Thursday, July 29, 2010


Caroline of Naples, the lively Neapolitan princess who married the Duc de Berry, is one of my favorite characters in the novel Madame Royale. She resembled her great-aunt Marie-Antoinette in many ways, especially in her enjoyment of dancing, theater, and the outdoors. Like Marie-Antoinette, she behaved with courage and fortitude in times of tragedy. Generous of heart, Caroline's vivacious temperament got her in no end of trouble.

The Duchesse found the strict etiquette of the French court to be cumbersome and so loved to escape to her summer residence of Rosny-sur-Seine. In 1818, the Duc de Berry purchased the seventeenth century Louis XIII-style château for his teenage bride. After the Duc was brutally murdered just two years later, Caroline withdrew often to Rosny with her children, Louise and Henri. She kept Berry's heart in the chapel of Rosny which she had redecorated by the artist Nicloas-Auguste Hesse. There she arranged for daily Masses to be offered for Berry's soul. She also engaged in an array of charitable activities, even amid the hunting parties of which she was immensely fond. According to Imbert de Saint-Amand's The Duchess of Berry and the Revoltion of 1830:
In the early days of her marriage, the Duchess of Berry wishing to spend a few weeks in the country during the fine weather, in order to be free from etiquette and recover from the fatigues of her life as princess, her husband had bought the estate of Rosny, where they both lived as private persons, and where the happiest moments of their existence were spent. After the assassination of the Prince, his widow became more attached than ever to a dwelling which recalled such affecting souvenirs. She founded an asylum there for the widows and old men of the village, a school for poor children, and caused a church to be built, with a chapel, in which was placed her husband's heart. A service of masses and prayers was maintained for the repose of the soul of the prince whose death had caused so many tears. Four gray nuns were attached to the charitable establishments created by the princess. She was fond of visiting them, and taking part in the light tasks of the dispensary, the children's lessons, and the nursing of the sick. One might have called her at this time the fifth gray nun of Rosny. Listen to the Duchess de Gontaut: 'Madame the Duchess of Berry loved to inspect the different establishments she had founded at Rosny, and often went there accompanied by Madame the Dauphiness and even by the King. Madame the Duchess of Orleans visited them frequently.'
The Duchesse de Gontaut, the governess of Caroline's children, later described in her Memoirs how she told the eight year old Louise the circumstances of her father's death. As Madame relates:

On reaching Rosny, I perceived from a distance, and for the first time, the monument erected to Monseigneur [de Berry]. I was affected by it, and begged Madame's permission to acquaint Mademoiselle [Louise], close to the precious remains of her father, with the touching details of his last moments, his sublime forgiveness of the assassin who had caused his death, and the favor he never ceased but with his last breath to entreat of the King. I wished also to make this young heart understand the agony of her mother's sufferings — so grand, so courageous — who was able to the very last moment to give strength and consolation to Monseigneur dying. . . .The next day, after Mass, Mademoiselle knelt beside the funeral monument and listened to the sad story of her father's death. Presently I saw her tears begin to flow; I saw her stretch out her arms to that marble so close to the noble heart which she could thenceforth appreciate.
After the July Revolution in 1830, Caroline and her children were exiled from France with the rest of the senior branch of Bourbons. She wrote to her aunt Marie-Amélie of Naples, "Queen of the French," begging her to take care of the people on the Rosny estate. "I recommend to you, dear aunt, all the people of my house, and I will be obliged to you for all that you will be able to do for them." Caroline never saw Rosny again. She returned to France in 1832, in an attempt to regain the throne for her son. She ended up in prison, after almost being burned alive, as is told in Madame Royale.

Here is a French video about Caroline's life at Rosny, showing her art collection and some of her private belongings. Many of the paintings depict crucial scenes in her life, as well as the portraying pastimes that she loved, such as hunting and sea-bathing. Loss and sorrow did not dampen her spirit, but showed her how to appreciate life as well as how to prepare for eternity.


La Poetessa said...

Thank you so much for posting this amazing recount of my favorite story! So few people know much about her or have even heard of her but I certainly have and think so very highly of her. She was bold, elegant, courageous, intelligent, avant guard, passionate and had an inspiring fire within her soul that not many of the royals of her time possessed. I can't see enough portraits of her or read enough about her life. It's always such a pleasure and thank you for writing so beautifully her story in the amazing book "Madame Royale" which I could not put down and have read several times! She is so reminiscent of her great aunt Marie Antoinette that it's almost eerie. Though I think partly because of her Italian passionate blood she was even more of a rebellion and a fighter for what she believed in! I absolutely love the fact that unlike my dear sweet Marie Antoinette, our Duchesse was afforded what many royals never knew, a fairy tale ending to her challenging life. Although she lost her husband at such a young age and survived imprisonment, she finally was reunited with her Knight in shining armor, Ettore Luchessi Pali and they actually lived happily ever after... this warms my heart so very much!!
Beautiful blog!! Thank you so so much for sharing this and keeping her spirit alive!
Love and light,
Leslie Cottle/Poetessa

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Leslie. Glad you enjoyed the post and the book. It's always good to hear from you.

May said...

It is so touching how many of these royal women had such strong, yet refined and delicate character. A particular kind of virtue we don't see much of anymore.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, so true, Matterhorn.

Lucy said...

What a wonderful wonderful post:) I'm thrilled because I am doing research on herin the process of researching her!

La Poetessa said...

Dear Ms. Lucy, just curious to know why you are researching her, I have been for a while now, she's just such an amazing woman so forgotten in the history books! Thank you so much Elena for keeping her spirit alive once again!

elena maria vidal said...

Lucy, meet Leslie, another of my Canadian friends and readers who is fascinated by history!

tubbs said...

Old portraiture can be so stylized, making it difficult to recognize an individual's features.
Yet when I opened up this site, I had no idea who's picture it was - but immediately saw the resemblance to M.A.