Clotilde of France, Queen of Sardinia

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Clotilde of France
Clothilde with guitar.jpg
Queen consort of Sardinia
Tenure 16 October 1796 – 7 March 1802
Born (1759-09-23)23 September 1759
Palace of Versailles, France
Died 7 March 1802(1802-03-07) (aged 42)
Burial 11 March 1802
Church of Santa Caterina a Chiaia
Spouse Charles Emmanuel IV of Sardinia
Full name
Marie Adélaïde Clotilde Xavière de France[1][2]
House Bourbon
Father Louis, Dauphin of France
Mother Maria Josepha of Saxony
Religion Roman Catholicism
Signature Clotilde of France's signature

Marie Clotilde of France[3][4] (Marie Adélaïde Clotilde Xavière; 23 September 1759 – 7 March 1802), known as Clotilda in Italy, was Queen of Sardinia by marriage to Charles Emmanuel IV of Sardinia. She was the younger sister of Louis XVI of France, she was politically active and acted as the de facto first minister of her spouse during his reign.[5]

Princess of France[edit]

Clotilde and her elder brother Charles mounting a goat.

Born in Versailles, Clotilde was the elder daughter of Louis, Dauphin of France, the only son of King Louis XV, and 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.

Clotilde and her younger sister Élisabeth were raised by Madame de Marsan, Governess to the Children of France. The sisters were considered much dissimilar in personality, because she was overweight, Clotilde was nicknamed Gros-Madame in her youth. [6] While her sister Elisabeth was described as "proud, inflexible, and passionate", Clothilde was in contrast estimated to be "endowed with the most happy disposition, which only needed guiding and developing",[7] they were given the usual education of contemporary royal princesses, focusing upon accomplishments, religion and virtue, an education to which Clothilde reportedly willingly subjected herself.[8] They were tutored botany by M. Lemonnier, history and geography lessons by M. Leblond, and religion by Abbe de Montigat, Canon of Chartres, and they followed the court between the royal palaces with their days divided between studies, walks in the Park, or drives in the forest.[7]

While Clothilde was described as a docile pupil, "who made herself loved by all who approached her", Élisabeth long refused to study, stating that "there were always people at hand whose duty it was to think for Princes", and treated her staff with impatience,[7] because of their difference, Madame de Marsan, who was not able to handle Elisabeth, preferred Clothilde, which made Elisabeth jealous and created a riff between the sisters.[7] Their relationship improved when Elisabeth fell ill and Clothilde insisted upon nursing her, during which she also taught her the alphabet and gave her an interest in religion, which prompted a great change in the personality of Elisabeth, and she came to be both her friend, tutor and Councillor.[7] Clothilde did not have a good relationship with her sister-in-law Marie Antoinette, who reportedly demonstrated too openly that she preferred her sister Elisabeth, which caused some offence at court.[6]


Clotilde adapted 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.[9] Instead, however, Clotilde was in February 1775 officially engaged by her brother King Louis XVI to Charles Emmanuel, Prince of Piedmont, eldest son of Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia and Maria Antonia Ferdinanda of Spain. The match between Clotilde and Charles Emmanuel was part of a wider series of Franco-Savoyard dynastic marriages taking place in a time span of eight years: after the wedding between Charles Emmanuel's cousin Princess Marie Louise of Savoy and her relative Louis Alexandre, Prince of Lamballe in 1767, Charles Emmanuel's sister Marie Joséphine, had married Clotilde's older brother, the Count of Provence in 1771, and another of Charles Emmanuel's sisters, Marie Thérèse, had married Clotilde's youngest brother, the Count of Artois in 1773. Clothilde did not wish to marry, but adjusted herself to the will of her brother, she 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.

