from a series of articles I wrote about her life last year.

Élisabeth Philippine Marie Hélène de France was born at 2am on Thursday, 3rd May 1764, the daughter of the unusually devoted royal couple, the Dauphin Louis of France and his second wife Marie-Josèphe of Saxony, who was affectionately known as ‘Pépa’.

The royal couple were unusual for their domestic harmony and frank and open adoration of each other in a court where it was considered bad form to be openly affectionate towards one’s spouse. The Dauphin was a complicated character: he wrote to a friend that his soul was ‘always gay’ and indeed there was a liveliness and cheerfulness about him that made his company much sought after. However, he had also inherited the morbid nature of his parents, Louis XV and his devout Polish wife, Marie Leczinska and was obsessed with death and dying. His mother kept the skull of the delightful courtesan Ninon de Lenclos on her desk, garlanded with flowers and grinning toothily upon a velvet cushion. She called it ‘Ma chère Mignonne’.’

The infancy of Madame Elisabeth.

It is recorded that in the early days of their marriage, the young Saxony princess Marie-Joséphe had been horrified to witness her new husband and his sisters spending evenings dressed in black and walking slowly around the dim candlelit room murmuring ‘I am dead, I am dead, I am dead’ in a continuation of a favourite game from childhood. It was unacceptably morbid to a healthy young princess who adored dancing, laughter, being outdoors, having fun and celebrating life.

A Versailles childhood.

The orphaned children of the Dauphin and Marie-Josèphe de Saxe were a diverse bunch. At the time of their mother’s death, the eldest was the twelve year old Dauphin Louis-Auguste, a serious, sombre boy with low self esteem and a diffident manner. Next was the eleven year old Louis-Stanislas-Xavier, Comte de Provence, already overweight with a cruel, sarcastic yet indolent nature. Next was the nine year old Charles-Philippe, Comte d’Artois, the only one of the trio of boys to have inherited his handsome grandfather, Louis XV’s good looks, in particular his sparkling dark eyes, inherited from his mother Marie-Adélaïde de Savoie.
The two girls followed: seven year old Marie-Adélaïde-Clotilde-Xaviere, who was known as Madame Clotilde, an overweight child with a sweet, endearing nature and a genuine love of music who was known at court as ‘Gros Madame’ (Madame Fatty) and then finally, the baby of the family, two year old Madame Élisabeth.’

The arrival of Marie Antoinette.

The betrothal of her eldest brother, the Dauphin Louis had been a source of intense interest at court for quite some time as preparations went on for what was to be one of the most magnificent wedding spectacles ever held at Versailles. Excitement had reached fever pitch by the time his bride, the fifteen year old Archduchess Marie Antoinette arrived at the palace at 10am on the 16th May 1770 and Madame Élisabeth, as the youngest member of the royal family must have been quite beside herself by the time the beautiful new princess, dressed in her splendid travelling costume of blue and white silk arrived in the royal apartments.

Madame de Marsan, who Marie Antoinette had been warned against and who she was to take one of her quick and unyielding dislikes to, was quick to push her favourite pupil, Madame Clotilde forward but the young Archduchess immediately knelt in front of the smallest princess, Élisabeth and gave her a quick hug.

An adolescent princess at Versailles.

On the 11th June 1775, Louis XVI was crowned in Rheims cathedral in the presence of most of the court as well as his family. His younger siblings were all present and his young sisters, Clotilde and Élisabeth were seated at the side of Marie Antoinette, who was so moved at one point that she had to leave her seat in order to hide her tears. ‘I could not resist it,’ she wrote to her mother. ‘My tears began to flow in spite of myself.’

Beautiful Montreuil.

Élisabeth’s life at Montreuil was marked with its simplicity and goodness. She loved to spend time with her friends, either picnicking in the grounds, gardening, working her printing press, doing embroidery or doing good works in the neighbourhood, where she was hailed as a saint by the local people who all had reason to be grateful to her charitable ways and sweet natured friendliness. Élisabeth was naturally very thrifty and would often refuse to buy things because she reasoned that the money could be better spent on helping the poor.’

