Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Princess Louise de France,
Daughter of Louis XV, Carmelite
Conference, December 22th 1966. Without revision's author.
She fought the Revolution when she lived in the Court and later in the Carmel. She died poisoned by the revolutionaries, but her example continues to bear fruit to this day
Princess Louise Marie of France (1737–1787), youngest daughter of Louis XV and Marie Leszczyńska.
Tomorrow, December 23, is the feast of the Venerable Therese of Saint Augustine, Virgin. There are copious data about her transcribed from “Les Vies des Saints et fêtes de toute l’année” by Fr. Daras, t. XII, Louis-Vivès Libraire-Editeur, Paris, 1856, Appendice – Vie de Madame Louise de France, 409-452:
“Princess Louise Marie de France, daughter of King Louis XV and Queen Maria Leczinska, Princess of Poland, was born in Versailles on July 15, 1737. She was educated at the abbey of Fontevrault, then run by Madame de Rochechouart.
“Still very young, she suffered an accident that almost cost her life. Impatient that her maid did not come at once to serve her, she climbed up the grate of her bed and fell. Although treated immediately, that fall brought her to the gates of death and left her with a physical deformity. On that occasion, the nuns of the monastery made a vow to the Virgin for the health of the princess and she was miraculously healed. She never forgot that she owed them her life, and that marked her in a profound way.
“From childhood she showed an inclination to a life of piety and never got tired of the duration of the Divine Office. One day she wept bitterly because a lady servant told her about a foreign prince who would be her husband. However, she was proud of her position. On one occasion, feeling offended by one of her ladies, she said sourly, ‘Am I not the daughter of your king?’ And the lady answered, ‘And am I not, Madam, the daughter of your God?’ ‘You are right,’ replied the princess, touched by the answer; ‘I was wrong and beg your pardon.’
“She was extremely liberal with the poor….”
Here, “liberal” means generous, open-handed.
“… On returning to court, she gave them the money received for her expenses, keeping nothing for herself. The maid in charge of her expenses became accustomed to giving the poor what she had received for Louise Marie, even without consulting her.
“Energetic in character, she enjoyed strenuous exercises. One day, hunting in Compiègne, her horse was startled and threw her at a reasonable distance. She fell almost under the wheels of a carriage travelling at great speed. Saved as if by a miracle, she laughed at the concern of her friends and commanded her squire to bring back her horse, mounted it, dominated the nervous animal and continued the ride. Back at the castle, she went to thank the Virgin for what she called the second salvation of her life.”
Left: The virtuous Dauphin Louis, son of Louis XV and father of Luis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X (the last Kings of France). Painting by Anne Baptiste Nivelon. Right: Queen Maria Leczinska
“Wishing to enter the convent, while attending the Countess of Rupelmonde’s reception of the habit at the Carmel, she decided to join that Order. She began to prepare herself for it by studying the rule of St. Teresa and slowly abstaining from the comfort that surrounded her. She would stay away from the heated area of the castle during periods of appalling cold.”
“She could not stand the smell of candles and only overcame this repugnance after years of effort. Finally, she obtained the consent of the king and on February 20, 1770, entered the Carmelites of Saint Denis. France admired her example, and Pope Clement XIV wrote the princess to express his happiness at seeing his pontificate marked by such a comforting event for religion.”
Therefore, this event took place nineteen years before the French Revolution broke out.
“In the convent, she fought hard for her companions to stop distinguishing her from the others. She also worked to overcome her difficulty in staying a long time on her knees, a grace she obtained after a novena to St. Louis Gonzaga. She received the habit on September 10, 1770, clad in the mantle of Saint Teresa, owned by the Carmelites of Paris, and took the name of Sister Therese of Saint Augustine.”
What an honor to receive the habit clad in the mantle of Saint Teresa!
“Later named mistress of novices, she excelled in that difficult work, manifesting constant joy in the midst of the difficulties she encountered. Later she was unanimously elected mother superior. When the Visitor General of the Carmelites brought the news to the king, he said that Sister Therese had only had one vote against her. ‘So,’ Louis XV replied, ‘was there a vote against her?’ ‘Yes, Sire,’ answered the prelate, ‘but it was her own vote.’”
