Élisabeth Charlotte d'Orléans

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Élisabeth Charlotte d'Orléans
Princess of Commercy
Gobert, workshop of - Élisabeth Charlotte d'Orléans - Versailles, MV3690.jpg
Duchess consort of Lorraine
Tenure13 October 1698 – 27 March 1729
Born(1676-09-13)13 September 1676
Château de Saint-Cloud, France
Died23 December 1744(1744-12-23) (aged 68)
Château de Commercy, Lorraine
SpouseLeopold, Duke of Lorraine
FatherPhilippe I, Duke of Orléans
MotherElisabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate
ReligionRoman Catholicism

Élisabeth Charlotte d'Orléans (13 September 1676 – 23 December 1744) was a petite-fille de France, and Duchess of Lorraine and Bar by marriage to Leopold, Duke of Lorraine. She was regent of Lorraine and Bar during the minority (1729–1730) and absence of her son (1730–1737), and suo jure Princess of Commercy 1737–1744. Among her children was Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, a co-founder (and patrilineal agnatic ancestor) of the royal House of Habsburg-Lorraine.


Early life[edit]

Élisabeth Charlotte was born at the Château de Saint-Cloud outside Paris. She was the daughter of Philippe I, Duke of Orléans, Monsieur, and of his second wife Elizabeth Charlotte, Madame Palatine, the daughter of Charles I Louis, Elector Palatine. Her father was the only sibling of King Louis XIV of France. As a petite-fille de France, she was entitled to have the style of Her Royal Highness, as well as the right to an armchair in the presence of the King.[1] At birth, she was given the style Mademoiselle de Chartres, taken from the name of one of her father's appanages. After the marriage of her two older half-sisters, Marie Louise and Anne Marie, born of the first marriage of their father to Henrietta of England, she was known as Madame Royale, according to her status as the highest-ranking unmarried princess in France.

As a child, Élisabeth-Charlotte was described by her mother as 'so terribly wild' and 'rough as a boy'.[2] To her father's displeasure, she shared the frank opinions of her mother.


Her mother wanted her to marry with the same level of prestige as that of her sisters. When her cousin's wife, the Dauphine, suggested she should marry the Dauphine's younger brother Joseph Clemens of Bavaria, Élisabeth Charlotte said, "I am not made, madame, for a younger son."[3]

Proxy marriage of the Duke of Lorraine and Élisabeth Charlotte by an unknown artist

As her mother despised the king's illegitimate children, the chances of such an alliance were remote; however, in 1692, to the 'horror' of the Duchess of Orléans, such a mismatch occurred when the Duke of Chartres married Françoise Marie de Bourbon, the youngest legitimised daughter of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan.

Élisabeth's mother initially wanted her daughter to marry King William III of England, who was the widower of Queen Mary II of England, but, due to William being a Protestant, the marriage did not materialise.

Other candidates considered were Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I;[4] Joseph was highly regarded, and, had the marriage taken place, the union would have been a way of reconciling the Bourbons and their traditional rivals, the Habsburgs. Even her widowed first cousin Monseigneur, the Dauphin of France, was considered, as were his son, Louis de France, and another cousin, the legitimised Louis Auguste, Duke of Maine, eldest son of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. The latter, much to the relief of Madame did not occur as the Duke of Maine married Mademoiselle de Charolais in May 1692.

Élisabeth Charlotte was finally married on 13 October 1698 at the Palace of Fontainebleau to Leopold, Duke of Lorraine, son of Charles V, Duke of Lorraine, and of the Archduchess Eleonora Maria Josefa of Austria.

The marriage was the result of the Treaty of Ryswick, one of its conditions being that the Duchy of Lorraine, which had been for many years in the possession of France, be restored to Leopold Joseph, a son of Charles V, Duke of Lorraine. Thus, Élisabeth Charlotte was but an instrument to cement the peace treaty. Her mother later said that her daughter "was a victim of war".

