Marie Clotilde of France (Marie Adélaïde Clotilde Xavière; 23 September 1759 – 7 March 1802), known as Madame Clotilde, was a French princess who became Queen of Sardinia as Clotilda in 1796. She was the younger sister of Louis XVI of France and later the wife of Charles Emmanuel IV of Sardinia. She was politically active an acted as the de facto first minister of her spouse during his reign.
Princess of France
Marie Clotilde and her elder brother Charles mounting a goat.
Born in Versailles, Marie Clotilde was the elder daughter of Louis, Dauphin of France, the only son of King Louis XV, and of the Dauphin's wife, Princess Maria Josepha of Saxony. As the granddaughter of the king, she was a Petite-Fille de France. Upon the death of their grandfather in May 1774, Clotilde's oldest brother, Louis Auguste, became king Louis XVI of France.
Marie Clotilde was brought up under the supervision of the royal governess the countess of Marsan and given the usual education of royal princesses, focusing upon religion and virtue, and education in which she reportedly willingly subjected herself to. She adopted herself to strict Catholic devotion early on and had the wish to follow the example of her aunt, Madame Louise, and join the Order of the Carmelites.
Because she was overweight, Marie Clotilde was nicknamed Gros-Madame in her youth. She and her younger sister Élisabeth were raised by Madame de Marsan after the death of their father in 1765 and their mother in 1767. Because she married and left France soon after Louis XVI acceded to the throne, Marie Clotilde did not have enough time to form a close relationship with her sister-in-law, Queen Marie Antoinette. Marie Clotilde was described as passive and apathetic, which gave the perception of insensitivity, but she was, however, very close to her sister, who reportedly took her departure very hard.
In 1774, Marie Clotilde was engaged by her brother King Louis XVI to Charles Emmanuel, Prince of Piedmont, eldest son of Victor Amadeus III of Sardiniaand of his wife Maria Antonia Ferdinanda of Spain. The match between Marie Clotilde and Charles Emmanuel was part of a wider scheme of marriages. Charles Emmanuel's younger sister, Marie Joséphine, had married Marie Clotilde's older brother, the Count of Provence in 1771. In 1773, another of Charles Emmanuel's sisters, Marie Thérèse, had married Marie Clotilde's youngest brother, the Count of Artois. Marie Clothilde did not wish to marry, but adjusted herself to the will of her brother, asked the princess de Lamballe about the personality of her intended spouse and was taught Italian in order to fulfill her role as eventual Queen of Sardinia.
Princess of Piedmont
Portrait of Marie Clotilde by Johann Julius Heinsius, c. 1780
On 27 August 1775, Louis XVI had his sister Marie Clotilde married in Versailles by procuration to Charles Emmanuel, Prince of Piedmont, eldest son of Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia and of his wife Maria Antonia Ferdinanda of Spain. Marie Clotilde traveled to Turin, met her husband on the way at Pont-de-Beauvoisin and finally her father-in-law and the rest of the Sardinian court at Chambéry. She was accompanied by her brother the Count of Provence and her husband. The official wedding took place in Turin. After her marriage some in the French court joked that perhaps her groom had been given two brides instead of one, in reference to her weight. Her father-in-law was concerned that her weight might affect her ability to bear children. The groom reportedly commented that he had been given "more to worship".
Marie Clothilde quickly and successfully adapted to the strict court rules of her fervent Catholic mother-in-law, queen Maria Antonia, dutifully participated in all representational activities expected of her in her role as crown princess, and demonstrated that the strict morals at court would be as strictly upheld by own her future tenure as queen as it was by the present queen. She was close to her sisters-in-law, the Duchess of Aosta and the Duchess of Chablais. She enjoyed fashion and entertainment, preferred to stay at the Moncalieri estate because she sometime felt the court life at Turin oppressing, and despite her saintly reputation, her spouse himself said that it was in fact not her nature to be humble and subjective, and that she had to struggle to achieve this.
Although the union was arranged for political reasons, Marie Clotilde and Charles Emmanuel became devoted to each other, united in their piety and a strong belief in the Roman Catholic faith. Carlo Emmanuele, additionally, being of a passive character, early on leaned on Marie Clothilde as being of a stronger personality. The marriage, however, was to stay without children. After eight years of attempts to have issue, in 1783 Marie Clothilde asked Charles Emanuel to end sexual relations and live in chastity as uti frater et soror, a request he willingly agreed to.
After her marriage, Marie Clotilde never returned to France. The French Revolution proved to be a disaster for her family. Her oldest brother, King Louis XVI; his wife, Queen Marie Antoinette; and her younger sister, Madame Élisabeth, were all guillotined. Her youngest brother, the comte d'Artois, left France in 1789 and was given permission to Turin to stay under the protection of her father-in-law, the king of Sardinia. Marie Clotilde also harboured her aunts, Madame Adélaïde and Madame Victoire, after they too left France in 1791.
Queen of Sardinia
In 1796, upon the accession of her husband to the throne, Marie Clotilde became the Queen of Sardinia. On 6 December 1798, the French First Republicdeclared war on Sardinia. Charles Emmanuel was forced to abdicate all his territories on the Italian mainland and to withdraw to the island of Sardinia.
During their reign in exile from mainland Sardinia, the couple traveled between the Italian states as well as their own provinces - such as the island of Sardinia in 1800 - and upheld diplomatic relations with the hope of being restored to Turin. During this period, Marie Clothilde served as the spokesperson, de facto chief Councillor and first minister of Charles Emmanuel and in fact handled the Sardinian government in exile, demonstrating both diplomatic skill and a steady support for Charles Emmanuel, who refused to abdicate his office as long as she was alive, despite the demands of his brothers to do so.Despite her political activity, however, Marie Clothilde always played down her personality, both publicly and privately, as this was considered more befitting of her pietas. Charles Emmanuel and Marie Clotilde lived in Rome and then in Naples as guests of the wealthy Colonna family. Marie Clotilde nursed her husband's aunt Princess Maria Felicita of Savoy through her last illness in Naples in 1801.
Marie Clotilde died on 7 March 1802. Charles Emmanuel was so moved by her death that he abdicated on 4 June 1802 in favour of his younger brother, Victor Emmanuel. Marie Clotilde de France was buried in the Church of Santa Caterina a Chiaia in Naples. Pope Pius VII, who had personally known Marie Clotilde, declared her venerable on 10 April 1808, the first step to her beatification.