marie-therese-charlotte

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A small sample of Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun’s beautiful portraits in the “Woman Artist in Revolutionary France” exhibit at the MET. The portraits here include those of Marie Antoinette, Yolande de Polastron, the Duchess of Polignac, Marie Therese Charlotte of France and Louis Joseph, Vigée Le Brun herself, and her daughter, Jeanne Julie Louise le Brun.

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Royalty Meme[2/8] Royal Children
Marie-Thérèse Charlotte, Madame Royale

Marie-Thérèse Charlotte was the firstborn child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Though she was not the son and heir many had hoped for, her long-awaited birth on December 19, 1778–eight and a half years after her parents’ wedding–was nonetheless cause for celebration. From birth, she was styled “Madame Royale,” the customary title of the French king’s eldest daughter. Both of her parents delighted in her. Her mother called her “Mousseline” and was the stricter of the two. She did everything in her power to instill Marie-Thérèse with a sense of humility and charity. Her father, on the other hand, had a tendency to spoil her, and she in turn idolized him. She was something of a “daddy’s girl.”

When Marie-Thérèse was almost three, her mother gave birth to a son at last. She and Louis-Joseph were joined by a second brother, Louis-Charles in 1785 and, briefly, by a baby sister called Sophie the following year. Sophie died just three weeks before her first birthday. The royal children were quite close, so both Sophie’s death and that of the sickly Louis-Joseph in the summer of 1789 were hard blows for the entire family.  Marie-Thérèse, however, was a very tall and healthy child. Pretty and intelligent, she took her status as Madame Royale quite seriously. Because she tried to emulate her mother’s regal behavior in public, some accused her of being haughty and arrogant. 

The outbreak of the French Revolution produced rapid and dramatic changes in the eleven-year-old princess’ life. These began with her family’s move from Versailles to Paris in late 1789. Three years later, with the monarchy abolished, they were imprisoned in the Tower Temple. There, Marie-Thérèse became increasingly isolated from her family. Her father was executed in January 1793; her brother, just eight, was taken away in July; and she was separated from her mother a month later. Her aunt and only remaining companion, Madame Elisabeth, was also executed the following spring. She spent another year in the Temple, during which time she wrote that she was “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.”

The day before she turned seventeen, Marie-Thérèse was released a from prison. She went to Vienna before moving to Latvia, where in 1799 she married her cousin Louis-Antoine and became the duchess of Angoulême. She and her remaining family spent the next fifteen years in England. When Napoleon was exiled in 1814, her uncle assumed the throne as Louis XVIII. Unsurprisingly, Marie-Thérèse found her return to France difficult emotionally. In 1824, Louis XVIII died and her father-in-law–who was her father’s youngest brother–became King Charles X. She was now Madame la Dauphine. She continued her charitable work and attempted to rehabilitate her parents’ memories until her father-in-law and then her husband both abdicated during the Revolution of 1830. Marie-Thérèse lived out the rest of her life in exile. She remained a staunch royalist and a devout Catholic until her death in 1851 in Vienna.