Madame Élisabeth by Charles Le Clercq

16 May 2020

I’m currently working on my upcoming biography of Madame Élisabeth, youngest sister of Louis XVI, who was guillotined in Paris in May 1794. This book is a major labour of love for me as I have been collecting books and information about Élisabeth for over a decade now and finally feel able to bring all of my research together as a book. It’s been a REALLY long time since the last English language book about Élisabeth was published so I am really excited about bringing her story to a new audience, who may only be familiar with her occasional appearances in the plethora of books about her much better known sister-in-law, Marie Antoinette.

I love this unusual portrait of Élisabeth by Charles Le Clercq, which is in the collection at Versailles and which I recently came across quite by chance while researching a post about her execution. It was painted in 1775, the year after her brother had succeeded to the throne, and depicts the princess at the age of eleven. It may seem weird to modern sensibilities that an eleven year old girl should be dressed so elaborately but this was completely normal at Versailles, where young adolescents were made to look rather grown up in paintings. Élisabeth’s brother Louis XVI was starting to look about for a suitable husband for her at this point and it seems likely that this painting may well have been originally destined for a foreign court, perhaps that of Portugal as the French were involved in negotiations to marry Élisabeth to the Prince of Brazil, heir to the Portuguese throne.

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