Wednesday, 21 September 2011

September 21st, 1819: The birth of a granddaughter of France

On the twenty-first day of September 1819 in the Élysée Palace, today the official residence of the French President, the most beautiful member of the French Royal Family, Princess Caroline, Duchesse de Berry, went into labour. A southern Italian princess by birth, Caroline was the daughter of Francesco I, King of the Two Sicilies, and his Austrian queen, Maria-Clementina. At the age of seventeen, Caroline had been married to Charles-Ferdinand, Duc de Berry, the King of France's youngest nephew. A glamorous and attractive pair, the Duke and Duchess had been married for just under three years when she gave birth to their first child and there was much expectation resting on the young Duchess for the event.

Despite the fact that the Duke was the younger son of another younger son, the genetic bad luck of that generation of the French royal family and the violence of the Revolution had placed him much closer to the throne than he might have been under ordinary circumstances. His eldest uncle, Louis XVI, and his little cousin, Louis XVII, had both perished in the Revolution. With the monarchy restored, his middle uncle had chosen to rule under the name Louis XVIII, to suggest continuity with his family's pre-revolutionary rule. But the current king, clever and morbidly obese, was childless and his queen had died years earlier, leaving the king's younger brother, the handsome and ultra-conserative Charles, Comte d'Artois, as next-in-line. Charles, the Duke's father and Caroline's father-in-law, had two sons, of which the Duke was only the youngest. Yet, the Duke's elder brother, Louis-Antoine, had been married for twenty years and there were still  no sign of any children. Depending on which clique you listened to at court, it was either because Louis-Antoine was impotent or because his wife was barren after the psychological traumas she had endured during her imprisonment under the revolution. Either way, in time, the crown would eventually pass from the current king to the Duke's father and then his brother and then, finally, to him. 

With the expectation that the Duke would one day sit on the French throne as King Charles XI, with Caroline as his queen, there was added pressure for her to produce a son. On September 21st 1819, however, she was unable to oblige. Instead, she gave birth to a daughter who was promptly christened Louise-Marie-Thérèse (above). "Louise" was given in honour of her godfather and great-uncle, the King, and "Marie-Thérèse", in honour of her aunt and godmother, Madame Royale.

As dramatised in Elena Maria Vidal's novel, Madame Royale, Princess Louise-Marie's life was not to be as happy or tranquil as royalists would have hoped. At the age of only five months, she lost her father when he was stabbed to death by a republican assassin as he left the opera one evening with his wife who was, already, two months pregnant as her husband bled to death in front of her. The Duke's death led to a backlash of anti-republican legislation and sentiment in France, with royalism in France losing its liberal base and becoming more and more dominated by conservatives of the far Right. When the old King died in 1824 and Louise-Marie's grandfather inherited the throne as King Charles X, he was determined to preside over a government with a policy of zero tolerance for compromise. Along with colonial expansion in Algeria and government support for the Industrial Revolution, Charles's government also curtailed the freedom of the press, limited the suffrage and promoted the Catholic religion so overzealously to the extent that one wit once quipped that it was a government for priests, by priests. Intent on atoning for the sins of his youth, Charles X apparently could not understand that the whole nation was not content for the government to insist they atone along with him. In 1830, the King was badly advised by those around him and betrayed by members of his own family, when he was swept off the throne in favour of his liberal cousin, Louis-Philippe. 

Louise-Marie, aged eleven, followed her poor grandfather into exile. She then lost her mother when Caroline bravely returned to France, determined to launch a counter-revolution and restore the crown to its rightful incumbent - her son, Henri. Caroline's attempt failed and she was placed under house arrest by Louis-Philippe's government. Locked up and isolated from friends or family, Princess Caroline fell in love with a handsome Italian nobleman, Count Lucchesi-Palli, whom she secretly married and had children with, much to the exiled Royal Family's fury.
Refusing to allow Henri or Louise-Marie to live with a mother they deemed so demonstrably unsuitable, the French Royal Family placed the children in alternative care. The real mother figure in the young Louise-Marie's life was not, therefore, the glamorous and unstable Caroline, but instead Caroline's former sister-in-law, Marie-Thérèse. The only surviving child of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, Aunt Marie-Thérèse had all of her late mother's love for family life and children, and her father's solid and dependable attitudes. From then, until the day she married at the age of twenty-five, Marie-Thérèse was the centre of Louise-Marie's world and she adored her aunt and guardian.

Married in Vienna to Ferdinando-Carlo, Prince of Lucca, Louise-Marie was destined to spend her whole life dodging the revolutions which intermittently rocked Europe and which had first begun in her homeland, thirty years before her birth. In 1848, three years after her marriage, her husband was briefly imprisoned when a wave of continent-wide unrest spread to north Italy. After his release, the Prince and Princess sought refuge with their young family in the United Kingdom, where Louise-Marie had spent much of her adolescence.

A year later, Ferdinando-Carlo and Louise-Marie returned to Parma, with their three young children - Margherita, Roberto and Alicia. Another son, Enrico, followed two years later. Then, tragically, a mere five years after they returned in triumph, Louise-Marie was to experience the same agony her mother had endured, when her beloved husband was stabbed to death by an unknown assailant. He died a day after the attack and Louise-Marie was forced to assume the burden of leading the government in the name of her 6 year-old son, Roberto, who had now succeeded as Duke of Parma.

In 1859, Louise-Marie's time as regent ended, when war and revolution once more entered Parma and she and her children were forced into exile again. They settled in Venice, where, exhausted at the age of forty-four, Louise-Marie, Dowager Duchess of Parma, passed away. Her body was taken to the Kostanjevica Monastery in Slovenia, where she was buried next to the other members of her family who had died in exile in the pretty local Church of the Annunciation of Our Lady. There, the body of the woman who was born at a time that had seemed like the high point of monarchism's triumph in Europe, but whose life had been constantly disrupted and devastated by its traumas, rests to this day.


  1. Thank you for the wonderful post. I am honored to be mentioned in the same breath with Louise d'Artois.

  2. I may have garbled this, but wasn't there a plan, before the birth of Louise's brother, Henri, to have Louise marry the eldest son of Louis-Philippe and Marie-Amélie, the Duc de Chartres, who was expected to become King eventually if the elder line failed? I even recall reading an anecdote about the little Duc de Chartres, hearing celebrations of the birth of Louise and saying something like: "Either my king or my wife has just been born".

  3. Dear Mr Russel,
    I would like to know from where you found this picture of Louise Marie Therese d'Artois as I am offered now exactly the same miniature by an antiquarian.


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