On 27 August 1775, Louis XVI had his sister Clotilde married in Versailles by procuration to Charles Emmanuel, Prince of Piedmont, eldest son of Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia and Maria Antonia Ferdinanda of Spain, with her second eldest brother the count of Provence as proxy for the groom. Upon the departure of Clothilde from France, the farewell between the sisters were described as intense, with Elisabeth could hardly tear herself from the arms of Clothilde, queen Marie Antoinette commenting: "My sister Elisabeth is a charming child, who has intelligence, character, and much grace; she showed the greatest feeling, and much above her age, at the departure of her sister. The poor little girl was in despair, and as her health is very delicate, she was taken ill and had a very severe nervous attack. I own to my dear mamma that I fear I am getting too attached to her, feeling, from the example of my aunts, how essential it is for her happiness not to remain an old maid in this country."[10]

Clotilde traveled to Turin, met her spouse 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, at the occasion of her marriage, there were comments in the French court that her groom had been given two brides instead of one, in reference to her weight.[11] 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".[12]

Princess of Piedmont[edit]

Portrait of Clotilde by Johann Julius Heinsius, c. 1780

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 stringently upheld in her future tenure as queen as they were by the current queen,[13] 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 sometimes felt court life at Turin oppressive, and, despite her saintly reputation, her spouse himself said that it was in fact not her nature to be humble and submissive, and that she had to struggle to achieve this.[14]

Although the union was arranged for political reasons, Clotilde and Charles Emmanuel became devoted to each other, united in their piety and a strong belief in the Roman Catholic faith. Additionally, Charles Emmanuel, being of passive character, leaned on Clothilde as a stronger personality,[15] the marriage, however, was to be childless. In 1783, after eight years of attempts to have issue, Clothilde asked Charles Emanuel to end sexual relations and live in chastity as uti frater et soror, a request he willingly agreed to.[16]

The French Revolution proved to be a disaster for her family, her youngest brother, the Comte d'Artois, left France in 1789 and was given permission by Turin to stay there under the protection of her father-in-law, the king of Sardinia. Clotilde also harboured her aunts Mesdames de France, Madame Adélaïde and Madame Victoire, after they too left France in 1791.

In the 1790s, Clothilde was described by the exiled Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun as remarkably changed in her appearance as well as personality, as Vigée Le Brun's stay in Italy occurred between 1789 and 1792, and was granted audience to Clothilde by letters of introduction by the Mesdames de France, the meeting likely took place in 1791 or 1792, despite the fact that Vigée Le Brun - perhaps in retrospect - referred to Clothilde and her spouse as king and queen, while they were in fact still prince and princess of Piedmont at this point:

"The two aunts of Louis XVI. had been kind enough to give me letters to Clotilda, Queen of Sardinia, their niece. They sent word that they very much wished to have a portrait done by me, and consequently, as soon as I was settled, I presented myself before Her Majesty, she received me very well after reading the letters of Princess Adelaide and Princess Victoria. She told me that she regretted having to refuse her aunts, but that, having renounced the world altogether, she must decline being painted. What I saw indeed seemed quite in accord with her statement and her resolve, the Queen of Sardinia had her hair cut short and wore on her head a little cap, which, like the rest of her garb, was the simplest conceivable. Her leanness struck me particularly, as I had seen her when she was very young, before her marriage, when her stoutness was so pronounced that she was called "Fat Milady" in France. Be it that this change was caused by too austere religious practices, or by the sufferings which the misfortunes of her family had made her undergo, the fact was that she had altered beyond recognition, the King joined her in the room where she received me. He was likewise so pale and thin that it was painful to look at them together."[17]

Her oldest brother, king Louis XVI, her sister-in-law, queen Marie Antoinette; and her younger sister, Madame Élisabeth, were all executed in 1793-94. The execution of her sister was reportedly traumatic for Clothilde, she initially harbored good hope that Élisabeth would not be executed, because of her comparatively small political importance, and the news of her execution was therefore a shock. Her spouse told her by saying that they must make a sacrifice, upon which she understood immediately, replied, "The sacrifice is made!" and fainted.[7] She participated in a public procession of penance to the Church of the Pere Philippins in Turin, where she announced the death of her sister and ordered prayers to be said for her, and after this spoke of her as a saint.[7]

Queen of Sardinia[edit]

In 1796, upon the accession of her husband to the throne, Clotilde became the Queen of Sardinia, on 6 December 1798, the French First Republic declared 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, Clothilde served as the spokesperson, de facto chief Councillor and first minister of Charles Emmanuel[18] 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.[19] Despite her political activity, however, Clothilde always played down her personality, both publicly and privately, as this was considered more befitting of her pietas.[20] Charles Emmanuel and Clotilde lived in Rome and then in Naples as guests of the wealthy Colonna family. Clotilde nursed her husband's aunt Princess Maria Felicita of Savoy through her last illness in Naples in 1801.

