Royal of the Month: Élisabeth of France

  May 13, 2014 at 8:33 pm by

For the month of May, I have chosen Princess Élisabeth of France as my featured royal. Also known as Madame Élisabeth, she was the youngest sister of Louis XVI of France. The Princess followed her brother and sister-in-law to the guillotine in 1794 during the Terror.

Princess Élisabeth as a child, 1768

Élisabeth Philippine Marie Hélène de France was born early on the morning of May 3rd, 1764 at the Royal Palace of Versailles. The Princess was the youngest daughter of Louis, Dauphin of France, and Marie-Josèphe of Saxony, Dauphine of France. Her older siblings included the future French Kings Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X; she also had a sister, Marie Clotilde, who was later Queen Consort of Sardinia. Élisabeth’s grandfather was King Louis XVI of France and Navarre, her grandmother was Marie Leszczyńska.

In December 1765 her father died at Fontainebleau aged just 36; her mother died two years later in March 1767 of tuberculosis. In May 1770, her older brother Louis married Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria, better know as Marie Antoinette.

Following the death of King Louis XV in 1774, Élisabeth’s older brother became King Louis XVI and was crowned at Reims Cathedral, which Élisabeth attended with other members of the French Royal Family. Madame Élisabeth was well-known for her religious piety and devout Roman Catholicism, and was believed to have been heavily influenced by her aunts Marie-Adélaïde of France, Victoire de France and Louise de France.

Princess Élisabeth in 1788

With the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, Madame Élisabeth – who never married – chose to stay in France and by her brother’s side. Many members of the French Royal Family had fled into exile. In October 1789, Louis XVI, his wife, children and sister were forced to leave Versailles by a mob and were taken to the Tuileries Palace in Paris. In June 1791, the royals attempted an unsuccessful escape from Paris but were discovered and arrested at Varennes near the border and taken back to Paris.

In August 1792, a mob attacked the Tuileries Palace and massacred the Swiss Guard who were protecting them; the King and royal family barely escaped and had to take shelter with the nearby Legislative Assembly. Less than six weeks later, the Bourbon Monarchy was abolished and a wave of massacres took place in Paris which became known as the September Massacres.

The execution of Princess Élisabeth

The King and Royal Family were then imprisoned in the Temple Fortress in Paris. Louis XVI was put on trial in December 1792 and was sentenced to death in January 1793. The King was guillotined on January 21st, 1793 at the Place de Concorde in Paris. Marie Antoinette, her daughter Marie-Thérèse Charlotte, and Madame Élisabeth were imprisoned together at the Temple Fortress; in August 1793 Marie Antoinette was removed to the Conciergerie and later executed on October 16th.

In May 1793, Madame Élisabeth was separated from her beloved niece and was taken to the Conciergerie, where she was put on trial and condemned to death by a Revolutionary Tribunal. The faithful Princess went to the guillotine on May 10th, her remains were dumped in a mass grave at the Errancis Cemetery in Paris. Following the Bourbon Restoration in 1814, her surviving brother Louis XVIII ordered a desperate search to recover her remains, which were sadly never found.

Filed under France, Historical Royals
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2 Responses to Royal of the Month: Élisabeth of France

  1. NATALYA says:

    Very touching and sorrowful story.

  2. Linda says:

    This is news for me and sadly interesting how the family stayed together.

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