Marie Joséphine Louise of Savoy (Maria Giuseppina Luigia; 2 September 1753 – 13 November 1810) was the wife of the future King Louis XVIII of France. She was a princess of Savoy by birth, became Countess of Provence upon her marriage in 1771, and then titular Queen of the French when her husband's nephew, the titular King Louis XVII of France, died in 1795.
Marie Joséphine Louise de Savoie
by Alexander Kucharsky, about 1790
by Alexander Kucharsky, about 1790
Marie Joséphine was born at the Royal Palace of Turin on 2 September 1753 as the third child and second daughter of Prince Victor Amadeus of Savoy and his wife, the Infanta Maria Antonia Ferdinanda of Spain. At the time of her birth, her paternal grandfather Charles Emmanuel III was the King of Sardinia, thus her parents were styled Duke and Duchess of Savoy.
Her brothers included the last three kings of Sardinia from the senior line of the House of Savoy: the future Charles Emmanuel IV, Victor Emmanuel I, and Charles Felix. One of her younger sisters, Maria Teresa, also married into the royal family of France, in her case to the future King Charles X of France. Her youngest sister Maria Carolina married the future King Anthony of Saxony, although she died in 1782, decades before he assumed the throne.
Marie-Joséphine as a child by Giuseppe Duprà
Marie Joséphine was engaged to the French Prince Louis Stanislas, who was known as the Count of Provence. Her husband later became King Louis XVIII of France.
She was married on 16 April 1771 by proxy in the Kingdom of Sardinia, then again in person on 14 May 1771 at the Palace of Versailles. A luxurious ball followed the wedding on 20 May. Her brother-in-law Louis Auguste (the future Louis XVI of France) was Dauphin of France at the time and already married to Marie Antoinette. Her marriage to a Petit-fils de France (Grandson of France) allowed her to assume the rank of petite-fille de France (Granddaughter of France) and maintain the style of "Royal Highness", which she held from birth as the granddaughter of a king of Sardinia. At the death of her husband’s grandfather Louis XV in 1774, her brother-in-law succeeded as Louis XVI. As a result, her husband took on the style Monsieur as he was the oldest brother of the king - this was tradition at the French court. Marie Joséphine thus took on the style Madame.
Besides the marriages of Marie Joséphine and her younger sister Maria Teresa into the royal family of France, there was one other Franco-Savoyard marriage that occurred within the time span of four years: the marriage in 1775 of their oldest brother Prince Charles Emmanuel of Savoy (the future king of Sardinia) to Princess Clotilde of France, sister of the Count of Provence.
The new Countess of Provence was considered to be ugly, tedious, and ignorant of the customs of the court at Versailles. Louis Stanislas was supposedly repulsed by her. We know today that there were rumors about her created by those who supported his sister-in-law Marie Antoinette, as a rivalry soon emerged after the Count of Artois, the youngest brother in the family, married the Countess's sister, thereby bringing yet another Savoyard princess to Versailles and creating a Piedmontese party at court. She was a cousin of the ill-fated Marie Louise of Savoy, Princess of Lamballe, who was instrumental in the arrangement of the marriage. She was also a cousin of the Prince of Condé, who later helped to organize and lead a large counter-revolutionary army of émigrés. Her aunts included Maria Luisa of Savoy and Eleonora of Savoy, once proposed brides for Louis Stanislas' father Louis. Her uncle the Duke of Chablais fought against French revolutionaries after the execution of Louis XVI in 1793.
Some historians claim that the marriage remained unconsummated due to Louis Stanislas' impotence (according to Antonia Fraser) or his unwillingness to sleep with his wife due to her poor personal hygiene. It was alleged that she never brushed her teeth, plucked her eyebrows, or used any perfumes.
However, according to the Chateau de Versailles's publication, Versallia (2007 edition), the countess's private quarters and bathroom were not ready at the time of the marriage of her arrival. Thus, not only was the countess not able to wash herself after spending days in a carriage riding from Turin to Versailles, but she was also not able to do so in the days following her arrival. Initial mockery of the princess in the Versailles court may have stuck. As this fact has only recently come to light, previous accounts of the countess and her relations with the count should be regarded with suspicion as it may very well have been the case that negative remarks were made about them for various political or circumstantial reasons.
