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1280px-Domaine_de_la_chapelle_royale_Saint-Louis

The medieval architecture of France includes many of the most renowned examples of Gothic architecture. Thus you are probably asking  yourself, “Were the French a part of the Gothic revival architecture movement of the 19th century?”

IMG1896DreuxCR48

The answer is Oui! Boy were they ever! This is the Chapelle royale de Dreux, the burial place of important members of the House of Bourbon-Orléans (the royal family of France after the revolution).  Its story is interesting.  During the French Revolution, an enraged mob burst desecrated the family chapel of the Duke of Orléans and threw all of the corpses which had been therein interred into a common mass grave at the the Chanoines cemetery of the Collégiale Saint Étienne.  After the revolution was over, the Duke’s daughter arranged for a grand chapel to be built over this new burial site.  Later on, when her son Louis Philippe became King of France, he added substantially to the grand new building which was built to mimic the great ancient structures lost to the revolution.  As a bonus, Alexandre Brogniart, the director of manufacturing for Sèvres porcelain, used his resources to produce huge fired enamel paintings on large panes of glass to go in the chapel.

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Above is the emerald and diamond tiara of Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, the Duchess of Angoulême.  Through several peculiar quirks of fate it is one of the few crown jewels of France to remain unaltered after the rest were sold or stolen. It can be found today in the Louvre surrounded by various crowns which are made of paste or missing their valuable jewels.

Marie-Thérèse was a strange figure in history.  She was the only child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to survive the French Revolution.  During the Reign of Terror, her royal relatives in the Temple prison were carried away and beheaded one by one until she alone was left.  On May 11th 1794, two days after sending her aunt to the guillotine, Robespierre visited Marie-Thérèse.  The details of their discussion are unknown to history but whatever she said seems to have saved her life since the Terror ended 2 months later.

Marie Thérèse Charlotte (painted by Antoine Jean Gros)

In 1799, she married a powerful nobleman Louis Antoine, Duke of Angoulême who was also her father’s brother’s son (her first cousin). When her uncle Louis XVIII died in1824, her father-in-law became King Charles X and her husband became heir to the throne. She was the Queen of France for 20 minutes during the time between when her father-in-law signed a document of abdication and when her husband was reluctantly forced to sign one himself.

To quote InternetStones.com, “The tiara which was designed and executed by the French Royal Jewelers Evrard and Frederic Bapst in 1819, was a masterpiece of the French jewelry craftsmanship of the early 19th century. The design of the tiara was a symmetrical design of scrolling foliage, mounted with over a thousand diamonds set in silver, and 40 emeralds set in gold.”  The piece was technically part of the crown jewels because it was assembled from the royal jewel collection for a noble directly in line for the throne.

The tiara today (photo courtesy of the Louvre)

When Marie-Thérèse abdicated she returned the tiara to the French treasury.  During theSecond Empire it was the favorite crown of Empress Eugenie.  However she too returned it to the treasury when Napoleon III abdicated in the aftermath of the disastrous Franco-Prussian war.  The tiara was auctioned off by the National Assembly during the third republic. It passed through private hands until it was purchased by the Louvre in 2002 thereby falling into the hands of the fifth republic (the current government of France).

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