A pre-revolutionary flight: Louis XVˈs daughters | Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century: A pre-revolutionary flight: Louis XVˈs daughters

June 09, 2011

A pre-revolutionary flight: Louis XVˈs daughters

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, Portrait de Adélaïde de France.
Pastel on paper, 1787. Palace of Versailles.

Jean-Marc Nattier, Madame
Victoire of France.
Oil on canvas, 1748.
Musée national des Châteaux
de Versailles et de
Trianon, Versailles.

Madame Adelaide and her younger sister, Madame Victoire, had lived in quiet retirement for some time before the French Revolution had fully developed. The women, who spent much of their time doing charity work and staying out of the public eye felt the dangers of the intense changing political thought.

They found it in their best interest to leave France for a while, until things quieted down. The ladies planned to travel to Rome where they would visit St. Peters, but ultimately they wanted to find a safe refuge. They secured their passports and with Louis XVI's permission, begun their journey.

The idea of members of the royal family leaving France, or fleeing France, was much discussed, and caused concern of planned escape of other members of the family, perhaps the king and queen, even plots of foreign involvement in the to-be revolution were considered.

The paper, Sabbats Jacobites, had written on the subject with much sarcasm:
"The Ladies are going to Italy to try the power of their tears and their charms upon the princes of that country.  Already the Grand Master of Malta has caused Madame Adelaide to be informed that he will give her his heart and hand as soon as she has quitted France, and that she may count upon the assistance of three galleys and forty-eight cavaliers, young and old. Our Holy Father undertakes to marry Victoire and promises her his army of three hundred men to bring about a counter-revolution."
 As a result of all the buzz, soon after they left, the daughters of Louis XV were detained at Arnay-le Duc, and awaited a decision from the National Assembly over whether or not they could proceed out of France.

Joseph Ducreux, Jacques-Francois
Menou (1750-1810). Pastel, black chalk,
blue paper on canvas, late 18th century.
Versailles National Museum of Versailles and Trianon.

The decision was not made in haste, and the National Assembly spent good time on the matter.  The matter was resolved after Jacques-Francois Menou made the following observation:
"Europe will doubtless be much astonished, when it learns that the National Assembly of France spent four entire hours in deliberating on the departure of two ladies who would rather hear Mass in Rome than in Paris."
 With this, the National Assembly permitted them to leave the country, much to the dismay of many.  Violent riots broke out in Arnay-le-Ducpreventing their departure for days.  Paris too saw its share of rioting over the decision.  When the mobs approached the Tuileries, where Louis and his family stayed, they demanded he order his aunts back.  Louis held his position, and did not grant their demand nor consider it any further, and the crowds eventually dispersed, and the women made their way to Rome.


  1. Would that Louis and Marie-Antoinette
    had had the foresight to make a practical and expedient flight from France...

  2. @Anonymous history could have taken some strange other turn...

    When the two ladies were detained, they were held in cramped tavern-like rooms