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Marie Louise Élisabeth d'Orléans


Marie Louise Élisabeth d'Orléans

Louise Élisabeth
Duchess of Berry

Louise Élisabeth as Flora. Painted by Nicolas de Largillière while Louise Élisabeth was Duchess of Berry. Now held in Rijkmuseum Amsterdam.
Spouse Charles de France, Duke of Berry
Charles d'Alençon
Marie Louise Élisabeth d'Alençon
Full name
Marie Louise Élisabeth d'Orléans
Father Philippe d'Orléans, Duke of Orléans
Mother Françoise Marie de Bourbon
Born (1695-08-20)20 August 1695
Palace of Versailles, France
Died 21 July 1719(1719-07-21) (aged 23)
Château de La Muette, France
Burial 24 July 1719
Basilica of St Denis

Marie Louise Élisabeth d'Orléans, Duchess of Berry (duchesse de Berry), (20 August 1695 in Palace of Versailles – 21 July 1719 in Paris) was a member of the House of Orléans who married Charles, Duke of Berry.


Marie Louise Élisabeth d'Orléans was born at the Palace of Versailles. She was the eldest of the surviving children of Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, Regent of France, and of his wife Françoise-Marie de Bourbon, a legitimised daughter of Louis XIV of France. She was given the honorary title of Mademoiselle d'Orléans at birth. After her marriage the title would be given to her younger sister Louise Adélaïde d'Orléans. She was baptised at Saint-Cloud on 29 July 1696.[1]

Louise Élisabeth grew up at the Palais-Royal, the Orléans residence in Paris. After recovering from a near fatal illness at the age of six, her father personally nursed her day and night in order to save her life.[2] Her paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate, Madame, known since her childhood as Liselotte, wrote in her memoirs that from a very early age, Louise Élisabeth:

... had entirely her own way, so that it is not surprising she should be like a headstrong horse.

At the age of ten, Louise Élisabeth, again caught smallpox at Saint-Cloud and her grandmother wrote in her memoirs that Mademoiselle d'Orléans was presumed dead for over six hours.[3]


It was decided, with the help of Marie Adélaïde, Duchess of Burgundy, her future sister-in-law, that Louise Élisabeth would marry Charles, Duke of Berry, the youngest son of Le Grand Dauphin Louis. Papal dispensation having arrived on the 5th, the marriage took place on 6 July 1710 at the Palace of Versailles. The presiding bishop was the Cardinal de Janson. The king ordered his other Orléans granddaughters (Mademoiselle de Chartres and Mademoiselle de Valois) back from their convent at Chelles.

The position of dame d'honneur was given to Marie Gabrielle de Durfort de Lorges, the wife of the Duke of Saint-Simon, while her first cousin, Marie Anne de Bourbon became her lady-in-waiting, a post Marie Anne later resigned because of her cousin's wayward nature.

I shall pass lightly over an event which, engrafted upon some others, made some noise, notwithstanding the care taken to hush it up. The Duchess of Burgundy supped at Saint-Cloud one evening with the Duchess of Berry and others, Madame de Saint-Simon absenting herself from the party. The Duchess of Berry and the Duke of Orléans, but she more than he, got so drunk that the Duchess of Burgundy, the Duchess of Orléans, and the rest of the company knew not what to do. The Duke of Berry was there, and him they talked over as well as they could, and the numerous company was amused by the Grand Duchess, to the best of her ability. The effect of the wine in more ways than one was such that people were troubled, and, since she could not be sobered, it became necessary to carry her back, drunk as she was, to Versailles. All the servants waiting with the carriages saw the condition she was in, and did not keep it to themselves; nevertheless, they succeeded in concealing it from the King, from Monseigneur, and from Madame de Maintenon

In July 1711, the young duchess gave birth to her first child, a girl, at the Palace of Fontainebleau. The girl lived only two days and her death was blamed on the king who had made her mother travel with the Court to Fontainebleau despite the doctors advising her to stay at Versailles or at the Palais Royal because of her advanced pregnancy. The king did not give in and made Louise Élisabeth travel by barge instead of carriage. During this journey, the barge hit a pier of a bridge at Melun and nearly sank. Louise Élisabeth almost lost her life.[4] According to the doctors, the death of the baby was due to the stress of the journey and the accident. The princess however made a quick recovery.

