|Louise Élisabeth d'Orléans by Jean Ranc, 1724|
We have encountered many cultured, poised and very noble women here at the Guide yet our visitor today was known for being a little more earthy than some of her peers and fellow princesses. My own grandmother Gilflurt can be somewhat ribald yet even she never quite matched some of the more unusual behaviour of Louise Élisabeth d'Orléans, a young lady who lived a somewhat sad life.
Élisabeth d'Orléans was born to Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, and his wife, Françoise Marie de Bourbon. As the fifth of seven children, it was always supposed by her disinterested parents that she would make an uninspiring and unimportant dynastic marriage and her convent education was basic, focussing on making her a relatively useful wife. However, her father was regent ruler of France and when war broke out with Spain, King Philip V suggested that an admirable way to make peace might be through a series of alliance-building marriages.
|Louis I of Spain by Jean Ranc, 1724|
It was agreed that the 11 year old Élisabeth would marry Louis of Spain and the wedding took place by proxy in November 1721. Élisabeth left for Madrid immediately afterwards, taking with her an enormous dowry of 4 million livres but upon her arrival she was subject to a far from glowing welcome. Given the title of Princess of Asturias, she was not made welcome at the Spanish court and found herself mocked and gossiped about, her insular upbringing leaving her without friends or support. Still only a girl, Élisabeth lacked the emotional maturity to stand up to such bullying and instead began to behave increasingly bizarrely, displaying poor manners and hygiene and apparently appearing naked in front of people. She and Louis did not get on at all and went for long periods without seeing one another, often not speaking when they were together; perhaps unsurprisingly, there were no children from the marriage.
Louis and Élisabeth became king and queen on 15th January 1724 yet the reign was a short one and Louis died of smallpox within the year. A widow at just 15, Élisabeth remained in Madrid after her husband's death yet found herself utterly isolated and eventually returned to France. The Spanish crown moved to have her marriage annulled and the unhappy young girl endured an isolated existance in Paris. She died at the age of just 32, lonely to the last.