Madame Henriette, daughter of Louis XV

Madame Elisabeth and Madame Henriette Gobert

Madame Elisabeth and Madame Henriette of France Gobert

Anne-Henriette de France, thanks to her beautiful portrait by Nattier with a viole de gambe (cello), sparked the idea of this series on the daughters of Louis XV and Marie Leszczynska.

She was born on August 14, 1727, minutes after Madame Elisabeth. The sisters, as is obvious from their respective portraits, were fraternal twins. They had quite different personalities as well. Henriette was as reserved as Elisabeth was assertive and outgoing. Louis XV was very attached to both of his elder daughters.

The first trauma of Henriette’s life came when her twin left Versailles for Spain, apparently forever. A second ordeal came when Henriette fell in love with her second cousin, Louis-Philippe, Duc de Chartres, future head of the Orléans branch of the royal family.

Young Louis-Philippe too was in love with Henriette, and asked for her hand. Yet Louis XV, fond as he was of his daughters, never let his paternal feelings stand in the way of dynastic considerations.

The Spanish Bourbons had been outraged by the abrupt dismissal of the little Infanta-Queen when Louis XV had married Marie Leszczynska, and the marriage of Madame Elisabeth with a son of the King of Spain had been designed to soothe any lingering ill-will between France and Spain.

Madame   Henriette Gobert

Madame Henriette of France by Gobert

The Spanish royal family, as direct descendants of Louis XIV, considered then (and their descendants still do to this day) their claims to the throne of France superior to those of the Orléans, who were more descended from Louis XIV’s younger brother.

Allowing Madame Henriette to marry the future head of the Orléans line would thus have reinforced that branch’s claims to the throne in case the King died without a male heir, since Salic law prevented women from inheriting the French crown.

I hope I am not being too arcane here, but I believe it is helpful to put things into context, since another Orléans, the grandson of Madame Henriette’s rejected suitor, would indeed become King of the French under the name of Louis-Philippe I in 1830.

As for Henriette, she had no choice but to resign herself to her fate. Unlike her twin, she was never on friendly terms with their father’s favorite Madame de Pompadour. She found solace in her music and took lessons from Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Forqueray, the leading cellist of the time. Her affection for that instrument was memorialized by Nattier. She was also very close to her younger brother, the Dauphin Louis-Ferdinand.

She died on February 1752, at the age of 24, from smallpox. Madame Campan, who joined the Court fifteen years later as a reader to Henriette’s surviving sisters, notes in her Memoirs that the memory of the late princess was still very much alive at Versailles decades after her death. “This princess had had much influence over the King,” writes Madame Campan, “people would say that, had she lived, she would have taken pains to entertain him within his family, that she would have followed the King in his little journeys, and would have presided over the suppers he liked to give in his private apartments.” Madame Campan alludes here to the influence of Madame du Barry, the last of Louis XV’s mistresses, in the waning years of his reign. Maybe indeed Madame Henriette would have prevented the emergence, much to the discredit of the monarchy, of that new favorite.

The Duc de Chartres married one of the descendants of Louis XIV and his mistress, Madame de Montespan. It was a most unhappy union, from which was born another Louis-Philippe, future Duc d’Orléans, future Philippe Egalité. Yes, the very man who would vote in 1793 for the immediate execution of his cousin Louis XVI…

Madame Henriette Nattier

Madame Henriette of France playing music by Nattier

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Links to the entire Daughters of Louis XV series:

Madame Elisabeth, Duchess of Parma
Madame Henriette
Madame Marie-Louise
Madame Adélaïde
Madame Victoire
Madame Sophie
Madame Thérèse
Madame Louise (Venerable Mother Thérèse de Saint-Augustin)

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