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Marie-Thérèse de Bourbon, Duchess of Angoulême (Marie-Thérèse Charlotte; December 19, 1778 – October 19, 1851), was the eldest child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, 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, who was the eldest son of the future Charles X, her father’s younger brother; thus the bride and groom were also first cousins.

Marie-Thérèse was born at the Palace of Versailles on December 19, 1778, the first child (after eight years of her parents’ marriage), and eldest daughter of King Louis XVI of France and Navarre and Queen Marie Antoinette. As the daughter of the king of France, she was a fille de France, and as the eldest daughter of the king, she was styled Madame Royale at birth.

Marie Antoinette almost died of suffocation during this birth due to a crowded and unventilated room, but the windows were finally opened to let fresh air in the room in an attempt to revive her. As a result of the horrible experience, Louis XVI banned public viewing, allowing only close family members and a handful of trusted courtiers to witness the birth of the next royal children. When she was revived, the queen greeted her daughter (whom she later nicknamed Mousseline) with delight.

Marie-Thérèse was baptized on the day of her birth. She was named after her maternal grandmother, the reigning Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. Her second name, Charlotte, was for her mother’s favourite sister, Maria Carolina of Austria, queen consort of Naples and Sicily, who was known as Charlotte in the family.

Louis XVI was an affectionate father, who delighted in spoiling his daughter, while her mother was stricter.

Marie Antoinette was determined that her daughter should not grow up to be as haughty as her husband’s unmarried aunts. She often invited children of lower rank to come and dine with Marie-Thérèse and, according to some accounts, encouraged the child to give her toys to the poor. In contrast to her image as a materialistic queen who ignored the plight of the poor, Marie Antoinette attempted to teach her daughter about the sufferings of others. One account, written by a partisan source some years after her death, says that on New Year’s Day in 1784, after having some beautiful toys brought to Marie-Thérèse’s apartment, Marie Antoinette told her:

“I should have liked to have given you all these as New Year’s gifts, but the winter is very hard, there is a crowd of unhappy people who have no bread to eat, no clothes to wear, no wood to make a fire. I have given them all my money; I have none left to buy you presents, so there will be none this year.”

Marie-Thérèse was joined by two brothers and a sister, Louis Joseph Xavier François, Dauphin of France, in 1781, Louis-Charles de France, Duke of Normandy, in 1785, and Sophie Hélène Béatrix, Madame Sophie, in 1786. Out of all her siblings, she was closest to Louis Joseph, and after his death, Louis Charles. As a young girl, Marie-Thérèse was noted to be quite attractive, with beautiful blue eyes, inheriting the good looks of her mother and maternal grandmother. She was the only one of her parents’ four children to survive past age.

As Marie-Thérèse matured, the march toward the French Revolution was gaining momentum. Social discontent mixed with a crippling budget deficit provoked an outburst of anti-absolutist sentiment. By 1789, France was hurtling toward revolution as the result of bankruptcy brought on by the country’s support of the American Revolution and high food prices due to drought, all of which was exacerbated by propagandists whose central object of scorn and ridicule was the Queen of France, Marie Antoinette.

As the attacks upon the queen grew ever more vicious, the popularity of the monarchy plummeted. Inside the Court at Versailles, jealousies and xenophobia were the principal causes of resentment and anger toward Marie Antoinette. Her unpopularity with certain powerful members of the Court, including Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, led to the printing and distribution of scurrilous pamphlets which accused her of a range of sexual depravities as well as of spending the country into financial ruin.

While it is now generally agreed that the queen’s actions did little to provoke such animosity, the damage these pamphlets inflicted upon the monarchy proved to be a catalyst for the upheaval to come.

The worsening political situation, however, had little effect on Marie-Thérèse, as more immediate tragedies struck when her younger sister, Sophie, died in 1787, followed two years later by the Dauphin, Louis-Joseph, who died of tuberculosis, on June 4, 1789, one day after the opening of the Estates-General.