A Postal Courtship
In 1816, the proposal of her marriage to the Due de Berri was mooted. She was pleased with the idea, though they had never met. The wooing was conducted by post and portrait. It was her portrait that charmed the Due. Her beauty came unmistakably from her mother, who had been an Archduchess of Austria. From her she inherited her fine blue eyes, long and beautifully oval face, and characteristic Habsburg lips. Her complexion also had no touch of the South ; it was as fair as her hair was golden. In figure she was slight and graceful.
On her return to the city of her birth, where the marriage was to take place by proxy, all was smiling. The sea voyage was accomplished in calm, sunny weather the people crowded the streets to see her and the city presented her with an imposing diamond crown. She spent a month in Naples, visiting scenes connected with her early childhood, and passing much time in the lovely woods and beautiful gardens that surrounded the stately palaces of Caserta and Portici. The marriage was celebrated on April 24 with the greatest pomp and circumstance, and in the evening the bay was flooded with the light of the city's illuminations.
It had been intended that she should leave at once for France, but one evening she lingered in the gardens at Caserta to watch the fountains playing, and caught a violent chill. She became feverish and ill, and thus the departure was delayed till May 14. Again she was delayed by quarantine at Marseilles, when everything was done to render less tedious this sanitary if somewhat unloverly precaution. The good people of Marseilles gave her of their best. Every evening the town was illuminated, and by day there was a continuous round of aquatic gaieties, in which she took part in a lavishly decorated barge.
Even quarantine comes to an end, and then Marseilles gave free rein to its natural merry-heartedness. She arrived in a cunningly carved and richly gilded boat lined with white satin, with velvet cushions, and flying the Bourbon standard of the fleurs-de-lis, and was greeted with peal after peal from the steeples of the city and the lusty cheers of the Marseillais. In the evening she was entertained to a great banquet. The table was covered with green velvet fringed with gold, and over it hung the flags of the two
Sicilies and the white banner of France. As Toulon was jealous of Marseilles, Caroline had to make another State entry there.
Meanwhile, she had yet to see her husband, whose letters certainly were all that a girl might desire from her lover. He burned to see her, and was afraid she might think he was too old, at thirty-eight. It was with a certain amount of natural trepidation that the young Princess, brought up in the happy freedom and simplicity of Sicily, gradually drew near to Fontainebleau, where, in the magnificent forest, she was to meet for the first time her husband and the Royal Family.
The meeting must have been brilliantly picturesque, and no doubt very painful to a shy young girl, for it was arranged to take place in view of the whole Court. At the
Cross of St. Herem, in the middle of the forest, two elaborately decorated tents had been put up. Under the shade of the trees was the King's bodyguard, and around was ranged the entire Court of Louis XVIII.
- and as many a lover has vowed before that not one of her portraits did justice to her beauty.
The Due was the younger son of
Charles X., who succeeded Louis XVIII.
He possessed some intelligence, and made an excellent husband.
They were thoroughly devoted to each other, and their time in the
Elysee was free from the burden and barriers of etiquette. The
Due often played to her, for she was particularly fond of music, and all her life she treasured the silver horn with which he used to entertain her during these happy days. Every morning they breakfasted together, in the garden if the weather permitted, at an early hour, for the Due did not approve of late rising. The evenings were spent at balls and banquets, at theatre or Opera, all of which the Duchesse thoroughly enjoyed. She was young, a little rebellious, petulant, and playful. Her manners made her the beloved idol of society. She enjoved amusing people, and was not ashamed of admitting that she, too, liked to be entertained. She was charitable, and very soft-hearted, as the following incident will show. A great fete was about to be held in the palace, one very cold night. "What icy weather ! " exclaimed the Duchesse. " Poor people may be dying of cold and hunger to-night, while we are taking our delights. That spoils my pleasure." And she ordered a thousand francs to be expended in wood for the poor families around. The 'duchesse de Berri was indeed all that imagination demands of a youthful princess.
The Duchesse de Berri, the beautiful daughter of the eldest son of the King of the Sicilies.
