Who Was Marie-Thérèse?

Greetings! In this post we are going to talk about my upcoming short story: “Marie-Thérèse Remembers.” We are also going to explore who Marie-Thérèse of France was. We know so much about her ill-fated parents, King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette.

Marie-Thérèse experienced all manner of torments during the Reign of Terror and she was the only member of the royal family to survive. While we know so much about her parents, we do not know as much about her. Recently, I have begun conducting my research in preparation for writing my short story.

A portrait of Marie-Thérèse from around 1795, painted by Heinrich Füger

Marie-Thérèse is a tragic figure who has always fascinated me. The portrait is one that I always found haunting. She is clad in black to mourn those most dear to her and she wears a cameo pendant depicting her poor parents and brother who died during the Reign of Terror. It is the expression on her face that I find the most haunting in this portrait. You wonder what she has experienced and seen.

In my research I have come across a book written by historian Susan Nagel, Marie-Therese, Child of Terror: The Fate of Marie Antoinette’s Daughter. This is the first contemporary source in English that I could find that focuses on Marie-Thérèse specifically. Other books that I have read about the Ancien Régime and French Revolution have been centered on more colorful characters around her. It always seemed like she would fade into the background.

Nagel paints Marie-Thérèse a devout and strongwilled young woman who never gave up on her dreams to see her family back on the French throne. Even though she experienced unspeakable horrors during the Revolution, she remained steadfast in her faith and forgave the French people who committed these atrocities. Napoleon Bonaparte referred to as her as “the only man in her family” after she openly defied him. She only agreed to depart from Bordeaux when she knew that the cause was lost and that leaving would save lives. Needless to say, she was a remarkably brave woman. This causes me to wonder: Why don’t we talk about her more?

“Marie-Thérèse Remembers,” which will be published in an anthology, operates off the premise of something happening differently in history. In this instance, I envision that the French Royal family escaped from Varennes in 1789. Those of us who know the history may remember that it was an unfortunate incident when they were caught and escorted back to Paris. In my telling of the story, they successfully escape and now they are living in Regency England while Napoleon rages across the Continent. After King Louis XVI died a bitter man in 1804, Marie-Thérèse is living in the British countryside with her mother and her younger brother, Louis XVII who is now the king. They are a court in exile, waiting to retake the throne.

Castelot, André. Madame Royale, Librairie Académique Perrin: Paris, 1962, pp. 197.
Nagel, Susan. Marie-Thérèse, Child of Terror: The Fate of Marie Antoinette’s Daughter, Bloomsbury: New York, 2010.