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Princess Marie Adélaïde de Bourbon of France (March 23, 1732 – February 27, 1800).

King Louis XV of France and Navarre

Marie Adélaïde was born on March 23, 1737 in France as the sixth child and fourth daughter of King Louis XV of France and his wife, Marie Leszczyńska. She was named after her paternal grandmother, Marie Adélaïde, Dauphine of France, and was raised at the Palace of Versailles with her older sisters, Madame Louise Elisabeth, Madame Henriette, and Madame Marie Louise, along with her brother Louis, Dauphin of France.

Marie Adélaïde was a fille de France. She was referred to as Madame Quatrième (“Madame the Fourth”) until the death of her older sister Marie Louise in 1733, and then as Madame Troisième (“Madame the Third”); as Madame Adélaïde from 1737 to 1755; as Madame from 1755 to 1759; and then as Madame Adélaïde again from 1759 until her death.

Marie Adélaïde was never married. In the late 1740s, when she had reached the age when princesses were typically married, there were no potential Catholic consorts of desired status available, and she preferred to remain unmarried rather than marry someone below the status of a monarch or an heir to a throne.

Marriage prospects suggested to her were liaisons with the Louis François II, Prince of Conti and Prince Franz Xavier of Saxony, neither of whom had the status of being a monarch or an heir to a throne. In her teens, Marie Adélaïde fell in love with a member of the Lifeguard after having observed him perform his duties; she sent him her snuffbox with the message, “You will treasure this, soon you shall be informed from whose hand it comes.”

The guardsman informed his captain Duc d’Ayen, who in turn informed the king, who recognized the handwriting as his daughter’s, and granted the guard an annual pension of four thousand under the express condition that he should “at once remove to some place far from the Court and remain there for a very long time”.

In 1761, long after she passed the age when 18th-century princesses usually wed, she was reportedly suggested to marry the newly widowed King Carlos III of Spain. However, after she had seen his portrait, she refused, a rejection which was said to be the reason why King Carlos III never remarried.

Marie Adélaïde was described as an intelligent beauty; her appearance an ephemeral, “striking and disturbing beauty of the Bourbon type characterized by elegance”, with “large dark eyes at once passionate and soft”, and her personality as extremely haughty, with a dominant and ambitious character with a strong will, who came to dominate her younger siblings: “Madame Adélaïde had more mind than Madame Victoire; but she was altogether deficient in that kindness which alone creates affection for the great, abrupt manners, a harsh voice, and a short way of speaking, rendering her more than imposing. She carried the idea of the prerogative of rank to a high pitch.

From April 1774, Madame Adélaïde and her sisters attended to their father Louis XV on his deathbed until his death from smallpox on May 10. Despite the fact that the sisters never had the disease and the male members of the royal family, as well as the Dauphine, were kept away because of the high risk of catching the illness, the Mesdames were allowed to attend to him until his death, being female and therefore of no political importance because of the Salic Law even if they died. After the death of Louis XV, he was succeeded by his grandson Louis-Auguste as Louis XVI, who referred to his aunts as Mesdames Tantes.

Their nephew the King allowed the sisters to keep their apartments in the Palace of Versailles, and they kept attending court at special occasions – such as for example at the visit of Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, who reportedly charmed Marie Adélaïde. In 1777, Madame Marie Adélaïde and her sister Sophie were both created the Duchesses of Louvois in their own right by their nephew the King. However, they distanced themselves from court and often preferred to reside in their own Château de Bellevue in Meudon; they also traveled annually to Vichy, always with a retinue of at least three hundred people, and made the waters there fashionable.

Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor

Marie Adélaïde and her sisters did not get along well with Queen Marie Antoinette. When the queen 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 the Mesdames.

They entertained extensively at Bellevue as well as Versailles; their salon was reportedly regularly frequented by minister Maurepas, whom Adélaïde had elevated to power, by the Prince of Condé and the Prince of Conti, both members of the anti-Austrian party, as well as Beaumarchais, who read aloud his satires of Austria and its power figures.

Marie Adélaïde and her sisters Sophie and Victoire were able to escape France during the French Revolution. They arrived in Rome on April 16, 1791, where Pope Pious VI 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 Pope Pope Pius VI 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.

Their dress, and that of their suite, were old-fashioned, but unostentatious. The jewels they brought with them had been sold, one by one, to afford assistance to the poor emigrées who applied to the princesses in their distress. They were highly respected by the Romans; not only by the higher orders, but by the common people, who had a horror of the French revolution, and no great partiality for that nation in general.”

When news came that Louis XVI and his family had left Paris on the Flight to Varennes in June, a misunderstanding first caused the impression that the escape had succeeded; at this news, “the whole of Rome shouted with joy; the crowd massed itself under the windows of the Princesses crying out: Long live the King!”, and the Mesdames arranged a grand banquet for the nobility of Rome in celebration, which had to be interrupted when it was clarified that the escape had in fact failed.

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, and 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, on February 27, 1800 at the age of sixty-seven. Their bodies were returned to France by Louis XVIII at the time of the Bourbon Restoration and buried at the Basilica of Saint-Denis.