“As mother superior, she was full of charity towards her sisters and extremely stern with herself, seeking to follow the spirit of her rule with the utmost fidelity. She was also concerned to obtain from her father, and later from Louis XVI all the benefits she could for religion. It was she that welcomed into France the Carmelites from southern Austria expelled by Joseph II. Sister Therese also contributed to the foundation of a monastery of strict observance for the Discalced Carmelites, whose rule had become lax for some time. While severely forbidden to use her influence for anything that referred to worldly matters, she nevertheless used as much as she could for the salvation of souls….
“While keeping a distance from affairs of State, she remained deeply interested in its needs and sought to remedy them with prayers. She prayed for her father, for the preservation of faith in the kingdom, the restoration of customs, the salvation of peoples, public peace and tranquility. She had for the French the same love as her ancestor Saint Louis. Everything that interested her country interested her piety as well. Louis XVI revered her as the patron angel of France. Undoubtedly, it was to remove the influence she exerted on Louis XVI that the impious decided to exterminate her once and for all. It is almost certain that Marie Louise was poisoned to death.”
This point is extremely important. Two years before the French Revolution...
“In November 1787, her stomach illness became extremely serious, with sharp pains. From then on … she gradually got worse and prepared to die. Her death was magnificent because of the courage with which she faced it. Her last words were, ‘It’s about time, let’s go! Let us rise, let us hurry to Paradise.’ It was December 23, 1787, at four-thirty in the morning….
“Madam Louise de France has left the steps of the throne for God’s sake. Let us hope that in return He will one day raise her up on our altars.”
Blessed Pope Pius IX introduced the beatification process of Sister Therese of St. Augustine and declared her “venerable” in 1873. This process was resumed in Rome on December 13, 1985. The decrees on her heroic virtues were published on December 18, 1997. To be declared blessed it is necessary to have one well-documented miracle, recognizing that the eminent grace was obtained through her intercession.
The first thing that should be said is that this narration, while very interesting from the strictly biographical point of view gives only one aspect of the life and work of Princess Louise of France. In fact, she played in the court a much broader role than is reported here. This is because, as you know, her father, Louis XV was leading a debauched life, having had as mistress first Madame de Pompadour and then Madame du Barry.
At court, this royal adultery gave rise to two attitudes. Almost everyone tacitly went along with that immoral situation and did not oppose the king. When Louis XV began to lead a debauched life, at the court of France there was at the same time an increase in both the influence of wickedness and that of religion. So two defined currents were formed, with some people that were more impious than at the time of Louis XIV while others were more Catholic than at the time of Louis XIV.
One camp supported Queen Maria Leczinska, a person of respectable virtue who, for this reason, made all kinds of plots and sabotage against the mistresses, pretending not to see them, trying not to reciprocate greetings, not to visit and not to be aware of their presence at court. The other camp, supported by Voltaire, by the Encyclopédistes and all sorts of vile people sought to please the king but especially to foster depravity at the French court, which was the summit of the French people.
And those wicked people were upset that the whole royal family, except for the king, stood against the mistresses. The son of Louis XV, Dauphin Louis and his wife (Maria Josepha of Saxe) and his sisters, the king’s daughters, were at the forefront of this anti-mistress “conspiracy” of a counterrevolutionary nature.
But it turns out that, for reasons to which the suspicion of murder is not to be discarded, the Dauphin Louis died, his wife died, and the king’s daughters were left alone at the head of the royal family, facing the king with far less strength than the Crown Prince, who, besides being a man, had all the prestige of a king-in-waiting. The Dauphin Louis was also very pious and of good customs.
Louis XV – the libertine, the unclean – had two daughters who were raised to the honor of the altar. One is the illustrious Carmelite about whom you have just heard, and the other was Madame Clotilde, Duchess of Savoy and Queen of Sardinia.
So, in Versailles you see at the same time an apex of vice and a pinnacle of virtue. For many years those two princesses led the fight against impurity, until the moment that Madam Louise entered the Carmel and Madam Clotilde stayed alone. Then Madam Clotilde married, but Louis XV died and the problem ceased to exist because Louis XVI had a very honorable private life.
Therefore, Madam Louise was one of the princesses who served as the mainstay of the counterrevolutionary reaction within the court. A reaction which carried with it the stimuli of court morality and with them the destinies of the kingdom’s morality.
