Élisabeth Charlotte d’Orléans (September 13, 1676 – December 23, 1744) was a petite-fille de France, and duchess of Lorraine and Bar by marriage to Leopold, Duke of Lorraine. She was regent of Lorraine and Bar during the minority (1729–1730) and absence of her son (1730–1737), and suo jure Princess of Commercy 1737–1744.
Among her children was Franz I, Holy Roman Emperor, a co-founder (and patrilineal agnatic ancestor) of the royal House of Habsburg-Lorraine. She was the Grandmother of Archduchess Marie Antoinette of Austria, wife of King Louis XVI of France and Navarre.
Philippe I, Duke of Orléans
Élisabeth Charlotte d’Orléans was born at the Château de Saint-Cloud outside Paris. She was the daughter of Philippe I, Duke of Orléans, Monsieur, and of his second wife Elizabeth Charlotte of the Palatine, the daughter of Carl I Ludwig, Elector Palatine and his wife Charlotte of Hesse-Cassel *
Her father Philippe I, Duke of Orléans, was the only sibling of King Louis XIV of France and Navarre. As a petite-fille de France, she was entitled to have the style of Her Royal Highness, as well as the right to an armchair in the presence of the King.
At birth, she was given the style Mademoiselle de Chartres, taken from the name of one of her father’s appanages. After the marriage of her two older half-sisters, Marie Louise and Anne Marie, born of the first marriage of their father to Henrietta Anne of England, she was known as Madame Royale, according to her status as the highest-ranking unmarried princess in France.
Elisabeth Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans with her two surviving children, including her daughter Élisabeth Charlotte
As a child, Élisabeth-Charlotte was described by her mother as ‘so terribly wild’ and ‘rough as a boy’. To her father’s displeasure, she shared the frank opinions of her mother.
Her mother wanted her to marry with the same level of prestige as that of her sisters. When her cousin’s wife, the Dauphine, (Maria Anna Christine Victoria of Bavaria 1660 – 1690 was Dauphine of France by marriage to Louis, Grand Dauphin, son and heir of Louis XIV) suggested she should marry the Dauphine’s younger brother Joseph Clemens of Bavaria, Élisabeth Charlotte said, “I am not made, madame, for a younger son.”
As her mother despised the king’s illegitimate children, the chances of such an alliance were remote; however, in 1692, to the ‘horror’ of the Duchess of Orléans, such a mismatch occurred when her eldest son, the Duke of Chartres (future Philippe II, Duke of Orléans) married Françoise Marie de Bourbon, the youngest legitimised daughter of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan.
Élisabeth’s mother initially wanted her daughter to marry King William III of England, who was the widower of Queen Mary II of England, but, due to William being a Protestant, the marriage did not materialise.
Other candidates considered were Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I; Joseph was highly regarded, and, had the marriage taken place, the union would have been a way of reconciling the Bourbons and their traditional rivals, the Habsburgs.
Élisabeth Charlotte d’Orléans, Duchess of Lorraine
Even her widowed first cousin Monseigneur, Louis, the Grand Dauphin, was considered, as were his son, Louis, Duke of Burgundy, and another cousin, the legitimised Louis Auguste, Duke of Maine, eldest son of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. The latter, much to the relief of Madame did not occur as the Duke of Maine married Mademoiselle de Charolais (Louise Bénédicte de Bourbon-Condé) in May 1692.
Élisabeth Charlotte was finally married on October 13, 1698 at the Palace of Fontainebleau to Leopold, Duke of Lorraine, son of Charles V, Duke of Lorraine, and of the Archduchess Eleonora Maria Josefa of Austria the daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III and his wife, Eleanora of Mantua.
Leopold, Duke of Lorraine is the direct male ancestor of all rulers of the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty, including all Emperors of Austria.
The marriage was the result of the Treaty of Ryswick, one of its conditions being that the Duchy of Lorraine, which had been for many years in the possession of France, be restored to Leopold Joseph, a son of Charles V, Duke of Lorraine.
Thus, Élisabeth Charlotte was but an instrument to cement the peace treaty. Her mother later said that her daughter “was a victim of war”.
Duchess of Lorraine
The marriage was seen as a brilliant match by the House of Lorraine but was regarded by some as unworthy of a petite-fille de France. Despite this, the bride carried to the House of Lorraine a dowry of 900,000 livres.
Leopold, Duke of Lorraine
The jealousy of some members of the royal family prompted certain princesses to use as pretext the death of Louis Constantin de Bourbon, prince de Dombes (17 November 1695 – 28 September 1698), son of Louis Auguste, Duke of Maine, to attend the marriage ceremonies by proxy or in mourning clothes.
