Louise Marie Thérèse d’Artois: Mademoiselle of France

The Duchess of Berry with her children Louise Marie Thérèse d'Artois and Henri Charles Ferdinand Dieudonné d'Artois, by François Gérard, 1822

The Duchess of Berry with her children Louise Marie Thérèse d’Artois and Henri Charles Ferdinand Dieudonné d’Artois, by François Gérard, 1822

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, about 1840

Louise Marie Thérèse d’Artois, about 1840

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.

Louise Marie Thérèse d’Artois with her children, early 1860s

Louise Marie Thérèse d’Artois with her children, early 1860s

You might also enjoy:

Henri d’Artois, Unready to be King

The Duke and Duchess of Angoulême

Louis XVIII: Oyster Louis

The Count of Artois, Charles X of France

When the King of France Lived in England

Photos of 19th-Century French Royalty

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Ibid., pp. 271, 275.
  4. François-René de Chateaubriand, Mémoires d’outre-tombe, New Edition, Vol. VI (Paris, 1910), p. 79.
  5. Constantine Henry Phipps, Marquis of Normanby, An Historical Sketch of Louise de Bourbon, Duchess-Regent of Parma (London, 1861), pp. 10-11.
  6. Ibid., pp. 12-13.

20 commments on “Louise Marie Thérèse d’Artois: Mademoiselle of France”

  • John Adan says:

    Today the palace in Duchy of Parma is a museum, dedicated to Napoleon’s widow Marie Louise. She spent her time doing elaborate needlework on sophisticated embroidering machinery.

  • Caroline Warfield says:

    Wonderful piece! Her life is a microcosm of European history in the early 19th century.

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Thank you, Caroline. I’m glad you enjoyed the article. It is interesting that Louise’s relatively short life encompassed so much, and that she left such a large dynasty.

  • Greg May says:

    Love your blog on the French royal family – particularly the heirs and descendants of Charles X. You might enjoy my article, “Marie Antoinette: History’s Fortean Queen”

  • Daniel says:

    How do you know that Louise died of typhoid fever? Her Wikipedia article doesn’t mention this information.

    Also, since I’m very into alternative history, here’s an alternate history question for you–had Louise been born a boy, would her father Charles Ferdinand, Duke of Berry have still been assassinated several months later? The reason that I am asking this is because if Charles Ferdinand already produced a surviving male heir, then would it make anywhere near as much sense to kill him? Or would Louvel (the assassin) try to assassinate both Charles Ferdinand and Louise (who would be born a boy in this scenario) in this scenario? What if that won’t be possible, though (due to him being unable to simultaneously get access to both of them)? Then what?

  • Daniel says:

    BTW, which of the two children in your first portrait here is Henri? I honestly can’t tell since they’re both extremely young and wearing dresses.

  • Shannon Selin says:

    Louise was reported as dying from typhus fever in a London magazine of the time (“The Duchess of Parma,” The Month: An Illustrated Magazine of Literature, Science and Art, Vol. II, 1865, p. 294).

    I haven’t read the details of Louvel’s trial, but I gather his aim was to extinguish the Bourbon line, so you’re probably right: if Louise had been a boy, he would have tried to kill both of them. And if unable to assassinate both at once? Louvel said he targeted Berry because he was the youngest heir to the throne, so maybe he would have gone for the child.

  • Shannon Selin says:

    I believe Henri is the child standing on the chair.

  • Daniel says:

    Thanks for the magazine reference, Shannon! I’ll try to find that specific article and add this information onto Wikipedia. 🙂

    As for Louvel, one would think that, had Louise been born a boy, Louvel would have still tried to kill Charles Ferdinand if he could not have killed both him and his son at once. After all, if Louise (again, she’s a boy in this scenario) is killed by Charles Ferdinand survives, then he could have plenty of additional sons considering that his wife was still extremely young (specifically 22 years old in 1820–which means another 25 years or so of baby-making potential). In contrast, if Charles Ferdinand is killed but this hypothetical male Louise survives, then there would only be one person capable of maintaining the dynasty (at least until and unless Charles Ferdinand’s posthumous child is born and it’s a son in this scenario just like it was in real life). To me, it simply makes more sense to kill the fertile male adult than to kill his or her male infant child–a child that is not fertile yet and that might or might not ever become fertile. (After all, Henri, Count of Chambord might have been infertile in real life. Either he or his wife (or both of them) were almost certainly infertile given their lack of children and AFAIK lack of pregnancies as well.)

