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Élisabeth of France Part II

HRH Madame Élisabeth de Bourbon, Princess of France and Navarre

Madame Élisabeth did not play any royal role prior to the revolution; she viewed the royal court as decadent and a threat to her moral welfare, and acted to distance herself from it, and she attended court only when her presence was absolutely necessary or when she was explicitly asked by the King Louis XVI or Queen Marie-Antoinette.

When Madame Élisabeth left the royal children’s chamber and formed her own household as an adult; as a devout Catholic, she reportedly resolved to protect herself from the potential moral threats from court life by continuing to follow the principles set by her governesses and tutors during her childhood: to devote her days to a schedule of religious devotion, study, riding and walks, and to socialize only with “the ladies who have educated me and who are attached to me […] my good aunts, the Ladies of St. Cyr, the Carmelites of St. Denis.”

Élisabeth and her brother Charles-Philippe, Comte d’Artois, (future King Charles X France and Navarre) were the staunchest conservatives in the royal family. However, unlike her brother, the Comte d’Artois, who, on the order of his brother, King Louis XVI, left France on July 17, 1789, three days after the storming of the Bastille. Élisabeth refused to emigrate when the gravity of the events set in motion by the French Revolution became clear.

Charles-Philippe, Comte d’Artois, (future King Charles X France and Navarre)

On October 5, 1789, Élisabeth saw the Women’s March on Versailles from Montreuil, and immediately returned to the Palace of Versailles. The Women’s March on Versailles, also known as the October March, was one of the earliest and most significant events of the French Revolution. The march began among women in the marketplaces of Paris who, on the morning of October 5, 1789, were near rioting over the high price and scarcity of bread. Their demonstrations quickly became intertwined with the activities of revolutionaries, who were seeking liberal political reforms and a constitutional monarchy for France.

The market women and their various allies grew into a mob of thousands. Encouraged by revolutionary agitators, they ransacked the city armory for weapons and marched to the Palace of Versailles. The crowd besieged the palace, and in a dramatic and violent confrontation, they successfully pressed their demands upon King Louis XVI. The next day, the crowd compelled the king, his family, and most of the French Assembly to return with them to Paris.

After the March, Élisabeth advised the king to carry out “a vigorous and speedy repression of the riot” rather than to negotiate, and that the royal family should relocate to some town further from Paris, so as to be free from any influence of factions. Her advice was countered by Necker, and she retired to the queen’s apartments. She was not disturbed when the mob stormed the palace to assassinate the queen, but awoke and called to the king, who was worried about her. When the mob demanded that the king return with them to Paris, and Lafayette advised him to consent, Élisabeth unsuccessfully advised the king differently:

Sire, it is not to Paris you should go. You still have devoted battalions, faithful guards, who will protect your retreat, but I implore you, my brother, do not go to Paris.

Élisabeth accompanied the royal family to Paris, where she chose to live with them in the Tuileries Palace rather than with her aunts mesdames Adélaïde and Victoire, in the château de Bellevue. The day after their arrival, Madame de Tourzel stated that the royal family was woken by large crowds outside, and that every member of the family, “even the Princesses”, was obliged to show themselves to the public wearing the national cockade.

In the Tuileries, Élisabeth was housed in the Pavillon de Flore. Initially on the first floor beside the queen, she swapped with the Princesse de Lamballe to the second floor in the Pavillon de Flore after some fish market women had climbed into her apartment through the windows.

Élisabeth was described as calm in the assembly, where she witnessed, later on in the day, her brother’s dethronement. She followed the family from there to the Feuillants, where she occupied the 4th room with her nephew, Tourzel and Lamballe. During the night, there were reportedly some women outside on the street who cried for the heads of the king, queen and Élisabeth, upon which the king took offence and asked “What have they done to them?” referencing to the threats against his spouse and sister. Élisabeth reportedly spent the night awake in prayer.

Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, Madame Royale, Princess of France and Navarre

After the execution of the former king Louis XVI on January 21, 1793 and the separation of her nephew, the young “Louis XVII”, from the rest of the family on July 3, Élisabeth was left with Marie-Antoinette, and Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, Madame Royale, in their apartment in the Tower.

Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte of France (December 19, 1778 – October 19, 1851), Madame Royale, was the eldest child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and thus the niece of Madame Élisabeth, and the only one to reach adulthood (her siblings all dying before the age of 11). She was married to Louis-Antoine, Duke of Angoulême (August 6, 1775 – June 3, 1844), who was the eldest son of Charles-Philippe, Comte d’Artois (the future Charles X); thus Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte and Louis-Antoine (theoretically Louis XIX) were also first cousins.

Louis-Antoine, Duke of Angoulême

The former queen Marie-Antoinette was taken to the Conciergerie on August 2, 1793. When her sister-in-law was removed, both Élisabeth and her niece unsuccessfully requested to follow her; initially, however, they kept in contact with Marie Antoinette through the servant Hüe, who was acquainted with Mme Richard in the Conciergerie.

Marie-Antoinette was executed on October 16. Her last letter, written in the early hours of the day of her execution, was addressed to Élisabeth, but never reached her. During the trial against Marie-Antoinette, accusations of molestation of her son were brought against her, accusations which her son seemed to confirm when he was questioned, and which were directed also against Élisabeth, and Marie-Antoinette alluded to them in her letter, in which she asked Élisabeth to forgive her son: “I must speak to you of something very painful to my heart. I know how much this child must have hurt you. Forgive him, my dear sister. Think of his age and of how easy it is to make a child say what one wants and what he does not even understand.”

Élisabeth and Marie-Thérèse were kept in ignorance of Marie-Antoinette’s death. On September 21, they were deprived of their privilege to have servants, which resulted in the removal of Tison and Turgy and thereby also of their ability to communicate with the outside world through secret letters. Élisabeth focused on her niece, comforting her with religious statements of martyrdom, and also unsuccessfully protested against the treatment of her nephew.


HRH Madame Élisabeth de Bourbon, Princess of France and Navarre

Élisabeth was not regarded as dangerous by Maximilien de Robespierre, (1758-1794) a French lawyer and a lead member of the Constituent Assembly, who stated that the original intention was banishing her from France. In the order of August 1, 1793, which stated for the removal and trial of Marie-Antoinette, it was in fact stated that Élisabeth should not be tried, but exiled: “All the members of the Capet family shall be exiled from the territory of the Republic, with the exception of Louis Capet’s children, and the members of the family who are under the jurisdiction of the Law. Élisabeth Capet cannot be exiled until after the trial of Marie-Antoinette.”

However, there was a different viewpoint. Pierre Gaspard Chaumette (1763-1794)a French politician who served as the President of the Paris Commune and played a leading role in the establishment of the Reign of Terror and called her the “despicable sister of Capet,” desired her execution. Chaumette and his radical positions resulted in his alienation from Maximilien Robespierre, and he was arrested on charges of being a counterrevolutionary and executed.

On May 9, 1794, Élisabeth, referred to only as “sister of Louis Capet”, was transferred to the Conciergerie by a delegation of commissaries acting upon the orders of Fouquier-Tinville. Élisabeth embraced Marie-Therese and assured her that she would return. When Commissary Eudes stated that she would not return, she told Marie-Therese to show courage and trust in God. Two hours later she was brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal in the Conciergerie and subjected to her first interrogation before judge Gabriel Delidge in the presence of Fouquier-Tinville.

She was accused of having participated in the secret councils of Marie-Antoinette; of having entertained correspondence with internal and external enemies, among them her exiled brothers, and conspired with them against the safety and liberty of the French people; of supplying émigrés with funds financing their war against France by selling her diamonds through agents in Holland; of having known and assisted in the king’s Flight to Varennes; of encouraging the resistance of the royal troops during the events of August 10, 1792 to arrange a massacre on the people storming the palace.

The Jury declared Élisabeth and all of her 24 co-accused guilty as charged, after which the Tribunal, “according to the fourth Article of the second part of the Penal Code”, condemned them to death and to be guillotined the following day.