Femme of the Week: Marie Josephine Louise of Savoy, Comtesse de Provence

Marie Josephine Louise of Savoy was the daughter of the King of Sardinia, she was born February 9, 1753. At 18, May 14, 1771 she married the Comte de Provence, Louis XVI's younger brother. The wedding was held at Versailles and was a spectacular production, an expensive affair. Although Marie Antoinette and Louis were already married, as Dauphin and Dauhpine, they had no children so the Comte de Provence was considered the heir to the throne.

Together the couple were quite catty, and the Comtesse de Provence was known to share stories of the Dauphine's life within the apartments of her husbands aunts. Her stories were often exaggerated, yet taken for solid fact. And why not! She found it a good way to occupy time. Needless to say she did not care for Marie Antoinette at all.
"If I am not to be a queen, I am of the stuff of which queens are made."

And she did not try very hard to conceal her dislike of the Dauphine. She was in fact, warm to Madame Du Barry, and would greet her with, "distinguished honours."
So what was this princess of Savoy, Lady-of-the-throne-to-be really like???

Well if she was made of the stuff queens are, she would have failed in the 'heir producing' department. Her two pregnancies at 21 and 28 resulted in miscarriages. She was also not known for her beauty. In fact, Madame du Barry, whom she acted with high respect towards had said the comtesse was "ugly and she smelled."

Okay... so was Madame du Barry just being her usual un-classy self ? Being blunt and inappropriate in such observations? Well the observations were made by others at court, that apparently the comtesse was not quite up to par in her bathing habits. Marie Antoinette was quite opposite, raised to be very mindful of her cleanliness and toilette. Two years into her marriage to the comte the problem was so pronounced that she received a letter from her father (very Maria-Theresa-esque!) that instructed her to "pay more attention to her toilette." So she didn't like to bathe, even if it was an exotic bath of peacock milk (now what is so bad about that???)! She also, did not care to wear perfumes (was there ever a chance of her and Marie really becoming friends...?!)

I am not clear on the plucking of eyebrows practice in the 18th century but The Vigee Gallery site mentions that she did not participate in that practice either. Needless to say the comte stopped attending her bed after a while, and rumors of her being a lesbian were whispered.

She was able to escape with her husband during the revolution, to Great Britain. She lived there until 1810 when she died of hydropsy, never living to see her husband become Louis XVIII. She was buried in Westminster Abbey, and later moved by Louis to Cagliari Cathedral.


  1. Haha peacock milk baths!

    So when I saw the pictures I was thinking "oh my goodness, she is GORGEOUS" and then I saw it was the Comtesse I realized she had some very generous portrait-painters.

  2. Anonymous4:29 PM

    Great post on Marie-Josephine. She must be the least known of the Queens of France, though she held that title only in exile. I find her fascinating as a historical character, and that inspired me to make her one of the characters in my novel "Mistress of the Revolution."

    I would add to this depiction of Marie-Josephine her passionate, decades-long liaison with her reader, Marguerite de Gourbillon. She also drank quite heavily.

    Did Marie-Josephine really smell? Yes probably (I stated so in my novel.) Did she neglect to pluck her eyebrows? Yes. She wasn't pretty, she knew it and didn't feel that tweezers were going to change anything to that. And true, there was no love lost between her and her sister-in-law, Marie-Antoinette.

    Yet I can't help feeling much sympathy for Marie-Josephine. Being married to the Count de Provence was certainly an excuse for many of her shortcomings (at least for the failure to bathe: anything to keep such a man at bay!)

  3. The Cmtesse was actually the last Queen of France. All European nations --at the time of the death of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (MA) and their son Louis XVII-- recognized Marie Josephine as Queen and her husband as king. After them all Kings and Queens were kings and Quuens of the FRENCH and not of France-meaning they were kings and Queens because the FRench chose them and not because they had a divine right. Shortly after her arrval in Versailles, Marie Josephine convinced the king to have the Comte D'Artois marry her sister thereby creating an Italian party at court. This greatly threatened M. MA was 14 at the time when Marie Josephine (MJ) came to Versailles. MA went on a widespeard campaign against MJ saying she was ugly, smelly (sounds like something a 14 year old would say too right EEEEW She smells) uncultured-you name it. Well, as it was absolutely unheard of to contradict the Quen or Quuen to be, absolutely no one would dare contradict Marie Antoinette, not even Madame Du Barry because it would have meant threatening her postion at court. Two years into the marriage MJ was 20 and still did not produce a child. When her father sitting in Italy made inquiries as to what the Comte thought of her of course everyone would have told him what was being said about MJ, as embarassing and humiliating an Italian king would have very much pleased MA and to please MA was to potentially get political and financial favors once she turned into Queen. Marie Josephine was called the "Bonne tete sage", the good wise head-by both Luis XV and the dauphin, ie. Marie Antoinette's husband and both Louis XV and the future Louis XVI told MA that she should follow MJ's example more (ie be more wise, less flamboyant, more studious) This absolutly infuriated MA. Marie Josephine bought land for her Hameau in 1781 and finished construction of hr Hameau in 1783. MA broke ground and started work on her hameau in 1783--in other words MJ's Hameau was built before MA's hameauu and inspired MA's hameau. Also MJ's porcelain sevice came out one year before MA came out the exact same porcelain service. In other words MA's now famous porcelain tableware is actually MJ's design. Want to verify this info. Just go to the Petite Trianon and look at the two plates hung on the wall and look at the dates. MJ was in every way a threat and an inspiration to Marie Antoinette--too bad she never gets the credit for it. Oh yea and the business about her not bathing--fact is that upon her arrival at Versailles, her bathroom was not yet ready. This id well documentd in Versailia. The princess avided bathing in her first days at Versailles because she didn't have a place to bathe!!! So yes maybe she smelled a bit and th label just stuck for years!!!

  4. Marquerite de Gourbillon now that's good gossip! I am sure she was educated in a convent school.

    I found a good link, luckily my italian is abastanza bene:

    Apparently, she received her position due to her exemplary lifestyle and her good manners. She had a tendency towards masochism and held much "authority" over Marie-Josephine. Well, we know who wore los pantalones in this meeting of the minds.