The only daughter of Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette, Marie Therese, was not an ordinary woman. Her childhood was too full of violent contrasts for that. In truth, Madame Royale was of a character which has been much criticised and much praised. Even her appearance has been a matter for doubt. Portraits can tell but little of beauty, for beauty often rests in expression and colouring. On the whole, it seems that Madame was really lovely in early life, but afterwards lost her beauty.
She was born in 1778, and at the time of her birth a circumstance occurred which, as we look back at it, seems full of prophetic moment. It was the custom to allow the public into the royal bedchamber, in addition to the high officials of the Court, so that they might see the mother and child. Madame was the first child of the King, and was not born till eight years after the marriage. Consequently interest in the event ran very high, and there was such a rush of the mob into the room that, if the King had not had the tall tapestry screens about the bed securely roped, they would certainly have been thrown down on the Queen. This rude invasion, noisy and alarming, greeted the poor baby's first cry. The custom was never observed again.
The first years of Madame Royale's life passed very tranquilly. Two brothers were born, whom she adored. The queen was always present at the little girl's lessons, and took the liveliest interest in her education. She had her own household, fully equipped with officers, a circumstance which greatly increased a natural hauteur which subsequent events could not crush. When she was seven a lady of high rank commented on the progress she had made in her studies. This daughter of proud France, and prouder Austria, responded, "I am enchanted that you should think so, madame; but I am surprised that you should mention it!"
Nevertheless, she was much beloved, and she was devoted to her beautiful mother and her little brothers; and when the elder of them died she was inconsolable. His death knit the remaining children and their mother in a closer bond than ever.
The Clouds of Revolution
One must try to see this period through the child's eyes if we are to understand her in after years. An atmosphere of uncertainty begins to penetrate into the quiet, sunny, proud life of the royal family. Strange words are heard in the palace;" the mob," that unknown, unpleasant monster, actually enters into the conversation of the king and queen. In the grounds of Versailles strangers sometimes look almost with hatred at the royal children. The little Dauphin is full of questions about it all, but Madame only gets a little prouder. Nevertheless, she keeps her spirits up, as she is to do under far greater hardships than these.
Suddenly, in the middle of one night, there are shouts, people running, a tremendous noise of shooting and sabring in the palace. The two children, half awake, are hurried to a tiny room, where their pale mother embraces them with tears. It is like a nightmare; but daylight brings no relief, for then there is a long, slow procession to Paris, the carriage surrounded by a howling crowd of men and women, more like beasts than humans, singing rude songs, "Now we shall not want bread; we have got the baker, the baker's wife, and the baker's boy! And now and then there is an awful glimpse of two heads raised aloft on pikes.
Is a child of eleven to bear no trace in after life of a scene like this? Either she will be broken or she will the more proudly refuse to bend. Madame was of the latter type. The long-drawn-out misfortunes that followed are too dreary to follow in detail. There is a very short but heart-breaking account of the farewell scene with the king in Carlyle's history of the Revolution. Shortly afterwards, Madame Royale was separated from her mother, then from her brother. In prison she was forced to clean her cell and make her bed, and when she was at last allowed to see old friends, they brought her the awful news of her family's fate.
One of the ladies who visited her has written:" We were amazed at the change that had taken place in her. When we had left her at the Temple, about August 10, she was frail and delicate-looking. Now, after three years of misfortune, mental agony, and captivity, she was handsome, tall, and strong, and bore on her countenance the imprint of that nobility of mind which is her distinguishing feature."
Everyone who saw her praised her. She was proud and reserved, but kindly and considerate; she laughed and talked, with a courage amazing in the circumstances, and bore her sorrows well. A happier time was at hand. Arrangements were made for her release, and in 1798 we find her free, made much of by her Austrian relatives, and on the eve of marriage with the Due d'angou-leme, her cousin. This marriage was arranged by Louis XVIII., her uncle, for reasons of state. With her generous nature and noble spirit, it never struck the girl that her uncle would have any object but her happiness at heart, and when the match was proposed to her she accepted it without conditions.
Madame Royale (Marie Therese), daughter of Marie Antoinet'e, Duchess d'angouleme
After Huet Villiers
She was now twenty, "rosy and fresh as a May morning," full of good impulses and affection, but instinct with dignity, and not a little pride. She came to the meeting with her future husband with joy and hope, but these did not last long. He was a frail, weedy, ill-bred youth, of unsatisfactory health and feeble character . Madame was essentially of a character to require a dominant personality in her husband. Every side of her nature, however, was disa p p o i n t-ed; and from this time it is that her pride becomes moroseness, her temper difficult, and her beauty less. She spent months of utter bore-d om and mi s e r y, almost failing under the strain of keeping up appeaances in public with her husband, until a merciful excuse was found in a foreign mission for him. This relieved them both. France was by no means out of her trouble. Napoleon blazed across the sky of Europe like a comet. Louis XVIII. was forced to fly to England, accompanied by the Due and Duchesse d'angouleme, and live there like a private gentleman. Means were straitened, and the family lived in. great dreariness until the French army perished in Russia, Napoleon was overthrown, and Louis XVIII. was restored to the French throne.
Before they left for France the Prince Regent gave a great reception at Carlton House in their honour. Everyone crowded to gaze at the great princess who had undergone so many sorrows. And we are told that her features "bore an expression of gentle sadness; they seemed to proclaim pardon and oblivion. Everyone was moved."
A sort of fate dogged the duchesse. When she first entered Paris with her uncle she deliberately tried to look scornful, to behave in such a manner that all might see she had forgotten none of her sorrows. Much must be forgiven to the woman coming back to a city where such a childhood had been spent; but yet one feels she should have made an effort to overcome her feelings rather than to foster them. Now, on her second return, although she refrained from any display, she suffered from the zeal of the Royalists, who insisted on public rejoicings at a time when all France was in mourning after Waterloo.
That unhappy country was not to be long at rest. Louis XVIII. was succeeded by Charles X., who became more and more unpopular. He, the duchesse, and the other Bourbons were forced to go into exile once more; and in Austria she lived her last years, reading a little, walking a little, embroidering a little, yawning much through the long days. She and her husband were drawn together more than they ever had been; they became close friends. The only strong feeling this strange woman had left has been described to us by the Comte d'osmond. He was but a child in her household when one day she led him to her private room, and, opening a cupboard in one corner, revealed a shrine, with an altar and candles burning beneath the shirt Louis XVI. had worn when he was martyred, framed in gold and preserved behind glass. "Kneel by me," she said, "and pray for my father." She was then an old woman, who had passed through many ups and downs; but the memory of her childish happiness and the parents she had loved never forsook her. With her death in 1851, at the age of seventy-two, a great era in history closed.