Princess Marie Louise of Savoy

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Maria Teresa Luisa
Princess of Lamballe
Madame la princesse de Lamballe by Antoine-François Callet (circa 1776, Callet).jpg
Marie Louise by Antoine-François Callet
Born (1749-09-08)8 September 1749
Palazzo Carignano, Turin, Italy
Died 3 September 1792(1792-09-03) (aged 42)
Paris, France
Spouse Louis Alexandre de Bourbon, Prince de Lamballe
Full name
Princess Maria Teresa Luisa di Savoia-Carignano
House House of Savoy-Carignano (by birth)
House of Bourbon (by marriage)
Father Louis Victor of Savoy, Prince di Carignano
Mother Landgravine Christine of Hesse-Rheinfels-Rotenburg
Religion Roman Catholicism
Signature Maria Teresa Luisa's signature

Princess Marie-Louise Thérèse of Savoy-Carignan (8 September 1749 – 3 September 1792) was a member of a cadet branch of the House of Savoy. She was married at the age of 17 to Louis Alexandre de Bourbon-Penthièvre, Prince de Lamballe, the heir to the greatest fortune in France. After her marriage, which lasted a year, she went to court and became the confidante of Queen Marie Antoinette. She was killed in the massacres of September 1792 during the French Revolution.


Marie Therese de Savoie, princesse de Lamballe by Louis-Édouard Rioult (1790–1855)
Princess of Lamballe 1788 by Anton Hickel at the Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna

Marie Thérèse was born in Turin. Her father was Louis Victor, Prince of Carignano, a maternal grandson of Victor Amadeus II of Sardinia and his mistress Jeanne d'Albert de Luynes.

Her mother, Landgravine Christine of Hesse-Rheinfels-Rotenburg, was the daughter of Ernest Leopold, Landgrave of Hesse-Rotenburg. Her aunts included, Polyxena of Hesse-Rheinfels-Rotenburg, the wife of Charles Emmanuel III of Sardinia (Victor Amadeus III was her first cousin) and Caroline, Princess of Condé and wife of Louis Henri, Duke of Bourbon. Louis Joseph, Prince of Condé was another first cousin who was at the French court.[1] Not much is known of her childhood.[2]


On 31 January 1767, she was married by proxy to Louis Alexandre de Bourbon-Penthièvre, prince de Lamballe, grandson of Louis XIV's legitimised son, Louis Alexandre de Bourbon, comte de Toulouse, and the only surviving son of Louis de Bourbon-Toulouse, Duke of Penthièvre.

The marriage was arranged after it had been suggested by Louis XV as a suitable match, both the bride and the groom being members of a royal sideline, and it was accepted by her family because the King of Sardinia had long wished for an alliance between the House of Savoy and the Royal House of France: in the following years, further marriage alliances between France and Savoy would follow.[2] The wedding ceremony by proxy was held at the Savoy royal court at Turin and attended by the King of Sardinia and his court, followed by a bedding ceremony and a banquet, before the bride was sent over the French border to join her groom and father-in-law at the Chateau the Nangis, after which she was introduced at the French royal court at the Palace of Versailles by the countess de La Marche in February, were she made a favorable impression.[2] The marriage was initially described as very happy, as both parties were attracted to each others beauty, but after only a few months Louis Alexandre became unfaithful with two actresses after another, which reportedly devastated Marie Thérèse: she was given sympathy by her father-in-law, to whom she became close.[2]

In 1768, at the age of nineteen, Marie Thérèse became a widow when her husband died of a venereal disease at the Château de Louveciennes, nursed by his spouse and sister.[2] She inherited her husband's considerable fortune, making her wealthy in her own right. Her father-in-law successfully persuaded her to abandon her wish to become a nun and instead stay with him as his daughter, to comfort him in his grief, and join him in his extensive charitable projects at Rambouillet, an activity which gave him the name "King of the Poor" and her the nickname "The Angel of Penthiévre".[2]

