2 September 2018

Marie Josephine of Savoy

Italian noblewoman who became titular Queen of France

Detail from a portrait of Marie Josephine by the French royal portraitist Jean-Martial Frédou
Detail from a portrait of Marie Josephine by the
French royal portraitist Jean-Martial Frédou
Marie Josephine Louise of Savoy, who married the future King Louis XVIII of France, was born Maria Giuseppina Luigia on this day in 1753 at the Royal Palace in Turin.

She became a Princess of France and Countess of Provence after her marriage, but died before her husband actually became the King of France.

Marie Josephine was the third child of prince Victor Amadeus of Savoy and Infanta Maria Antonio Ferdinanda of Spain.

Her paternal grandfather, Charles Emmanuel III, was King of Sardinia and so her parents were the Duke and Duchess of Savoy.  Her brothers were to become the last three Kings of Sardinia, the future Charles Emmanuel IV, Victor Emmanuel I and Charles Felix.

At the age of 17, Marie Josephine was married by proxy to Prince Louis Stanislas, Count of Provence, the younger brother of the Dauphin, Louis Auguste, who was fated to become Louis XVI of France and to be executed by guillotine.

After the outbreak of the French Revolution, the Count and Countess of Provence stayed in France with the King and Marie Antoinette, but when their situation became too dangerous they successfully escaped to the Austrian Netherlands.

Marie Josephine as a child before her marriage to Prince Louis Stanislas, the future Louis XVIII
Marie Josephine as a child before her marriage
to Prince Louis Stanislas, the future Louis XVIII
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette also tried to leave the country but were arrested in the small town of Varennes and were taken back to face charges of treason and ultimately to be executed.

In 1795, the only surviving son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who was regarded by the exiled French Court as Louis XVII, died in his prison. Marie Josephine’s husband was therefore proclaimed by loyalists as Louis XVIII and Marie Josephine then became regarded as titular Queen of France.

After years of moving from place to place, often separately, the couple were reunited in England and allowed to set up a French exile court in Hartwell House in Buckinghamshire, where Marie Josephine died in 1810.

She had a magnificent funeral attended by many French royalist sympathisers, whose names were recorded by spies and sent to Napoleon.

Members of the British Royal family followed her funeral cortege in a carriage and saw her laid to rest in the Lady Chapel of Westminster Abbey. But her body was removed a year later and taken to the Kingdom of Sardinia, where it was buried in Cagliari Cathedral.

The Palazzo Reale in Turin, by night
The Palazzo Reale in Turin, by night
Travel tip:

The Royal Palace of Turin, the Palazzo Reale, where Maria Josephine was born, was built by Emmanuel Philibert, who was Duke of Savoy from 1528 to 1580.  He chose the location in Piazza Castello because it had an open and sunny position. In 1946 the building became the property of the state and in 1997 it became a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The Cattedrale di Santa Maria e Santa Cecilia in Cagliari
The Cattedrale di Santa Maria e
Santa Cecilia in Cagliari
Travel tip:

The Cathedral in Cagliari in Sardinia, which was the final resting place of Marie Josephine, is in the medieval quarter of the city called Castello. The Cattedrale di Santa Maria and Santa Cecilia was built in the 13th century. Marie Josephine’s brother, Charles Felix, had an imposing monument erected over her grave, where she is described as ‘wise, prudent, kindest’ and ‘Queen of the Gauls’.

More reading:

Charles Emmanuel IV - the King of Sardinia descended from Charles I of England

The first Victor Emmanuel

The reign of Victor Amadeus of Savoy

Also on this day:

1898: The birth of chocolatier Pietro Ferrero

1938: The birth of actor and stuntman Giuliano Gemma


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