Monday, January 11, 2010

The Psychology of Madame Royale

While researching the life of Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte of France for the novel Madame Royale, I explored the possibility that the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette may have suffered from what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD includes the following persistent symptoms:
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hypervigilance
  • Exaggerated startle response
The Duchesse d'Angoulême certainly manifested most of the above symptoms, as is described in Joseph Turquan's biography and in the various memoirs of the era, particularly that of Madame de Gontaut. At the Tuileries, after the Restoration of 1814-15, the princess often suffered from insomnia, and could be heard pacing in her rooms at night. She was indeed irritable and temperamental, in spite of her basic kindness of heart. I am not certain if she had difficulty concentrating, although in Vienna in the late 1790's she was known to suddenly dart from the room. The Duchesse was always on her guard, keeping a bag of diamonds looped over the back of her chair "in case of an emergency." She carried a green satchel around with her containing several newspapers; she anxiously poured over the headlines everyday, watching for potential disaster. She jumped whenever she heard the bolt drawn or a key turn in a lock.

Traumatic events experienced as a child or adolescent can, according to scientific data, cause changes in the brain. Such events include extreme violence, rape or even of attempted rape, captivity, and losing family members in a disaster. The teenage Madame Royale witnessed the violence of a mob against her family on at least four occasions; although her family survived the attacks, others were killed and she saw heads carried on pikes. Hearing the obscenities and threats from the attackers would have been disturbing enough for a lifetime.

It is not known for certain whether or not Madame Royale was physically molested while alone in the Temple prison, but as Madame de Gontaut records in her Memoirs, the Duchesse confided that her Aunt Elisabeth ordered the teenager never to let the guards find her undressed or in bed, and so the girl would spend entire nights sitting in a chair, since she never knew when her captors would come bursting into the room. She emerged in 1795 as the "Orphan of the Temple" the only survivor of her immediate family.

Persistent avoidance and anxiety attacks are often part of the reactions of those with PTSD. As an adult Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte had great difficulty being in a crowd, which induced fainting and anxious behaviors. She would pointedly avoid the site where the guillotine had been and ask that her coach be driven around it.

Persons experiencing PTSD also frequently have trouble with memories, blocking out events which are then suddenly triggered by minor incidents, so that sometimes the account of their traumatic experience is subject to change. As a mature woman Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte wanted to change her account of the events she had recorded as a seventeen year old, still imprisoned in the Temple, and tried to buy up all the copies of the original memoir.

Much of the public moroseness that many contemporaries complained about was undoubtedly the princess' iron attempt to hold herself together, as well as depression, which she also most likely experienced. Her disposition became more affable when she left France in 1830 for a life of perpetual exile, focusing on raising her nephew and niece. Although the Duchesse loved France, she was probably better off away from the site of so many horrors. However, it was her resignation, constant charity, and kindness, combined with her strong faith, which got her through in the long run. Marie-Antoinette said to her daughter before being taken away: "You have faith. It will sustain you." Truly, it was faith that enabled Madame Royale to be an active and vibrant member of her extended family as well as a catalyst for rebuilding the Church and society in France, devastated by war and revolution. Share

21 comments:

alaughland said...

There is no question that she suffered horrible trauma which had to have affected her through the rest of her life. In the history of the world there never seems to be an end to what civilian populations have been made to suffer as helpless victims of political upheavels, and still it goes on and on.

Julygirl said...

Darting quickly from the room could have been due to some form of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) which is brought on in many cases by stress.

elena maria vidal said...

That is a possibility.....

Christina said...

An intriguing analysis. In reading Susan Nagel's excellent bio of Madame Royale, I was surprised that some people faulted her for being "cold" and unemotional, to the point that they could not believe she was the real daughter of the charming Marie Antoinette. Was it really so surprising, considering what she had gone through? With our modern understanding of PTSD, it is much easier to see why Madame Royale's personality changed after her captivity in the Tower.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, people demanded so much from MTC, and she really was a trooper, considering what she had been through....

Philippe said...

Really interesting theory, I agree. Although I don't believe in the conspiracy theory whereby the real Madame Royale was exchanged with another girl (in some versions an illegitimate child of Louis XVI), you can see where some might have gotten the idea when they compared her to Marie-Antoinette. Do you have any details on the portrait ?

Matterhorn said...

This is so fascinating. I never knew trauma could cause physical changes in the brain. Poor woman, may she rest in peace.

