Clotilde of France

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]

Clotilde of France
Queen consort of Sardinia
Tenure16 October 1796 7 March 1802
Born(1759-09-23)23 September 1759
Palace of Versailles, France
Died7 March 1802(1802-03-07) (aged 42)
Burial11 March 1802
SpouseCharles Emmanuel IV of Sardinia
Full name
Marie Adélaïde Clotilde Xavière de France[1][2]
FatherLouis, Dauphin of France
MotherMaria Josepha of Saxony
ReligionRoman Catholicism

Princess of France

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 royal princesses in that time, 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 rift between the sisters.[7] Their relationship improved when Elisabeth fell ill and Clothilde insisted upon nursing her; during that time, Clothilde taught Elisabeth the alphabet and gave her an interest in religion. Clothilde came to be Elizabeth's good friend, tutor and counselor. [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 offense 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 12 June 1775, Clothilde attended the coronation of her brother Louis XVI in Reims. On 8 August, the ambassador of Sardinia, count de Viry, presented the official proposal to Clothilde from Charles Emmanuel, and on the 16th, the official engagement was announced to the royal court.[10] On 21 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, and with Cardinal de la Roche-Aymon officiating at the ceremony.[10]

Clothilde departed from Versailles on 27 August and separated from the king, queen and her sister in Choisy, before continuing with her brother the Count of Provence. The farewell between the sisters was described as intense, with Elisabeth hardly able to tear herself from the arms of Clothilde; Queen Marie Antoinette commented: "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."[11]

In Lyon, Clotilde made herself popular by her successful request to grant an amnesty to the imprisoned deserters in the town prison, before finally arriving at the border at Pont-de-Beauvoisin on 5 September. There, she was separated from her French entourage and ceremoniously transferred by count de Clermont-Tonnerre to count de Viry and her new Italian household, notably her new lady-in-waiting Madama Theresa Balbi, who was to become her favourite until her death.[10] Having crossed the border with her new court, she was introduced to Charles Emmanuel.

Accompanied by her brother the Count of Provence and her husband, she was introduced to her father-in-law at Les Echelles and to her mother-in-law and the rest of the Sardinian court at Chambéry, before making her formal entrance in Turin the 30 September. 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.[12] 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".[13]

Princess of Piedmont

Clotilde established a good relationship to her new family and became popular with the public. Her father-in-law came to refer to her as an angel of peace because of her frequent mediating between quarreling family members, particularly between him and her spouse.[10] She 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.[14] She was close to her sisters-in-law, the Duchess of Aosta and the Duchess of Chablais. She was well liked by the members of her household for her consideration for them, and her piety and frequent private worship established her reputation of piety among the public.[10] Her first years in Savoy, she enjoyed fashion and entertainment 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 Catholic faith. She played the guitar to his singing, they studied religious texts together, and enjoyed spending time at the Moncalieri and La Venaria to relax from the court etiquette.[10] The marriage was to be childless. Concerns was raised that her difficulty to conceive was due to her weight, and during the course of her first years of marriage, she was subjected to a number of fertility treatments, among those being a diet that caused her to loose a great deal of weight.[10] In 1779, there was a sign of pregnancy that proved to be false, and 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.[14] Charles Emmanuel, being of passive character, leaned on Clothilde as a stronger personality,[14] and she came to have a great influence upon him as a stabilizing factor and adviser, and she acted as a mediator during his conflicts with his father the King, often caused by Charles Emmanuel's nervous difficulties, a condition Clothilde took it upon herself to hide from others and stabilize.[10]

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 the Prince de Condé, Louise de Condé, the Duke d'Enghien, as well as, in March 1791, her aunts Mesdames de France, Madame Adélaïde and Madame Victoire. After the departure of her brother the Count of Artois, her sister-in-law, the Countess of Artois, sank into a depression and contemplated to become a nun, but was persuaded not to by Clothilde, who pointed out her duty to her children.[10] During this period, Turin was filled with aristocratic French emigrées, which where greatly disliked by the public in Savoy and also caused Savoy to be regarded as an enemy by the government in Paris, and Clothilde was placed in a difficult situation, as her charitable activity among the French emigree community was noted.[10]

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."[15]

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. Clothilde regarded her brother to have been a Catholic martyr, but she was reportedly more emotionally affected by the execution of her sister, which became a turning point in her life.[10] 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] After the execution of her sister, Clothilde declared her intention to live for the rest of her live in a state of penitence: from this year until her death, she only wore simple blue woolen dresses, cut her hair and covered it with a simple cap, discarded all her jewelry except for a ring and a cross, and stopped attending the theater and opera.[10] It was noted that she did receive the ambassador of the French Republic, Ginguen, with kindness, which aroused surprise, but she commented that she considered it to be a Christian act.[10]