Despite the fact that Louis Stanislas was supposedly not infatuated with his wife, he boasted that the two enjoyed vigorous conjugal relations — such declarations were met with skepticism by courtiers at Versailles. He also proclaimed his wife to be pregnant merely to spite Louis Auguste and his wife Marie Antoinette, who had not yet consummated their marriage. Louis Stanislas impregnated his wife in 1774, conquering his alleged aversion to Marie Joséphine. Unfortunately, the pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. A second pregnancy in 1781 also miscarried, and the marriage remained childless.
The Dauphin and Louis Stanislas did not enjoy a harmonious relationship. They often quarreled, as did their wives. The Count of Provence actually challenged the legitimacy of Marie Antoinette's first child, and until the birth of a male heir by Marie Antoinette, he did everything in his power to promote himself and his wife as better fitted to be next-in-line for the throne.
Without children or political influence, Marie Joséphine intrigued against the queen, but without much success, while her spouse orchestrated a true country-wide opposition against her. She lived a rather isolated life at Versailles until The Women's March on Versailles took place on 5 October 1789, when she and her husband were forced to move to Paris along with Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
During the revolution, Marie Joséphine and her husband lodged in the Luxembourg Palace in Paris, while the rest of the royal family stayed in the Tuileries Palace. The Provence couple escaped to the Austrian Netherlands in the same operation that led to the royal family’s failed Flight to Varennes in June 1791.
In 1791 Marie Joséphine moved to Germany with her husband. During this period of exile, the Count and Countess fought constantly. Some historians have suggested Marie Joséphine's possible lesbian relationship with a lady-in-waiting, Marguerite de Gourbillon, as the primary cause.
On 8 June 1795, Louis XVII of France, the only surviving son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, died while imprisoned in the Temple, and on 16 June, the exiled French court proclaimed the Count of Provence King of France as Louis XVIII. Thus, Marie Joséphine became titular Queen consort of France. Regardless, she and her husband spent much time apart due to persistent discord between them.
By 1798, Marie Joséphine was still living in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, with Marguerite de Gourbillon. In 1799, she was asked by Louis to join him in Jelgava in Russian Courland to attend the wedding between her husband's niece Marie Thérèse, the only remaining child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, to her husband's nephew Louis-Antoine, Duke of Angoulême, at the French court-in-exile, which operated under the protection of the Russian Tsar Paul I. Louis demanded that she leave Gourbillon behind. After having written to the Tsar to ask him to intervene on Gourbillon's behalf, and having received no reply, they traveled there together. When Marie Joséphine arrived with Gourbillon, their carriage was stopped before they reached the palace in Jelgava, and Gourbillon was forcibly separated from Marie Joséphine, who reacted with a public protest in front of the whole court upon her arrival. She openly declared that she would refused to change out of her clothes or install herself in her quarters before Gourbillon was given permission to join her. This tactic was unsuccessful, and instead she thereafter refused to leave her rooms, where she isolated herself with a bottle of liquor. This scene caused a public scandal. Gourbillon later managed to have her revenge by convincing the Tsar to expel Louis from Russia early in 1801. Louis and his wife continued to live in various locations on the continent of Europe until 1808, when they moved to live in England.
Marie Joséphine died of an edema at Hartwell House, the English residence of the exiled French royal family. Surrounded in her final days by most of the French court, she begged for forgiveness for any wrongs she might have done them, especially Louis; she assured him that she harbored no ill will toward him. Her funeral was a magnificent occasion attended by all the members of the court-in-exile, whose names were recorded by police spies and reported back to Napoleon. The funeral cortege was followed by the carriage of the British royal family, and Marie Joséphine was laid to rest in the Lady Chapel of Westminster Abbey.
Her body was removed a year later on Louis's orders and buried in the Kingdom of Sardinia; today it lies in Cagliari Cathedral. There, her brother King Charles Felix of Sardinia had an imposing monument erected over her grave, whereon she is described personally as "sapiens, prudens, pientissima" ("wise, prudent, kindest") and as "Galliarum Regina", literally "Queen of the Gauls", i.e. of France.
- She was played by the French actress Clémentine Poidatz in the 2006 film named Marie Antoinette; the film was directed by Sofia Coppola.
Marie Joséphine by Vigée-Le Brun in 1782.
Marie-Joséphine pointing to a bust of her husband with a portrait of her father
Marie Joséphine Louise de Savoie