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Move to the Tuileries

When the Bastille was stormed by an armed mob on 14 July 1789, the situation reached a climax. The life of the 10-year-old Madame Royale began to be affected as several members of the royal household were sent abroad for their own safety. The comte d’Artois, her uncle, and the duchesse de Polignac, governess to the royal children, emigrated on the orders of Louis XVI.

The Duchesse de Polignac was replaced by Princess Louise-Elisabeth de Croÿ, Marquise de Tourzel, whose daughter Pauline became a lifelong friend of Marie-Thérèse.

On 5 October, a mixed cortège of mainly working women from Paris marched to Versailles, intent on acquiring food believed to be stored there, and to advance political demands. After the invasion of the palace in the early hours of 6 October had forced the family to take refuge in the king’s apartment, the crowd demanded and obtained the move of the king and his family to the Tuileries Palace in Paris.

As the political situation deteriorated, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette realized that their lives were in danger, and went along with the plan of escape organised with the help of Count Axel von Fersen. The plan was for the royal family to flee to the northeastern fortress of Montmédy, a royalist stronghold, but the attempted flight was intercepted in Varennes, and the family escorted back to Paris.

On August 10, 1792, after the royal family had taken refuge in the Legislative Assembly, Louis XVI was deposed, although the monarchy was not abolished until September 21. On August 13, the entire family was imprisoned in the Temple Tower, remains of a former medieval fortress. On January 21, 1793, Louis XVI was executed on the guillotine, at which time Marie-Thérèse’s young brother Louis Charles was recognized as King Louis XVII of France by the royalists.

Almost six months later, in the evening of July 3, 1793, guards entered the royal family’s apartment, forcibly took away the eight-year-old Louis Charles, and entrusted him to the care of Antoine Simon, a cobbler and Temple commissioner.

Remaining in their apartment in the Tower were Marie Antoinette, Marie-Thérèse and Madame Élisabeth, Louis XVI’s youngest sister. When Marie Antoinette was taken to the Conciergerie one month later, in the night of August 2, Marie-Thérèse was left in the care of her aunt Élisabeth who, in turn, was taken away on May 9, 1794 and executed the following day. Of the royal prisoners in the Temple, Marie-Thérèse Charlotte was the only one to survive the Reign of Terror.

Her stay in the Temple Tower was one of solitude and often great boredom. The two books she had, the famous prayer book by the name of The Imitation of Christ and Voyages by La Harpe, were read over and over, so much so that she grew tired of them. But her appeal for more books was denied by government officials, and many other requests were frequently refused, while she often had to endure listening to her brother’s cries and screams whenever he was beaten.

On 11 May 1794, Robespierre visited Marie-Thérèse, but there is no record of the conversation. During her imprisonment, Marie-Thérèse was never told what had happened to her family. All she knew was that her father was dead. The following words were scratched on the wall of her room in the tower:

“Marie-Thérèse Charlotte is the most unhappy person in the world. She can obtain no news of her mother; nor be reunited to her, though she has asked it a thousand times. Live, my good mother! whom I love well, but of whom I can hear no tidings. O my father! watch over me from Heaven above. O my God! forgive those who have made my parents suffer.”

In late August 1795, Marie-Thérèse was finally told what had happened to her family, by Madame Renée de Chanterenne, her female companion. When she had been informed of each of their fates, the distraught Marie-Thérèse began to cry, letting out loud sobs of anguish and grief.

It was only once the Terror was over that Marie-Thérèse was allowed to leave France. She was liberated on December 18, 1795, on the eve of her seventeenth birthday, exchanged for prominent French prisoners (Pierre Riel de Beurnonville, Jean-Baptiste Drouet, Hugues-Bernard Maret, Armand-Gaston Camus, Nicolas Marie Quinette and Charles-Louis Huguet de Sémonville) and taken to Vienna, the capital city of her cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor Franz II, and also her mother’s birthplace.