  • Daniel says:

    Also, as a side note, while I don’t know just how likely this would have been, might Louvel have decided to completely abandon his assassination plan if Louise had been a boy and if Louvel would have been unable to kill both Charles Ferdinand and Louise at once? I mean, would it really be worth it to lose one’s life if one’s actions aren’t even going to guarantee the end of the senior line of the House of Bourbon? Granted, Louvel wasn’t exactly the most mentally sane or mentally stable person; still, would even he have actually been suicidal to such an extent?

  • Daniel says:

    Yeah, it’s certainly a very interesting question to think about. After all, if the assassination plot would have been called off, then the Duke of Berry is likely to have additional children (in comparison to the number of children that he had in real life)–and very likely additional sons as well. This would have meant that the male line of Louis XV would have had much higher odds of surviving up to the present-day.

  • Shannon Selin says:

    That’s highly probable. It’s an interesting “what if.”

  • Daniel says:

    By the way, I have another question about Louvel (the guy who killed Louise’s father, the Duke of Berry, back in 1820):

    Was Louvel aware of the existence of the Orleans royal line? Because in the event of the extinction of the main royal Bourbon male line, the Orleans would have inherited the French throne. Would Louvel have actually been OK with that? Did he view the Orleans as being less tainted than the senior branch of the House of Bourbon was? I mean, the Orleans were certainly more liberal, but they were still of Bourbon royal descent through the male line due to having a common male-line ancestor with the senior Bourbon branch in the form of French King Louis XIII (who died almost two centuries before 1820).

    Also, as a side note, would Louvel have still killed the Duke of Berry if he would have somehow magically known that his wife is already pregnant with a male fetus (Henri)? Or would Louvel have simply tried to kill both the Duke of Berry *and* his wife in such a scenario? But what if that would not have actually been possible? Then what? Abandon the assassination plan altogether?

  • Kevin says:

    @Daniel, sorry to disappoint, but if Louise had been born a boy Louvel would’ve still stabbed Berri. @Shannon Louvel wasn’t motivated by stabbing the youngest heir, he was motivated by murdering the only one who was capable of producing a child: Charles X had taken a vow of chastity on the death of his mistress in 1804 and Cardinal Latil made sure he kept it. Angoulême had never produced a live child, although, shortly before Berri married, the duchesse’s onset of menopause being mistaken for a pregnancy caused negotiations for France with Saxony (for Berri to marry a Saxon princess) to be broken off. Berri was thus, by the time of Louvel’s murder, the only “viable” heir. Even if Louise had been born a boy, Berri had already had two children who’d both died young. No reason to believe she wouldn’t follow the same path. Not to mention that she wouldn’t have been with her parents at the opera that night anyway – her age plus the fact that it was February would’ve meant that she’d have likely been at home with a nurse.

    To the assertion that Henri was infertile. He wasn’t. At least, until a horse-riding accident in the 1840s, plus some typical 19th century medicine, and…well, it’s not surprise he wound up infertile. But his wife certainly didn’t help matters either. She had a pelvic obstruction that prevented her from having children, this plus other health defects made it that they didn’t believe she would live long. And Henri married her for her money (courts in exile are expensive and you need money to keep up appearances), since Maria Teresa stood to inherit the 2010 equivalent of £13 million from her uncle. According to the marriage contract that money was hers, only to pass to Henri in the event of them dying childless (which everyone expected), if they (by some miracle) had children, the money was to go directly to them with Henri not being allowed to touch it. When she was widowed, Maria Teresa distributed quite a bit among charity and what was left went to Louise’s kids and to her nephew, the Carlist pretender

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Thanks, Kevin, for these excellent details on Louvel’s motivation and the fertility of the Bourbons, as well as Henri’s marriage contract. Much appreciated!

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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.