Versailles – The Hall of Mirrors
Versailles was, therefore, a crucible where the most abominable vices were formed and developed alongside the most admirable virtue. What was it there, in the Versailles environment, architecture, in the court’s atmosphere which caused such opposing and simultaneous effects? This is a starting point for a critique of the “Ancien Régime” which would be very interesting to make.
Madam Louise’s idea of entering the convent is very beautiful. It seemed that in so doing she would undermine resistance at court because, after all, only one sister would be left leading the good faction. But she understood very well that prayer and penance are worth a lot more than action. She understood that a shining example is worth far more than a hundred thousand words, a hundred thousand contacts, a hundred thousand relations that do not have the weight of this example. And she wanted to give this astonishing lesson to the world of that time, and especially to the French court.
You need to go to Versailles to understand how exquisite it was. There is no detail in the castle’s architecture, furnishings, decoration, etiquette, the princesses’ lifestyle that failed to represent the most exquisite and extreme refinement of the art of pleasant living. Good taste was taken to the last limit. The music was magnificent; the food, superb; the comfort, extraordinary; the beauty of the whole, incomparable; the splendor of life, etiquette and style that developed there, wonderful! The life of a princess was all that you could imagine more lively, cozy and opulent, with all the refinement of court.
Apartment of the Dauphin and the Dauphine, ground floor, Palace of Versailles.
This is the example that Madame Louise de France wanted to give: to leave behind a lifestyle that was so sophisticated that the greatest empresses of the past would feel like churlish peasants if they only knew it, compared to a French princess of the Ancien Régime. Yet she wanted to leave the Versailles lifestyle to plunge – for it is a real precipice – into the lifestyle that is its direct opposite!
Imagine the silks that the princess wore, the brocades, the lace, and compare that with the thick dress of a Carmelite. Imagine the golden and silver utensils, the most magnificent porcelains from Sevres, compared to the grounded stone dish of a Carmelite….
Imagine the princess’s room, her magnificent bed, and the wooden bed in the Carmelite’s cell, where you cannot even have a bench. Imagine those halls of Versailles and compare them with the Carmelite convent, with no chairs to sit down because the Carmelites sat on their own heels. Imagine that cuisine, a masterpiece of French gastronomy which brought world culinary art to its height, and consider the fasts, penances, macerations and mortifications of a Carmelite nun.
Yet all that is nothing compared to the following aspect: the princess was accustomed to command, to sit in the front row in all circumstances. Now, to go from this situation to a Carmelite’s and become a little more like a slave, without self-will, unable to do anything she wanted, with her will transferred to a superior who could do with her as she pleased at any time, and she, bowing down in obedience, cleaning the floor, compacting the garbage, sewing, and struggling to have them give her these tasks as they were loath to do so because she was a daughter of the king, coming from the unprecedented pomp of Versailles!
You can imagine how all this stunned all of Europe at the time; you have heard how Pope Clement XIV wrote Madam Louise a letter rejoicing over the fact that his pontificate had been glorified by such an event. The explosion this fact produced at court was truly incomparable. It was like a strong punch to the jaw of impiety inside the court. From that moment on, impiety languished and tended to perish, unable to raise its head because it was demoralized. That example had been way too strong. At the Carmelite convent, Sister Louise could have easily lived, if not in comfort, at least in the tranquility of a reclusive life. However, that is not what she did.
Her biographer emphasizes very well, while not giving great detail that she continued to intervene in the affairs of the kingdom, and especially in ecclesiastical matters. At that time the king had the right to propose to the Pope the names of bishops, archbishops and cardinals to be appointed. He had a great deal of interference in the administration of ecclesiastical affairs and also had the prerogative of pursuing heresies, with his title of “Christian King”. Through her informants, Madam Louise of France accompanied in detail everything that went on in court. And she never stopped intervening with the king when he took a bad step.
In order to know who King Louis XVI was, it is enough — at least for those with a psychological sense — to look at his face in that excellent engraving depicting him in coronation vestments (see photo above). The mantle is superb, the costume magnificent, the velvet stupendous, the gesture stylized, the elegance regal, the strength unparalleled. Yet the face is that of an idiot… It is enough to look at it to see why that man committed all those follies throughout his reign and took France where she wound up… Nevertheless, Louis XVI venerated his aunt and would often change his mind when she sent him messages.
