Paris and all of France rejoice at the birth of a Crown Prince

December 17, 2012

All royalist France was in commotion. The Duchess of Berry [Princess Caroline of Naples and Siciliy] was nearing her time. The municipal councils of cities and the owners of castles had Masses said and novenas made to implore Heaven for her safe delivery. It had been decided that if she brought a prince into the world, he was to be styled the Duke of Bordeaux. Three market-women of that city, Mesdames Dasté, Duranton, and Aniche, were sent in deputation to the Tuileries to thank the King for the honor done to their city, and to offer a cradle intended for the expected child. “These dames,” says Chateaubriand, “selected me to present them and their cradle to Madame the Duchess of Berry. I made haste to ask the gentleman-in-waiting for a formal audience. But lo, M. de Sèze thought that such an honor rightly belonged to him; it was said that I would never succeed at court. I was not yet reconciled with the Ministry, and I did not seem worthy to act as introducer of my humble ambassadresses.” When the cradle was presented, the three Bordelais entreated the Princess to lie in at Bordeaux, where she would be safer than in Paris. Was it not just, moreover, that the young duke should be born in the town whose name he was to bear? “This is to lay our prince in,” said the market-women, pointing to the cradle. “We women will wash his swaddling-clothes, and our men will take good care that the Jacobins do not prevent him from sleeping….”

The Duchess of Berry by Robert Lefèvre

The young Princess was calmly and courageously awaiting the solemn moment. Foreseeing the possibility that nature might be rebellious, she had said to the accoucheur, M. Deneux: “I know that in case of a dangerous delivery it is usual to save the mother at the risk of losing the child. I do not know whether Heaven has willed that my delivery shall be dangerous. However it may be, remember that the child I am bearing belongs to France; in case of danger, do not hesitate to save him, even at the expense of my life….”

“[I]n the middle of the night, Madame de Vathaire, first chambermaid to Madame, who occupied a chamber close to hers with Madame Bourgeois, another of her women, and kept the door of communication habitually open, arrived at mine Madame de Gontaut, governess of the children of France]. Finding it locked, she knocked repeatedly, and called me in a loud voice, saying, ‘Come quick, quick! Madame is delivered. Send the guard. Hurry up!…’

“Already prepared to rise at the least signal, I merely took time enough to slip on a dressing gown. I arrived near Madame. As soon as she saw me, she held out her arms to me and exclaimed, “It is Henri!” We embraced each other with one of those joyful cries that come but once in a lifetime.

“The infant was crying, and I examined it; it seemed to me strong and well….”

Portrait of Caroline de Bourbon, Duchess of Berry, Painting by Charles Rauch

The infant was not yet separated from its mother. When the accoucheur came in, the Princess said to him, “Monsieur Deneux, we have a prince; I am well; don’t concern yourself about me, but take care of my child; is there no danger in leaving him in that condition?” The accoucheur replied, “The child is very strong, he breathes freely, and he is so well that he may remain just so until the delivery, even though that should not happen for an hour.”—“In that case,” said the courageous mother, “let him be. I want to have him seen still attached to me. I want people to see that he is really mine.”*

It was then thirty-five minutes past two in the morning [of Sept. 29, 1820]….

At half-past three in the morning, Mgr. de Bombelles, Bishop of Amiens, administered private baptism to the little Prince, and M. Dambray, Chancellor of France, fulfilling the functions of registrar to the royal household, wrote the certificate of birth.

Outside of the palace the house of the bodyguards and the barracks of the royal guard were suddenly illumined as if by magic.

Five o’clock in the morning. The cannon of the Invalides began to thunder. Several persons had advised that these bronze messengers should wait for daybreak before speaking, but the Duke of Richelieu responded,—

“For such a piece of news it is daybreak at any hour.”

The Parisian population, suddenly awakened, anxiously counted the discharges. Twelve were to be fired if it were a princess, twenty-four if it were a prince. At the thirteenth there is an explosion of joy. The royalists rise and hasten in crowds underneath the windows of the Pavilion of Marsan, where the Duchess has just been delivered, on the first story, looking down the rue Rivoli.

Six o’clock in the morning. The Duchess of Berry orders that all the military who present themselves shall be admitted. Officers, subalterns, and soldiers, more than five hundred, file in. “I bless thee,” says an old Vendéan, looking at the little Prince, “and I enlist for six years longer.” “Ah, my Prince, why am I so old? I cannot serve under your orders.”—“Keep up your heart, my hero,” says the Princess; “he will begin early.” Another soldier cries, “He is surely the child of the army, that fellow. He is born in the midst of cannonading and grenadiers’ caps, and my captain is his first nurse.”

The crowd constantly grows larger in the rue Rivoli, under the windows of the Princess’s apartment. Enthusiastic acclamation resound. People who are unknown to each other carry on long conversations. Everybody is inquiring for news. They hope to get a glimpse of the little Prince. At the same time the churches are thronged by the faithful who come to return thanks to God….

Painting of the Duchess de Berry by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun

One o’clock. On returning from Mass, the King stops on the balcony of the Pavilion of the Horloge. Addressing the crowd that fills the garden, he says in a strong voice: “My friends, your joy increases mine a hundredfold. A child is born to all of us. This child will one day become your father; he will love you as I do, and as you love all who belong to me….”

All Paris spends the entire day in jollity. They sing, they dance farandoles. They hum a refrain like this in the streets:—

“It is a boy! I in my happiness

Counted twice twelve discharges of the guns.

All Paris is in motion; each one runs,

Yet each the other stops, to say with joy,

It is a boy!


“It is a boy! And if he wear the crown,

We’ll see him worthy of so great a name.

Noble and generous his soul will be,

And to no man will he desire annoy.

It is a boy!”

The rue Rivoli, opposite the Pavilion of Marsan, is constantly thronged by an immense and enthusiastic crowd. It is with difficulty that the Duchess of Berry is prevented from rising in order to show herself standing with her infant in her arms. They want to give her a composing draught to quiet her. “Let it alone,” says she, and, listening to the clamor of the populace: “that is the real sedative.”

Evening has come. The promenaders are innumerable. The weather is magnificent. The stars rival the illuminations. The garrison of Paris, having obtained the honor of offering the young mother a luminous bouquet, the troops assemble beneath her windows. The bouquet is composed of a great many rockets which explode at a given signal. The noise is prodigious and the effect splendid. The Princess is ravished with delight. She has her windows opened and her bed drawn close up to them in order to see and be seen. She applauds with childish joy. The soldiers who can perceive her admire her animation and her courage, and they are heard exclaiming, “She is worthy to be the mother of a king.”

The theaters are livelier than ever. At the Opera, Athalie is given with the choruses, and in the work of Racine the public find allusions to the newly born, who is already called the child of miracle, which raise their enthusiasm to its highest pitch. After the tragedy, M. Mennechet’s verses, C’est un Bourbon, are sung. At the Feydeau theatre the entire audience join in the air, Vive Henri IV….

To sum up, the 29th of September [1820] was but one continual ovation for the Duchess of Berry. After so much emotion and so much happiness, the valiant mother needed repose.


Imbert de Saint-Amand, The Duchess of Berry and the Court of Louis XVIII, trans. Elizabeth Gilbert Martin (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1892), pp. 205-210, 212-217.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 239

* [ Editorial Comment: The Duke of Berry, heir to the throne of France, had been assassinated by an anarchist seven months prior, and the anti-royalists were circulating rumors around the country that the baby was not really his child, but would be a changeling, someone else’s newborn babe.]

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