In 1768, after the death of the Queen, Princess Marie Adélaïde of France supported a match between her father the King, and the dowager princess. She reportedly preferred a Queen who was young a beautiful but lacked ambition; who could attract and distract her father from state affairs, leaving them to Madame Adélaïde, and she supported the Dowager Princess de Lamballe as a suitable candidate for that purpose, and was supported by the powerful Noailles family.[2] However, the Princess de Lamballe was not willing to encourage the match herself, and her former father-in-law, the Duke of Penthievré, was not willing to consent, and the marriage plan never materialized.[2]

She lived at the Hôtel de Toulouse in Paris and at the Château de Rambouillet. On 4 January 1769, there was an announcement of the marriage of Marie Thérèse's sister-in-law Mademoiselle de Penthièvre, heiress to the greatest fortune in France, to the young Philippe d'Orléans, duc de Chartres, an old friend of the late prince de Lamballe.


The princesse de Lamballe had a role to play in royal ceremonies by marriage, and when the new Dauphine, Marie Antoinette, arrived in France in 1770, she was presented to her along the Dukes and Duchesses of Orléans, Chartres, Bourbon and the others "Princes of the Blood" with her father-in-law in Compiégne. During 1771, the Duke de Penthiévre started to entertain more, among others the Crown Prince of Sweden and the King of Denmark; Marie Thérèse acted as his hostess, and started to attend court more often, participating in the balls held by Madame de Noailles in the name of Marie Antoinette, who was reportedly charmed by Marie Thérèse, and overwhelmed her with attention and affection that spectators did not fail to notice. In March 1771 the Austrian ambassador reported:"'For some time past the Dauphiness has shown a great affection for the Princesse de Lamballe. . . . This young princess is sweet and amiable, and enjoying the privilèges of a Princess of the Blood Royal, is in a position to avail herself of her Royal Highness's favour."[2]

The "Gazette de France" mentions Madame de Lamballe's presence in the chapel at high mass on Holy Thursday, at which the King was present, accompanied by the Royal Family and the Dukes of Bourbon and Penthièvre. In May 1771, she went to Fontainebleau, and was there presented by the king to her cousin, the future Countess of Provence, attending the supper after. In November 1773, another one of her cousins married the third prince, the Count of Artois, and she was present at the birth of the future Louis-Philippe of France in Paris in October 1773. After her cousins had married Marie-Antoinette's brother-in-laws, the royal princes, Marie Thérèse de Lamballe came to be treated by Marie-Antoinette as a relation, and during these first years, the counts and countesses of Provence and Artois formed a circle of friends with Marie-Antoinette and the princesse de Lamballe and spent a lot of their time together, the princesse de Lamballe being described as almost constantly by Marie-Antoinette's side.[2] The empress Maria Theresa somewhat disliked the attachment, because she disliked favorites and intimate friends of royalty in general, though the princesse de Lamballe was because of her rank regarded as an acceptable choice, if such an intimate friend was needed.[2]

In 18 September 1775, following the ascension of her husband to the throne in May 1774, Queen Marie Antoinette appointed Marie Thérèse "Superintendent of the Queen's Household", the highest rank possible for a lady-in-waiting at Versailles. This appointment was controversial: the office had been vacant for over thirty years because the position was expensive, superfluous and gave far too much power and influence to the bearer, giving her rank and power over all other ladies-in-waiting and requiring all orders given by any other female office holder to be confirmed by her before it could be carried out, and Lamballe, though of sufficient rank to be appointed, was regarded too young, which would offend those placed under her, but the queen regarded it a just reward for her friend.[2]

