Princess Palatine (Elisabeth-Charlotte of Bavaria)

Princess Palatine, Elisabeth-Charlotte of Bavaria, a famous letter writer, can be nicknamed Madame Europe. Thus, thanks to some 60,000 letters written by Elisabeth Charlotte across Europe because she corresponded with England, Sweden, Denmark, the courts of Lorraine, Savoy and Modena, Spain, Sicily, we can retrace her life, made of joy, sorrows, and especially to learn about the customs of the Court of Versailles…. She will not mince words, but will be fair and honest in her writings.

Princess Palatine, a coveted party

Born in May 1652, this German princess is the grandmother of most of the Catholic princes and of Marie Louise (2nd wife of Napoleon I), great grandmother of Marie Antoinette and of the emperors Joseph II and Leopold II, great granddaughter of 'a King of Bohemia as well as a King of England and Scotland. Skinny at birth, she grew plump at six, played with her brother's swords and guns, wandered around her native Palatinate picking grapes, spoke patois and listened to folk tales. Torn between disunited parents, her aunt Sophie of Hanover took her under her wing for five years, taught her languages, dance, music, writing (she will keep fond memories of the Christmas, Carnival and Pentecost holidays. ).

When her parents told her about marriage, she was eighteen (several suitors such as William of Orange Nassau, the Prince of Denmark, the King of Sweden, the Electoral Prince of Brandenburg, the heir to the Polish Duchy of Courland), but wish a true marriage of love. Thanks to Princess Palatine Anne de Gonzague, Elisabeth Charlotte converted to the Roman religion, then was married by proxy in November 1671 to the Duke of Orléans (contract where Philippe received all of his wife's property!). She arrives in France completely abandoned by her family, not ceasing to cry during the nine days of travel. Her outfit comes down to "a blue taffeta dress, a sable scarf, six nightgowns and as many day shirts".

Madame is surprised at the sight of Philippe of modest height, perched on high heels and adorned with rings, bracelets and precious stones: “ without looking dastardly, Monsieur was short and plump, with very dark hair and eyebrows, large dark-colored eyes, a long, thin face, a large nose, and a too-small mouth lined with ugly teeth. On the other hand, the clothes are magnificent ”. As for Monsieur, he can only say: "how could I sleep with her? ". She's not a beauty, but not ugly either. Blonde, fresh, massive, colorful cheeks, blue eyes, fair complexion. She lacks the grace, seduction, and charm of court. She forms, with Philippe, a couple whose roles are reversed: he effeminate, small, precious, pretty; she masculine, robust, simple, natural. The ten-day honeymoon in Villers-Cotterêts is at the height of Philippe's sumptuousness. The king is quickly conquered by Madame who speaks fluent French. He feels sorry for him, knowing his brother and his attractions.

Madame, wife of Philippe, brother of the king

The couple get along well at first. Elisabeth Charlotte discovers Saint Cloud "the most beautiful place in the world ", The Palais Royal and Paris (which she will hate for life, because of the noise and the smells), the standing ovations of the people who will always love her ... and the cuties of whom she is wary. She does not interfere in the affairs of Philippe d'Orléans, but most disturbing is that he uses Elisabeth Charlotte's belongings to give presents to the cuties!

Having not yet had a boy, Philippe did his duty: Alexandre-Louis was born in June 1673, but lived only three years, then Philippe duc de Chartres future regent in August 1674, Mlle de Chartres in September 1676. From on this date, they make separate rooms. Elisabeth Charlotte will write later: “I was very happy, because I never liked the job of having children. When His Highness made this proposal to me, I answered yes, wholeheartedly, Sir, I will be very happy as long as you do not hate me and that you continue to have a little kindness for me ... ". Especially since Philippe transmitted to him "a beautiful illness "! She quickly replaces her presence in her bed… with 6 spaniels!

The following ten years (the golden age of music, literature, the theater) were the best for Elisabeth Charlotte: she discovered Versailles, took walks in the gardens, was greatly appreciated by the king for her frankness, her uprightness. , his spontaneity, especially his lack of hypocrisy. Having common tastes, he invites her to the hunt, to the theater, to the opera, to apartment parties. Louis XIV, won over by his humor and good sense, offered him his friendship.

From 1680, “the wind turns”. Elisabeth Charlotte loses her father and Anne de Gonzague, faces a plot organized by the cuties to oust her destroying the good understanding between the two spouses, a double-tiered fever from Philippe, the king destroys the Palatinate, Philippe removes positions from his wife's house, imposes Effiat as their son's tutor… Madame rebels, the king remonstrates with her and adds: “if you weren't my sister-in-law, I would have fired you from the court". He turns away from her ... the king begins the second part of his life: more serious, more pious, the outspokenness of Elisabeth Charlotte almost offends him. She loses all credibility and has not realized the growing favor of Mme de Maintenon.

