Tragedy and Courage: Marie Antoinette’s Daughter, the Duchess of Angoulême

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Tragedy and Courage: Marie Antoinette’s Daughter, the Duchess of Angoulême
The Duchess of Angoulême was, said Napoleon, “the only man in her family.” She is not nearly as well-known as she deserves to be, but the exhibition on her, which you can see at the Chapelle Expiatoire in the 8th arrondissement until September 17th, does much to put that right. The Napoleonic label, prominently displayed on the exhibition’s publicity material, underlines what a redoubtable woman she was, despite a childhood made tragic by family loss and the turbulence of the French Revolution. Knowing the key facts – the death of her siblings and both her parents, her solitary imprisonment as a young teenager and her two long periods of exile from France – makes her fighting spirit all the more admirable. Marie-Thérèse Charlotte de France was the first-born child of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, much welcomed eight long years into their marriage, yet also a disappointment to some because she was a girl. Her mother recognized this immediately, saying “Poor little one, you are not desired, but you will be none the less dear to me!” Marie-Antoinette did not know then that although this baby would eventually have three siblings, she would be the only one to survive into adulthood. When Marie-Thérèse was eight, her baby sister Sophie died and two years later tuberculosis killed her seven-year-old brother Louis-Joseph, the heir to his father’s throne. Her second brother, Louis Charles, did not survive the family’s imprisonment during the French Revolution. Portrait of Marie-Thérèse as a child. Anonymous Marie-Thérèse’s childhood was blighted by the terrifying events leading up to the Revolution. She was at Versailles when it was mobbed and the family was obliged to return to Paris and live under guard at the Tuileries Palace. She was taken on the escape attempt which ended with the royal family’s recapture at Varennes and then, in August 1792, she was imprisoned with her parents and brother in the Temple. The following January, she had to say goodbye to her father on the eve of his execution, then when her mother was transferred for trial at the Conciergerie, she was separated from her brother and left under guard and entirely alone – aged only 15 – for over a year. Marie-Thérèse was not told when her mother and brother died. The terror and loneliness of her solitary confinement is captured in these heart-rending words, found scratched on the wall of her room in the Temple: “Marie-Thérèse Charlotte is the most unhappy person in the world. She can obtain no news of her mother; nor be reunited with her, though she has asked it a thousand times. Live, my good mother! whom I love well, but of whom I can hear no tidings. O my father! Watch over me from Heaven above.” Portrait of Marie-Thérèse by Christian de Michel

Lead photo credit : Portrait of Marie-Thérèse by Alexandre Francois Caminade

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Recently retired from teaching Modern Languages (French and German), Marian now has time to develop her interests in travel and European culture and history. She will be in Paris as often as she can, visiting places old and new, finding out their stories and writing it all up as soon as she gets home. Marian also runs the weekly podcast series, City Breaks, offering in-depth coverage of popular city break destinations, with lots of background history and cultural information. She has covered Paris in 22 episodes but looks forward to updating the series every now and then with some Paris Extra episodes.


    2023-09-07 09:54:43
    If there is an exhibition brochure or program for the Marie-Therese exhibition, I would love to buy one. Is there such a thing?


    • Marian Jones
      2023-10-21 06:10:22
      Marian Jones
      I have a small format 40 page booklet, in French, which tells the basic story and has lots of pictures of things which were in the exhibition. A digital copy is currently available to download from the address below. Hope that's helpful, Dana.