After Marie Antoinette became queen, her intimate friendship with Lamballe was given greater attention and Mercy reported: "Her Majesty continually sees the Princesse de Lamballe in her rooms [...] This lady joins to much sweetness a very sincère character, far from intrigue and ail such worries. The Queen has conceived for some time a real friendship for this young Princess, and the choice is excellent, for although a Piedmontese, Madame de Lamballe is not at ail identified with the interests of Mesdames de Provence and d'Artois. Ail the same, I hâve taken the précaution to point out to the Queen that her favour and goodness to the Princesse de Lamballe are somewhat excessive, in order to prevent abuse of them from that quarter."[2] Empress Maria Theresa tried to discourage the friendship out of fear of Lamballe, as a former princess of Savoy, would try to benefit Savoyan interest trough the queen. During her first year as queen, Marie Antoinette reportedly said to Louis XVI, who himself was very approving of her friendship with Lamballe: "Ah, sire, the Princesse de Lamballe's friendship is the charm of my life."[2] Lamballe welcomed her brother's at court, and upon the queen's wish, Lamballe's favorite brother Eugène was granted a lucrative post with his own regiment in the French army to please his sister; later, Lamballe was also granted the governorship of Poitiou for her brother-in-law by the queen.[2]

Princesse de Lamballe was described as proud, sensitive and with a delicate though irregular beauty. Not a wit and not one to participate in plots, she was able to amuse Marie Antoinette, but she was of a reclusive nature and prefer to spend time with the queen alone rather than to participate in high society: she suffered from what was described as "nerves, convulsions, fainting-fits", and could reportedly faint and remain unconscious for hours.[2] The office of Superintendent required that she confirmed all orders regarding the queen before they could be performed, that all letters, pétitions, or memoranda to the queen was to be channeled through her, and that she entertain in the name of the queen. The office aroused great envy and insulted a great number of people at court because of the precedence in rank it gave. It also gave the enormous salary of 50,000 crowns a year, and because of the condition of the state's economy and the great wealth of Lamballe, she was asked to renounce the salary. When she refused for the sake of rank and stated that she would either have all the privileges of the office or retire, she was granted the salary by the queen: this incident aroused much bad publicity and Lamballe was painted as a greedy royal favorite, and her famous fainting spells widely mocked as manipulative simulations.[2] She was openly talked about as the favorite of the queen, and was greeted almost as visiting royalty when she traveled around the country during her free time, and had poems dedicated to her.

In 1775, however, Lamballe's position as the favorite of the queen started to be undermined by the arrival of Yolande de Polastron, duchesse de Polignac at court, who gradually started to replace her as the favorite. The outgoing and social Yolande de Polastron referred to the reserved Lamballe as a boor, while Lamballe disliked the bad influence she regarded Polignac to have over the queen, and Marie Antoinette, who was unable to make them get along, started to prefer the company of Yolande de Polastron, who could better satisfy her need for amusement and pleasure.[2] In April 1776, Ambassador Mercy reported: "The Princesse de Lamballe loses much in favour. I believe she will always be well treated by the Queen, but she no longer possesses her entire confidence", and continued in May by reporting of "constant quarrels, in which the Princesse seemed always to be in the wrong".[2] Though Lamballe was replaced by de Polignac as favorite, the friendship with the queen was nevertheless not quite broken: Lamballe continued in her office, and Marie Antoinette occasionally continued to visit her in her rooms, and reportedly appreciated the serenity and loyalty of Lamballe when her thirst for pleasures was satisfied, once commenting: "She is the only woman I know who never bears a grudge; neither hatred nor jealousy is to be found in her."[2]

Marie Thérèse was by nature reserved and there was never any gossip about her private life. However, in popular anti-monarchist propaganda of the time, she was regularly portrayed in pornographic pamphlets, showing her as the Queen's lesbian lover to undermine the public image of the monarchy.[3]


The Princesse de Lamballe accompanied the Royal Family to the Tuileries Palace after the Women's March on Versailles in October 1789. In Paris, her salon served as a meeting place for the queen and the members of the National Constituent Assembly, many of whom the queen wished to win over to the cause of the Bourbon Monarchy.[4]

During her stay at a house she rented in the Royal Crescent, Bath,[5] Great Britain in 1791, to appeal for help for the French royal family, the princess wrote her will, because she feared death if she returned to Paris. Nonetheless, she went to the Tuileries out of loyalty to Marie Antoinette.