Queen of Sardinia

In 1796, upon the accession of her husband to the throne, Clotilde became the Queen of Sardinia. Charles Emmanuel was described as apathetic, insecure and incapable of acting, and the stress of the grave situation of the Kingdom made his nervous condition worse and made it difficult for him to rule.[10] He preferred to have Clothilde receive the reports from ministers and diplomats, read them, summarize them for him, and advise him how to act.[10] Clothilde followed these instructions, consulted the ministers before she made recommendations to her husband, and also made sure to await the right moment to involve him in state affairs so as not to cause him more stress or make the public aware of his nervous condition.[10] This method of conducting the affairs of state caused disruption and delays and made the governing inefficient and slow in a very critical situation for Savoy, and although Clothilde was careful not to appear to involve herself in politics, her great influence was too apparent not to cause criticism.[10] The king and queen were also accused of devoting too much time to their religious devotions, causing all the more delays for the government work.[10] During their reign in Turin, one of the most important affairs was the confiscation of church property, which was necessary for state economy, but Clothilde insisted on a lengthy (and successful) procedure of obtaining permission and blessings from the Pope for religious reasons before proceeding.[10]

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. The royal family was ordered to leave Turin immediately after the abdication, and as the king had a nervous attack, the departure was organized by Clothilde.[10] Upon the wish of the Duchess of Aosta, Clothilde successfully asked General Clausel to allow the Duke of Aosta to accompany the rest of the family rather than to stay as a French hostage.[10] She left the Crown Jewels behind, but took all jewels defined as private property and accepted a sum of money from the Finance Minister after having been assured by a priest that it would be in accordance with religious principles to do so.[10] The family departed from the royal palace during the night, escorted by 30 Italian and 30 French soldiers and a French commissionaire to the border: when the wagon was temporarily delayed on their way from Turin by protesting crowds, Charles Emmanuel commented to Clothilde that this incident of loyalty would comfort him in exile.[10]

During their reign in exile from mainland Sardinia, the couple traveled between the Italian states as well as their own provinces and upheld diplomatic relations with the hope of being restored to Turin. They traveled from Parma, Bologna and Florence to Sardinia, where they arrived to Cagliari on 3 March 1799, welcomed with a Te Deum and settled in the Royal Palace of Cagliari, where they held a reception for the local nobility.[10] Clothilde was not well during their stay on Sardinia, as the woolen penitence clothing she insisted on wearing was not healthy in the hot climate of Sardinia.[10]

During their exile, Clotilde served as the spokesperson, de facto chief Councillor and first minister of Charles Emmanuel[14] 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.[14] Despite her political activity, however, Clothilde always played down her personality, both publicly and privately, as this was considered more befitting of her pietas.[14] On one occasion in 1801, she persuaded her husband's governor in Sardinia, the count of Genevois, not to resign.[10]

In September 1800, Charles Emmanuel and Clotilde left Sardinia for Florence because the Russo-Austrian alliance in the war against France raised their hopes of being restored to Turin, but the Battle of Marengo made them flee for Rome and then to Naples, where they stayed November 1800-March 1801 before returning to Rome. In Rome they lived 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. She also attended her favorite lady-in-waiting Badia, and during which she was mistaken for a servant woman by the doctor and performed his orders without protests and without telling him who she was or reproaching him when he found out and apologized, an incident which aroused some attention.[10] The couple finally returned to Naples in May 1801. Except for attending to political affairs via correspondence, Clothilde devoted herself to visiting religious places, churches and people.

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. Queen Clotilde was buried in 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.



  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 , 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
  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. Hardy, B. C. (Blanche Christabel), The Princesse de Lamballe; a biography, 1908, Project Gutenberg
  7. 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. A sister of Louis XVI, Marie-Clotilde de france, queen of Sardinia (1759-1802), 1911
  11. Princess of France Elisabeth, Elisabeth The Life and Letters of Madame Elisabeth de France, Sister of Louis XVI, Versailles HistoricalSociety, 1899
  12. Antonia Fraser : Marie Antoinette (2002)
  13. Antonia Fraser : Marie Antoinette (2002)
  14. Woodacre, Elena: Queenship in the Mediterranean: Negotiating the Role of the Queen in the Medieval and Early Modern Eras (2013)
  15. Memoirs of Madame Vigée Lebrun. Translated by Lionel Strachey, New YorkDoubleday, Page & Company, 1903
  16. Genealogie ascendante jusqu'au quatrieme degre inclusivement de tous les Rois et Princes de maisons souveraines de l'Europe actuellement vivans [Genealogy up to the fourth degree inclusive of all the Kings and Princes of sovereign houses of Europe currently living] (in French). Bourdeaux: Frederic Guillaume Birnstiel. 1768. p. 11.

Media related to Marie Clotilde of France at Wikimedia Commons

Clotilde of France
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
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