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Marie Thérèse Louise of Savoy, Princesse de Lamballe


Princess Marie-Louise Thérèse of Savoy-Carignan. 8 September 1749 – 3 September 1792, She 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-Louise Thérèse
of Savoy-Carignan

Princesse de Lamballe

8 September 1749
Palazzo Carignano
Turin, Savoy

3 September 1792 (aged 42)
Paris, France

Louis Alexandre de Bourbon,
Prince de Lamballe

Full name
Italian: Maria Teresa Luisa di Savoia-Carignano

French: Marie Thérèse Louise de Savoie-Carignan


Arms of Maria Luisa of Savoy as Princess of Lamballe

Louis Victor of Savoy,
Prince di Carignano

Landgravine Christine
of Hesse-Rheinfels-Rotenburg


Marie Thérèse was born in Turin on 8 September 1749. She was the sixth child of Louis Victor, Prince of Carignano and Christine of Hesse- Rotenburg. Not much is known of her childhood.

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.

The wedding by proxy, followed by a bedding ceremony and a banquet, was held at the Savoyard royal court in Turin and attended by the King of Sardinia and his court. On January 24, the bride crossed the bridge of Beauvoisin between Savoy and France, where she left her Italian entourage and was welcomed by her new French retinue, who escorted her to her groom and father-in-law at the Chateau de Nangis. She was introduced to the French royal court at the Palace of Versailles by the Countess de La Marche in February, where she made a favorable impression. The marriage was initially described as very happy, as both parties were attracted to each other’s beauty; after only a few months, though, Louis Alexandre was unfaithful with two actresses, which reportedly devastated Marie Thérèse. She was comforted by her father-in-law, to whom she became close.

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. 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. She comforted him in his grief, and joined him in his extensive charitable projects at Rambouillet, an activity which earned him the name “King of the Poor” and her the nickname “The Angel of Penthiévre” In 1768, after the death of the Queen, Princess Marie Adélaïde of France supported a match between her father and the dowager princess. She supported the Dowager Princess de Lamballe as a suitable candidate for that purpose and was supported by the powerful Noailles family. However, the Princess de Lamballe was not willing to encourage the match herself and her former father-in-law, was not willing to consent so the marriage plan never materialized She lived at the Hôtel de Toulouse in Paris and 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. 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 in the name of Marie Antoinette, who was reportedly charmed by Marie Thérèse, and overwhelmed her with attention and affection.

In March 1771 the Austrian ambassador reported….

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. The empress Maria Theresa 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 On 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. The Princesse enjoyed playing the harp for the queen. 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 as a just reward.

After Marie Antoinette became queen, her intimate friendship with Lamballe was given greater attention…

Empress Maria Theresa tried to discourage the friendship out of fear that Lamballe, as a former princess of Savoy, would try to benefit Savoyan interest through 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.” 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 preferred 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.

The office of Superintendent required that she confirmed all orders regarding the queen before they could be performed, that all letters, petitions, 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 The incident aroused much bad publicity and Lamballe was painted as a greedy royal favorite, and her famous fainting spells widely mocked as manipulative simulations. 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. De Lamballe had long suffered from a weak health, which deteriorated so much during the mid 1780s. She spent the summer of 1787 in England, advised by doctors to take the English waters in Bath to cure her health. After the visit to England, Lamballe’s health improved considerably, and she was able to participate more at court, where the queen now gave her more affection again, appreciating her loyalty. Marie Thérèse was by nature reserved and, at court, she had the reputation of being a prude. 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

During the Storming of the Bastille in July 1789 and the outbreak of the French Revolution, the princesse de Lamballe was on a leisure visit in Switzerland with her favorite lady- in-waiting countess de Lâge, and when she returned to France in September, she stayed with her father-in-law in the countryside to nurse him while he was ill, and thus was not present at court during The Women’s March on Versailles, which took place on 5 October 1789, when she was with her father -in-law in Aumale. On 7 October she was informed of the events of the Revolution, and immediately joined the Royal Family to the Tuileries Palace in Paris, where she reassumed the duties of her office. She and Madame Elizabeth shared the apartments of the Pavillon de Flore in the Tuileries, in level with the Queen’s, and except for brief visits to her father-in-law or her villa in Passy, she settled there permanently.

In the Tuileries, the ritual court entertainments and representational life was reinstated. As the king held his levées and couchers, the queen held a card party every Sunday and Tuesday, and held a court reception on Sundays and Thursdays before attending mass and dining in public with the king, as well as giving audience to the foreign envoys and the official deputations each week; all events in which Lamballe, in her office of superintendent, participated, being always seen at the queen’s side both in public as well as in private. She accompanied the royal family to St. Cloud in the summer of 1790, and also attended the Fête of the Fédération at the Champ the Mars in Paris in July. Previously often unwilling to entertain in the queen’s name as her office required, during these years she entertained lavishly and widely in her office at the Tuileries, where she hoped to gather loyal nobles to help the queen’s cause, and her salon came to serve 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. In parallel, she also investigated the loyalty among the court staff through a network of informers. Madame Campan described how she was interviewed by Lamballe, who explained that she had been informed that Campan had been receiving deputies in her room and that her loyalty toward the monarchy had been questioned, but that Lamballe had investigated the accusations by use of spies, which had cleared Campan from the charges.

