Marie Antoinette is a million times more famous than the rest of her family, including her mother, an Empress, her husband, a King, and her daughter, a Duchess, Queen, and neither.
Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte was born on December 19, 1778, at the Palace of Versailles. She was named after her grandmother, Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa. Her parents were King Louis XVI of France, and his very famous wife, Marie Antoinette of Austria, also known as “Madame Deficit”. At the time of her birth, the American Revolution was going on in America, while France was deeply in debt.
In England, the eldest daughter of the king would be known as Princess Royal. That tradition actually came from France, where the king’s eldest daughter would be known as Madame Royale. And that was Marie-Thérèse’s title. For simplicity, we’ll call Marie-Thérèse “Marie”, and we’ll call her mother “Antoinette”. The birth of Marie was quite a hard one for Antoinette but she loved her daughter dearly. Upon meeting her new daughter for the first time, Antoinette said:
Poor little one, you are not desired, but you will be none the less dear to me! A son would have belonged to the state—you will belong to me.Marie Antoinette
Antoinette did end up having a son, though, Marie’s younger brother, Louis Joseph (whom we’ll call Joseph), then her next younger brother, Louis Charles (whom we’ll call Charles). Apparently, it used to be perfectly normal to name all your sons “Louis”. Then, Marie got a little sister, Sophie Beatrix. Marie, the first child of Antoinette, was born nearly seven years after the marriage of Antoinette and Louis XVI (another Louis, seriously?).
Antoinette nicknamed her daughter Mousseline la Sérieuse, meaning Muslin the Serious. And apparently, Marie was a very serious little girl. She got a wonderful education and was taught by Antoinette, who didn’t want a haughty daughter, to respect the feelings and opinions of everyone, and just be kind in general, even though she was the king’s daughter.
Madame Royale had many governesses, but her parents were known for spending a lot of time with their children. Her parents were quite close to her and her siblings, and they were quite a happy family. But even though her family tried to be happy, everything was absolutely horrible.
Everything Goes Wrong
First, in 1787, Sophie Beatrix, Marie’s sister, died, followed by Joseph, in 1789. And if you know anything about France in 1789, you know that there were quite a few people unhappy with the monarchy. The American Revolution was over, and France had helped the Americans win the war, and were deeply in debt after that. Prices of food skyrocketed, and it was nearly impossible to get bread. Antoinette’s alleged response after hearing this was, “Let them eat cake,” which she obviously didn’t say. Everyone hated her, and she became the scapegoat for France’s financial problems, even earning the nickname “Madame Deficit.” That’s why nobody believed her when the Affair of the Diamond Necklace happened.
The Bastille, a prison where ammunition was stored, was stormed by revolutionaries only ten days after Joseph’s death, so on top of losing a brother, Marie, a girl of only eleven, had to deal with a whole Revolution. Many of the nobles began fleeing France, including her uncle. There was a march by mostly women to Versailles, and after this, the king had to agree to leave the luxurious Versailles and move to the not-yet so amazing Tuileries Palace. They were, at this point, practically under house arrest.
Antoinette had an alleged lover, Count Axel von Fersen, who arranged for the family to escape as the situation got worse. The plan was for the royal family to flee to Austria, where Antoinette’s family ruled, and, more importantly, where it would be safe. They got quite close to freedom, but in Varennes, the king was recognized, and the family was taken back to Paris.
Soon enough, when Marie was just fourteen, the family was imprisoned in the Tour du Temple, the Tower of the Temple. Antoinette, King Louis, Marie, her brother, and their aunt, Élisabeth, were imprisoned there for quite some time. Louis was deposed in 1792, then was found guilty of treason and was executed by guillotine in 1793.
Next, the revolutionaries came for Marie’s brother, Charles, who was now known by royalists as King Louis XVII. In fact, after the Bourbon monarchy was restored (which we’ll get to in a second), Marie’s uncle, the new king, took the name Louis XVIII, instead of Louis XVII, meaning that Marie’s uncle recognized Charles as a king of France.
Charles was taken away by the revolutionaries, much to the horror of Antoinette, who tried to keep her son. Now, only the women were left, and it would be reasonable for one to think that the revolutionaries would leave them alone. But this was the French Revolution, known for being exceptionally bloody. Next, Marie’s mother was taken away from her, after which her aunt, Élisabeth, the king’s sister, became the only family member she still had with her. Élisabeth, too, was taken from Marie when she was guillotined in 1794.