Duchess of Lorraine[edit]

The marriage was seen as a brilliant match by the House of Lorraine but was regarded by some as unworthy of a petite-fille de France. Despite this, the bride carried to the House of Lorraine a dowry of 900,000 livres. The jealousy of some members of the royal family prompted certain princesses to use as pretext the death of Louis Constantin de Bourbon, prince de Dombes (17 November 1695 – 28 September 1698), son of Louis Auguste, Duke of Maine, to attend the marriage ceremonies by proxy or in mourning clothes.

After Élisabeth Charlotte's marriage, her niece Louise Adélaïde d'Orléans, born 13 August 1698, took the style of Mademoiselle de Chartres.

To everyone's surprise, what had been expected to be an unhappy union turned out to be a marriage of love and happiness. With the birth of her children, Élisabeth Charlotte showed great maternal instinct and a naturally caring character.

The marriage produced fourteen children, five of whom attained adulthood. Three of them died within a week in May 1711 due to a smallpox outbreak at the Château de Lunéville, the country seat of the dukes of Lorraine.

Élisabeth Charlotte was religiously intolerant and supported the persecution of non-Catholics. She persuaded her husband to issue many oppressive laws against Protestants and Jews. During this time over 280 religious dissenters burned at the stake in persecutions.

In 1708, after ten years of marriage her husband turned his attentions to another, Anne-Marguerite de Ligniville, princesse de Beauveau-Craon. Embarrassed, Élisabeth Charlotte, on her mother's advice, remained silent and continued to live in the Château de Lunéville with her husband and his mistress. During this time, Élisabeth Charlotte was herself ill, suffering from serious coughing, fainting, and fever. Ligniville remained the favourite of Duke Leopold Joseph until his death in 1729.[5] Yet the spouses had five more children, one of whom would become the father of Queen Marie Antoinette.

In June 1701, her father died after having a heated argument with Louis XIV at Versailles[6] about the Duke of Chartres. Her brother thus became the new Duke of Orléans and head of the House of Orléans. Her mother was left at the mercy of Louis XIV, who forbade her from visiting foreign soil[citation needed]. As a result, Élisabeth Charlotte was only able to see her mother when she went to Versailles. Despite this, Élisabeth Charlotte and her mother kept in contact through letters. Their correspondence was destroyed in a fire at the Château de Lunéville in 1719.

On the death of Louis XIV in 1715, her brother became the Regent of France for the five-year-old King Louis XV. In 1718, during a brief visit to the French court in Paris, her niece, the Dowager Duchess of Berry, gave a lavish reception in her honour at the Palais du Luxembourg, consisting of 132 hors-d'œuvres, 32 soups, 60 entrées, 130 hot entremets, 60 cold entremets, 72 plats ronds, 82 pigeons, 370 partridges and pheasants, and 126 sweetbreads. The dessert consisted of 100 baskets of fresh fruit, 94 baskets of dried fruit, 50 dishes of fruits glacés and 106 compotes.

Upon leaving France, her husband was accorded the style of Royal Highness, usually reserved for members of foreign dynasties headed by a king.

Louis XV's coronation at Reims Cathedral on 25 October 1722 was the only occasion on which Élisabeth Charlotte's youngest child, Anne Charlotte, would see her grandmother, who died a few weeks later on 8 December; Élisabeth Charlotte's brother died the following December, still ruling France as regent.

Regent of Lorraine[edit]

Her husband died in 1729, leaving his wife Regent of Lorraine for their son, Duke Francis Stephen. He interrupted his education in Vienna to return home in 1730 for the investiture of his mother as regent, then returned to Austria.

Élisabeth Charlotte tried to engage her daughter Anne Charlotte to King Louis XV; this project failed due to the intrigues of Louis Henri, Duke of Bourbon; Élisabeth Charlotte then tried to arrange the marriage of Anne Charlotte to her nephew Louis, Duke of Orléans, who had been recently widowed, but the devout duke chose not to remarry.[citation needed]

Princess of Commercy[edit]

Unable to prevent her son from giving up the duchy of Lorraine to Stanisław Leszczyński when he married the Habsburg heiress, Maria Theresa of Austria, Élisabeth Charlotte moved into the Château d'Haroué in nearby Commercy, which was erected into a sovereign principality for her to reign over during her dowager years.

