Friday, November 10, 2017

Cause of Beatification of Madame Élisabeth of France

Guillotined at the age of thirty in 1794 by the revolutionaries who hated her beloved Catholic Faith, the cause of beatification of Madame Élisabeth of France, the youngest sister of Louis XVI, has finally been introduced. According to Zenit, a plenary assembly of  the French bishops approved a motion for the beatification of the princess in Lourdes, France on November 7, 2017. It is sad that in so many novels and films,  Élisabeth is either erased or minimized, when her presence was a source of comfort to the king and the queen in their ordeals, even if she disagreed with them. She withstood the mob at her brother’s side and encouraged the rest of the family in the darkness of imprisonment. She became a second mother to her niece Madame Royale, and comforted the condemned on the way to the scaffold.

Madame  Élisabeth (1764- 1794) became an orphan at the age of three and was raised by her governesses Madame de Marsan and Madame de Mackau. She was a stubborn child but eventually conquered her willfulness so that gentleness and kindness became her most outstanding character traits.
Mme. de Marsan asked the king to appoint Mme. de Mackau, who was living in retirement in Alsace, as sub-governess. This choice proved to have all the elements required to work a happy change in the nature of a self-willed and haughty child. Mme. de Mackau possessed a firmness to which resistance yielded, and an affectionate kindness which enticed attachment. Armed with almost maternal power, she brought up the Children of France as she would have trained her own children; overlooking no fault; knowing, if need were, how to make herself feared; all the while leading them to like virtue. To a superior mind she added a dignity of tone and manners which inspired respect. When her pupil gave way to the fits of haughty temper to which she was subject, Mme. de Mackau showed on her countenance a displeased gravity, as if to remind her that princes, like other persons, could not be liked except for their virtues and good qualities. (see Katherine Wormeley’s The Ruin of a Princess)
Élisabeth always remained strong-willed when it came to adhering to her principles, however. Many princes sought her hand in marriage, including Marie-Antoinette’s brother Emperor Joseph II, but  Élisabeth wanted to become a nun. She longed to join her Aunt Louise at the Carmelite monastery at Saint Denis, where she often visited and served the nuns at table. Louis XVI would not give his permission for her to enter, begging her to stay. “We will have need of you here,” he said.

So  Élisabeth took on the challenge of living the single, consecrated life in the world, without the support of a community, and living it amid the splendors of Versailles. As Élisabeth grew older she more frequently joined Marie-Antoinette at Petit Trianon, and she remained close to her brother, Louis XVI. She was devoted to her brother Artois, the rascal of the family, and tried to encourage him to reform his life, while comforting his forlorn and forsaken wife, Marie-Thérèse de Savoie. For her twenty-fifth birthday,  Élisabeth was given a farm called Montreuil by the king and the queen, where she started a dairy to provide milk for poor children. While she organized her ladies in devotions and charitable works, Élisabeth also enjoyed music, embroidery, clothes and especially shoes. She loved to dance and was the last to leave any ball.

In the days of the Revolution, Madame Élisabeth disagreed with the conciliatory policies of her brother Louis XVI and the political maneuverings of Marie-Antoinette. She saw the Revolution as pure evil, as an attack upon the Church and Christendom and thought that it should be stopped with fire and sword if necessary. There were many heated arguments at the Tuileries and as author Simone Bertiere points out in L’Insoumise, Marie-Antoinette could hardly stand her sister-in-law at times. However, misfortune bonded the two women together as if they had been blood sisters.

Élisabeth was deeply aware of the danger to her own life but refused to leave her brother’s family. She stood at his side on June 20, 1792 when the mob stormed the Tuileries and hoped that the people would mistake her for the queen so that her sister-in-law would be spared. “Were it not better that they shed my blood than that of my sister?” she said. When Louis XVI was killed and the little Dauphin taken away and brutalized, Élisabeth comforted Marie-Antoinette and young Madame Royale, keeping them from despair. Nesta Webster reports in Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette during the Revolution that when a friend wondered if Madame Élisabeth could escape on her own, it was said, “Madame  Élisabeth is inseparable from the queen; she would not leave her for the most splendid crown in the universe.” After the queen’s death in October 1793, the aunt and the niece remained in the Temple prison, enduring humiliations and taunts of the jailers. Élisabeth trained Marie-Thérèse Charlotte how to survive in confinement, knowing that soon she would be alone.

In May, 1794,  Élisabeth was removed to the Conciergerie. According to Deborah Cadbury in The Lost King of France,  Élisabeth, knowing she was to die, offered to God the sacrifice of her life. At her trial she was condemned for plotting against the Revolution. While awaiting death, eyewitnesses reported how she inspired the other prisoners: “She seemed to regard them all as friends about to accompany her to heaven….the tranquility of her mind subdued their anguish.” (Cadbury, page 138) On May 10, 1794 she recited the De Profundis on the way to the guillotine. The princess was the last of a group of twenty-five people to be executed; they each knelt before her, asking her blessing. (Some say she fainted in the process; the sound of so many decapitations was too much.) When it was  Élisabeth’s turn, the executioner pulled her bodice down very low off her shoulders, and she begged for modesty’s sake to be covered. There were no cheers when Élisabeth’s head was thrown into a basket, the crowd was silent, and some reported the scent of roses filling the square, a miracle from the middle ages to disturb the dawn of modernity. Many regarded her as a saint, including Pope Pius VII, and now at last her cause has been introduced. According to The Catholic Herald:
Her piety, acts of charity and defence of the monarchy against the forces of revolution brought her attention akin to hero worship in the early 19th century. An association to promote her Cause for beatification was initially introduced in 1924, and followed up in 1947. In 1953 her Cause was reopened by the cardinal-archbishop of Paris, and she was declared a Servant of God. In 2016 Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris, once again reopened her cause. (Read more.)

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2 comments:

Jack B. said...

I've always found it strange that in most films/movies and fictional depictions (and some non-fiction ones as well) of Louis XVI and MA, Madame Elisabeth basically either does not exist (in some cases) or is a minor background figure - when she was very much a major figure in the lives of all involved and a major source of venom for many for the revolutionaries. I've always wondered why that was. Too Catholic for more secular biographers and admirers of MA? Too innocent (and her trial too much of a farce) for more fervid defenders of the Revolution?

elena maria vidal said...

Jack, I think you are absolutely correct. Madame Elisabeth is an uncomfortable character for many people. It is hard to for them to reconcile their idea of Marie-Antoinette with the fact that the Queen was so close to such a saintly personality. As for those who praise the Revolution, the murder of Madame Elisabeth was as unnecessary to the cause of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity as terrorizing the Dauphin. It was done out of sheer, sadistic cruelty.