Marie Thérèse Charlotte (1778–1851)
Marie Thérèse Charlotte (1778–1851)
Marie Thérèse Charlotte (1778–1851)
Duchess of Angoulême, daughter of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who survived her parents and lived most of her life in exile . Name variations: Marie Therese Charlotte; Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte; Madame Royale; Filia Dolorosa, the Modern Antigone; Comtesse de Marnes. Born at Versailles, France, on December 19, 1778; died of pneumonia on October 19, 1851, in Austria; daughter of Louis XVI (1754–1793), king of France (r. 1774–1792), and Marie Antoinette (1755–1793); educated at French court; married Louis Antoine de Bourbon (1775–1844), duke of Angoulême, in 1799.
Imprisoned with her family in the Temple (1792); mother and father guillotined (1793); released from prison (1795); married the duke of Angoulême (1799); lived in exile with her uncle Louis XVIII in various European countries (1799–1814); Louis XVIII restored to the French throne (1814–15); lived at French court; revolution in Paris and abdication of Charles X and the duke of Angoulême (1830); spent remaining years in exile.
On August 13, 1792, Marie Antoinette and her husband Louis XVI and their two children were imprisoned in the Temple in Paris. The French Revolution, which had begun three years before, was reaching a crucial stage and the actions of the king, who had attempted to escape the country, were increasingly under suspicion. Fearing a Royalist counter-revolution, the National Assembly agreed that the royal family must be kept under close guard. These years of imprisonment were to have a profound effect upon the young princess Marie Thérèse Charlotte.
Born on December 19, 1778, Marie Thérèse Charlotte was the eldest daughter of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. As a child of royalty, she was given a thorough education. Her mother was particularly influential and ensured that Marie Thérèse learned not to neglect the feelings and opinions of others. Author Joseph Turquan concludes that Marie Antoinette inculcated in Marie Thérèse "respect for the virtues of others, gratitude for services rendered, love of humanity, compassion towards misfortune, moderation in luxury, charity, kindness and forbearance." Perhaps the young girl took this training too close to heart, as she was very serious as a child and was called "mousseline la sérieuse" ("Muslin the Serious") by her mother. Nevertheless, these qualities stood her in good stead when the fortunes of her family took a turn for the worse.
With the storming of the Bastille in July 1789, the French Revolution had begun. Although he attempted to maintain his authority, Louis XVI continued to make unwise and politically disastrous decisions, including an attempt to flee the country with his family in June 1791. When they were discovered at the French border, the royal family was escorted back to Paris under heavy guard. A year later, 14-year-old Marie Thérèse, her mother, father, brother and aunt were imprisoned in the Paris dungeon known as the Temple. She spent the next three years there with few comforts and little reliable news of the political situation. During her imprisonment, Marie Thérèse kept a personal journal detailing her experiences. These entries express the hopes, fears, and, ultimately, strength of a young woman living under extraordinary circumstances.
As the Revolution progressed, the fate of the king became increasingly precarious. When the National Convention abolished the institution of the monarchy in September 1792, Louis' fate was sealed. After a short trial in December, the king was found guilty of treason and was guillotined on January 12, 1793. This event affected the young princess deeply. For the rest of her life, she never failed to hold at least two days of prayer and memorial services every January 21 to commemorate the death of her father. Yet, although it was a heavy blow, his death did not signal the end of misfortunes for the royal family. Shortly after the king's execution, Marie Antoinette was removed from her daughter and imprisoned in a separate room where she was interrogated. Although Marie Thérèse attempted to obtain news of her mother's situation, the government refused to disclose any information to her. From that point on, she came to rely on her aunt Madame Elisabeth (1764–1794) for maternal support. When Marie Antoinette was executed in October 1793, Marie Thérèse was not told. Whenever she asked for news about her mother, her questions were avoided. She only learned of her mother's death one and half years after the event.
Life in prison was difficult for the young princess. Frequent searches were made of her room, sometimes three times a day and by officials who were often intoxicated. Marie Thérèse coped with her situation by relying increasingly on religion, and the majority of her reading material consisted of prayer books. In May 1794, her aunt Elisabeth was taken away and guillotined. Marie Thérèse was now left completely alone. When she received a visit from the duchess of Tourzel in 1795, she explained how she survived the isolation: "Without religion it would have been impossible. Religion was my only resource, and it procured for me the only consolations of which my heart could be susceptible." While her situation was difficult, her brother's was even worse. Louis Charles' quarters were filthy, he was left alone, and received few visits from his guards or anyone else for several days. Upon the death of his father, he became Louis XVII although this position held no sway with his jailers. Marie Thérèse stopped writing in her journal when she learned of her brother's death on June 9, 1795. She was now truly an orphan—without mother, father, brother or aunt.
