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

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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16 Comments to “Madame Henriette, daughter of Louis XV”

  1. Rebbeca says:

    Thanks for these stories. I`m realy into this time of french history and Versailles itself. I`m wondering about Anne-Henriette. How long did she and her lover Louis-Philippe spend time together? I mean before marriage cancellation.. I just wonder if they had time for their own real love story! What an injustice!!! In that time very rarely or not at all people fell in REAL love, especially if we are talking about royal families! And Henriette and Louis-Philippe DID! They really did! And only because of this stupid legacy thing they both were forced to drift apart. How terrible! And then Henriette turned to music, while Louis-Philippe made a decision to marry another woman ( who wasn`t his REAL love, because Henriette was!!! ). I wonder if they both met, in that period when Louis had children? And did Louis mourned about Henriette`s (his REAL love`s) death?

  2. Thanks for the precisions, Rebekah!

  3. Thanks for the great stories about amazing women!
    Just one important comment–a viola da gamba is *not* a cello. They are from two totally different instrument families. In the beautiful portrait (which, strangely enough, is a posthumous likeness), you can see the shape of the instrument, as well as the fact that it has seven strings. Totally different from a cello. The head on the instrument is a female head, as was common. It was also very common to decorate the instruments with ribbons or gilding (as in the portrait of Madame Henriette’s viol teacher, J-B Forqueray by Frédou).

  4. Leah Cheatum says:

    Hello Thanks for posting! I really enjoyed the report. I’ve already bookmark this article. :-D

  5. Catherine Delors says:

    Penny – If by “sexy” you mean physically very attractive, then yes, you could call Madame Henriette sexy. Being a princess does not preclude that…

  6. Penny says:

    Is it my imagination, or is that first top lefthanded picture of Madame sexy? or do I miss something.

  7. Catherine Delors says:

    Thanks, Jules! Come back whenever you feel the need for another Euro-fix.

  8. Jules @ Lovely Las Vegas says:

    Excellent information. It gave me my Euro-fix for the day : ). Thanks!

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  10. Catherine Delors says:

    Thank you, Felio! What was going on in Louis-Philippe’s head as he was sentencing his cousin to death? His contemporaries felt that indeed ambition had much to do with this momentous vote.

  11. Felio Vasa says:

    Nattier’s works are just gorgeous. Love that detail of the ribbon & head at the top of the cello too. Also the informative information that you bring in with the linage lines of the different branches (Spanish- French Bourbons, The Orleans) are really quite important to understand. Louis- Philippe played such an important role in all this- did he vote the way he did thinking that he might become the next constitutional monarch?
    Does desire (even if you felt owed to you) create choices?

  12. Catherine Delors says:

    Thank you, Judith and Carol. I think Nattier is an unfairly forgotten artist. Plenty of his work will be on display in the next posts on the other daughters of Louis XV. Stay tuned…

  13. What a divine post! And wonderful paintings, especially the cello portrait!!!

  14. Judith says:

    Lovely post! I always enjoy reading your stories & posts! Just fantastic! Thank you for a moment back in time!

  15. Catherine Delors says:

    Thanks so much for the link, Richard! I was thinking of you while writing about the Spanish Bourbons and their distrust of the ambitions of the Orleans branch… The head at the scroll could indeed be Louis XV, or possibly the Queen or some allegory of music. The ribbon looks a sort of lilac color. I love this portrait anyway.

  16. Richard says:

    I will try and place a redirect in my blog to this article, you always have such good stories about the family.

    Is the bust at the top of the scroll Louis XV. That would explain the white cravat… (though it looks grey).

    Vive le Roy!

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