Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Alone in the Temple

Départ de Madame Elisabeth
On May 9, 1794, Madame Elisabeth of France, sister of Louis XVI, was taken away to her death, leaving her teenage niece Marie-Thérèse alone in the prison. The princess later described her experiences in her Memoirs:
Until the 9th of May nothing extraordinary happened. On that day, at the moment we were going to bed, the outside bolts of the doors were drawn, and a knocking was heard. My aunt begged of them to wait till she had put on her gown; but you answered that they could not wait, and knocked so violently, that they were near bursting open the door. When she was dressed, she opened the door, and they immediately said to her, "Citizen, come down." — "And my niece?" — "We shall take care of her afterwards." She embraced me; and, in order to calm my agitation, promised to return. "No, citizen," said they, "you shall not return:— take your bonnet, and come along." They overwhelmed her with the grossest abuse. She bore it all patiently, and embraced me again, exhorting me to have confidence in Heaven, to follow the principles of religion in which I had been educated, and never to forget the last commands of my father and mother. She then left me....

It is impossible to imagine my distress at finding myself separated from my aunt. I did not know what had become of her, and could not learn. I passed the night in great anxiety, but, though very uneasy, I was far from believing that her death was so near. Sometimes I tried to persuade myself that they would only banish her from France, but, when I considered the manner in which she had been carried off, all my fears revived.

~ Private Memoirs, by Madame Royale, Duchess of Angoulême, translated by John Wilson Croker. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1823, pp. 259-260, 264

Drawing of Madame Royale in prison by a commissary.

The winter passed quietly enough: the keepers were civil, and even lighted my fire for me; they allowed me as much fire-wood as I wanted, which pleased me greatly. They also gave me such books as I wished for. Laurent had already procured me several. My greatest misfortune now was, that I could hear no tidings of my mother and aunt. I did not even venture to ask after my uncles or my great aunt, but I thought constantly of them all.

~Private Memoirs
, by Madame Royale, Duchess of Angoulême, translated by John Wilson Croker. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1823, p. 276

Madame Royale writing her memoirs in the garden of the Temple with Madame de Chantereine, by Edward Matthew Ward.
She did not know why she had been spared. Her inner suffering increased, as her soul discovered it is sometimes more agonizing to live than to die. Meanwhile, the citizens of Paris began to remember her. They stood on the roofs of neighboring houses so they could glimpse their princess when she went for a walk in the garden....It was decided to get her out of the way, by exchanging her with French prisoners of war taken by the Austrians....Kindly Parisians sent her a dog and a baby goat for company. It was only with them that she displayed the glimmer of a smile, as she ran through the garden with her pets, a young girl once more.

~from Trianon by Elena Maria Vidal, Chapter Nine: "The Orphan"

Marie-Thérèse de France was exchanged in October, 1795, for the four commissioners of the Convention delivered up to Austria by Dumouriez in April, 1793. She left the Tower of the Temple during the night of December 18, 1795. That tragic building... was razed to the ground by order of Napoleon in 1811. Until then could be read, scratched upon the wall of the room where the child, Marie-Thérèse, lived her solitary life, these piteous words:–

"Marie-Thérèse is the most unhappy creature in the world. She can obtain no news of her mother; nor be reunited to her, though she has asked it a thousand times."

"Live, my good mother! whom I love well, but of whom I can hear no tidings."

"O my father! watch over me from heaven above."

O my God! forgive those who have made my family die."

~From Ruin of a Princess



Stephanie A. Mann said...

These accounts of how this family suffered are so heart-rending. As Marie Antoinette commented, whatever wrongs they might have committed, they certainly expiated for them during their imprisonment and in their horrifying deaths. The royal family did not deserve such cruel treatment, but they endured it with grace and forbearance.

elena maria vidal said...

No, they did not deserve such treatment, especially when taking into account all the charitable works they had performed over the years. It is beautiful how they approached it all in a spirit of expiation.

BTW, Stephanie, I am reading your book! It is excellent!

~Kathy~ said...

So sad and so unnecessary. Thank you so much for posting all of these. I have really learned a lot more than I had already known about the royal family.

BTW, what is the name of Stephanie's book?



elena maria vidal said...

Thanks, Kathy, so much. Stephanie's book is called "Supremacy and Survival" and it is a very thorough overview of the sufferings of the English Catholics.

Lucy said...

You know Elena, I can't wait to begin Madame Royale. I'm taking my time because I know how deeply I felt when reading Trianon (so I need to prepare myself beforehand for this one:)

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Lucy and I have had other people tell me they have the same reaction!

Sharona R - שרונה ראובני said...

Your accounts of this period, are both informative and highly emotional. I have no idea why I am so intrigued by Marie Antoinette and Princess Lamballe, but both have captured my heart.

Do you know if any of your books were translated to Hebrew? If not, perhapses I should acquire Trianon on Amazon..

elena maria vidal said...

Sharona, I would love for my books to be translated into Hebrew! Alas, they are now only available in English. Yes, you can get them from Amazon. (Sometimes Amazon says a book is "out of stock" but I know from experience that they have no problem filling the orders!)

May said...

Such a heartrending story. But it's very comforting to know what heroic people, and great Catholics, they were.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, they were. Thank you!

Christina said...

Heart-wrenching, indeed. How alone she must have felt, there in the prison. I love the pictures you've added to the post - I've always been struck by Madame Royale's resemblance to her mother.