As she was the last remaining member of the royal family who was still in prison, some people in the government felt that Marie Thérèse should be released. While this was being debated, the conditions of her imprisonment improved. She was now allowed to have a female companion, visitors, new dresses, paper and ink, and books. She was also allowed to have walks in the Temple gardens. It was obvious that public opinion was becoming more favorable towards her. At 17, Marie Thérèse was a slender young woman, with chestnut hair and fine features. Shortly before her release, a visitor to the Temple noted how she had changed: "When we left her at the Temple about the 10th of August, she was frail and delicate-looking. Now, after three years of misfortune, mental agony, and captivity, she is handsome, tall and strong, and bears on her countenance the imprint of that nobility of mind which is her distinguishing feature."
In November 1795, the volatile French government changed hands once more and steps were taken to release the young princess. It was decided that she would be liberated in exchange for several French prisoners who were being held in Austria. On the night before her 18th birthday,
Marie Thérèse Charlotte was finally released from the prison where she had spent the majority of her adolescence. Traveling incognito under the name "Sophie," she left Paris on the night of December 18, 1795. As she made her way towards the Austrian border, she was soon recognized by French citizens who treated her with much sympathy. She burst into tears when she crossed the border into Austria and exclaimed: "I quit France with regret for I shall never cease to regard it as my country." Thus, after all that she had gone through, Marie Thérèse Charlotte remained strong and warm hearted with little bitterness towards the country that had caused her such heartbreak.
Although she was no longer a prisoner, the Austrian government, which was still at war with France, was not very liberal with her. In essence, the government wanted to keep her as a hostage for political leverage. Marie Thérèse, however, wanted to join her uncle, now Louis XVIII, who was living in Verona. The Austrian emperor refused her request, and she was obliged to make an attempt to settle down to her new life in Vienna. She was granted some new freedoms, however. She was, for example, finally allowed to pray inside a church—something she had not done since her imprisonment. Marie Thérèse was also able to wear mourning clothing, thus honoring the deaths of her parents, aunt and brother. Although she aroused much sympathy in Austria, she continued to experience difficulties. The emperor took away most of the French servants who had traveled with her to Austria. He also tried to persuade her to marry an Austrian duke. Despite these and other slights, Marie Thérèse remained in Vienna for more than three years. In May 1799, she was finally allowed to join her uncle who was now living at Mittau in Russia.
Ask your selves, all ye who pause here, if your sorrows are equal unto mine.
—Inscription on tombstone of Marie Thérèse Charlotte
In Russia, Marie Thérèse was given a warm welcome by Tsar Paul I, son of Catherine I the Great . She and her uncle, Louis XVIII, were allowed to live in one of the tsar's palaces and were also given a pension. It was at Mittau that Marie Thérèse met her future husband, Louis Antoine de Bourbon, duke of Angoulême. As the son of Louis XVI's younger brother, the count of Artois, Louis Antoine was Marie Thérèse's first cousin. Since her marriage to the duke had been the wish of her parents, 20-year-old Marie Thérèse held no objections to the match, and she married him six days after her arrival in Russia. Her husband, who was four years older than his bride, was short, frail and not very handsome. Whether or not she truly loved him never will be known. Her duty was to honor the wishes of her dead parents, and Marie Thérèse would have never contemplated going against their desires. By all accounts, wife and husband lived peacefully together whenever he was not away on frequent military campaigns.
As exiles, Marie Thérèse and her uncle depended upon the goodwill and support of their hosts. Unfortunately for them, Tsar Paul I was not very trustworthy. When Napoleon Bonaparte defeated the French Royalist forces in several battles, Paul decided to throw his support behind Napoleon and, consequently, gave orders for Louis XVIII and his court to leave Russia immediately. On January 22, 1801, Marie Thérèse and Louis XVIII left Russia incognito under the names Count of Lille and Marchioness of La Meilleraye. They finally found refuge in Warsaw, where they remained under the protection of the king of Prussia. In March, Louis Antoine rejoined his wife, and they attempted to settle down in their new surroundings.
The political situation in France became worse for the exiles when Napoleon was made First Consul for life in May 1802. By 1803, Napoleon asked Louis XVIII to give up any claim to the French throne, which Louis refused to do. When Napoleon proclaimed himself emperor of France in 1804, it appeared that any hopes for a restoration of Louis XVIII to the French crown were lost forever. The financial situation of Marie Thérèse and her uncle improved, however, after the assassination of PaulI. The new tsar of Russia, Alexander I, supported Louis XVIII and gave him much-needed subsidies. In 1805, they returned to Mittau. As always, however, the political sympathies of their hosts determined the fate of the exiles. When Russian troops suffered two major defeats at the hands of Napoleon's army, Tsar Alexander signed the Treaty of Tilsit on June 25, 1807. Although Louis XVIII was not banished outright, he soon left for England. Marie Thérèse joined him there one year later. From 1808, France was engaged in war with most of Europe. By 1810, however, after a series of military victories, Napoleon was master of continental Europe. With the placement of his relatives and friends on the thrones of Italy, Westphalia, Holland and Spain, it appeared that his power was complete.
