At auction: a purse embroidered by Marie-Antoinette

At Christie’s in Paris tomorrow, with hundreds of other royal memorabilia from the estate of the late Comte and Comtesse de Paris.

purse embroidered by Marie Antoinette

purse embroidered by Marie Antoinette

The Comte de Paris, who died in 1999 at the age of 91, was the Orléanist pretender to the throne of France. He was directly descended from King Louis-Philippe, who reigned in the 19th century, and the more controversial Duc d’Orléans (pictured here) who took the name of Philippe Egalité during the Revolution, and infamously voted in favor of the immediate execution of his cousin Louis XVI. All are descended from Louis XIV’s brother Philippe.

To say that the late Comte de Paris was a controversial figure would be an understatement. After the French defeat in 1939, he supported the Vichy regime, allied to the German occupant, but balked after he was only offered the rank of Minister of Food Supplies. It was an important position in wartime, but perhaps he had been expecting something more prestigious that could have led to the restoration of the monarchy.

Disappointed, the Comte de Paris switched his allegiance to the Resistance. His role during some events of World War II remains somewhat unclear. General De Gaulle later stated that the Comte de Paris had missed, unlike the head of the Bonaparte family, the opportunity to join in the fight for his country.

After the war, the Comte de Paris persisted in his efforts to promote the restoration of the monarchy. He also presided over charitable foundations, one of which, La Fondation Saint-Louis, was designed to “protect the assets of the Orléans family.” However, after his death, his heirs sued his longtime mistress on the grounds that he had illegally transferred to her a great deal of his fortune, allegedly worth hundreds of millions of Euros. After the death of his widow, their estate is now being auctioned off by Christie’s.

The provenance of the Marie-Antoinette silk purse is not doubtful: the detroned Queen embroidered it while jailed during the Revolution in the Tower of the Temple, and it was presented to Madame de Tourzel, Governess to the Royal Children. Marie-Antoinette was very fond of embroidering and knitting, and by all accounts very skilled at it. The object made its way to the Orléans family much later, during the 20th century. The purse is expected to fetch between $16,000 and  $20,000.

What are my feelings about this? It always saddens me to see family heirlooms such as these (including recent private photographs, or gifts received by the Comtesse de Paris upon her 80th birthday) scattered at auction. As for this particular purse, Marie-Antoinette considered, with good reason, the Duc d’Orléans as her arch-enemy. Would she herself have wanted to see this object, so emotionally charged, in the hands of his descendants?

Also of note are a fragment of a lace-embellished dress worn by Marie-Antoinette at the Temple and a razor used by Louis XVI there. And a ring
containing entwined locks of hair of the royal couple. Which is
Marie-Antoinette’s? I have seen other locks of her hair, and my guess
would be the blonder one, on the top.

Follow up: see the auction results.

Portrait of the Duc d’Orléans: © Philippe Royet (

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