Louise Marie Thérèse d’Artois: Mademoiselle of France
Louise Marie Thérèse d’Artois lived a life marked by murder, revolution and exile. Born a French princess of the Bourbon line, Louise spent the majority of her years separated from France. When she finally obtained, through marriage, a kingdom in the form of the Duchy of Parma, it was torn from her by war.
The little girl twirling across the grass at the Palace of Saint-Cloud in Napoleon in America, Louise Marie Thérèse d’Artois, was born on September 21, 1819 at the Élysée Palace in Paris. She was the oldest living child of Charles Ferdinand, Duke of Berry, and Maria Carolina, daughter of the King of the Two Sicilies. Two older siblings had died shortly after birth. Her great-uncle, Louis XVIII (after whom she was named), was king of France and her grandfather, the Count of Artois, was heir to the French throne. Had Louise been a boy, she would have been in line for the crown herself.
To get around the Salic Law – which barred female succession – there was talk of arranging a marriage between Louise and Ferdinand Philippe d’Orléans, the eldest son of the Duke of Orléans, who was expected to become king if the elder line of Bourbons failed to produce an heir. The 10-year-old Ferdinand Philippe is reported to have said, when he heard the first discharges of cannon announcing the baby’s birth (three volleys for a princess, fifteen for a prince):
Either my wife or my King has come into the world. (1)
This project became unnecessary upon the birth of Louise’s younger brother Henri in September 1820. In the meantime, Louise’s father had been murdered – stabbed in February by a fanatical anti-monarchist outside the Paris Opera.
When Louis XVIII died in 1824 and Louise was told that her grandfather had become King Charles X, she said,
King! Oh! That indeed is the worst of the story. (2)
The Duchess of Berry was not the most attentive mother, so Louise spent a lot of time with her childless aunt, Marie-Thérèse, the Duchess of Angoulême. The two were devoted to each other. Known popularly as “Mademoiselle,” Louise – like her brother – was the subject of charming anecdotes and the instigator of numerous good works, intended to endear her to the people of France. In 1827, Louise – with her aunt – laid the cornerstone of the church of Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Grenelle in Paris, resulting in the naming of a street (rue Mademoiselle) after her. In 1829, she joined her mother in a visit to Dieppe.
Her arrival was announced by the noise of cannon and the sound of bells. The…sub-prefect of the city made a complimentary address to her. She responded in the most gracious manner, ‘I know how much you love my mother, and I loved you in advance.’ …
On leaving, Mademoiselle said to the Dieppois: ‘My friends, I will come back next year, and I will bring you my brother.’ (3)
Louise Marie Thérèse d’Artois never returned to Dieppe. As described in my post about Henri, the royal family went into exile after the 1830 July Revolution in Paris. Chateaubriand was charmed by 13-year-old Louise when he visited the Bourbons in Prague in 1833.
Mademoiselle looks a bit like her father: her hair is blonde; her blue eyes have a fine expression; small for her age, she is not as grown as her portraits make her out to be. Her whole person is a mixture of child, girl and princess: she looks, lowers her eyes, smiles with a naïve coquetry mixed with art; one doesn’t know whether to tell her fairy tales, declare oneself to her, or speak to her with the respect due a queen. Princess Louise combines agreeable talents with much education: she speaks English and begins to know German well; she even has a slight foreign accent, and exile already marks her language. (4)
Duchess of Parma
On November 10, 1845 at Schloss Frohsdorf, near Vienna, Louise married her cousin Ferdinando Carlo, the hereditary Prince of Lucca, four years her junior. The groom was not keen on the idea, but his father – who had an eye on Louise’s substantial dowry – threatened to cut off his allowance if he didn’t go through with the wedding. Louise and Ferdinando Carlo wound up getting along with each other and had four children: Margherita (b. 1847), Roberto (1848), Alicia (1849) and Enrico (1851).
In 1847, when Napoleon’s wife Marie Louise died, her hold on the Duchy of Parma (which she had been granted by the Congress of Vienna) ended and the Duchy reverted to its previous rulers, the Bourbon-Parma line. After a brief exile in England in 1848-49, owing to a revolution in Parma, followed by the abdication of Ferdinando Carlo’s father, Ferdinando Carlo and Louise became the Duke and Duchess of Parma.
Any happiness they may have had there was short-lived. On March 26, 1854, while Ferdinando Carlo was walking on the street in Parma, an anarchist stabbed him in the stomach with a dagger. The mortally wounded Duke died the next day. Louise served as regent for her young son, Roberto, until the family was ousted during the Second Italian War of Independence in 1859. The Marquis of Normanby, who encountered Louise and her children at a hotel in Mantua around this time, wrote:
The Duchess was, as she has always been in the most anxious moments of her eventful life, calm and composed, while the children clung with the gentle impulse of their tender years to those whose faces were connected with quieter and happier times. Her Royal Highness entered into all the details of the last days…. ‘Hélas!’ she said, ‘j’en suis accoutumée – c’est la quatrième fois; mais ces pauvres enfans!’ [I am used to it – it’s the fourth time; but these poor children!] (5)
Temporarily back in Parma, Louise wrote to her children:
God be thanked! … I never could have believed, my Treasures, that there was room in my heart for greater happiness than I experienced when at your birth I first pressed you to my bosom. Well, that ineffable happiness was surpassed by what I experienced yesterday when I again found myself amidst my faithful Parmese. … And in all this joy, what a double delight it was to me to hear repeated a thousand and a thousand times the beloved name of my Roberto! And what an obligation does this entail, upon you, my dearest son, to fulfil strictly your duties towards your subjects, when you see to what dangers so many thousands of these brave Parmese have exposed themselves to keep their oath of fidelity to you! (6)
But Roberto did not get the chance. Louise was again compelled to leave Parma. She and the children moved to Venice, under Austrian protection. Any hope of regaining their kingdom disappeared the following year, when all of central Italy was annexed by Piedmont.
Louise Marie Thérèse d’Artois died of typhus fever on February 1, 1864 at the age of 44 in the Palazzo Giustinian in Venice. Her brother Henri was with her. She was buried in the Bourbon crypt of the Church of the Annunciation of Mary, in the Kostanjevica (Castagnevizza) Monastery in Nova Gorica, Slovenia. Louise has many descendants. For starters, her son Robert had 24 children, including Zita, the last Empress of Austria-Hungary.
You might also enjoy:
- Arthur Léon Imbert de Saint-Amand, The Duchess of Berry and the Court of Louis XVIII, translated by Elizabeth Gilbert Martin (New York, 1898), p. 128.
- Arthur Léon Imbert de Saint-Amand, The Duchess of Berry and the Court of Charles X, translated by Elizabeth Gilbert Martin (New York, 1892), p. 4.
- Ibid., pp. 271, 275.
- François-René de Chateaubriand, Mémoires d’outre-tombe, New Edition, Vol. VI (Paris, 1910), p. 79.
- Constantine Henry Phipps, Marquis of Normanby, An Historical Sketch of Louise de Bourbon, Duchess-Regent of Parma (London, 1861), pp. 10-11.
- Ibid., pp. 12-13.
Her whole person is a mixture of child, girl and princess: she looks, lowers her eyes, smiles with a naïve coquetry mixed with art; one doesn’t know whether to tell her fairy tales, declare oneself to her, or speak to her with the respect due a queen.