Mesdames Tantes were the formidable daughters of Louis XV. They were not his only daughters – Louis had eight! One got married and moved away, one became a nun and three died of smallpox.
The three sisters who remained at the Royal Court of Versailles were Madame Adelaide, Madame Victoire and Madame Sophie; known collectively as Mesdames Tantes – my lady aunts.
Mesdames Tantes lived their lives in their father’s court because, quite simply, they didn’t want to get married. When they were old enough to find husbands there were no suitable men available. Rather than give up their status as Princesses of France, they chose to remain single.
Let’s meet mesdames.
Madame Adelaide was born in 1732 and was the sixth child of Louis XV and his wife, Marie Leszczynska. She grew up in the Royal Court of Versailles which made her one of the lucky ones – not all her sisters were allowed to live at Versailles Palace as children.
She was quite beautiful but didn’t really care about keeping herself tidy. Louis the king loved to give his daughters nicknames and to Adelaide he gave the name Loque which means Rags. Not a very loving nickname.
Adelaide was very close to her brother Louis (this Louis was the son of Louis XV and the father of Louis XVI) because they had grown up together at court. When he died, she took charge of educating his son, the future king of France. This may be why Adelaide had quite a bit of influence over Louis XVI in the first years of his reign.
She was the favourite of her father. After his first and dearest mistress died, King Louis XV would often seek out her company; asking her opinions on political matters and taking her out hunting. Adelaide was the only one of the three Mesdames Tantes who had any desire for political influence.
When her father found a new mistress, Madame du Barry, this pushed Adelaide out of favour and she became bitter and jealous.
When Marie Antoinette came along, Adelaide tried to influence the young princess to ignore Madame du Barry. This eventually got Marie Antoinette into trouble. Soon, Marie Antoinette and her husband pulled away from Mesdames Tantes, seeking advice elsewhere.
Madame Adelaide was known as a very difficult and strong woman who was not afraid to speak her mind. She had a thirst for knowledge and learned to play many instruments, spoke many languages and was accomplished at painting and mathematics.
Madame Victoire was the younger sister of Madame Adelaide, and she was not so lucky as her older sister.
The cost of raising a princess in the Royal Court of Versailles was so large that Louis XV decided to make other arrangements for his younger girls. Victoire was the first of the princesses to be sent away from court to live, much less expensively, at a convent. Her younger sisters would soon follow.
While at the convent, her education suffered. She and her sisters lived as the nuns did and by the time they were brought back to the Palace of Versailles they could barely read.
Victoire was allowed to move back home when she was 15 and, because no suitable gentlemen were available for marriage, she spent her days in the company of her sisters. She had apparently suffered quite a traumatic childhood at the convent and was very timid; often suffering panic attacks.
She is remembered as being a scholarly woman, making up for her lack of early education. She was said to be the prettiest of her sisters, though she was so well known for over eating that her father nicknamed her coche – Piggy!
Madame Sophie is the least known of all Louis XV’s children. She too was sent to live at the convent as a child and seems to have been traumatised by ill treatment there. Like Madame Victoire, Sophie was prone to panic attacks and was said to be very afraid of thunder.
She was painfully shy. Many people who lived in Versailles at the time report never having heard her speak at all. She did not like to look people in the eye, instead darted past them with a sideways glance like a rabbit.
The Reign of Louis XVI
When their father, King Louis XVI, died, the sisters stayed on at the palace under the rule of their nephew, Louis XIV. They did not approve of the way Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette were ruling. They eventually moved out of the palace to their own house – Château de Bellevue.
They were generally known to be three bitter old women who spent their time gossiping and knitting with the older nobility. While their nephew reigned and his queen made headlines with her extravagant spending habits, Mesdames Tantes were all but forgotten.
In The End
Madame Sophie died like she had lived, unnoticed. She passed away of dropsy in Versailles on 2 March 1782.
When Versailles was stormed on October 6th 1789, the start of the French Revolution, Mesdames Adelaide and Victoire left the palace with the rest of the royal family.
In 1799 they fled France and eventually found their way to Italy where Victoire died of breast cancer. Adelaide died less than a year later.