What happened to the memoirs? Did she actually change them in the end? (Perhaps the account you link to explains it, but right now it's only coming up in snippet view).

elena maria vidal said...

Merci, Philippe. I do not believe in the substitution theory, either, but yes, I can see where they got the idea.

The portrait is by Kinson, from this site:
http://madameroyale.free.fr/

And here is what they say about the picture:
"Portrait par KINSON, peintre attitré du duc d’Angoulême. Collection particulière."

elena maria vidal said...

Matterhorn, the memoirs are online. I link to them on this blog somewhere and you can also find them by googling "Memoirs of Madame Royale."

SF said...

I am amazed that she wasn't insane after suffering what she suffered.

tubbs said...

I too was amazed to learn, several years ago, that PTS is quite physically visible in a post mortem on the brain.

EM, thanks for posting that portrait, it seems very realistic, and not stylized in order to flatter the sitter.

I know the French had photography before her death; I wonder if any photos of her exist?

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, Susan, it is amazing.

Thank you, tubbs. I have looked high and low for a photograph of her but haven't found one yet. There might be one in someone's private collection. I should ask Susan Nagel who had access to some rare documents relating to Marie-Therese while researching her book.

Anabel said...

Thank you very much for this post! I always feel sorry for the poor girl. I cannot even imagine the pain she must have felt in those years in prison, and live with that in her memory the rest of her life....

Also, let me tell you that I 'm amazed by the resemblance to her father. Anyway, the shape of her face is like her mother's.

Love. Au revoir!

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, MTC was a perfect blending of both of her parents. Au revoir, chère Anabel.

alix said...

Do you think that if she had a happy marriage, a loving husband and children her symptoms would have dissapeared? I believe that a happy family and especially the joy of having children would have cured her depression/PTSD and maybe she would have been more outgoing and less morose. It's a great pity that after all her sufferings during the Revolution she did not find happiness or at least contentment in her latter life. Do you think that she would have been happier if she married Archduke Karl?

lara77 said...

After all Her Royal Highness witnessed and suffered I am amazed that she actually functioned in society; one could not blame her if she had decided to isolate herself from the world. However, I believe in the end the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette would rise to her station in life.You are correct Elena Maria; her faith; the faith of her parents would sustain her throughout her life. What an absolutely remarkable life, unfortunately filled with too much sadness. May Her Royal Highness finally be at peace.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, Alix, I firmly believe (and I try to demonstrate this in the novel) that adding to MTC's affliction was the childless marriage with Louis-Antoine.

Yes, Lara, her faith sustained her, definitely. And her life was indeed riven with sorrow but it also had its triumphs.

Brantigny said...

I suffer from PTSD myself. From everything I have read I can see many of my own symptoms in her.

Unfortunately for her it was not really classified until after World War II. In reality there are probably millions of people who have been traumatized who do not even recognize that they are affected. I presume that she was one of those. In a very real sense she was in combat.

In my case I have found comfort in my family as well as support, in the case of Madame Royale her suppoert base was not only removed but were the focus of the trauma. Thereafter she was used to further the attempt at legitimacy for the crown.

I can understand evrything she went through, the especially bottling up of the emotions.

Richard

Gareth Russell said...

On the subject of the memoirs, I looked into for my university thesis on Marie-Antoinette's posthumous reputation, in terms of what was changed from the first version to subsequent editions and what I could discover was: -

"Although the princess's memoirs were written in the anonymous third person and relied in parts upon the journal of her father's former valet, M. Cléry, they are still clearly the work of Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte. Much has made been of the fact that there were two, or possibly even three, editions of the memoirs and that there are several clear edits made subsequently, apparently at the behest of the author's paternal uncle, Louis XVIII. It is true that a longer edition was published in 1823, but too much should not be made of Louis XVIII's role as editor for the purpose of this study, since he was not so much concerned with modifying the princess's depiction of her late parents, but in ensuring that her text dealt more definitively with the awkward question of her brother's death and demolished the claims of the various 'Lost Dauphins' pretenders, a subject which she had understandbly skirted around in her earlier editions."

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you for the further enlightenment into PTSD, Richard. I think that more emotional support would have helped MTC but she had little. Raising Henri and Louise did help her, I think.

Excellent, Gareth, that is very helpful.

Matterhorn said...

Many thanks to Elena Maria and Gareth Russell for the additional information on the memoirs, and to all the other commentators for their helpful observations.