Who hasn’t heard of Marie-Antoinette? Even those who don’t know who she was know her name. But does anyone know the story of Marie-Antoinette’s daughters?
The children of Marie-Antoinette have fascinated me since I was a child. Yes, we all know what happened to Mary-Antoinette herself, but what happened to her children? The history books available contained no information, other than acknowledging these children’s existence.
Marie-Antoinette had four children, two of whom were daughters: Marie-Thérèse, her eldest child, and Sophie. Only one would live to adulthood.
Her firstborn, Marie-Thérèse, was born in December. Most of the court was disappointed; not a future king, but a girl. But Marie-Antoinette was happy. She looked at her newborn daughter and said: “Poor little one, you are not desired, but you will be none the less dear to me! A son would have belonged to the state—you will belong to me.”
Marie-Antoinette had a second child several years later—a boy, Louis Joseph, heir to the throne. Her second son, Louis Charles, was born in 1785. Marie-Antoinette then gave birth to her final child, Sophie, a second daughter.
What did Marie-Thérèse, then seven years old, think of the new baby? Was she jealous? Or was she delighted with her baby sister?
Eleven months and ten days later, Sophie died. Her death was likely the result of tuberculosis; she suffered from convulsions for nearly a week before she died.
Marie-Thérèse must have been devastated. The royal family was down one daughter; only the eldest remained.
Two years after Sophie passed away, Louis Joseph joined her in death. He was seven-years-old at the time, the closest in age to Marie-Thérèse. Four-year-old Louis Charles was now heir to the throne.
Mere months after Marie-Thérèse lost her brother, the palace of Versailles was stormed by an crowd of angry working women, who’d spent the last months struggling to get enough for their families to eat. The royal family was forced to take shelter in the king’s apartments. The crowd demanded the king and his family be removed from Versailles, to Tuileries Palace in Paris.
Together, both Marie-Antoinette and the king planned to escape France, and the Revolution. On June 21, 1791, both Marie-Thérèse and Louis Charles were disguised as middle class girls, and their mother as a middle class women. The royal family got into a six horsed carriage, and the escape began.
On June 22, one day later, the king and his family were recaptured. They were brought back to Paris and placed under house arrest.
In 1793, the king was executed. One evening in July, guards marched in the royal families apartment, and tore eight-year-old Louis Charles away from his mother and sister.
Marie-Antoinette was taken away a month later. Her daughter never saw her again, and for a two long years, had no clue whether her mother was alive or dead.
Marie-Thérèse was finally released in 1795, the day before her seventeenth birthday, and taken to Austria, her mother’s birth country.
The ruler of Austria, Marie-Thérèse’s uncle, had worked hard to get the royal family released. By the time he succeeded, only Marie-Thérèse was left. Louis Charles had died several months before.
Marie-Thérèse married Louis-Antoine in 1799. The two had no children; they rarely, if ever, slept together. Perhaps after the events of her own childhood, Marie-Thérèse was unwilling to risk children of her own.
In the following years, Marie-Thérèse attempted to return to France, but was forced, after a brave resistance, to leave by Napoleon. Surprisingly, Napoleon paid Marie-Thérèse what could be described as a compliment, saying she was the ‘only man in her family’.
On October 19, 1851, Marie-Thérèse died, the eldest daughter, and only surviving child of Marie-Antoinette. Hopefully her death reunited with her sister, Sophie and her brothers.