Marie was never informed of her aunt and mother’s executions, but she knew her brother was alive, as she could hear the guards beating him. Both of their conditions were horrible, especially Charles’s. Marie only had two books to keep her from boredom, and the guards refused to give her any more. On the wall, she wrote:
Marie, on her prison’s wall
Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte is the most unhappy person in the world. She can obtain no news of her mother; nor be reunited to her, though she has asked it a thousand times. Live, my good mother! whom I love well, but of whom I can hear no tidings. O my father! watch over me from Heaven above. O my God! forgive those who have made my parents suffer.
Marie truly seemed like the unhappiest person in the world, and poor her, she never expected that her mother would be dead. But, a year and a half after her mother’s execution, in August of 1795, she was finally told that her mother, brother, and aunt were dead, because yes, Charles died, definitely because of something to do with the horrible conditions of his prison. Apparently, when she was told that they were all dead, she began sobbing uncontrollably.
Marie was also told that she would be going to live in Vienna, where her cousin was Holy Roman Emperor, and fun fact: he’d married his cousin, so Marie’s cousin was Holy Roman Emperor, and her other cousin was Empress. She did not want to leave France, but it was the only way Marie could keep her head. After three years, four months, and five days, on December 18th, 1795, Madame Royale left the Temple, just before her seventeenth birthday.
About a month later, Marie arrived in Austria. Her Austrian family thought that she would be very Austrian, like her mother, but Marie was quite French. She only wore clothes of mourning for her dead family. She also married her cousin, Louis-Antoine, the Duke of Angoûleme, a son of her father’s brother, Charles (Louis XVI had had two brothers, Louis (another one), and Charles, along with a sister). Marie married Louis-Antoine on June 10th, 1799, when she was twenty-one. Marie became the Duchess of Angoûleme, but she technically wasn’t, since the monarchy had been abolished.
Also because the monarchy had been abolished, Marie and Louis-Antoine had to move to and from many royal courts, including the British one. Marie, for the rest of her life, would see many people pretending to be her brother, Louis. It was very distressing for her.
The Brief Restoration
When Napoleon was overthrown, the Bourbon monarchy was restored, and Marie could finally go back to France after twenty years. She visited important places, including where her parents had been buried. After the Bourbon restoration, the remains of Marie’s family could finally be moved to the Basilica of Saint-Denis.
When Napoleon came back to France after his quite short exile, in 1815, her family began fleeing, but Marie had been through so much exile already to run away again. She stayed in France, and eventually, Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo. Her uncle, Louis XVIII, was restored to the throne again and died nine years later in 1824. Now, Marie held the same title her mother once had. She wasn’t queen yet—her father-in-law, the next brother of Louis XVI, was King Charles X now, and she was the wife of the heir, so she was Madame la Dauphine.
Then, because nothing can ever be good for the Dauphine, the Revolution of 1830 came along, which, thankfully, was much less bloody than the one in which Marie’s parents had been deposed. Marie’s father-in-law was an unpopular monarch, and he was forced to abdicate. He abdicated in favor of Louis-Antoine, which made Marie’s husband King Louis XIX, King of France.
Marie was now Queen. Unfortunately for them, though, they were in the same room that Charles X had just abdicated in, so the new king, Louis XIX, was obviously also handed the abdication papers. Louis XIX’s reign was quite uneventful. People were forcing him to abdicate, and his wife was sobbing, telling him that he shouldn’t give in to their demands. After a very long twenty-minute reign, Louis decided to abdicate in favor of his nephew. His nephew, Henry V, is not usually counted as a king of France.
Marie’s whole family, once again, went into exile in Britain. The new King of France took the title “King of the French” and had a nice 18-year-old reign before he too was kicked off the throne. Marie lived in Edinburgh until 1833, after which they moved to Vienna, where her two cousins were still Emperor and Empress. Except that, instead of being Holy Roman Emperor and Empress, they were the Emperor and Empress of Austria, because Napoleon really messed things up.
Marie’s father-in-law died in 1836, followed by her husband in 1844. Marie lived the rest of her years quietly in Vienna and got to see the King of the French be kicked out of France as well. I like to think she was a little happy about this. Marie died of pneumonia, which she caught after a walk, on October 19th, 1851, after a long life of 72 years. She is buried near her husband, Louis XIX, and her father-in-law, Charles X, in Austria.