The children of Marie Antoinette included two girls and two boys, the girls being the oldest and youngest. All four children were born in France, welcomed within an eight year period, and well-loved by their parents. However, despite their splendid start and their royal connections all the children of Marie Antoinette and King Louis would suffer somewhat tragic lives. Here are their stories.
Marie-Thérèse Charlotte of France
Marie-Thérèse Charlotte of France was the first of the children born to the King of France and Marie Antoinette. She was named after Marie Antoinette’s mother, Maria-Thérèsa of Austria, who was the only female ruler of the Habsburg dominions and ruled from 1740 until her death in 1780. Although named for her grandmother, Marie-Thérèse was styled Madame Royale at birth. That was because she was the eldest daughter of the king.
Marie Antoinette found it was no easy matter to deliver her daughter on 9 December 1778. In fact, she had to do it in full view of the courtiers and after undergoing twelve excruciating hours of labor the Queen suffered a convulsive fit and collapsed. Here is how it happened:
“As was customary, the princess summoned the princes of blood according to rank. The Queen’s bed-chamber quickly filled with them, along with excited ministers and members of the King and Queen’s immediate staff. … When the King and Queen’s first baby finally arrived and the joyous announcement was made, the rabble-rousing inquisitives poured into the Queen’s bedchamber and surrounded her bed. They also scrambled atop chairs, sofas, and cabinets to get a better look, and soon there was not an inch left to spare. … The arrival of the inquisitives also sucked the air out of the Queen’s bed-chamber, which then caused the room to become hot and stifling. Blood rushed to the Queen’s head, and she fainted. For a moment everyone thought she had died.”
Because of the incident Marie Antoinette did not know the sex of Marie-Thérèse for at least an hour after her birth. Although many in France had wished for a boy, when the Queen was revived and learned that she had delivered a healthy girl, she was delighted. Some courtiers claim she wept with pleasure and Madame Campan, the First Lady of the Bed-chamber, recorded the Queen’s joyous first words spoken to her newborn child:
“Poor little thing … you are not what was desired, but you shall not be the less dear to me. A son would have rather been the property of the state. You shall be mine; you shall have my undivided care, shall share all my happiness, and console me in all my troubles.”
The Queen’s horrible birth experience resulted in Louis XVI thereafter banning public viewing, which meant that all of the future births of the children of Marie Antoinette were to be restricted affairs. The witnesses were thereafter limited to only close family members and a handful of the court’s most trusted courtiers.
When Marie-Thérèse was fourteen she was incarcerated with her parents at the Temple on 13 August 1792. She was there when her father was removed and then later executed on 21 January 1793. Nine months later, on 16 October 1793, she learned that her mother had also been guillotined. Before her death, Marie Antoinette left her daughter in the care of the King’s sister, Madame Élisabeth, who in turn was taken away on 9 May 1794 and executed the following day.
Marie-Thérèse remained at the Temple until 18 December 1795. At 11pm that evening just before her seventeenth birthday she was removed. A prisoner exchanged had been arranged and the exchange was to take place the day after Christmas. She arrived safely in Vienna, the birthplace of her mother, on 9 January 1795, twenty-two days after leaving the Temple. You can learn more about this event by clicking here.
She eventually left Vienna and married her cousin, the son of the Count of Artois, Louis-Antoine, Duke d’Angoulême on 10 June 1799. When Louis XVIII died on 16 September 1824, the Count of Artois then became Charles X, which made Marie-Thérèse’s husband heir to the throne. Nonetheless, there was an increase in anti-monarchist feelings and Charles X’s ultra-royalist sympathies alienated many members of the working and middle classes resulting in the Revolution of July 1830 and the ascent of Charles X’s cousin, Louis Philippe I.
The deposed royal family then relocated to Prague. Later, they moved to the estate of Count Coronini near Gorizia, which was then Austrian but is in Italy today. Marie-Thérèse’s husband died in 1844 and was buried next to his father, who had died on 6 November 1836 from cholera, just like socialite Madame Récamier would in 1849.
Marie-Thérèse then moved to Schloss Frohsdorf where she spent her days taking walks, reading, sewing, and praying. Her nephew, who now styled himself as the comte de Chambord, and his sister joined her there. In 1848, Louis Philippe I’s reign ended in a revolution and, for the second time, France became a Republic.
Marie-Thérèse died of pneumonia on 19 October 1851. She was the last of the children of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI to die. Her death happened three days after the fifty-eighth anniversary of the execution of her mother. She was buried next to her father-in-law and her husband in a crypt of the Franciscan monastery church of Castagnavizza in Görz, then in Austria, now Kostanjevica.
