Thursday, August 7, 2008

Marie-Antoinette's Adopted Children

Marie-Antoinette had a great love for children. Many biographies, including the most recent by Lady Antonia Fraser, while diverging on other points, do agree that Marie-Antoinette was truly fond of the company of small boys and girls. As a young girl, she asked her ladies and servants to bring their children with them when in attendance; hence the scene in her apartments was a bit chaotic with all the little ones running about, not to mention all the dogs. Later, she adopted the peasant child, Armand. The biography Marie-Antoinette by Marguerite Jallut and Philippe Huisman, (Viking Press, 1971) gives a great deal of information about Armand as well as the other children the queen adopted. She raised Armand as her own son, and provided for his entire family, including music lessons for one of his brothers. She showed concern and interest for them always and gave what aid she could until her imprisonment, when she could no longer help them.

It was difficult for Armand when the queen had her own children, as well as adopting others, since he was no longer the center of all her attention. As a teenager, he rebelled, joined the Revolution and was killed in the wars. Meanwhile, around 1787, Marie-Antoinette adopted the daughter of servants named Ernestine to be a companion for her daughter Madame Royale. She dressed her as a princess and gave her all the same toys as her own daughter.

Around 1790, she adopted three orphan girls. The two oldest were sent to a Visitation convent to be educated but the youngest, Zoé, who was the same age as the little dauphin, lived in the royal apartments at the Tuileries. Marie-Antoinette would have adopted many more children had she been able. Those whom she could not actually bring to live in the palace, she provided for generously.

At the time of the royal family's disastrous flight to Montmédy in June 1791, Marie Antoinette sent Ernestine and Zoé to safety. Ernestine was entrusted to her birth father. Zoé joined her blood sisters at the Visitation Monastery, where she eventually became a nun and died at the time of the restoration.

In the Temple prison, Marie Antoinette was anxious for news about her adopted children and tried to discover where they were. She managed to find out that
Zoé and her two sisters had been taken to their relatives in the country. Of Ernestine, she could could discover nothing, except that her father had been guillotined. Ernestine had actually been whisked out of France by an emigré family and died in exile. Share