The early days of the Revolution.

Change was in the air but life at Versailles carried on much as it had always done with the inhabitants doing their best to ignore what was happening outside their privileged bubble. The wife of a labourer who had been assisted by Madame Élisabeth requested a private interview at the end of September 1789 and told her that the people of Paris suspected the King of plotting to escape with his family to Metz and were planning to prevent this. Alarmed, Élisabeth immediately went to tell Marie Antoinette, who refused to believe that it was anything more than rumour and exaggeration.

On the 5th October 1789, Élisabeth was at Montreuil when then news arrived that an immense crowd of women were marching on Versailles. She left her house immediately and returned to the palace to be at the side of her brother and sister in law. The royal family gathered together, unable to escape the shouts of the mob that had gathered in the courtyard below them but assured that it would be impossible for them to actually get inside.’

The Tuileries.

While Madame Élisabeth busied herself with her books, her painting and her daydreams of happier days spent hunting or riding her beloved horses (Élisabeth was an amazing horsewoman and like her brother, the King, she was said to look her best when mounted on a horse), her brother and sister in law, Marie Antoinette were scheming to get themselves and their family away from France. They were frustrated by their imprisonment at the Tuileries and increasingly disillusioned with the Revolution and the National Assembly, which was becoming increasingly distanced from the needs of ordinary people.’

The Temple.

The royal family were depressed, exhausted and thoroughly demoralised. They had spent three days at the Feuillants monastery, with nothing but the clothes that they were wearing until the Countess of Sutherland, wife of the English ambassador sent them fresh linen. All of their clothes and belongings had been looted by the mob – the Queen’s famous collection of clothes now dispersed throughout Paris, where it was worn by the women of the streets.

When they were told that they were to be taken to the Temple palace, Marie Antoinette whispered in dread to Madame de Tourzel: ‘You will see, they will put us in the tower, and they will make it a veritable prison. I have always had such a horror of that tower, that a thousand times I begged the Comte d’Artois to have it pulled down; it must surely have been a foreboding of all that we would suffer there… you will see if I am not mistaken.’

Execution, 10th May 1794.

As the guillotine did its work, Élisabeth kept her gaze resolutely forward, showing no sign of fear and reciting the De Profundis as she waited her turn. Finally, there was no one else left and the executioner came for her. She refused his hand and instead went by herself up the steps to the scaffold.

Just before they tied her to the grisly plank of wood that would tilt her beneath the guillotine’s blade, her fichu of fine Indian lawn slipped from her shoulders, revealing the silver medal of the Immaculate Conception and tiny pocket book, which she had tied around her neck with a silken cord.

We are told that one of the executioner’s assistants, Desmarest, tried to remove the fichu, probably to steal it for his own but that Élisabeth stopped him, crying: ‘In the name of your mother, Monsieur, cover me!’ These were to be her last words.

It is said that as the blade fell down, ending the life of Madame Élisabeth, the square was filled with the beautiful scent of roses.’


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Madame la Princesse de Guéménéehttp://madameguillotine.org.uk/2011/01/13/madame-la-princesse-de-guemenee/ http://madameguillotine.org.uk/2011/01/13/madame-la-princesse-de-guemenee/#comments Thu, 13 Jan 2011 14:46:01 +0000 http://madameguillotine.org.uk/?p=6324

When most people think of the ladies of Marie Antoinette’s court, they think of a pampered, indolent, frivolous, probably rather stupid women covered in patches, with towering white hair, sumptuously gorgeous dresses and a spoiled pug dog under their arm. A bit like Paris Hilton at Halloween, except every day.

Of course, for the main part, the reality was very different but it has to be said that the Princesse de Guéménée, governess to the royal children was every bit the epitome of the aristocratic grande dame and every bit as flamboyant, exquisite and extravagant as our fevered imaginings could possibly conceive of.