After the departure from France of the duchess de Polignac and most of the other of the queen’s intimate circle of friends, Marie Antoinette warned Lamballe that she would now in her visible role attract much of the anger among the public toward the favorites of the queen, and that libels circulating openly in Paris would expose her to slander. Lamballe reportedly read one of these volumes, and was informed of the hostility voiced toward her in them. De Lamballe supported her sister-in-law the duchess of Orléans when she filed for divorce from the duke of Orléans, which has been viewed as a reason of discord between Lamballe and Orléans; though the duke had often used Lamballe as an intermediary to the queen, he reportedly never quite trusted her, since he expected Lamballe to blame him for encouraging the behavior which caused the death of Lamballe’s late spouse, and when he was informed that she had ill will toward him during this affair, he reportedly broke with her. She was not informed beforehand of the Flight to Varennes (King Louis XVI of France, his queen Marie Antoinette, and their immediate family attempted to escape from Paris). The night of the escape in June 1791, the queen said goodnight to her and advised her to spend some days in the country for the sake of her health before she retired; Lamballe found her behavior odd enough to remark about it to M. de Clermot, before leaving the Tuileries to retire to her villa in Passy. The day after, when the royal family had already departed during the night, she received a note from Marie Antoinette who told her about the flight and told her to meet in Brussels. She departed France from Boulogne to Dover in England, where she stayed for one night before continuing to Oosteende in the Austrian Netherlands, where she arrived on 26 June. She continued to Brussels, where she met Axel von Fersen and the count and countess de Provence, and then to Aix-la- Chapelle. She visited Gustav III of Sweden in Spa for a few days in September, and received him in Aix in October. In Paris, the Chronique de Paris reported of her departure and it was widely believed that she had gone to England for a diplomatic mission on behalf of the queen. During her stay abroad, she was in correspondence with Marie Antoinette, who repeatedly asked her not to return to France. However, in October 1791, the new provisions of the Constitution came into operation, and the queen was requested to set her household in order and dismissed all office holders not in service: she accordingly wrote to Lamballe and formally asked her to return to service or resign. This formal letter, though it was in contrast to the private letters Marie Antoinette had written her, reportedly convinced her that it was her duty to return, and she announced that the queen wished her to return and that “I must live and die with her.”

During her stay at a house that she had rented in the Royal Crescent, Bath, Great Britain the princess wrote her will, because she was convinced that she risked mortal danger should she return to Paris. She left Aix la Chapelleon 20 October and her arrival in Paris was announced in the Paris newspapers of November 4. Back in the Tuileries, Lamballe resumed her office and her work rallying supporters to the queen, investigating the loyalty of the household and writing to the nobles asking them to return to France in the name of the queen.

During the Demonstration of 20 June 1792, she was present in the company of the queen when a mob broke in to the palace. Marie Antoinette immediately cried that her place as by the king’s side, but Lamballe then cried: “No, no, Madame, your place is with your children!”, after which a table was pulled before her to protect her from the mob. According to a witness, “Madame de Lamballe displayed great courage. Standing during the whole of that long scène, leaning upon the Queen’s chair, she seemed only occupied with the dangers of that unhappy princess without regarding her own.”

Marie Louise de Lamballe continued her services to the Queen until the attack on the palace on 10 August 1792, when she accompanied the Royal Family when they took refuge in the Legislative Assembly. She 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. She also accompanied them from the Legislative Assembly to the Feuillant convent, and from there to the Temple. On 19 August, she was separated from the Royal Family and transferred to the La Force prison. 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 where they were immediately killed by a mob of men, women and children. On 3 September, de Lamballe was taken out to a courtyard with other prisoners waiting to be taken to the tribunal. 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”. She agreed to take the oath to liberty but refused to denounce the king, queen and monarchy. At this point, her trial was ended with the words, “emmenez madame” (“Take madame away”).

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 10th August?’
‘I know not whether there were any plots on the 10th 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.’

The Princesse de Lamballe, sketched by Gabriel while awaiting ‘trial’ on the day of her death

She was immediately taken to the street to a group of men who killed her within minutes. 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 into the front of the yard by the two guards. 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.

After her death, her corpse was undressed, eviscerated and decapitated, with its head placed upon a pike and paraded through the streets. Following this, the head was put on the pike again and paraded beneath Marie Antoinette’s window at the Temple. After this, the head and the corpse was taken by the crowd to the Palais Royal, where the Duke of Orléans and his lover Marguerite Françoise de Buffon were entertaining a party of Englishmen for supper. The 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!’

Madame Tussaud was ordered to make a death mask

According to the Memoirs of Madame Vigée Le Brun by Marie-Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun…

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.

A gardener of the 1820s by the name of Auguste Miellez was so inspired by the Princesse, he bred white or near white roses with a strong fragrance that he named Princesse de Lamballe.

he Lamballe Headdress created by the French hairdresser Henri de Bysterveld. The front portion of the hair was often styled away from the face and the top portion of the hair was either crimped, frizzed, or curled. False hair or some padded form was placed underneath the hair so as to create one side higher than the other. The lower portion of the hair was usually arranged in cascading ringlets or large curls that sometimes flowed to the waist and a cap wreathed in fresh flowers and bows was added.

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