During the Demonstration of 20 June 1792, she belonged to the group of ladies-in-waiting surrounding the queen when she was kept blocked in the council hall and displayed by the public who insulted her; according to a witness, Marie Louise de Lamballe stood leaning by the queen's armchair to support her through the entire scene.[6]

Marie Louise de Lamballe continued her services to the Queen until the attack on the palace on 10 August 1792, when she and Louise-Élisabeth de Croÿ de Tourzel, governess to the royal children, accompanied the Royal Family when they took refuge in the Legislative Assembly.[2] During their stay in the clerk's box at the Legislative Assembly, Lamballe became ill and had to be taken to the Feuillant convent; Marie Antoinette asked her not to return, but she nevertheless chose to return to the family as soon as she felt better.[7] She also accompanied them from the Legislative Assembly to the Feuillant convent, and from there to the Temple.[8]

On 19 August, she, Louise-Élisabeth de Croÿ de Tourzel and Pauline de Tourzel were separated from the Royal Family and transferred to the La Force prison, were they were allowed to share a cell.[9] They were removed from the Temple at the same time as two valets and three female servants, as it was decided that the family should not be allowed to keep their retainers.[10]


The murder of Lamballe
Death of the Princess de Lamballe, by Leon Maxime Faivre, 1908

During the September Massacres, the prisons were attacked by mobs, and the prisoners were placed before hastily assembled people's tribunals, who judged and executed them summarily. Each prisoner was asked a handful of questions, after which the prisoner was either freed with the words 'Vive la nation', and permitted to leave, or sentenced to death with the words 'Conduct him to the Abbaye' or 'Let him go', after which the condemned was taken to a yard were they were immediately killed by a mob consisting of men, women and children.[2] The massacres were opposed by the staff of the prison, who allowed many prisoners to escape, particularly women. Of about two hundred women, only two were ultimately killed in the prison.[2] Pauline de Tourzel was smuggled out of the prison, but her mother and de Lamballe were too famous to be smuggled out. Their escape would have risked attracting too much notice.[2]

On 3 September, de Lamballe and de Tourzel were taken out to a court yard with other prisoners awaiting to be taken to the tribunal. There are numerous conflicting reports about the trial as well as the exact manner of her death,[2] as it was frequently used in propaganda during the French Revolution. She was brought before a hastily assembled tribunal which demanded she "take an oath to love liberty and equality and to swear hatred to the King and the Queen and to the monarchy".[11] She agreed to take the oath to liberty but refused to denounce the king, queen and monarchy. At this point, her trial was summarily ended with the words, "emmenez madame" ("Take madame away"). She was in the company of de Tourzel until she was called in to the tribunal, and the exact wording of the summary trial is stated to have consisted of the following swift interrogation:

'Who are you?'
'Marie Thérèse Louise, Princess of Savoy.'
'Your employment?'
'Superintendent of the Household to the Queen.'
'Had you any knowledge of the plots of the court on the lOth August?'
'I know not whether there were any plots on the lOth August; but I know that I had no knowledge of them.'
'Swear to Liberty and Equality, and hatred of the King and Queen.'
'Readily to the former; but I cannot to the latter: it is not in my heart.'