Madame la Princesse was born Victoire Armande Josèphe de Rohan at the gorgeous Hôtel de Soubise at 60 Rue des Francs Bourgeois in the Marais district of Paris on the 28th of December 1743. Her father was Charles de Rohan, Prince de Soubise and her mother, his second wife, Anne Thérèse de Savoie (daughter of Victor Amadeus, Prince de Carignan). Thanks to her father, she was a member of the powerful, disgustingly wealthy and influential Rohan clan, while her mother, who was a cousin of Louis XV, the Princesse de Lamballe, the Comtesse de Provence and the Comtesse d’Artois. bestowed upon her a link to the ruling house of Sicily.
Sadly, the Princesse de Soubise was to die in childbirth at the Hôtel de Soubise on the 5th of April 1745 at the age of twenty seven, leaving Victoire motherless at the age of less than two. Her father soon married again, this time to a seventeen year old German princess, the Landgravine Anna Victoria of Hesse-Rotenburg. The marriage was to be childless and also exceedingly unhappy as both spouses cheated on each other. Finally, in 1757, Victoria ran away from Paris with her lover, Monsieur de Laval-Montmorency, which would have been scandalous enough had she not funded this elopement with 900,000 livres worth of jewels that she had stolen from her husband.
The errant pair were arrested at Tournai by order of Louis XV and Victoria was sent packing back to her parents in Germany. We can only wonder what effect all of this had on her young step daughters, Victoire and her elder sister from her father’s first marriage to Anne Marie Louise de la Tour d’Auvergne (a granddaughter of Louis XIV’s first great love, Marie Mancini), Charlotte Élisabeth.

 


Of course, Charlotte was already married by the time her father’s third marriage had begun to flounder. Thanks to her mother, she was a great heiress with titles in her own right and at the age of sixteen, on the 3rd of May 1753, she was married to Louis Joseph de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, a great grandson of Louis XIV and Athénaïs de Montespan. Their wedding was held in the chapel at Versailles before all of the court and the young bride brought an enormous dowry of 20 million livres to her husband. Sadly, Charlotte was to die on the 4th of March 1760, aged just twenty two.

The younger girl, Victoire was to be married at seventeen, on the 15th January 1761 to a second cousin, another Rohan, Henri Louis, Duc de Montbazon and Prince de Guéménée, who was two years younger than his bride. The good looking, fabulously wealthy young couple subsequently took up residence in the Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée at 6 Place des Vosges.

The new Princesse was lively, clever, extravagant and rather too fond of gambling, which of course that she got on famously at Louis XV’s court when she was presented at Versailles after her wedding. With the Rohan millions at her disposal, she dressed in fabulously gorgeous clothes, gave in to every whim no matter how expensive and lost thousands at the card table. She became famous for her amazing balls and also, less amazingly, her gambling parties where genuine croupiers from the casinos of Paris would deal the cards.
Madame la Princesse was not above courting scandal either as she offended Louis XV by getting up and walking away when his mistress Madame du Barry sat next to her at Marly. The King, who saw an insult to Madame du Barry as an insult to himself, was incensed and sent the Princesse away from court for a while to teach her a lesson.
She did not neglect her matrimonial duties in the midst of all this hedonistic pleasure seeking and presented her husband with five children: Charlotte Victoire (17th November 1761), Charles Alain (18th January 1764), Marie Louise (13th April 1765), Louis Victor (20th July 1766) and Jules Armand (20th October 1768).


