Thursday, 5 September 2013

Princesse Élisabeth de France

Madame-elisabeth-2.jpgPrincesse Élisabeth was born at Versailles on 3 May 1764 and was given the full name of Élisabeth Philippine Marie Hélène de France. When she was three years old both her parents died and she was left an orphan. Her education was supervised by Marie Louise de Rohan; it turned out that Élisabeth was very skilled at mathematics and the sciences - something she shared with her brother, Louis Auguste, and her grand-father, Louis XV. Also, she had a keen interest in art and was a talented rider.

As a person Élisabeth was something of her own and had even signed some of her letters Élisabeth la Folle (the Mad Elisabeth). She was strongly attached to her eldest brother, Louis XVI, and formed a very-close bond with Marie Antoinette when she arrived at Versailles. Élisabeth even refused to marry in order to stay close to her best friends in France - she even rejected a marriage proposal from the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II. She was also deeply religious.
In 1783 Madame Élisabeth (as she was known at court) was given the gift of a house and land in Montreuil by Louis XVI. This would be to her what Petit Trianon was to Marie Antoinette. She became known as "the good lady of Montreuil" because of her charitable deeds.

When the revolution hit France Madame Élisabeth was firmly against the revolutionaries and was one of the most conservative members of the royal family. Her strong attachment to her brother and sister-in-law combined with this firm conviction meant that she refused to leave France to go into exile. She went with the royal family when they were taken as hostages to the Tuileries Palace. During this time her political views became ever more staunch. In February 1792 another chance to go into exile emerged when Madame Victoire and Madame Adélaïde finally left France for good but Madame Élisabeth refused again. Instead she was on the disastrous flight to Varennes. She came dangerously close to meeting her death when the Parisian mob attacked the Tuileries Palace and she was mistaken for Marie Antoinette.

It was in the end Madame Élisabeth who would be the last person to accompany Marie Thérèse in the Temple prison when both Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were dead. The original plan by Robespierre was to simply banish the former Princesse since she - as a female - did not present any immediate danger. Something changed though and on 9 May 1794 she was taken to the Concergerie where she was tried in front of the Revolutionary Tribunal. Here she was found guilty of having encouraged anti-revolutionary movements and planning the flight of the royal family. Madame Élisabeth refused to bow her head and when she was addressed as "the Sister of a Tyrant" she simply replied:
"If my brother had been what you call him, you would not have been where you are, nor I where I am."
On 10 May 1794 she was taken to the scaffold on a cart alongside 23 others where she had to sit and watch the executions until it became her turn as the very last one. Not even at this time her considering and kind nature did not fail her and she spent her last moments comforting the others condemned to death. Her corpse was buried in a commoners' grave at the Errancis Cemetery. At the time of the restoration her other brother, Louis XVIII, searched for her body but by then the bodies had decomposed so much that they could not be identified. Her remains are now somewhere in the Catacombs of Paris but a medallion of her hangs in the Basilica of Saint Denis.

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