The Château de Commercy where she died in 1744

In 1737, her daughter, Élisabeth Thérèse married Charles Emmanuel III of Sardinia. Elisabetta Teresa, as she was known in Italy, died in childbirth in 1741 after giving birth to Élisabeth Charlotte's grandson, Benedetto, Duke of Chablais.

On 7 January 1744 her youngest son, Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine, made a "marriage of love" with Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria, who died in childbirth on 16 December 1744.

Élisabeth Charlotte died of a stroke at the age of sixty-eight on 23 December 1744, one week after her daughter-in-law and grandchild. She was the last of her siblings to die and had outlived most of her children. Nine months after her death, her son Francis Stephen became Holy Roman Emperor.

She was buried in the funerary chapel of the Dukes of Lorraine in the Saint-François-des-Cordeliers church in Nancy.


Élisabeth Charlotte authorised the construction of a hospital in the town of Bruyères.

In 1730, she offered to the church of Mattaincourt the wooden gilded shrine for the relics of Pierre Fourier, the former parish priest who had been beatified on 29 January 1730. The modern basilique Saint-Pierre-Fournier was built in 1853 on the site of the former church.

In 1696, the French author Charles Perrault dedicated Les Contes de ma mère l'Oye, ("Tales of Mother Goose") to Élisabeth Charlotte, who was then nineteen.


  1. Prince Léopold, Hereditary Prince of Lorraine (26 August 1699 – 2 April 1700) died in infancy.
  2. Élisabeth Charlotte of Lorraine (21 October 1700 – 4 May 1711) died of smallpox.
  3. Louise Christine of Lorraine (13 November 1701 – 18 November 1701) died in infancy.
  4. Marie Gabrièle Charlotte of Lorraine (30 December 1702 – 11 May 1711) died of smallpox.
  5. Louis, Hereditary Prince of Lorraine (28 January 1704 – 10 May 1711) died of smallpox.
  6. Joséphine Gabrièle of Lorraine (16 February 1705 – 25 March 1708) died in infancy.
  7. Gabrièle Louise of Lorraine (4 March 1706 – 13 June 1710) died in infancy.
  8. Léopold Clément, Hereditary Prince of Lorraine (25 April 1707 – 4 June 1723) died unmarried.
  9. Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor (8 December 1708 – 18 August 1765) married Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria and had issue.
  10. Eléonore of Lorraine (4 June 1710 – 28 July 1710) died in infancy.
  11. Elisabeth Therese of Lorraine (15 October 1711 – 3 July 1741) married Charles Emmanuel III of Sardinia and had issue.
  12. Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine (12 December 1712 – 4 July 1780) married Maria Anna of Austria and had no surviving issue.
  13. Anne Charlotte of Lorraine (17 May 1714 – 7 November 1773) died unmarried.
  14. Stillborn daughter (28 November 1718).



  1. ^ Nancy Nicholas Barker, Brother to the Sun king: Philippe, Duke of Orléans, p. 1.
  2. ^ Antonia Fraser: Love and Louis XIV, p.189
  3. ^ je ne suis pas faite, madame, pour un cadet.
  4. ^ Joseph was suggested by Pope Innocent XII himself
  5. ^ Sarah Lebasch: Elisabeth-Charlotte d’Orléans, at siefar.org
  6. ^ Dufresne, Claude, les d'Orléans, CRITERION, Paris, 1991, p. 85, ISBN 2-903702-57-8.
Élisabeth Charlotte d'Orléans
Cadet branch of the House of Bourbon
Born: 13 September 1676 Died: 23 December 1744
French nobility
Preceded by Mademoiselle de Chartres
Succeeded by
French royalty
Title last held by
Eleonore of Austria
Duchess consort of Lorraine and Bar
Title next held by
Maria Theresa of Austria
Preceded by
New creation
Princess of Commercy
Succeeded by