The worst is reached when the king marries the Duke of Chartres (in order to channel him because he is too good at war) to Mlle de Blois, his bastard daughter. Elisabeth Charlotte leaves the salons of the Palace of Versailles, among the courtiers "like a lioness who has her cubs snatched away ". She feels more and more alone and lost. Philippe no longer taking care of her, she wishes to enter the convent. She complains to the king who replies: "as long as I live, I will not consent to it. You are Madame, and you are obliged to hold this post, you are my brother's wife, so I will not suffer that you make him such a splash ... I do not want to deceive you, in all the quarrel that you may have with my brother : if it is from him to you, I will be for him; but also if it's other people of yours I'll be for him ". Only her aunt Sophie from Hanover is there for her. Elisabeth Charlotte's only consolation is her mail, she writes freely, recounts her misfortunes, depicts the escapades of the Court, without forgetting anyone. His letters are opened, and shown to the king ...

The "gossip" of the "Grand Siècle"

Elisabeth Charlotte and Philippe, abandoned by the king, get closer. It takes on worrying proportions, he is worn out, tired by his abuse. Wanting to defend his son, Monsieur loses his temper and gets so angry with the king that he has a stroke. On June 9, 1701, Elisabeth Charlotte was alone, threatened with spending the rest of her life in the convent. Following the advice of those around her, she made peace with Madame de Maintenon on June 11… everyone embraced but the atmosphere remained tense.

No longer having either the Royal Palace or the Saint Cloud estate, it still has the old castle of Montargis and the goodwill of the king! She settles permanently in Versailles, becomes a philosopher and aspires "only to spend her life quietly". Serene, no longer having the pressure and sarcasm of the cuties, in good friendship with the king and Mme de Maintenon, the rest of her life alternates between joy and sorrow: the happiness of having a new grandson on her daughter's side neutralizes the grief caused by the death of his favorite dog, the birth of the new Duke of Chartres has no effect on him, the daughter of his aunt Sophie of Hanover dies of a tumor in her throat. Elisabeth Charlotte falls seriously, twisting her foot and knee, and deprived of "Marly", hunts and walks, she writes: "we change our nature as we age ". She went through the very harsh winter of 1709 with her numerous deaths, and noticed in July 1710 that her treasurer had withdrawn 100,000 ecus from her ...

She spends more and more time in her office, playing the guitar, expanding her collection of beautiful books (3000 volumes) and antique medals (964). She sails between Virgil, Honoré d'Urfé, Saint Evremond and the Bible. Interested in medicine and science, she spends time studying insects and others through the three microscopes she owns. His twenty-page letters are not used for history, they are a testimony of his time, "those little things" of everyday life that we tell ourselves, a bit like nowadays. In our time, one would say "she talks".

Melancholy but lucid to the end

Elisabeth Charlotte is infinitely sad at the death of her aunt Sophie in 1714 and no longer has the taste for life. When the king died, she became uneasy, her pain was so real and deep. Among her occupations, she lays the first stone of the Abbaye-aux-Bois church in rue de Sèvres, she supports her son during the Cellamare conspiracy. Finally, in 1719, Mme de Maintenon passed away in St Cyr! She exclaims, "old Maintenon is dead. It would have been a great happiness if it could have happened some thirty years ago ". Another satisfaction: the death of the Marquis d´Effiat. She reconciles with the doctors and accepts some prescriptions, but she wears out, gets tired very quickly. No longer able to walk, but having all her head, she is perplexed during this new Parisian wealth produced by the Law system. She still has time to attend the coronation of Louis XV before dying. Courageous to the end, she passed away on December 8, 1722, at the same time as an eclipse of the sun.

Mathieu Marais will say: "we lose a good princess, and that's rare ". A princess of the old days, maintaining and applying the principles of decorum, always ready to be of service to the people of her household, having struggled to understand the evolution of manners during the Regency.


- Madame Palatine, European Princess, by Dirk Van der Cruysse. Fayard, 1988.

- The Princess Palatine, by Christian Bouyer. Pygmalion, 2005.

- The Duke of Orleans: Brother of Louis XIV of Christian Bouyer. Pygmalion, 2003

For further

- Letters from Madame, Duchess of Orleans born Princess Palatine. Mercure de France, 1999.

Video: Versailles Family Surprise (September 2021).