As mentioned in Part I, at the beginning of his reign, Louis XVI had such immense confidence in his aunt, Madame Adélaïde that he allowed her to take an active role in state affairs. Louis XVI thought she was intelligent enough to make her his political adviser and allowed her to make appointments to the Treasury and to draw on its funds. She was supported by her followers, the duke of Orléans, the duke de Richelieu, the duke d Aigmllon, the Duchess de Noailles and Madame de Marsan; however, her political activity was opposed to such a degree within the court that the king soon saw himself obliged to exclude her from state affairs.
Madame Adélaïde and her sisters did not get along well with Queen Marie-Antoinette. When Marie-Antoinette introduced the new custom of informal evening family suppers, as well as other habits which undermined the formal court etiquette, it resulted in an exodus of the old court nobility in opposition to the queen’s reforms, which gathered in the salon of Madame Adélaïde and her sisters.
They entertained extensively at Bellevue as well as Versailles; their salon was reportedly regularly frequented by minister Maurepas, whom Madame Adélaïde had elevated to power, by Louis Joseph, Prince of Condé and Louis François II, Prince of Conti, both members of the Anti-Austrian party against Queen Marie Antoinette. The Austrian Ambassador Mercy reported that their salon was a center of intrigues against Marie Antoinette, where the Mesdames tolerated poems satirizing the queen. When Marie Antoinette, referring to the rising opposition of the monarchy, remarked to Adelaide of the behavior of the “shocking French people”, Adelaide replied “I think you mean shocked”, insinuating that Marie Antoinette’s behavior was shocking.
Revolution and later life
Madame Adélaïde and her sister, Madame Victoire, were present at Versailles during the Parisian women’s march to Versailles on October 6, 1789, during the early days of the French Revolution. Madame Adélaïde and her sister were also when those gathered in the king’s apartment the night on the attack on Marie Antoinette’s bedroom. They participated in the wagon train leaving the Palace of Versailles for Paris; however, their carriage separated from the rest of the procession on the way before they reached Paris, and they never took up residence at the Tuileries with the rest of the royal family, but preferred to retire to the Château de Bellevue
Madame Adélaïde and Madame Victoire remained in France until February 1791 when Revolutionary laws against the Catholic Church caused them to apply for passports from their nephew the king to travel on pilgrimage to the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome, and Louis XVI signed their passports and notified the Cardinal de Bernis, the French Ambassador to Rome, of their arrival.
They arrived in Rome on April 16, 1791, where Pope Pius VI (1775 – 1799) gave them an official welcome with ringing of bells, and where they stayed for about five years. In Rome, the sisters were given the protection of the Pope and housed in the palace of Cardinal de Bernis. In the Friday receptions of Cardinal de Bernis, Cornelia Knight described them: “Madame Adélaïde still retained traces of that beauty which had distinguished her in her youth, and there was great vivacity in her manner, and in the expression of her countenance. Madame Victoire had also an agreeable face, much good sense, and great sweetness of temper.
Upon the invasion of Italy by Revolutionary France in 1796, Adélaïde and Victoire left Rome for Naples, where Marie Antoinette’s sister, Maria Carolina, was queen, wife of Ferdinand IV-III of the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily (later King of the Two-Sicilies). The sisters settled at the Neapolitan royal court in the Palace of Caserta. Queen Maria Carolina found their presence in Naples difficult: “I have the awful torment of harboring the two old Princesses of France with eighty persons in their retinue and every conceivable impertinence… The same ceremonies are observed in the interior of their apartments here as were formerly at Versailles.”
When Naples was invaded by France in 1799, they left in a Russian frigate for Corfu, and finally settled in Trieste, where Victoire died of breast cancer. Adélaïde died one year later. Their bodies were returned to France by Louis XVIII at the time of the Bourbon Restoration in 1815 and buried at the Basilica of Saint-Denis.