In 1775, after the coronation of Louis XVI both of the couple were promoted to official appointments at court with Henri Louis becoming Grand Chamberlain of France, while Victoire was appointed to the post of Governess to the Royal Children after her aunt, the Comtesse de Marsan, decided to retire after her favourite pupil, Princess Clotilde had got married. At this point, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette had not yet had any children, so Victoire’s sole charge was the young Princess Élisabeth.
Lillian C. Smythe wrote: ‘The Royal Governess was the Princesse de Guemenee, who received this appointment by virtue of her relationship to Madame de Marsan, the function of instruction being considered vested in the family of de Rohan. There was no doubt that the Princesse de Guemenee was capable of instructing upon many matters. She was a great lover of little dogs, and invariably appeared surrounded by a multitude of them. “She offered to them a species of worship, and pretended, through their medium, to hold communication with the world of spirits.” She had been convicted of cheating at cards on several occasions. She was distinguished for the urbanity of her manner towards the ladies honoured by her husband’s preference, paying the most delicate attentions to each in turn ; thus she compelled admiration for her exemplary fulfilment of a wife’s highest duty. She entertained magnificently, royally, outshone the whole Court by her dress, and paved the way for the greatest bankruptcy known in France— the failure that affected all classes of society and plunged France into ruin; for all, from dukes to poor Breton sailors, had invested their moneys in the house of de Guemenee. “Only a King or a Rohan could have made such a failure,” was the consoling sentiment of the Princesse, as she contemplated her bootmaker’s bill of 60,000 livres [£2,400], or the amount of 16,000 livres [£640] owed to her paper- hanger. And the ruin of the Rohans hastened the Revolution.


The princess was rather dismayed by the change in governesses. Madame de Marsan had been strict and rather unpleasant and Élisabeth had heartily disliked her but Victoire, Duchesse de Montbazon was a whole different kettle of fish. This may not have been the best choice, considering Élisabeth’s peaceful, virtuous nature and way of shrinking from any court intrigue that may come near her as the Princesse was a typical Rohan drama queen, prone to having messy love affairs, squandering a fortune on fripperies, leaving a trail of debts and was also rather too fond of gambling. The shy princess who had a very strong sense of morality would have been well aware of her new governess’ wayward reputation and extravagant behaviour and must have braced herself for the worst.
In the end they seem to have got along fairly well. Victoire seems to have had an affectionate, fun loving nature which young people really responded to. For her part, Madame la Princesse thought that her aunt, Madame de Marsan had been too strict with her charges and that Madame Élisabeth was too unassuming, pious and serious minded. What she needed, the rakish Princesse decided, was to have more fun and so she encouraged the girl to attend her parties and balls in an attempt to make her more sophisticated and frivolous. It didn’t really work as Élisabeth was also exceedingly stubborn.


One happy thing about the new arrangement was that Victoire often took Élisabeth to her new house at Montreuil, close to Versailles. The princess, who preferred a simpler style of life to the ostentation of Versailles was enchanted with the chåteau and fell madly in love with it.
Margaret Trouncer described it: ‘The house, built in 1776, was a white, semi-circular, two-storied building, with the stables on one side and the kitchen offices on the other, quite far away from the dining room. On the ground floor, a circular chapel occupied the centre. The principal rooms were the boudoir, with wainscoting and a cupboard decorated with arabesques, the library with bookcases paned in clear glass, the buffet warming room paved in white marble, the dining room, the billiard room, the music room, the drawing room and some ante-chambers. Some of the old floors in small parquet squares were still there. Upstairs, twenty one panelled rooms. On the other side, French windows looked on to a park. One could walk straight out of the drawing room into the garden. On the right hand side was the alley of lime trees on the top of the terrace, whose wall separated the estate from the Avenue de Paris. On the left, hidden by trees and quite a distance away, an orangery, a dairy, cow sheds, farm buildings and the gardener’s cottage. There were also kitchen gardens and hot houses.’

There were more changes in 1778, when Victoire took charge of the new baby princess, Madame Royale, the first child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, while the detestable and rapacious Comtesse Diane de Polignac took charge of Élisabeth. To be in charge of Madame Royale and her subsequent siblings was a great honour and we are told that after the Queen had given birth, Victoire, proudly beaming as though she herself had given birth to the royal infant would be carried in a chair from Marie Antoinette’s bedchamber to the royal nurseries on the ground floor of Versailles, the baby on her lap while all of Versailles paid homage.