To everyone’s surprise, what had been expected to be an unhappy union turned out to be a marriage of love and happiness at first. Élisabeth Charlotte turned out to be a caring mother and gave birth to fifteen children, of whom five survived into adulthood. Three of them died within a week in May 1711 due to a smallpox outbreak at the Château de Lunéville, the country seat of the dukes of Lorraine.
In 1708, after ten years of marriage her husband turned his attentions to another, Anne-Marguerite de Ligniville, princesse de Beauveau-Craon. Embarrassed, Élisabeth Charlotte, on her mother’s advice, remained silent and continued to live in the Château de Lunéville with her husband and his mistress.
During this time, Élisabeth Charlotte was herself ill, suffering from serious coughing, fainting, and fever. Lunéville remained the favourite of Duke Leopold Joseph until his death in 1729. Yet the couple had five more children, one of whom, François of Lorraine, would become Holy Roman Emperor, Franz I, and the father of Queen Marie Antoinette.
Élisabeth Charlotte was religiously intolerant and supported the persecution of non-Catholics. She persuaded her husband to issue many oppressive laws against Protestants and Jews. During this time over 280 religious dissenters burned at the stake in persecutions.
In June 1701, her father died after having a heated argument with Louis XIV at Versailles about the Duke of Chartres. Her brother thus became the new Philippe II, Duke of Orléans and head of the House of of the House of Orléans.
Her mother was left at the mercy of Louis XIV, who forbade her from visiting foreign soil. As a result, Élisabeth Charlotte was only able to see her mother when she went to Versailles. Despite this, Élisabeth Charlotte and her mother kept in contact through letters. Their correspondence was destroyed in a fire at the Château de Lunéville in 1719.
Franz I, Holy Roman Emperor, son of Élisabeth Charlotte d’Orléans and father of Archduchess Marie Antoinette of Austria, wife of King Louis XVI of France and Navarre.
On the death of Louis XIV in 1715, her brother became the Regent of France for the five-year-old King Louis XV. In 1718, during a brief visit to the French court in Paris, her niece, the Dowager Duchess of Berry, gave a lavish reception in her honour at the Palais du Luxembourg.
Upon leaving France, her husband, Leopold, Duke of Lorraine, was accorded the style of His Royal Highness, usually reserved for members of foreign dynasties headed by a king.
Louis XV’s coronation at Reims Cathedral on 25 October 25, 1722 was the only occasion on which Élisabeth Charlotte’s youngest child, Anne Charlotte, would see her grandmother, who died a few weeks later on December 8; Élisabeth Charlotte’s brother died the following December, still ruling France as regent.
Regent of Lorraine
Her husband died in 1729, leaving his wife Regent of Lorraine for their son, Duke François Stephen. He interrupted his education in Vienna to return home in 1730 for the investiture of his mother as regent, then returned to Austria.
Élisabeth Charlotte tried to engage her daughter Anne Charlotte to King Louis XV; this project failed due to the intrigues of Louis Henri, Duke of Bourbon; Élisabeth Charlotte then tried to arrange the marriage of Anne Charlotte to her nephew Louis, Duke of Orléans, who had been recently widowed, but the devout duke chose not to remarry.
Princess of Commercy
Unable to prevent her son from giving up the duchy of Lorraine to Stanisław Leszczyński when he married the Habsburg heiress, Maria Theresa of Austria, Élisabeth Charlotte moved into the Château d’Haroué in nearby Commercy, which was erected into a sovereign principality for her to reign over during her dowager years.
In 1737, her daughter, Élisabeth Thérèse d’Orléans married Carlo Emmanuel III of Sardinia. Elisabetta Teresa, as she was known in Italy, died in childbirth in 1741 after giving birth to Élisabeth Charlotte’s grandson, Benedetto, Duke of Chablais.
On January 7, 1744 her youngest son, Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine, made a “marriage of love” with Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria, who died in childbirth on December 16, 1744.
Élisabeth Charlotte died of a stroke at the age of sixty-eight on December 23, 1744, one week after her daughter-in-law and grandchild. She was the last of her siblings to die and had outlived most of her children. Nine months after her death, her son François Stephen became Holy Roman Emperor Franz I.
She was buried in the funerary chapel of the Dukes of Lorraine in the Saint-François-des-Cordeliers church in Nancy.
* Carl I Ludwig, Elector Palatine, grandfather of Élisabeth Charlotte d’Orléans (and the subject of this blog post) was the elder brother of Sophia of the Palatine, Electress of Hanover the mother of King George I of Great Britain. Carl I Ludwig’s mother was Princess Elizabeth (Stuart) of England the daughter of King James I-VI of England Scotland and England. This also means that Princess Elizabeth (Stuart) of England was the aunt of Henrietta Anne of England the first wife of Élisabeth Charlotte d’Orléans father, Philippe I Duke of Orléans!