Reportedly, agents of her father-in-law whispered to her to swear the oath to save her life, upon which she added:

'I have nothing more to say; it is indifferent to me if I die a little earlier or later; I have made the sacrifice of my life.'
'Let Madame be set at liberty.'[2]

She was immediately taken to the street and thrown to a group of men who killed her within minutes.[12][13]

There are many different versions of the exact manner of her death,[2] which attracted great attention and was used in propaganda for many years after the revolution, during which it was embellished and exaggerated.[2] Some reports, for example, allege that she was raped, and her breasts sliced off in addition to other bodily mutilations.[14][15] There is however nothing to indicate that she was exposed to any sexual mutilations or atrocities, which was widely alleged in the stories surrounding her famous death. She was escorted to the door of the yard were the massacre was taking place by two guards; on her way there, the agents of her father-in-law followed and again encouraged her to swear the oath, but she appeared not to hear them.[2] When the door was opened and she was exposed to the sight of bloody corpses in the yard, she reportedly cried 'Fi horreur!' or 'I am lost!', fell back, but was pulled out in to the front of the yard by the two guards.[2] Reportedly, the agents of her father-in-law were among the crowd, crying 'Grâce! Grâce!', but were soon silenced with the shouts of 'Death to the disguised lackeys of the Duc de Penthièvre!'[2] One of the killers, who were trialed years later, described her as 'a little lady dressed in white', standing for a moment alone.[2] Reportedly, she was first struck by a man with a pike on her head, which caused her hair to fall down upon her shoulders, revealing a letter from Marie Antoinette which she had hidden in her hair; she was then wounded on the forehead, which caused her to bleed, after which she was very swiftly stabbed to death by the crowd.[2]

The treatment of her remains has also been the subject of many conflicting stories. After her death, her corpse was undressed, eviscerated and had its heart cut out and its head cut off and placed upon a pike.[2] It is confirmed by several witnesses, that her head was paraded through the streets on a pike, her heart upon another, and her body dragged after, by a crowd of people shrieking 'La Lamballe! La Lamballe!'.[2] This procession was witnessed by a M. de Lamotte, who purchased a strand of her hair which he later gave to her father-in-law, as well as by the brother of Laure Junot.[2] Other reports say that it was brought to a nearby café where it was laid in front of the customers, who were asked to drink in celebration of her death.[14]

Other reports state that the head was taken to a barber in order to dress the hair to make it instantly recognizable,[15] though this has been contested.[13] Following this, the head was put on the pike again and paraded beneath Marie Antoinette’s window at the Temple.[16]

Marie Antoinette herself as well as her family was not present in the room outside of which the head was displayed at the time, and thus did not see it.[2] However, the wife of one of the prison officials, Mme Tison, saw it and screamed, upon which the crowd, hearing a woman scream from inside the Temple, assumed it was Marie Antoinette.[2] Those who were carrying it wished the Queen to kiss the lips of her favourite, as it was a frequent slander that the two had been lovers, but the head was not allowed to be brought into the building.[16] The crowd demanded to be allowed inside the Temple to show the head to Marie Antoinette in person, but the officers of the Temple managed to convince them not to break in to the prison.[2] In her historical biography, Marie Antoinette : The Journey Antonia Fraser claims the Queen did not actually see the head of her long-time friend, but was aware of what was occurring, stating, "...the municipal officers had had the decency to close the shutters and the commissioners kept them away from the of these officers told the king '..they are trying to show you the head of Madame de Lamballe'...Mercifully, the Queen then fainted away".[16]

After this, the head and the corpse was taken by the crowd to the Palais Royal, were the Duke of Orléans and his lover Marguerite Françoise de Buffon were entertaining a party of Englishmen for to supper. Duke of Orléans reportedly commented 'Oh, it is Lamballe's head: I know it by the long hair. Let us sit down to supper', while Buffon cried out 'O God ! They will carry my head like that some day!'[2]

The agents of her father-in-law, which had been tasked to acquire her remains and have it temporarily buried until they could be buried in Dreux, reportedly mixed in with the crowd to be able to get in possession of it.[2] They averted the intentions of the crowed to display the remains before the home of her and her father-in-law, the Hôtel de Toulouse, by saying that she had never lived there, but at the Tuileries or Hôtel Louvois.[2] When the carrier of the head, Charlat, entered an alehouse, leaving the head outside, one agent, Pointel, took the head and had it interred at the cemetery near the Hospital of the Quinze Vingts.[2]