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. Clotilde de France was buried in the Church of Santa Caterina a Chiaia in Naples. Pope Pius VII, who had personally known Clotilde, declared her venerable on 10 April 1808, the first step to her beatification.

When the House of Bourbon was restored after the fall of Napoleon in 1814, her two surviving brothers acceded to the throne of France: the comte de Provence as King Louis XVIII from 1814 to 1824, and the comte d'Artois as King Charles X from 1824 to 1830.



  1. ^ On the surname of the children of the King of France and of members of the French royal family: Diderot & d'Alembert Encyclopédie méthodique: Jurisprudence, Paris, 1786 [1], pp. 159-160 (French)
  2. ^ Achaintre, Nicolas Louis, Histoire généalogique et chronologique de la maison royale de Bourbon, Vol. 2, (Publisher Mansut Fils, 4 Rue de l'École de Médecine, Paris, 1825), p. 168 [2]
  3. ^ Burke's Royal Families of the World Volume I ISBN 0-85011-023-8 on p. 364 shows that (1) her father's geographic epithet was "of France" and (2) that her name of address in Sardinia was Clotilda (not Maria Clotilda)
  4. ^ David Williamson in Debrett's Kings and Queens of Europe ISBN 0-86350-194-X pp. 81 & 159 show that (1) her father's (not a king himself) geographic epithet was "of France" and (2) that her French name of address was Clotilde (not Marie-Clotilde)
  5. ^ Woodacre, Elena: Queenship in the Mediterranean: Negotiating the Role of the Queen in the Medieval and Early Modern Eras (2013)
  6. ^ a b Hardy, B. C. (Blanche Christabel), The Princesse de Lamballe; a biography, 1908, Project Gutenberg
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Maxwell-Scott, Mary Monica, Madame Elizabeth de France, 1764-1794, London : E. Arnold, 1908
  8. ^ Woodacre, Elena: Queenship in the Mediterranean: Negotiating the Role of the Queen in the Medieval and Early Modern Eras (2013)
  9. ^ Woodacre, Elena: Queenship in the Mediterranean: Negotiating the Role of the Queen in the Medieval and Early Modern Eras (2013)
  10. ^ Princess of France Elisabeth, Elisabeth The Life and Letters of Madame Elisabeth de France, Sister of Louis XVI, Versailles HistoricalSociety, 1899
  11. ^ Antonia Fraser : Marie Antoinette (2002)
  12. ^ Antonia Fraser : Marie Antoinette (2002)
  13. ^ Woodacre, Elena: Queenship in the Mediterranean: Negotiating the Role of the Queen in the Medieval and Early Modern Eras (2013)
  14. ^ Woodacre, Elena: Queenship in the Mediterranean: Negotiating the Role of the Queen in the Medieval and Early Modern Eras (2013)
  15. ^ Woodacre, Elena: Queenship in the Mediterranean: Negotiating the Role of the Queen in the Medieval and Early Modern Eras (2013)
  16. ^ Woodacre, Elena: Queenship in the Mediterranean: Negotiating the Role of the Queen in the Medieval and Early Modern Eras (2013)
  17. ^ Memoirs of Madame Vigée Lebrun. Translated by Lionel Strachey, New YorkDoubleday, Page & Company, 1903
  18. ^ Woodacre, Elena: Queenship in the Mediterranean: Negotiating the Role of the Queen in the Medieval and Early Modern Eras (2013)
  19. ^ Woodacre, Elena: Queenship in the Mediterranean: Negotiating the Role of the Queen in the Medieval and Early Modern Eras (2013)
  20. ^ Woodacre, Elena: Queenship in the Mediterranean: Negotiating the Role of the Queen in the Medieval and Early Modern Eras (2013)

External links[edit]

Media related to Marie Clotilde of France at Wikimedia Commons

Clotilde of France, Queen of Sardinia
Born: 23 September 1759 Died: 7 March 1802
Italian royalty
Title last held by
Maria Antonia Ferdinanda of Spain
Queen consort of Sardinia
16 October 1796 – 7 March 1802
Title next held by
Maria Theresa of Austria-Este