Wednesday 11 December 2013

The Lonely Life of Louise Élisabeth d'Orléans

Louise Élisabeth d'Orléans (Versailles, France, 11th December 1709 - Paris, France, 16th June 1742)

Louise Élisabeth d'Orléans by Jean Ranc, 1724
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
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.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

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Kristina said...

Wow, so, so sad...

Unknown said...


Catherine Curzon said...

She's barely remembered, I think; such a shame.

Catherine Curzon said...

And so young too.

Gerri Bowen said...

So sad.

Catherine Curzon said...

The true stories behind the portraits are sadly not the fairy tales I had hoped as a wee girl!

Angelina Jameson said...

Poor girl.

Catherine Curzon said...

Her story has definitely touched people!

York Regency Society said...

Tragic, all the more so as she evidently found no comfort back home in France: no one to finally love and understand her after all that suffering. No wonder she went off the rails in Spain, a child, alone, and treated with hostility.

Catherine Curzon said...

I wanted to share her story because she was forgotten in Spain and France and also, to some extent, by history. I've had so much feedback from people who were touched by her sad story, I hope she would be pleased!

Lynn said...

Poor child. I hope she is resting peacefully in Heaven now