On 26 March 1713, at Versailles, the Duchess of Berry gave birth to a son, who was given the title Duke of Alençon. After several attacks of convulsions, the child died at Versailles on 16 June. His heart was taken to the Val-de-Grâce convent in Paris by the Bishop of Sens, and his body to the Basilica of St Denis. The duchess ordered that her son's governesses continue receiving their annual salary.

In November 1713, it became public that the Duke of Berry had taken as a mistress one of her chamber maids. In turn, Louise Élisabeth took as a lover, a certain "Monsieur La Haye", who had been preceded by Monsieur de Salvert. When her affair with La Haye became known, her husband threatened to have her sent to a convent. Saint-Simon even records on one occasion when Berry kicked his wife in public because of her indiscretions. During her romance with La Haye, she conceived a plan for the two of them to flee to the Netherlands.

Dowager Duchess

On 5 May 1714, her husband died from internal injuries sustained in a hunting accident, whereupon Louise Élisabeth became the Dowager Duchess of Berry. On 16 June 1714, seven weeks after the death of her husband, she gave birth, at Versailles, to a daughter who died the following day.

In September 1715, Louise Élisabeth was given the Luxembourg Palace as her Parisian residence, where she gave magnificent banquets. The closing of the Luxembourg Garden to the public made her unpopular with the Parisian population.

Louis XIV had died on 1 September and Madame de Berry  officially in mourning, promised she would not attend any show for six months. But after the death of the Sun King, she openly turned into a “merry widow”. On 23 September 1715, she established her residence in the Luxembourg Palace and obtained from her father a whole company of guards. Despite the mourning, the Duchess of Berry allowed gambling in her new palace, in particular the Lansquenet game. She even entertained herself in public. Dangeau noted in his diary dated Saturday, 4 January 1716: There was ball in the evening in the hall of the Opera, the Duchess of Berry and many other princesses were there masked. Radiantly beautiful, the Duchess paraded in a splendid dress at this carnival ball that her father the Regent had just installed at the Opera. Three weeks later, Madame de Berry shut herself up in the Luxembourg Palace, officially "bothered with a bad cold". The princess who had been hiding her pregnancy until she reached her term was really suffering the pains of labour. This clandestine confinement is reported in the Gazette de la Régence on 6 February 1716:[5] They say the Duchess of Berry gave birth to a daughter who lived only three days. This conduct reminds of Messalina and of Queen Margot. This secret childbirth soon became public knowledge and excited the verve of satirists. A song dated 1716 ("Les couches de la Duchesse de Berry") and later satirical verses from the Collection Clairambault-Maurepas[6] lampoon the unbriddled lust of the young widow, poking fun at her "countless" lovers and her clandestine pregnancies.

On Friday 21 May 1717, the duchess received at the Luxembourg Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia, on a semi-official visit to France. In March 1718, she nursed her mother who was ill.

