Madame Sophie Of France

Born on 27 July 1734, Sophie Philippe Elisabeth Justine is the lesser known of the surviving daughters of Louis XV and Marie Leszczynska. Even art historians hardly know who she is. For years, one of her portraits (below) was thought to represent Marie Antoinette, and was only correctly identified recently thanks to the parquet in her library! I’m not sure Sophie would have minded though.

Sent to the Abbey of Fontevraud with her two younger sisters, Thérése and Louise, to be educated, Sophie returned to Versailles only 12 years later. Lacking both social skills and a strong, dominant personality, the shy girl was happy to appear in public only when etiquette required it. Like Madame Campan, reader to the daughters of Louis XV, wrote in her memoirs, she much preferred to be alone or with a small group of favourites ladies:

“I never saw anyone having such a frightened look; she walked at an extreme speed, and to acknowledge, without looking at them, the people who gave way to her, she had acquired the habit of looking sideways, in the manner of hares. This princess was so shy that it was possible to see her everyday for years without hearing her pronounce a single word. One asserted, though, that she displayed wit, even graciousness, in the society of some favoured ladies; she studied much, but read alone; the presence of a reader would have infinitely bothered her.

Yet on occasion this princess, so unsociable, suddenly became affable, gracious and showed the most communicative kindness; it was during thunderstorms: she was afraid of them, and such was her fright that she would then approach the least important persons; whenever she saw lightning, she would press their hands, for a thunderclap she would have embraced them; but once fair weather was back, the princess went back to her stiffness, her silence, her fierce look, passed everyone without paying attention to anyone, until the next thunderstorm brought back her fear and affability.”

Madame Sophie died like she had lived, unnoticed. She passed away of dropsy in Versailles on 2 March 1782. She was buried in the royal tomb at the Royal Basilica of Saint Denis, which was plundered and destroyed during the French Revolution.

Further reading:
Memoirs Of The Court Of Marie Antoinette, Queen Of France, by Madame Campan

Louis XV And His Daughters

Madame Campan remembers:

Louis XV saw very little of his family. He came every morning by a private staircase into the apartment of Madame Adelaide. He often brought and drank there coffee that he had made himself. Madame Adelaide pulled a bell which apprised Madame Victoire of the King’s visit; Madame Victoire, on rising to go to her sister’s apartment, rang for Madame Sophie, who in her turn rang for Madame Louise. The apartments of Mesdames were of very large dimensions. Madame Louise occupied the farthest room. This latter lady was deformed and very short; the poor Princess used to run with all her might to join the daily meeting, but, having a number of rooms to cross, she frequently in spite of her haste, had only just time to embrace her father before he set out for the chase.

Every evening, at six, Mesdames interrupted my reading to them to accompany the princes to Louis XV.; this visit was called the King’s ‘debotter’,—[Debotter, meaning the time of unbooting.]—and was marked by a kind of etiquette. Mesdames put on an enormous hoop, which set out a petticoat ornamented with gold or embroidery; they fastened a long train round their waists, and concealed the undress of the rest of their clothing by a long cloak of black taffety which enveloped them up to the chin. The chevaliers d’honneur, the ladies in waiting, the pages, the equerries, and the ushers bearing large flambeaux, accompanied them to the King. In a moment the whole palace, generally so still, was in motion; the King kissed each Princess on the forehead, and the visit was so short that the reading which it interrupted was frequently resumed at the end of a quarter of an hour; Mesdames returned to their apartments, and untied the strings of their petticoats and trains; they resumed their tapestry, and I my book.

During the summer season the King sometimes came to the residence of Mesdames before the hour of his ‘debotter’. One day he found me alone in Madame Victoire’s closet, and asked me where ‘Coche'[Piggy] was; I started, and he repeated his question, but without being at all the more understood. When the King was gone I asked Madame of whom he spoke. She told me that it was herself, and very coolly explained to me, that, being the fattest of his daughters, the King had given her the familiar name of ‘Coche’; that he called Madame Adelaide, ‘Logue’ [Tatters], Madame Sophie, ‘Graille'[Mite], and Madame Louise, ‘Chiffie'[Rubbish]. The people of the King’s household observed that he knew a great number of such words; possibly he had amused himself with picking them out from dictionaries. If this style of speaking betrayed the habits and tastes of the King, his manner savoured nothing of such vulgarity; his walk was easy and noble, he had a dignified carriage of the head, and his aspect, with out being severe, was imposing; he combined great politeness with a truly regal demeanour, and gracefully saluted the humblest woman whom curiosity led into his path.

Further reading:
Memoirs Of The Court Of Marie Antoinette by Madame Campan