Madame de Lamballe (1749 – 1792)
Marie Thérèse Louise de Savoie-Carignan was born 8 September 1749, in Turin, Italy. She was the fourth daughter of Christine Henriette of Hesse-Rheinfels-Rotenburg (1717-1778) and Luigi Vittorio de Savoie-Carignano, Prince de Carignan (25 September 1721 – 16 December 1778). Her paternal grandparents were Vittoria Francesca Madamigell de Susa (9 February 1690 – 8 July 1766) and Vittorio Amadeo I de Savoie-Carignan, Prince de Carignan. She had a elder brother, Vittorio Amadeo II de Savoie-Carignan, Prince de Carignan (31 October 1743 – 20 September 1780). Marie-Thérèse Louise married Louis-Alexandre-Joseph de Bourbon, Prince de Lamballe (6 September 1747-6 May 1768), in a wedding celebration that lasted from 17 January 1767 to 27 January 1767, with parties in Turin and Nangis. He was the only surviving son of Princess Maria Theresa Felicity of Modena, Duchess of Penthièvre (6 October 1726 – 30 April 1754) and Louis Jean Marie de Bourbon, Duke of Penthièvre (16 November 1725 – 4 March 1793). According to Madame de Lamballe by Georges Bertin,
“Marie Therese Louise de Savoie Carignan in her eighteenth year was not exactly what we call pretty. Her features somewhat lacked the regularity which is the accompaniment of true beauty; but the brilliancy of her complexion was remarkable. Although her large, light blue eyes were rather expressionless, her face was none the less interesting, thanks to her blond hair of an adorable golden hue, which increased still more the sweetness of an ensemble full of charms and attractions. Add to this a remarkably beautiful figure, and it is easy to see that the Princesse de Lamballe was really very charming. Morally, she was good. Nothing of a coquette, she was very sweet and almost ingenuous. Though but little blessed with natural wit, her gayety was none the less frank and full of spontaneity. She was not an enemy to pleasure; but she preferred it simple and without ostentation. Criticism has often been levelled at the frivolous side of her character, but never did it succeed, even in its sharpest attacks, in citing a wrong action on her part.”
Her husband, the Prince de Lamballe died of a venereal disease on 6 May 1768, at the Château de Louveciennes. The couple had no children. Marie-Thérèse Louise went to live with her father-in-law at the Chateau de Rambouillet. Upon the marriage of Louis Auguste, Dauphin of France (23 August 1754 – 21 January 1793) to Maria Antonia, Archduchess of Austria (2 November 1755 – 16 October 1793) in 1770, she returned to Court. The new Dauphine of France was charmed by her gentle manners and the two became good friends. In 1774, Louis XV, King of France (15 February 1710 – 10 May 1774) died of smallpox. He was succeeded by his grandson as Louis XVI, King of france and Navarre, with Marie Antoinette as his consort. After her accession as Queen, Marie Antoinette, in spite of the King’s opposition, appointed the Princesse de Lamballe to be the superintendent of her Royal household. According to the Memoirs of Marie Antoinette by Madame Campan,
“It was at the time of the sleighing-parties that the Queen became intimately acquainted with the Princesse de Lamballe, who made her appearance in them wrapped in fur, with all the brilliancy and freshness of the age of twenty,–the emblem of spring, peeping from under sable and ermine. Her situation, moreover, rendered her peculiarly interesting; married, when she was scarcely past childhood, to a young prince, who ruined himself by the contagious example of the Duc d’Orleans, she had had nothing to do from the time of her arrival in France but to weep. A widow at eighteen, and childless, she lived with the Duc de Penthievre as an adopted daughter. She had the tenderest respect and attachment for that venerable Prince; but the Queen, though doing justice to his virtues, saw that the Duc de Penthievre’s way of life, whether at Paris or at his country-seat, could neither afford his young daughter-in-law the amusements suited to her time of life, nor ensure her in the future an establishment such as she was deprived of by her widowhood. She determined, therefore, to establish her at Versailles; and for her sake revived the office of superintendent, which had been discontinued at Court since the death of Mademoiselle de Clermont. It is said that Maria Leczinska had decided that this place should continue vacant, the superintendent having so extensive a power in the houses of queens as to be frequently a restraint upon their inclinations. Differences which soon took place between Marie Antoinette and the Princesse de Lamballe respecting the official prerogatives of the latter, proved that the wife of Louis XV. had acted judiciously in abolishing the office; but a kind of treaty made between the Queen and the Princess smoothed all difficulties. The blame for too strong an assertion of claims fell upon a secretary of the superintendent, who had been her adviser; and everything was so arranged that a firm friendship existed between these two Princesses down to the disastrous period which terminated their career.”
Her father, Luigi Vittorio de Savoie-Carignano, Prince de Carignan died aged 57, on 16 December 1778.