According to the Gazette de la Régence, when the Duchess of Berry received the Russian emperor at the Luxembourg, she appeared at the reception "stout as a tower" (“puisssante comme une tour”),[7] a rare idiom implying she was big with child. It is then (May 1717) that Voltaire (Arouet) got arrested after saying to a police informer that the daughter of the Regent was a whore, adding that she had retired for six months at La Muette to give birth.[8] Dangeau diary confirms that the Duchess spent most of Spring and Summer 1717 at her Château de la Muette. The Gazette de la Régence mentions that her prolonged stay there and also the fact she had given up hunting and horse-riding had given rise to salacious gossip.[9] The Gazette de la Régence states that in early July, the Duchess, who by then kept secluded in La Muette, was being “inconvenienced”, “having grown so big” ("puissante”) that it was feared for her life [10]! The “Gazette” reports by the end of July[11] that Madame de Berry was rumored to be in critical condition as she was finally delivered of this new fruit of her amours.[12] As in 1716, this clandestine birth was an open secret and satirical songwriters mocked the loose morality of the princess who always armed with a large c..k, gets f....d from both front and behind. In a Christmas satirical song of 1717, the whole court of France, renders homage to the Holy Child in Bethlehem, led by the Regent and his very pregnant daughter :

Very big with child
The fruitful Berry
Said in a humble posture
Very sorry at heart :
Lord, I will no longer have such lusty ways
I only want Rions,
Sometimes my dad,
Here and there, my guards.[13]

Voltaire was sent to the Bastille in May 1717 after suggesting in presence of a police informer that the Duchess of Berry was expecting a child conceived by her own father.[14]During his imprisonment, Voltaire completed his play Oedipus which premièred on 18 November 1718 at the Comédie-Française. The Régent was present at the première and congratulated Voltaire for his success. Berry's clandestine pregnancies were often attributed to her alleged incestuous relationships with the Regent. These malicious rumors had made Voltaire's play controversial long before it was performed.[15] Ironically, the Duchess of Berry was also present at the première. She entered the theater in royal style escorted by the ladies of her court and her personal guard. The young princess was rumored to be expecting again and her condition, which she could not fully conceal, inspired the satirists' malicious comments that spectators would not only see Oedipus (the Regent) and Jocaste (Berry) but also detect the presence of Eteocles ! The appearance at the premiere of the infamous Duchess, visibly enceinte, thus contributed to the public success of the play.[16] On 11 February 1719, the Duchess of Berry attended another performance of Oedipus played for her nephew Louis XV at the Louvre. Wearing a splendidly embroidered robe à la Française, the princess sat next to the infant king. As with her previous pregnancies, she had put on enormous weight during gestation and her loose fitting gown failed to hide her advanced condition. The room was very crowded and hot. Madame de Berry felt unwell and fainted when some allusion made in the play to Jocasta's incestuous pregnancy was loudly applauded by the public. She thus paid the price for her open flouting of public morality and outraging the public sense of decency by displaying her illegitimate grossesse. The incident instantly awakened the jubilation of scandalmongers who expected Berry/Jocasta to go into labor and give birth to Eteocles in the middle of the performance. But a window was opened and the Duchess recovered from her swoon thus frustrating the public taste for oedipian scandals[17].

During the Regency, Louise Élisabeth was given an annual income of 600,000 livres. In addition to the Orléans residences, she was also given the use of the Château de Meudon after giving back to the Crown the Château d'Amboise, which had been the official country residence of the Duke of Berry.

On 2 April 1719, the Duchess was delivered of a girl, allegedly fathered by her captain of the guards, Sicaire Antonin Armand Auguste Nicolas d'Aydie, the Chevalier de Rion. She almost died in labour, shut up in a small room of her Luxembourg palace. The curé of Saint-Sulpice (Paris) church, Jean-Baptiste Languet de Gergy refused to give her the absolution or to let anyone else administer her the sacraments unless she would expel her paramour from the palace. The Regent tried in vain convincing the irrate curé to attend his suffering daughter. But the "illustrious sinner" put an end to Languet's vigil by finally giving birth. According to Saint-Simon, the Duchess of Berry secretly married Rion a few days later hoping thereby to lessen the public scandal caused by her confinement and the refusal of the Church to administer her the sacraments. The means adopted by the princess to conceal her delivery ended in her death. Her health fatally undermined by her harrowing lying-in, she left Paris for her Château de Meudon where she gave a reception in honour of her father who did not approve of her marriage to Rion and had sent him away from Paris. She had not recovered from her horrendous childbirth and this evening reception at which she caught a chill severely affected her health.

