Nicknames have been around for a long time and used for a variety of reasons. They were popular in France and even the country of France had a nickname. It was a poetical designation similar to that given England of “Merry England.” However, in France’s case it was “La Belle France.” Frenchmen also gave the nickname “Monsieur Dimanche” (which literally means “Mr. Sunday”), to a creditor in allusion to the fact “tradesmen and artisans had no other holiday, and usually collected their debts on Sunday.” Frenchmen also conferred nicknames upon French royalty and this resulted in King Louis XVI and his relatives having nicknames.
Louis XVI’s grandfather, Louis XV, was beloved by the French people in his youth and that resulted in his nickname, “Louis the Beloved” or the “Beloved.” During the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) he earned the title the “Well-Loved” or the “Well-Beloved” after he took to the battlefield and appeared to take charge. Unfortunately, his popularity did not last long, and his reputation worsened with time. At his death Louis XV was not so beloved. This was because he overspent, particularly on Versailles. Moreover, many of his decisions created debt, weakened the treasury, and discredited the monarchy, thereby making France ripe for a revolution.
When Louis XVI came to power he received a number of nicknames. One positive one was “the Restorer of French Liberty.” He received it in 1789 after feudalism and the taxes and privileges associated with feudalism were abolished. However, most of his other nicknames reflected the unfortunate opinion Frenchmen held of him. After the Constituent Assembly allowed him the power of veto, he used it. This caused practically every Frenchman to be unhappy and resulted in him being called “Monsieur Veto.” Later, when he was imprisoned at the Temple, he went by several names including “Citizen Capet,” “Citoyen Louis Capet,” or just plain “Louis Capet.” There were also at least two rather sad nicknames: “the Martyr King” and “the Last.”
Also imprisoned with Louis XVI at the Temple was his son, Louis-Charles. He became Dauphin after his older brother died. After Louis XVI was guillotined, Louis-Charles became Louis XVII, although non-Royalists disputed his accession. He died two years later from tuberculosis. However, rumors circulated that he had been spirited out of the Temple and was still alive. This resulted in the legend of the “Lost Dauphin,” a nickname that he became linked to ever after. The belief was so strong he was still alive, hundreds of bogus claims were made, and for years there was speculation about whether or not he died. However, in 2000, DNA tests definitively proved that the Dauphin had indeed died on 8 June 1795 while imprisoned at the Temple.
After Louis XVII died from tuberculosis, his uncle, the Count of Provence, became Louis XVIII. He lived in exile for many years before he actually came to power, which resulted in some people calling him “the Desired.” However, some people believed he would have never gained the throne without England’s assistance, and it was also said that because of their help, he demonstrated an almost slavish gratitude towards them. This resulted in him acquiring the unenviable nickname “King of England’s Viceroy.” Additionally, because Louis XVIII was so fond of eating and “as big as barrel,” wags made a pun of his name. Instead of calling him Louis Dix Huit (Louis XVIII), they called him Louis des Huîtres (Louis of the oysters).
After Louis XVIII died, the Count of Artois became Charles X in September 1824 at the age of 67. He was said to be a kindly king “but blindly simplistic in religion and politics.” His youth had been misspent enjoying mistresses and debauchery, and it was even alleged he had an affair with his sister-in-law, Marie Antoinette. By the time he became king, his attitudes about life had changed to near prudery. Yet, one thing remained the same: He still loved hunting and spent most of his free time doing it. He also followed the “most antique forms and customs of the chase,” which resulted in his nickname “Robin Hood.”
Marie Antoinette literally had dozen of nicknames and most were unflattering. One of the most unflattering nicknames given her came from Louis XV’s daughters, known collective as the Mesdames. The Mesdames combined the word “Austrian” with “Chienne,” which referred to a female dog, resulting in “L’Autrichienne” or in other words Austrian bitch. This was also a name the public used with terrible effect. In 1787, she received the nickname “Madame Deficit” because of her lavish spending. Another nickname was “Madame Veto.” She acquired this nickname because the French were leery of her, because they blamed her for many of France’s problems, and because they also thought she tricked Louis XVI into using his veto power.
Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI’s oldest child, Marie Thérèse of France, was the fille de France (daughter of France) and thus acquired the honorific title of “Madame Royale.” After her parents were beheaded, and, during the time she was imprisoned at the Temple, she was called “Orphan of the Temple.” Later, when her uncle became Louis XVIII, he called her the “Modern Antigone” because of her attachment to him, and after she married her cousin (Charles X’s oldest son), she became the Duchess of Angoulême and was called “Madame la Dauphine.”
Louis XVI had two younger sisters. The oldest of these was Marie Clotilde of France. She was not around long enough to forge any real relationship with her sister-in-law Marie Antoinette. That was because in 1775 Marie Clotilde married the future Sardinian king, Charles Emmanuel IV. (He was a relative of the Princesse de Lamballe and an older brother to Marie Joséphine and Marie Thérèse, who married the Count of Provence and the Count of Artois, respectively.) Marie Clotilde acquired her nickname at an early age. It was “Gros Madame” because she was extremely overweight.
Élisabeth was Louis XVI’s and Marie Clotilde’s youngest sister. She was exceptionally close with Marie Clotilde and completely heartbroken when her older sister left France to marry Charles Emmanuel. However, Élisabeth was extremely devoted to her brother and Marie Antoinette. She also felt it her duty to perform charitable works, and, because of those good works, she earned the flattering nickname of “Bonne dame de Montreuil” (good lady of Montreuil).
- Carlyle, Thomas, Fraser’s Magazine, Vol. 32, 1845
- Fact, Fancy, and Fable, 1892
- Brewer, Ebenezer Cobham, Historic Note-book, 1892
- Jackson, Lady Catherine Charlotte, The Old Régime, Vol. 2, 1880
- Montgomery, David Henry, The Leading Facts of French History, 1889
- Radar, Daniel L., The Journalists and the July Revolution in France, 2013
- Sandars, Mary F., Louis XVIII, 1910
- Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, Volume 78, 1894