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The Aunt Who Saved Her Niece : Princess Elisabeth of France

French Revolution. What comes to mind?
Madam Guillotine,  Marie Antoinette, and sink me–The Scarlet Pimpernal. The 1982 film adaption of the book made me laugh so hard. I was also in awe. Did such heroes exist?

There were those who smuggled nobles into other countries. The films shows that Marie-Antoinette and Louis’s son survived and was taken from their prison to a safer place.

Wrong.

The sole survivor was the king and queen’s daughter, Marie-Therese. who clung on to some hope that maybe her brother and mother who were taken away had survived.

I can’t believed I went on for years not knowing about her–or her aunt Elisabeth, the king’s sister.  Elisabeth made sacrifice after sacrifice for the royal family–refusing to marry or take other available routes that would take her out of the country. She endured violent attacks with them and even posed as the queen to buy her sister-in-law more time during one ambush. It’s little wonder that Marie-Antoinette and Louis counseled their children to listen to their aunt.

All too soon the royal family was taken to the Temple Tower. They endured unfair trials and living conditions grew worse.  the king was executed and little Louis was taken to a separate cell. Marie-Antoinette was taken away and also executed, but Elisabeth and Marie-Therese only knew the king’s fate. However, I believe Elisabeth knew her sister-in-law was dead and had a strong feeling her nephew was slowly dying. Marie-Therese had the best chance of surviving.

The Heroic Aunt

The heroic aunt. Elisabeth de France by Vigee-Lebrun.

 
When it was just Elisabeth and Marie-Therese in the cell, Elisabeth comforted her niece. She was an example of piety and
Marie-Therese later said much of her survival was due to prayer. Elisabeth showed and advised her niece on how to groom herself, keep the cell as clean as possible, and how to handle the guards. It was just a matter of time before Elisabeth was taken away and was prepared to die a martyr. Marie-Therese would not find out what happened to her aunt, mother, and brother till much later. The information that her aunt watched around twenty-five nobles executed before her and was purposely saved for last would be withheld.

Marie-Therese was eventually freed and taken to Vienna in 1795 for safety.

The sole survivor. Portrait of Marie Thérèse of France by Heinrich Furger.

The sole survivor. Portrait of Marie Thérèse of France by Heinrich Furger.

She would go on to help royal refugees and raise troops against Napoleon dubbed her the “only man in the family.” She worked hard to preserve the memory of her family. The following comment about her aunt needs to be remembered.”I feel I have her nature . . . [she] considered me and cared for me as her daughter, and I, I honored her as a second mother.”
I hope I have some of Princess Elisabeth in me. Her story sticks out to me. In times of tough decisions, I have thought of my growing niece and my desire to be a good example. The thought points me in the right direction. I love my nieces and nephew. I’m honored when my brothers and their wives let me watch over their kids. Princess Elisabeth is a wonderful role model.  Her story is inspiring because it can make us think of ways we can be more loving toward our families.

 

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