Had Louis XVI Listened to His Sister, Madame Elizabeth…

July 8, 2024

…the Crown Would Have Been Saved

Élisabeth Philippine Marie Hélène of France, known as Madame Élisabeth.

On the fatal day, 5th October [1789], when the people attacked Versailles, she was on her terrace at Montreuil when she saw the crowd advancing on the Palace, and flew at once to join the Royal Family there. Gifted as she was with an excellent judgment, Mme. Elizabeth possessed also an energy of character which one must regret was not shared by the King.

She felt convinced on this occasion that “a vigorous and speedy repression of the riot would save many misfortunes. It seemed to her evident that a few cannon-balls would arrest the advance-guard of anarchy; would cause confusion among the troops which were behind; and—while arousing useful reflections on the part of the hostile portion of the Assembly—would stimulate the courage of the friends of order, who were alarmed at the cowardice of the Government.”*

Assassination of the Versailles guard Antoine Joseph Pagès des Huttes on October 6, 1789, during the confrontation between the 800 Parisian women led by Reine Audu and the bodyguards of the king’s household following the Women’s March of October 5 and 6, 1789, in Versailles.

Our Princess “developed her views with that firmness of judgment and heartfelt eloquence which characterized her,” and likewise urged that the Royal Family should move to some town farther from Paris, where their deliberations would be free from the influence of factions. For a moment these wise counsels, which were echoed by those of M. de la Priest, seemed about to be followed, but M. Necker’s observation that “to draw the sword against rebellion was to give the signal for civil war,” caused the King to change, and it was determined to treat the rioters on equal terms.

Mme. Elizabeth, unable to do more, retired to the Queen’s apartments, and remained with her till two in the morning, when M. de Lafayette affirmed that he could answer for the safety of the Palace.

The People of Paris Come to Versailles by Francois Flameng. King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette are on the far right.

Early in the morning, the King, anxious for her welfare, sent to look for his sister, and she went to his rooms only to hear how useless had been the assurances given by the General. She remained at Versailles throughout that terrible day, encouraging the Royal Bodgyguard by her calmness, and even saving some of their lives by her presence of mind. When the chiefs of the mob demanded “with loud cries” that the King should go to Paris to reside, and Lafayette sent message after message to urge him to assent, Mme. Elizabeth took quite another view of the matter. “Sire, it is not to Paris you should go,” she said. “You still have devoted battalions, faithful guards, who will protect your retreat, but I implore you, my brother, do not go to Paris.”

Had Louis listened to her, the whole future might have been different; but while hesitating between the two opinions, the precious moment was lost—it was too late—and he gave the desired promise.

Departure of the King, 1789. The mob followed the Royal Family from Versailles to Paris.

When the melancholy procession set out for the capital, Mme. Elizabeth was in the King’s carriage, “in one of the doorways,” says the Duchesse de Tourzel, who herself sat opposite the King and Queen, holding the Dauphin on her knee.

As they approached the Avenue de Paris, the Princess, who had a presentiment that she was leaving Versailles for ever, leant out of the window to look at her own little Park.

“My sister, you are saluting Montreuil,” said Louis.

“Sire,” she replied gently, “I am bidding it adieu.”


* Vie de Mme. Elizabeth, 1:308.


The Hon. Mrs. Maxwell-Scott of Abbotsford, Madame Elizabeth of France (London: Edward Arnold, 1908), 64–66.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 832


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