Princess Elisabeth de France was the last-born sibling of Louis XVI. A figure remarkable for her exuberance and piety, throughout her life she showed a strong attachment to her brother and sister-in-law, whom she followed to their final place of incarceration.
Born in the palace of Versailles in 1764, Elisabeth de France, called Madame Elisabeth, was the youngest sister of Louis XVI. Orphaned at the age of 3, she received an excellent education during which she was noted for her talents in mathematics and the sciences. Her contemporaries said she was a skilled rider, gifted for drawing and embroidery but a mediocre singer. From her childhood, she revealed an ambiguous personality, her great devotion combining with her dissipated and original character – she signed some of her letters “Elisabeth la Folle” (Mad Elisabeth). At an early age she showed great attachment to Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, with whom she lived all her life, refusing to marry to be able to remain with them.
In 1783, when Madame Elisabeth was 19, Louis XVI gave her a plot of land and a house in the village of Montreuil, which can still be seen today in the Montreuil district of Versailles and is known as the “Domaine de Madame Elisabeth” (her estate). Although she was not allowed to sleep here before coming of age (25), she rode there every day from the palace of Versailles. The life she lived there, simpler than at the court, was dominated by the leisure activities that she had adopted in her childhood, and by the pious practices and works of charity that earned her the nickname “Bonne dame de Montreuil” (good lady of Montreuil).
When the French Revolution broke out, Madame Elisabeth adopted a very firm stand against the supporters of a constitutional monarchy and was opposed to any search for a compromise. Her attachment to Louis XVI led her to refuse the exile chosen by her aunts and other brothers. So she followed Marie-Antoinette to Varennes, to the Temple prison, and then to the scaffold on which she died in 1794 before being buried in a common grave.
Her attachment to her brother and sister-in-law, her intransigent opposition to the Revolution’s aspirations, her piety, her charitable work and the way she met her death led to the formation of a cult built around her personality in the first half of the 19th century. This cult was fostered within the royalist movement which developed in favour of a restoration of the monarchy and militated for the beatification of Madame Elisabeth.
The Palace of Versailles organizes with the General Concil of Yvelines the exhibition Madame Elisabeth, a princess with a tragic destiny. This exhibition dedicated to Madame Elisabeth, the younger of the sisters of Louis XVI, takes place from 27 April to 21 July 2013 at the Estate of Madame Elisabeth (73 avenue de Paris à Versailles).