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France: Women in the Revolution

Élisabeth of France

Dérniere entrevue de Louis XVI, avec sa famille, 20 janvier 1793, â sept heures du soir. [between 1793 and 1800]. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Élisabeth of France (in full Élisabeth-philippine-marie-hélèn) was born on May 3, 1764 in Versailles and was executed on May 10, 1794 in Paris. Often simply called the Princess, or Madame Élisabeth, she was the youngest sibling of King Louis XVI. A devout Catholic, she pushed aside her desire to join the convent in order to serve at her brother's side during his reign. She is known for her love of shoes (a weakness that amounted to owning hundreds of pairs) and for her unwavering and fierce piety. Her loyalty to her brother, her faith, and her virtuous living made her far more popular with the French people (especially the devout Catholics) than her sister-in-law Marie Antoinette, even as she had similarly conservative views on how to proceed during the Revolution. Fortunately the two got along well. She was more conservative than most in the royal family and frequently advised her brother to take a more traditional course of action, basing her advice on the principles of absolute sovereignty of his position. The king did not often take her advice, but it no doubt served to further his ambivalence and lack of personal conviction over the course of the Revolution. Although she had several marriage offers, none of them suited France's diplomatic designs and so she remained single and devoted to her brother and sister-in-law, the queen. She noted privately that she was pleased to remain single as she did not wish to leave her beloved France as the bride of a foreign prince. In one of the most famous accounts of her courage, a royalist warned her that she was being mistaken for the queen (who was in grave danger at the time) to which she said "Ah, would to God it were so, do not enlighten them, save them from a greater crime." These tales of her bravery are no doubt what give her such an admirable reputation among many. She refused to emigrate without her brother, even as many royalists around her fled. In 1791 she joined the royal family in their infamous attempt to flee (the infamous Flight to Varennes) and ultimately shared their death sentence issued by the Revolutionary tribunal. The Roman Catholic Church regards her as a martyr. She is buried in the Catacombs of Paris.

For an overview of French women in history and the evolution of the French feminist movement, please see the research guide Feminism & French Women in History.

You can identify additional material by searching the Library of Congress Online Catalog using the following headings:

Elisabeth, Princess of France, 1764-1794. (Name Heading; returns works by Élizabeth de France)

Elisabeth, Princess of France, 1764-1794. (Subject Heading; returns works about Élizabeth de France)

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