Monday, April 7, 2008

Madame Royale and the Death of Innocence

"She did not know why she had been spared. Her inner suffering increased as she discovered that it is sometimes more agonizing to live than to die....It would feel so strange to be out in the world again; so strange and so frightening. The Temple was the only home she had known since she was fourteen. To leave it would be severing the last links with her family. She would be going to a distant land, a penniless orphan, to relations she did not know. She, Madame Royale...."

~From Trianon by Elena Maria Vidal

How dark must have been the thoughts of Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte of France on the midnight of December 18, 1795, the eve of her seventeenth birthday, as she prepared to be sent to her relatives in Austria. She had not only experienced a bloody revolution, but she had been subjected to verbal abuse and the constant threat of physical molestation. One by one, her parents, her brother, and her aunt had been taken away, until she was alone in the dreary Temple prison in Paris. Before being guillotined, Madame Elisabeth had instructed her niece not to ever let the jailers find her undressed or in bed. The young girl spent many nights sitting in a chair, trembling in the darkness, since when her candles burned out they were not replaced. Susan Nagel includes a great many more details in her biography Marie-Thérèse, Child of Terror: The Fate of Marie-Antoinette's Daughter.

The orphaned daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette was aware that her small brother Charles was in the room below, ill and abused with no one to care for him. She was not permitted to see him and when he died of tuberculosis at the age of ten on June 8, 1795, she was not allowed to keep vigil by his corpse. Only when his body was removed was Madame Royale allowed to go down into the garden. She ever after harbored doubts as to whether her brother had really died. There were rumors that he had been replaced by another boy, rumors which are the subject of my novel Madame Royale.

Deborah Cadbury describes the torments to which the Dauphin was subjected in her marvellous book The Lost King of France. People have lamented that my novels have too much religion in them. Therefore, I was delighted to see that Cadbury makes reference to almost all of the same incidents in which the royal family displayed Christian fortitude, in their prayers and in the forgiveness of injuries. Cadbury relates how the Dauphin, when caught saying his prayers as his mother had taught him, was kicked in the face by Simon his jailer. The poor child was shown pornography, given alcohol, and pressured into accusing his own mother of incest. His sister Marie-Thérèse was present when he made the formal accusation. He grasped her hand before he was led away but she never saw him again.

The children of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were not the only innocents to suffer during the Revolution. Many French people, particularly the peasants of the Vendée, rebelled against the Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity that were being imposed upon them through bloodshed. They resented their churches being taken over and eventually closed by Republic, while the priests were killed or exiled. They took up arms and Austrian scholar Eric von Keuhnelt-Leddihn describes the harsh brutality which the Revolutionary government exercised upon the uncooperative citizens. General Westermann and his bleus were especially notorious for their sadism towards children. There were atrocities all over the Vendée, and in Lyon and other French towns and cities where the Revolution was not appreciated. It was the blueprint for the mass murders of the totalitarian regimes of later centuries. Many children died, many young lives were shattered at the dawn of the modern world. Madame Royale was the living symbol of all the lost children of France.


xavier said...

Maria Elena:

Are you familiar with the classic book:
La Vendée Vengée? Back when it was published 20 years ago, it caused a sensation as well as a furious controversy.
I agree with you that the Revolution was a colossal bloodthirsty waste of time. One of the things that irks me after the vindictive genocide, is the foreceful imposition of French. Much of France's instability and restlessness stems from both events.

elena maria vidal said...

Hi, Xavier, sorry but I have not read the book. It sounds very interesting! Thank you for the recommendation.

xavier said...

Maria Elena:
You're welcome :) I'm not sure but you can check out or to see if the book is still in print. I believe that there's also an English translation but I can't remember.


May said...

What a wonderful the way, I just finished "Madame Royale." So touching! It was a hard read at times (oddly enough, even more so than "Trianon"), there was an immense sense of loss and weariness but then, it ended on such an uplifting and hopeful note!

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Matterhorn, I am glad that you found it touching!

Unknown said...

Hello!! I realize it may be odd to receive a comment on this post after so long, but I was hoping I could ask you a quick question about Madame Royale. Specifically, it concerns this passage:

"Before being guillotined, Madame Elisabeth had instructed her niece not to ever let the jailers find her undressed or in bed. The young girl spent many nights sitting in a chair, trembling in the darkness, since when her candles burned out they were not replaced."

I have come across references to this on several blogs and in various forums, but I haven't been able to find a firm source despite combing through her memoirs and reading Nagel's book, Marie-Thérèse, Child of Terror.

I think the scene of a young girl sitting up all night in a chair for fear of being sexually assaulted is such a powerful image and I would love to reference it in an upcoming essay. Any help would be appreciated, thank you so much and have a wonderful day!

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you for the question! I am delighted that you are researching Madame Royale. I believe that particular passage was originally in Madame de Gontaut's memoirs from her conversations with MTC but it is also in my book Marie-Antoinette, Daughter of the Caesars, p 465,