The story of her adventure-filled life reads like a chapter from a romance of olden days
After the painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence, P.r.a.
The position of the Due from a political point of view was never very secure, and, as time grew on, the feeling against him grew. Anonymous letters breathing menaces of assassination became frequent. Several of them contained poison. The Due himself was despondent and depressed. The end came with every circum-stance of horror. The Duchesse, feeling tired at the Opera, desired to leave before the end, and had just been escorted to her carriage by her husband. He turned his back to return to the theatre, when a man rushed from the crowd and stabbed him in the breast. " I am assassinated!" he cried. The Duchesse leapt from the carriage, rushed forward, and caught him in her arms. There was no doubt that the assassin had struck deep - the hatred of the fanatic had given him strength to strike a Bourbon. A priest was called for. The Duke was removed to a room in the theatre, and stranger deathbed no prince has had. It was gay with green hangings ; on the walls were some theatre bills around the busts of favourite actors. On the floor lay a confusion of blood-stained linen and torn garments. The Duchesse had torn off her sash to fasten the bandages, and she and the lady-in-waiting - in full evening dress, with roses in their hair - bent over the dying man, whose life-blood stained their frocks. And, as the priest knelt to administer the last rites of religion, from the stage was heard the music of the opera accompanying his prayers. The news of the outrage had not got inside the theatre.
Society was, of course, stricken with horror. Louis XVIII. was overwhelmed with grief, and the widow asked for permission to retire to Sicily, as France would be a bitter home without her husband. She eventually left the Elysee for St. Cloud, and very soon after her son was born, at the Tuileries.
Her children and her natural elasticity of temperament prevented her from falling into a morbid state of grief for her husband, and she soon again took the leading part at Court.
Then came the thunderclap of the Revolution, and the flight to England and a stay at Holyrood Palace. There the Duchesse became steeped in the romantic stories of Flora Macdonald and Alice Lee, and, fired by the spirit of high adventure, she conceived the romantic, and, it has to be admitted, preposterous, plan of capturing France for her son. All the plotting and intriguing which preceded her attempt showed that for such an enterprise she was unsuited by the obstinacy and recklessness of her temperament. Her plans, such as they were, she made in Italy. She left Massa, and landed at Marseilles in the middle of the night. The movement was a complete fiasco. She took refuge in a gamekeeper's house, and refused to believe that all her fine dreams were doomed to disappointment. She went to La Vendee quite confident that she could rouse the people to fight her battles. Disguised in man's clothes, as a peasant, she carried her torch throughout the country-side, staying at a chateau one night, haranguing peasants in a stable the next. She proclaimed her son Henri V. and herself Regent, but she failed utterly to arouse the people, and only brought death to the few devoted adherents who followed her fortunes with blind eyes.
Eventually she had to make plans for her departure from the country. Nine days before the date fixed for her sailing, she was dining with friends when the cry arose: " Escape, Madame ! " In the moonlight the glint of steel had been observed from the windows. But the alarm came too late ; direct escape was impossible. She and some of her party hid behind the fireplace, screened by a panel of cast iron. The soldiers entered with fixed bayonets, and tramped searching all over the house. They found nothing, but as a safeguard they left behind them on guard two gendarmes. As Fate would have it, the gendarmes felt cold, and lit the fire. The Duchesse stood the growing heat to the last, but finally was forced to come out and surrender as her dress had caught fire. She was imprisoned at Blaye from November, 1832, to June, 1833.
A great commotion was caused by the news that she was to have another child, and the Duchesse announced that shortly before her bid for the French throne she had secretly married an Italian nobleman, Count Lucchesi. Many refused to believe in the marriage, and, indeed, it is only recently that the discovery of some letters has given the marriage historical proof.
This second union was as happy as the first, but its end was not so tragic. She was restricted in her intercourse with her children by her first marriage, a precaution dictated by the political daring of her thoughts, so she devoted herself to her second husband and the children she bore him. She died in Brussels, in 1870, of paralysis of the brain.