She was the Queen’s favourite until the beautiful Yolande Martine Gabrielle de Polastron, Duchesse de Polignac (8 September 1749 – 9 December 1793) made her precence known at Court. Born on the same day as the Princesse de Lamballe, between 1776 and 1785, she supplanted her as the fvourite. According to Madame Campan,
“The Princesse de Lamballe, although she did not quarrel with the Queen, was alarmed at the establishment of the Comtesse Jules at Court, and did not form, as her Majesty had hoped, a part of that intimate society, which was in turn composed of Mesdames Jules and Diane de Polignac, d’Andlau and de Chalon, and Messieurs de Guignes, de Coigny, d’Adhemar, de Besenval, lieutenant-colonel of the Swiss, de Polignac, de Vaudreuil, and de Guiche; the Prince de Ligne and the Duke of Dorset, the English ambassador, were also admitted.”
When Marie Antoinette tired of the Polignacs’ intrigues, she turned again to the sweet Princesse de Lamballe.
In 1781, she was painted by the French female painter Marie-Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun (16 April 1755 – 30 March 1842).
From 1785, the Princesse de Lamballe was the besieged Queen’s closest friend. The Princess displayed remarkable personal courage and loyalty towards her disgraced friend. She was a great support to her during the early, difficult years of her marriage to King Louis XVI, when the Mesdames de France spoke ill of the Queen, she was there and supported her, and when the country turned against her, her loyalty was even then, never to peril.
Marie-Thérèse Louise accompanied the Royal Family to imprisonment at the Tuileries Palace after they were forced to leave the Palace of Versailles.
In 1791, she was allowed to go to Great Britain where she tried to gain support for the beleaguered Royal family. Like Madame Du Barry, she too no doubt was advised to remain put, but she was determined not to desert Marie Antoinette and so came back to France. Princess de Lamballe remained with Marie Antoinette until the events of 10 August 1792, when the Revolutionary mob attacked the Tuileries Palace and massacred the 900 Swiss Guards. The Royal Family, which escaped in the nick of time, was now carted off to imprisonment at the Temple Fortress in Paris. After being incarcerated here herself, on 19 August 1792, she and the Marquise de Tourzel, governess to the royal children, were separated from the Royal family and transferred to La Force prison in Paris. On 3 September 1792, she was brought before a hastily assembled tribunal, who demanded she swear an oath of perpetual hatred against the French monarchy. She was asked to embrace the Revolution and its principles and denounce the Monarchy. While she agreed to take an oath supporting the former, she firmly refused to turn against her beloved Queen. With this refusal, she signed her own death warrant. Confronted by an improvised court on trumped up charges which she denied, she was then asked to swear an oath of loyalty to Liberty and Equality and one of hatred to the King, Queen and Monarchy, she accepted the first but refused it later.
A door was opened off the interrogation room, where the Princess saw men waiting with axes and pikes.
Pushed into an alley she was hacked to death in minutes. Just because she was the Queen’s friend, because of jealousy and blind rage.
Her clothes were stripped from her body, some accounts attest to the crowd cutting off her breasts and mutilating her genitals. Her head was cut off, stuck on a pike and then carried away to a nearby café where it was laid down in front of the customers, who were asked to drink in celebration of her death. Her head was then replaced upon the pike and carried in triumph through Paris to be shown to the Queen. Pareded beneath Marie Antoinette’s prison window at the Temple, those who were carrying it wished the Queen to kiss the lips of her favourite, as it was a frequent rumor that the two had been lovers. The head was not allowed to be brought into the building, but the Queen’s guards did force her to look out of the window at the sight. The valet peered through the blinds to see the Princess’s blonde curls bobbing in the air. According to her daughter, Marie Thérèse Charlotte (19 December 1778 – 19 October 1851) the Queen was “frozen with horror,” and she then collapsed to the ground in a dead faint. Eyewitness accounts of this event were given by the Comte de Beaujolais and wax-modeler Marie Tussaud, who was forced to make the death-mask of the Princess. While her head was displayed on a pike, her body was brought to the authorities shortly after her death. It was claimed that her body was displayed on the street for a full day. Marie-Thérèse Louise de Savoie-Carignan, Princesse de Lamballe was murdered by the mob at the age of 42, on 3 September 1792, in Paris, France. Her father in law, the Duke of Penthièvre finally succeeded in retrieving her corpse. She was buried in the Penthrièvre family crypt, in the Cathedral at Dreux. According to the Memoirs of Madame Vigée Le Brun by Marie-Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun,
“…I also painted the Princess de Lamballe. Without being actually pretty, she appeared so at a little distance; she had small features, complexion of dazzling freshness, superb blond locks, and was generally elegant in person. The unhappy end of this unfortunate Princess is sufficently well known, and so is the devotion to which she fell a victim. For in 1793, when she was at Turin, entirely out of harm’s way, she returned to France upon learning that the Queen was in danger.”
Her character was of the admirable few. What was in her honour was her strength to resist evil, her loyalty to her last breath.
Sources: Madame de Lamballe by Georges Bertin, The Memoirs of Marie Antoinette by Madame Campan and the Memoirs of Madame Vigée Le Brun by Marie-Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun.