Henriette de France (Anne Henriette, also known as Madame Seconde, Versailles, France, 14th August 1727 – Versailles, France, 10th February 1752)
|Louise Élisabeth and Henriette de France by Pierre Gobert, 1737|
Louise Élisabeth and Henriette were the eldest daughters of Louis XV and Maria Leszczyńska; born and raised at Versailles, the girls remained at the Palace under the tutelage of Marie Isabelle de Rohan, duchesse de Tallard, and developed into charming and intelligent young ladies.
As was the tradition among the Catholic royal houses of the day, Élisabeth was betrothed to the Infante Philip of Spain, son of King Philip V and Elizabeth of Parma. Believing that the young princess could make a better dynastic match, the French courtiers were not particularly enthused by the engagement but Louis was determined and the deal was struck.
A proxy marriage took place between Élisabeth and Philip on 26th August 1739, the twelve year old bride and nineteen year old groom having yet to meet. Before the month was out the heartbroken girl was dispatched to join her new husband at Alcalá de Henares, leaving her twin sister at home in France. Whilst Élisabeth's future had already been decided, Henriette was deeply in love with her cousin, Louis Philippe d'Orléans, duc de Chartres. The couple approached the King with dreams of marriage but they were rejected by Henriette's father and the young princess remained unmarried. Instead, Henriette threw herself into her passion for music, becoming a talented instrumentalist under the tutelage of noted musicians.
|Madame Henriette playing the Viola da Gamba by Jean-Marc Nattier, 1754|
Deeply unhappy at being parted from Henriette, Élisabeth's marriage was not a particularly happy one though the couple had three children together. After the bright and informal court of Versailles she found the Spanish court dour and her strict mother in law, Elizabeth of Parma, interfering and imperious. Following the War of Austrian Succession in 1748 Élisabeth and Philip were named as Duke and Duchess of Parma after lobbying by Louis XV. Despite the upheaval, Élisabeth must have been relieved when she was allowed to return to Versailles to thank her father for this new position and she was overjoyed to be reunited with her family in France.
However, things were not as rosy as they had once been at Versailles and the sisters were temporarily divided by the presence of their father's mistress, Madame de Pompadour. Watching the King lavish attention on his lover at the expense of his wife, Henriette loathed the woman. However, when Élisabeth visited France, she and Mme de Pompadour became good friends. Happily they were reconciled before Élisabeth travelled on to Parma, though Henriette would never warm to the apparent interloper at Versailles.
|The Family of Philip of Parma by Giuseppe Baldrighi, 1755|
In 1749 Élisabeth arrived at her new home in Parma and, free of her mother in law's interference, set about stamping her own style on the new court. She brought a touch of Versailles to Parma, redecorating the Ducal Palace of Colorno to reflect a more French aesthetic; gone were the austere traditions of the Spanish court, replaced by the sense of informal fun that she had so enjoyed throughout her childhood.
When Henriette died of smallpox in 1752 a distraught Élisabeth returned to Versailles once more and remained there for the better part of a year. The woman who had once been so terrified to leave her home returned to Parma with a new sense of ambition, this time building a dynasty of her own. Securing good marriages for her three children, Élisabeth forged a close alliance with Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa, who promised her a European throne to call her own.
|Portrait of Louise Élisabeth of France by Louis-Michel van Loo|
In fact, Élisabeth would never achieve this lofty ambition and, during a visit to Versailles, contracted smallpox. She died in her childhood home on 6th December 1759. She was laid to rest beside her beloved sister at the Basilica of Saint-Denis, the twins reunited at last.