The upshot is that she continued to struggle and fight to drive the wicked out of the Church. As you know, when the French Revolution broke out there were four atheist bishops who did not even blush when calling themselves atheists. One of them is the famous Talleyrand. This gives you an idea of what everything else was like. So Madam Louise would make a tremendous effort to bring religion back in there and thus avoid the storm she saw approaching. But France was sliding down the criminal ramp and did not stop. And the first royal blood that the Revolution shed was not that of Louis XVI.
While one can naturally suspect that Dauphin Louis, the son of Louis XV and father of Louis XVI was murdered, there is every reason to suspect that so was Madam Louise (there are books that abundantly prove that she was poisoned, such as the biography published by the Carmelite Monastery of Concenedo, Italy, titled Dalla Reggia al Carmelo – Luisa di Francia, by the Minep-Docete Publishing House of the Italian Carmelite Fathers, 2002, 183 pages).
The wicked claimed that kings were good for nothing even as they removed, from the steps of the throne, the men of virtue and holiness that flourished there. Such is the hypocrisy of the Revolution. They were removed on the suspicion they might become obstacles.
And here you have the glory of Madam Louise: She was so active from the Carmel that she was feared by the revolutionaries! A simple Carmelite nun, stripped of all her honors and prerogatives of power, was so feared by the Revolution that they felt she had to be poisoned so they could advance.
Therefore, her life was offered as a holocaust to France. That was the glorious end of the existence of a princess worthy of consideration in all respects and duly acclaimed as granddaughter of St. Louis IX.
What could have been worth the existence of Venerable Louise de France? One might say: “The Revolution broke out, the throne fell, secularism entered France, egalitarianism invaded France and began its slow corrosion which today is paving the way for communism. Her life was lost and her efforts wasted, to no avail…” How incorrect such an assessment would be!
In fact, all historians are convinced that the Catholic reaction to the onslaughts of the French Revolution was surprising. All of them recognize that the barrier which the Vendeans [counterrevolutionaries in the French Vendee region] opposed was admirable; that an unexpected number of nuns, priests and even bishops refused to take the oath required under the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. When we read attentively certain anti-Catholic historians we observe that they give to understand the following: The reaction to the religious persecution was so much stronger than the reaction against the persecution of the monarchy that it must be recognized that it was a mistake for the French Revolution to have simultaneously attacked both the monarchy and religion. And, they say, it would have been wiser not to persecute religion but to establish the republic — the turn of religion would come later. In other words, divide and rule.
The refectory of the Carmel of Lisieux, at the time of St. Therese of the Child Jesus. Below, living room in that same convent.
What is the reason for this religious renaissance? It is evident that the immolation of Sister Louise of France was not alien to this. If the death of the righteous is precious before God, her death must have been of great weight. And her life had already been of such great weight before men!
There was the counter-revolution of the Vendeans. And thanks to it, there was the French ultramontane* movement in the nineteenth century, which Prof. Fernando Furquim has chronicled so well in the pages of Catolicismo. The spirit of the ultramontane movement of France spread to Brazil. In fact, it spread as an excellent perfume throughout the Church. And I encountered it when still in my childhood. I was enraptured, enthusiastic, and set out to collect in my soul, intellect, will and sensibility all the traces of ultramontanism, still palpitating with life, that I found in the environment in which I was born.
So, in the final analysis, there is a whole genealogy of Catholics who fought at court against the influence of the French Revolution, led by Madam Louise and Madam Clotilde, from them to the Vendeans, from these to the ultramontanes, and from the ultramontanes to the Catolicismo movement. God alone knows if a little or a lot of the last tears and groans of Madam Louise stand behind the enormous graces we have received for the ultramontane movement in Brazil. Which is why it is more than just and fair that we remember her tonight with emotion and respect. And that we ask her, as well as Madam Clotilde and all those who prayed, suffered, fought and died for the defeat of the French Revolution before it broke out, while it lasted, and after it began to spread throughout the world, that they obtain for us the grace of an extraordinary fervor, of a unique fighting spirit, of a supreme understanding of the spirit of the Counter-Revolution.
* Ultramontane, from the Latin ultramontanus, meaning “beyond the mountains,” specifically, beyond the Alps to those who are in France or Germany, refers to the Catholic political doctrine that finds its main reference in Rome. This movement arose precisely from the French side of the border in the first half of the nineteenth century. It reinforces and defends the pope’s power and prerogatives in matters of discipline and faith. Joseph de Maistre and Louis Veuillot stood out as leaders of this thought.