Louis-Joseph Xavier François
Of all the children of Marie Antoinette, perhaps the biggest celebration over a birth happened when Louis-Joseph was born. He was the Queen’s second child. She went into labor with him just as her husband was preparing to leave to go shooting on 22 October 1781. This time instead of an arduous twelve hour delivery, it took just two hours. Moreover, all the inquisitives and rabble rousers that had been present at Marie-Thérèse’s birth were not there this time.
Everything went well but to ensure that no one knew the sex of the baby before the King, Louis had forbidden anyone from announcing it until he was personally informed. The unexpected silence after the baby’s birth caused Marie Antoinette to worry that something was wrong. It took fifteen minutes before she was informed Louis-Joseph Xavier François had been born and weighed a hefty thirteen pounds. The king was overjoyed with the news and when the baby was given to his mother, she cradled him in her arms.
“After the dauphin was clothed, the King lifted him to the courtyard widow to be viewed by the massive crowd waiting below. Then, the Queen’s chamber doors were flung open. The child’s governess … carried him on a cushion through the apartment, amidst squeals of delight, and later, when she entered through the doors of the Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris carrying him, the expectant crowd broken into the resounding applause.”
The birth of the Dauphin was a joyous occasion for France. Frenchmen no longer had to worry about an heir to the throne and the king was so overcome he was practically speechless. In fact, to ensure that he had a boy King Louis “laid his hands upon [his son] to make sure his eyes did not deceive him. Universal rejoicing also grasp France and “the happiness was intoxicating … ‘Men stopped one another in streets, spoke without being acquainted, and those who were acquainted embraced each other [heartily.]’”
Unfortunately for all the joy over the birth Louis-Joseph was not a robust child. He had a short life and lived only about seven years. His decline began around the age of three when he suffered a series of high fevers. He eventually recovered from them only to have them return in 1786. Yet, most people thought he was fine because no one understood at the time that he was showing the first signs of tuberculosis.
The disease then progressed and by January 1788 things had worsened. Marie Antoinette worried about her son and in a letter of 22 February wrote:
“His body is twisted with one shoulder higher than the other and a back shoe vertebrae are slightly out of line, and protruding. For some time he has had constant fevers and as a result is very thin and weak.”
He was taken to the Chateau de Meudon around May 1789 where he “had a whim to sleep on top of the new billiard table. A bed was made up, although the ladies around him exchanged glances at the sight; it looked all too much like a lying -in-state of a corpse. Since he could no longer walk, a mechanical wheelchair upholstered in green velvet with white wool cushions was [also] installed.”
Time marched on and he died at Meudon on 4 June 1789. At the time, the Estates General was meeting, and signals were surfacing that the outbreak of the French Revolution was imminent. The King and Queen were devastated by their son’s death but could not mourn him because they were busy facing their dissatisfied subjects harboring a desire for revolution. Therefore, Louis XVI briefly noted his son’s passing writing in his journal, “Death of my son at one in the morning.”
Louis-Joseph was buried at the Basilica of St Denis on 13 June 1789 in a simple ceremony presided over by Superintendent of the House, the Princesse de Lamballe. A was customary his heart was put in an urn and his remains were placed in a crypt. Unfortunately, a few years later, on 10 August 1793, on order of the National Convention during the Reign of Terror, his tomb was desecrated, together with those of other kings and queens of France.
Of the children of Marie Antoinette one child was born on Easter Sunday and that was her second son, Louis-Charles, Duke of Normandy. He arrived on 27 March 1785 at 7:30 in the morning and it was thought at the time that she was carrying twins because she was so large. Nonetheless, she delivered a single boy who fortunately, unlike his older brother, had a strong constitution and was therefore delivered into the able hands of his new governess, the Duchess de Polignac.
Author Antonia Fraser noted that his mother called him “chou d’amour” and that she loved him whole-heartedly. Moreover, “in time his sweetness, his winning ways and, above all, robust physique which gave such promise for the future would make Louis-Charles the chief source of pleasure in Marie Antoinette’s life.”
When Louis-Joseph died, 4-year-old Louis-Charles wept, along with his sister. He did not understand that he was now Dauphin, and that the future of France would one day rest in his hands. Further, Marie Antoinette mentioned how the nation hardly seemed to mourn the loss of her first son.
Although Louis-Charles was now Dauphin, he had one major flaw even from a young age. He was indiscreet and would not give a second thought to repeating embellishing what he heard. “He was also nervous, with a hatred of loud noises … loyal, affectionate, and especially fond of his sister; if he was given anything, he immediately asked for the same gift to be bestowed on her. But Louis-Charles was also quick-tempered and hated to have to say the word ‘sorry’ … going to great lengths to avoid it.”
