A princess executed in the French Revolution is a step closer to sainthood after France’s bishops approved the official opening of her Cause.
Born in 1764, Elisabeth of France, known as Madame Elisabeth, was the youngest sister of King Louis XVI. She turned down the possibility of marriage, saying: “I can only marry a King’s son, and a King’s son must reign over his father’s kingdom. I should no longer be a Frenchwoman. I do not wish to cease to be one. It is far better to stay here at the foot of my brother’s throne than to ascend another.”
Although a believer in absolute monarchy, she thought the Court was decadent and avoided it whenever she could, preferring to spend her time in religious devotion and study, and riding and walks. She spent time at the School of St-Cyr, a boarding school for girls from impoverished noble families, praying with the girls, and often visited her aunt, Louise-Marie of France, who was a Carmelite nun, declared Venerable in 1873. On one occasion the royal princess, sister of the king, served a meal to all the sisters at the convent.
In1783 Louis XVI gifted his sister a house and land in the village of Montreuil; she visited it each day, riding from the Palace of Versailles; her good works and acts of devotion earned her the nickname the Good Lady of Montreuil.
Deeply devoted to the king, she refused to go into exile with her other brothers and her aunts. She accompanied Louis and his wife Marie-Antoinette in their flight to Varennes, then into prison in the Temple, and followed them to her death at the guillotine Place de la Concorde in Paris in 1794, just a week after her 30th birthday. As others went to the guillotine before her she said to them: “Courage! Courage and faith in God’s mercy.”
There were reports of the scent of roses as her head fell into the basket. Madame Elisabeth was buried in a mass grave.
Her piety, acts of charity and defence of the monarchy against the forces of revolution brought her attention akin to hero worship in the early 19th century. An association to promote her Cause for beatification was initially introduced in 1924, and followed up in 1947. In 1953 her Cause was reopened by the cardinal-archbishop of Paris, and she was declared a Servant of God. In 2016 Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris, once again reopened her cause.