The Duchess then took up residence at the Château de la Muette, where she died on 21 July 1719, at the age of twenty-three. According to Saint-Simon, the autopsy revealed that "the poor princess" was again pregnant... On Saturday 22 July 1719, her heart was taken to the Val-de-Grâce church in Paris, and on 24 July 1719, she was buried in the Basilica of Saint-Denis.[18] Her funeral arrangements were made by Saint-Simon himself.[19]

Concerning her last visit to her granddaughter, Madame wrote:

28th May, 1719. I went to see her last Sunday, the 23rd May, and found her in a sad state, suffering from pains in her toes and the soles of her feet until the tears came into her eyes. I went away because I saw that she refrained from crying out on my account. I thought she was in a bad way. A consultation was held by her three physicians, the result of which was that they determined to bleed her in the feet. They had some difficulty in persuading her to submit to it, because the pain in her feet was so great that she uttered the most piercing screams if the bedclothes only rubbed against them. The bleeding, however, succeeded, and she was in some degree relieved. It was the gout in both feet

During her lifetime, Louise Élisabeth gained a reputation for scandal. In an irony of history, the next duchesse de Berry, Princess Caroline Ferdinande of Naples and Sicily, was also known for her scandalous behaviour.


The Duke and the Duchess of Berry had three children who never reached one month of age. Since their father was Duke of Berry only by courtesy, their surname was not "de Berry" but "d'Alençon", taken from his first substantial duchy.[20]

  • N... daughter (not baptized) d'Alençon (Palace of Fontainebleau, 21 July 1711 - same day, Palace of Fontainebleau)
  • Charles d'Alençon, Duke of Alençon[21] (as a courtesy title) (Palace of Versailles, 26 March 1713 – 16 April 1713, Palace of Versailles)
  • Marie Louise Élisabeth d'Alençon (Palace of Versailles, 16 June 1714 – 17 June 1714, Palace of Versailles).

Knowing that the young Duchess had several lovers while her husband was alive, the real fatherhood of her first three unhappy maternities is open to debate. Having become a widow, the Duchess secretly brought forth three children of uncertain parentage :

  • N... a girl (Luxembourg Palace, 27 or 28 January 1716). This child of unknown father only lived 3 days
  • N... probably a girl (July 1717). The Duchess had retired at the Château de la Muette to hide the term of her pregnancy. The putative father Sicaire Antonin Armand Auguste Nicolas d'Aydie, Chevalier de Rion, became Berry's lover sometime in 1716 or 1717. In his additions to the diary of Dangeau on 21 July 1719, Saint-Simon[22] mentions that the Duchess had managed to hide a first pregnancy by Rion, bringing forth a girl. She was not so fortunate the second time when she almost died in labour at the Luxembourg and provoked a public scandal, as underscored by Saint-Simon who then writes a short description of Berry's 1719 childbirth which has become the most-well known episode of her scandalous biography :
  • N..., a girl (Luxembourg Palace, 2 April 1719) stillborn. According to Duclos, Berry's child by Rion subsequently became a nun at the Abbey of Pontoise. But this daughter of the Duchess and Rion who lived oscurely as a nun could very well the child secretly borne by the Duchess in July 1717, i.e. her first child by Rion [23]


Titles, styles, honours and arms

Royal styles of
Louise Élisabeth, Duchess of Berry
Reference style Her Royal Highness
Spoken style Your Royal Highness
Alternative style Madame de Berry

Titles and styles

  • 20 August 1695 – 6 July 1710 Her Serene Highness Mademoiselle d'Orléans
  • 6 July 1710 – 5 May 1714 Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Berry (Madame la duchesse de Berry)
  • 5 May 1714 – 21 July 1719 Her Royal Highness the Dowager Duchess of Berry (Madame la duchesse de Berry douairière)


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