For Louis XVIII and his niece, these victories meant six years of exile in England. Upon her arrival there in July 1808, Marie Thérèse was given shelter at the home of the marquis of Buckingham in Essex. Desiring a dwelling closer to London, she and her uncle moved to Hartwell in 1809. During her exile in England, Marie Thérèse lived a quiet, relatively peaceful life. She spent much of her time meditating, reading and praying. Each January, she continued to hold her own private memorial service to mark the death of her father. Louis XVIII set up a small court at Hartwell and made every attempt to maintain the semblance of a royal routine. Although Marie Thérèse supported him as best as she could, she was not very interested in the intricacies of court etiquette and ritual. Contact with the king and queen of England was infrequent; Marie Thérèse appeared at the royal court in London only once in 1811. From this point on, she was often referred to as Madame Royale, signifying her status as the only surviving child of Louis XVI.
The fortunes of the exiles took a positive turn when cracks in Napoleon's seeming invincibility began to appear by 1812. Despite the fact that his troops reached Moscow in September 1812, the Russian winter soon decimated what remained of the French army. At Leipzig, French troops were forced to retreat after the Battle of Nations in October 1813. From this point on, events leading to Napoleon's defeat followed rapidly. In January 1814, Louis Antoine, his father the count of Artois, and the duke of Berry left England and invaded France. By March, the French Royalist army, with assistance from British troops, entered Bordeaux, proclaimed the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy and named Louis XVIII king of France. On March 31, Paris was captured by the allied forces, and on April 6 Napoleon abdicated and was sent into exile on the island of Elba. On April 24, 1814, Marie Thérèse and Louis XVIII left England for France.
Twenty-one years after the deaths of her parents and nineteen years after her release from the Temple, Marie Thérèse had finally returned home. Her joy was short lived, however, as one year later Napoleon escaped from Elba and invaded France in an attempt to regain power. Fearing for their safety, the majority of the royal family, including her uncle, fled the country. Marie Thérèse, however, refused to leave France and remained in Bordeaux. Upon hearing of her stand against him, Napoleon was impressed. Despite her best efforts, however, the French troops were unwilling to fight for a king they had never seen, and Marie Thérèse was forced to flee. On June 15, 1815, Napoleon was defeated for the last time at the Battle of Waterloo and exiled to the island of Saint Helena. From this point on, the threat to the restoration of the French monarchy was gone. Marie Thérèse could return to her native land in security.
For the next 15 years, Marie Thérèse lived a quiet and reserved life in Paris. She set up her own court at the Tuileries, which was renowned for its simplicity and order. Under her influence, French court life in general improved and became better mannered. When her uncle died in 1824, Marie Thérèse's father-in-law, the count of Artois, became King Charles X. Her husband was now heir to the throne and, as such, was called the Dauphin. Unfortunately, the new king was not sympathetic to the form of constitutional monarchy that had been set up when Louis XVIII was restored to the throne. Following the ideals of his eldest brother, Louis XVI, Charles X attempted to re-establish pre-revolutionary kingship. When elections were held in 1830, a liberal majority was returned that was unfavorable towards Charles. These political tensions were coupled with a downturn in the French economy. Bad harvests caused near-famine conditions in many urban areas along with a huge rise in prices for grain and other commodities. On July 28, 1830, a protest by workers erupted into a full-fledged revolution. Three days later, Louis Philippe I, the former duke of Orléans, was set up as the new constitutional monarch. Charles
X and his son, Marie Thérèse's husband, both abdicated their rights to the French throne. Once again, she was forced to flee the country of her birth and live in exile.
In 1830, Marie Thérèse was 52 years old and her fortunes remained unsettled. She and her husband's family returned to England, where they were allowed to remain on the proviso that they renounced all outward symbols of royalty. Consequently, Marie Thérèse and Louis Antoine changed their names to the Comte and Comtesse de Marnes. They lived at Lulworth Castle in Dorset for one year and then moved to Edinburgh, where they spent two years at the palace of Holyrood. In 1833, Marie Thérèse and her husband moved to Prague where they set up a small household. On November 6, 1836, Charles X died. From this point on, the life of Marie Thérèse and her husband became simple and austere. She enjoyed reading novels and tending to her garden. When Louis Antoine died of complications from blood poisoning in 1844, Marie Thérèse settled in the small town of Frohsdorf, about 30 miles from Vienna.
The royal princess spent her remaining years in near seclusion. Content with her simple life, she had no desire to spend time at the Austrian court. In 1851, she caught a chill after taking a long walk. She died of pneumonia on October 19, 1851, at the age of 72.
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Margaret McIntyre , Instructor of Women's History at Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada