Friday, October 21, 2011
Royal Profile: Princess Elisabeth of France
Princess Elisabeth remained with her brother, King Louis XVI, and was very attentive to him. There was some talk of her being married to the Austrian Emperor Joseph II but nothing came of it. It might have been better for her if she had ultimately, but as things stood at the time the Princess was wise to refuse as the Emperor was of a fairly different mindset from Elisabeth. The Emperor was a very modern-minded man, an “enlightened despot” who favored greater state control over the Church. Elisabeth was a very traditional conservative and a very devout Catholic who put her faith first and above all else. She was considered, along with her brother the Count of Artois (the future King Charles X) to be the most pro-Church and staunchly royalist member of the family. She was also a very strong-willed and determined woman. As a girl those traits had made her a little difficult but, as she grew up, her growing faith turned these into admirable qualities and gave her a great moral strength with firm and uncompromising principles. She turned away from any thought of marriage to devote herself to caring for her brother, the Royal Family, the French people and one would be hard pressed in any event to find a husband worthy of her.
Madame Elisabeth (as she was known) was also an extremely kind and compassionate woman who, rather than the glamorous life of a royal princess or even consort, would have preferred the life of a simple Carmelite nun. She would have taken vows at once but, King Louis XVI said he could not do without her. So, she set an example for charity and piety from the palace at Versailles. She had great love and respect for her eldest brother and even the younger Count of Artois (who was known for his rather wild ways) who she adored and tried to gently pull back to the straight and narrow. She also cared deeply for the poor (and despite popular perceptions she was not alone in that), even starting a dairy to provide free milk to poor children. Yet, she was not some dour, grim, puritanical sort of figure either. Madame Elisabeth enjoyed life, enjoyed art and beautiful things, enjoyed music and loved to dance. Of course, as with others, none of these admirable qualities were enough to save her when the horror of the Revolution descended on France. In fact, the revolutionaries, necessarily, poured out their deepest hatred on the purest and most upright individuals who represented all that was best about the old, glorious, Christian Kingdom of France.
Madame Elisabeth remained with King Louis and Queen Marie Antoinette in their darkest hour. Her status as a leading enemy of the revolution was confirmed when the National Assembly intercepted a letter she sent to the Count of Artois in which she supported foreign monarchs sending troops to rescue the Royal Family, crush the revolution and restore royal authority. Still, even when the mob stormed the Tuileries, Madame Elisabeth bravely confronted them with some in the crowd mistaking her for Marie Antoinette. With the rest of the Royal Family she was taken into custody by the revolutionaries and originally imprisoned with the Queen but the two were later separated. Although she did not know it, Marie Antoinette addressed her last letter to her beloved sister-in-law. Locked away, Madame Elisabeth knew about the execution of her brother the King but was kept in the dark about the murder of the Queen. In her confinement she tried to comfort her niece Marie-Therese, daughter of the late King and Queen, even though she was constantly being insulted and tormented by her captors.