Like his family, he too was incarcerated at the Temple when the revolution broke out. It was a precarious existence and the King and Queen constantly feared that he might be taken from them, so they kept a watchful eye on him and would not allow him to leave their side. Although they feared for Louis-Charles, it was the King who was removed first from the Temple in December 1792. He was then guillotined a few weeks later, on 21 January 1793.
A few months after that, on 3 July 1793, the Convention gave orders to remove Louis-Charles from his mother. They also ordered that he was to be placed in the apartment considered to be the most secure in the Tower. When Marie Antoinette was ordered to hand over her child, she adamantly refused. The Dauphin was also distressed. He cried. He kicked. He screamed. Then, according to his sister:
“[He then] threw himself into my mother’s arms, and with violent cries entreated not to be parted from her. My mother would not let her son go and she actually defended against the efforts of the officers … The men threatened to call up the guard and use violence. My mother exclaimed that they had better kill her than tear her child from her. At last they threatened our lives, and my mother’s maternal tenderness forced her to the sacrifice.”
Louis Charles spent the remainder of his life separated from his mother and sister. After his mother was guillotined, he was cared for by Antoine Simon, a shoemaker appointed as guardian over him. Royalists alleged Simon treated the boy horribly. There were also stories of abuse and claims that the Dauphin was purposely infected with a venereal disease.
In early January of 1794, physicians reported Louis-Charles to be in good health, but if it was true it did not last long because reputedly, around this same time, he was imprisoned in a dark room like a wild animal and his food was passed through bars. Little interaction with the Dauphin occurred during this time and he refused to speak. He became seriously ill in May of 1795 and on 8 June 1795, he died from a serious scrofulous infection.
An autopsy was conducted after Louis-Charles’ death by physician Dr. Pelletan. He was shocked to discover countless scars covering the boy’s body. Reputedly, the scars were the result of the physical abuse the child suffered while imprisoned at the Temple and while under the care of the Committee of Public Safety. He was then buried on 10 June in the Sainte Marguerite cemetery without anything marking the spot.
After his death rumors also quickly spread that he had not died and that instead he had been spirited away by sympathizers. This resulted in various claimants coming forward over the years alleging to be him. Would-be royal heirs that were considered popular candidates included the naturalist John James Audubon; Eleazer Williams, a missionary from Wisconsin of Mohawk Native American descent; and Karl Wilhelm Naundorff, a German clockmaker. However, none of them have ever been proven to be the Dauphin.
Sophie Helena Beatrice
The last of the children of Marie Antoinette was Sophie Helena Beatrice of France. She was born on 9 July 1786 at 7:30 in the evening and because she was the daughter of a King of France, she was known as the Fille de France until her death. She was born at the Palace of Versailles and was named for her great-aunt, Madame Sophie, who died four years earlier from dropsy.
Even though Sophie was not a boy, King Louis appeared happy when he noted that his wife had given birth to another girl. Sophie was a large baby and there was hope that she would be healthy but there were forebodings from the start. She was born early and did not seem to flourish. In fact, her health was soon being undermined by tuberculosis, just like her older brother Louis-Joseph.
Five or six days before her death she suffered a series of convulsions. She then died on 19 June 1787, having not survived a year. When Madame Élisabeth saw her dead niece laid out for burial she was struck by her lovely pink and white glow and noted that at least she would not have to suffer “life’s perils.”
In 1787 Artist Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun had been busy painting a portrait of Marie Antoinette and her four children at Versailles. In the painting Marie Thérèse was placed next to her mother, Louis-Charles was on his mother’s lap, and Louis-Joseph was next to his mother on the right pointing into the cradle. Sophie was intended to be placed there but when she died, she was painted her out. She was buried in the necropolis of the Kings of France, the Royal Basilica of Saint Denis, just north of Paris.
-  G. Walton, Marie Antoinette’s Confidante: The Rise and Fall of the Princesse de Lamballe (London: Pen and Sword History, 2016), p. 96–97.
-  Ibid., p. 98.
-  Ibid., p. 109–10.
-  Ibid., p. 110.
-  G. Walton. 2016, 110
-  A. Fraser, Marie Antoinette: The Journey (New York: Doubleday, 2002), p. 261.
-  Ibid., p. 275.
-  Ibid., p. 276.
-  Ibid.., p. 225.
-  Ibid., p. 292.
-  J.L.H. Campan, The Private Life of Marie Antoinette (Richard Bentley and Son, 1883), p. 327.