Five citizens of the local section in Paris, Hervelin, Quervelle, Pouquet, Ferrie, and Roussel, delivered her body (minus her head which was still being displayed on a pike) to the authorities shortly after her death. Royalist accounts of the incident claimed her body was displayed on the street for a full day. Her body, like that of her brother-in-law Philippe Égalité), was never found, which is why it is not entombed in the Orléans family necropolis at Dreux.[17][18] According to Madame Tussaud, she was ordered to make the death mask.[19]

In media[edit]

The princesse de Lamballe has been portrayed in several films and miniseries. Two of the more notable portrayals were by Anita Louise in W.S. Van Dyke's 1938 film Marie Antoinette and by Mary Nighy in the 2006 film Marie Antoinette directed by Sofia Coppola.[20][21]


Arms of Maria Luisa of Savoy as Princess of Lamballe


  1. ^ Bertin, Georges. "Full text of Madame de Lamballe". Retrieved 2009-11-26. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq Hardy, B. C. (Blanche Christabel), The Princesse de Lamballe; a biography, 1908, Project Gutenberg
  3. ^ Chantal Thomas, The Wicked Queen: The Origins of the Myth of Marie-Antoinette
  4. ^ "Lamballe, Marie Thérèse Louise of Savoy-Carignano". The Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica. 1911. 
  5. ^ Lowndes, William (1981). The Royal Crescent in Bath. Redcliffe Press. ISBN 978-0-905459-34-9. 
  6. ^ Bertin, Georges: Madame de Lamballe, New York : G. A. S. Wieners, 1901
  7. ^ Bertin, Georges: Madame de Lamballe, New York : G. A. S. Wieners, 1901
  8. ^ Imbert de Saint-Amand, Arthur; Léon Imbert de Saint-Amand; Elizabeth Gilbert Martin (1901). Marie Antoinette at the Tuileries, 1789-1791. New York Public Library: C. Scribner's sons. p. 286. 
  9. ^ Lever, Evelyne; Catherine Temerson (2001). Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France. Macmillan. pp. 282–283. ISBN 0-312-28333-4. 
  10. ^ Bertin, Georges: Madame de Lamballe, New York : G. A. S. Wieners, 1901
  11. ^ de Decker, Michel, La Princesse de Lamballe, mourir pour la Reine, chapter Élargissez madame, p. 246, Librairie Académique Perrin, Paris, 1979, (Collection historique dirigée par André Castelot), ISBN 2262001561 (French)
  12. ^ de Decker, p. 246.
  13. ^ a b de Baecque, Antoine (2002). Glory and Terror. Trans. Charlotte Mandell. Routledge. p. 79. ISBN 0-415-92617-3. 
  14. ^ a b Hibbert, Christopher (1980). The Days of the French Revolution. Morrow. p. 175. ISBN 0-688-03704-6. 
  15. ^ a b Durschmied, Erik (2002). Blood of Revolution. Arcade Publishing. p. 31. ISBN 1-55970-607-4. 
  16. ^ a b c Fraser, Antonia (2001). Marie Antoinette: The Journey. Anchor Books. p. 389. ISBN 0-385-48949-8. 
  17. ^ de Decker, chapter Ils sont blanchis par le malheur, p. 265.
  18. ^ According to author Blanche Christabel Hardy,Hardy, Blanche Christabel (1908). The Princesse de Lamballe. Harvard University: D Appleton & Co. p. 294.  her heartbroken father-in-law finally succeeded in retrieving her corpse and had it interred in the Penthièvre family crypt at Dreux.
  19. ^ Tussaud, John Theodore (1920). The Romance of Madame Tussaud's. University of Michigan: George H. Doran company. pp. 44, 88, 91. 
  20. ^ "Marie Antoinette". Retrieved 2008-10-19. 
  21. ^ "Mary Antoinette"., Inc. Retrieved 2008-10-19. 


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