In private though, things were not quite so rosy. Victoire had fallen in love with one of Marie Antoinette’s best male friends, Auguste Gabriel de Franquetot, Comte de Coigny, who had been widowed in 1775 and left with a six year old daughter, Aimée who Victoire was raising alongside her own children and who would later become the Duchesse de Fleury and brief muse of André Chénier. Victoire and Augustin became lovers and were apparently devoted to each other. Meanwhile, her husband had fallen in love with one of Marie Antoinette’s circle, the lovely Thérèse Lucy de Dillon, Comtesse de Dillon, who was mother to the future Madame de la Tour du Pin.
Sadly Thérèse Lucy was to die in 1782 at the age of thirty leaving all who knew her devastated and shortly afterwards the Prince de Guéménée declared himself bankrupt, with debts of over 33 million livres. It was to be an enormous scandal. The extravagance of the royal family and those close to them was already under some scrutiny and was beginning to be more loudly criticised so to have two key members of their household be in so much debt was considered shocking and also a justification of the criticisms of frivolity and wastefulness that were leveled at the court of Versailles.

Let’s not forget that it wasn’t just the Guéménée couple who were ruined but also countless tradesmen and others who were left with unpaid bills and vast sums of money owed to them that they might now never see. The ripples caused by the Prince’s bankruptcy were to be widespread and devastating.
Marie Antoinette, who had spent many many ruinous hours gambling at the Princesse’s notorious card parties where it was said that the young people didn’t emerge for days on end, did her best to help the couple. She and the Princesse had never been best friends – Victoire was older than Marie Antoinette and rather too sophisticated for her tastes – but they got along well enough for her to want to help in some way, which she did by securing a loan for the Prince and also arranging for Louis XVI to buy their estate at Montreuil for Princesse Élisabeth.


The couple were to remain at the fringes of court life for the rest of the 1780s until the Revolution began in 1789 and they fled with their children to Austria after the fall of the Bastille. The Guéménée family eventually settled at Sychrov Castle in Bohemia, where their family remained although Victoire was to die in Paris on the 20th September 1807 at the age of sixty three.

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Madame Élisabeth by Leclercqhttp://madameguillotine.org.uk/2010/05/10/madame-elisabeth-by-leclercq/ http://madameguillotine.org.uk/2010/05/10/madame-elisabeth-by-leclercq/#comments Mon, 10 May 2010 16:35:44 +0000 http://madameguillotine.org.uk/?p=4061

A beautiful and rather soulful portrait of Madame Élisabeth as a Vestal, painted by Charles Leclercq.

He also painted this later work of the princess seated at her harp, probably in her apartments at Versailles.

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Madame Élisabeth, 10th May 1794http://madameguillotine.org.uk/2010/05/10/madame-elisabeth-10th-may-1794/ http://madameguillotine.org.uk/2010/05/10/madame-elisabeth-10th-may-1794/#comments Mon, 10 May 2010 16:26:16 +0000 http://madameguillotine.org.uk/?p=4055

On this day in history, Madame Élisabeth, the youngest sister of the deposed and executed king Louis XV was guillotined on a scaffold erected on the Place de la Nation in Paris. The Princess was aged just thirty years old, having had her birthday only a week earlier on the third of May.

As the guillotine did its work, Élisabeth kept her gaze resolutely forward, showing no sign of fear and reciting the De Profundis as she waited her turn. Finally, there was no one else left and the executioner came for her. She refused his hand and instead went by herself up the steps to the scaffold.

Just before they tied her to the grisly plank of wood that would tilt her beneath the guillotine’s blade, her fichu of fine Indian lawn slipped from her shoulders, revealing the silver medal of the Immaculate Conception and tiny pocket book, which she had tied around her neck with a silken cord.

We are told that one of the executioner’s assistants, Desmarest, tried to remove the fichu, probably to steal it for his own but that Élisabeth stopped him, crying: ‘In the name of your mother, Monsieur, cover me!’ These were to be her last words.

It is said that as the blade fell down, ending the life of Madame Élisabeth, the square was filled with the beautiful scent of roses.’


I have already written at some length about the final days and execution of Madame Élisabeth here.

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