Riviera Reporter
Riviera Reporter

Marie Antoinette’s adopted children

“Let them eat cake!” This is the most famous line that Marie Antoinette never said. It was first written about someone else, before Marie Antoinette ever set foot in France, but, for some reason, it became associated with her. She’s often portrayed as a selfish Queen spending the country’s money on her lavish lifestyle, completely unconcerned about the suffering all around her.

But this queen had a compassionate side and a special place in her heart for children – especially orphans. In fact, she just couldn’t resist “adopting” them. Sometimes that meant paying for their education and welfare, and sometimes it meant actually taking them to the palace to live. Whenever she would hear of unfortunate children who had lost their parents, her immediate response was “I adopt them.”

Marie Antoinette with her natural childrenMarie Antoinette with her natural children, Marie Thérèse and Louis Charles. By François Dumont.

When Marie Antoinette arrived in France to marry the King’s grandson, she was still a child herself. She was fourteen, and her husband was just one year older. The young bride and groom were both shy and inexperienced which led to trouble in the bedroom. It seems they just didn’t know exactly what to do. Although, over the years, they made several attempts (nothing at Versailles was private), their marriage wasn’t consummated until seven years after their wedding night. Some say that Louis had a physical problem that required a little surgery, but most evidence suggests that the couple was just inept.

Marie Antoinette at 13 years oldMarie Antoinette at 13, just before going to France for her wedding.

You might think it was the bedroom problem that prompted Marie Antoinette, after years of unconsummated marriage, to adopt the first child. But even after the King and Queen had figured out what to do in the royal bed, and had 4 children of their own, she kept adopting children.

During the Revolution, the Queen’s world was thrown into turmoil. The Royals were forced to leave Versailles and put under house arrest at the Tuileries Palace in Paris. But Marie Antoinette was still taking care of her adopted children and actually adopting more. Even when she was in prison and knew her days were numbered, she was asking the guards to try to find news about the welfare of her adopted children.
Marie Antoinette in prison with own childrenIn the Temple Prison, Marie Antoinette had her two children with her, but she never stopped trying to get news of her adopted ones.

Below are the stories of 4 of these children that lived with the Queen:


Maybe the young Queen had given up hope of ever having a son of her own. After advice-filled letters from her mother and well-meaning suggestions from their subjects on the streets of Paris, the couple still hadn’t figured out how to make babies.

Then, one afternoon in 1776, when Marie Antoinette was out for a carriage ride, a little boy of four or five years old dashed out in front of the horses and was almost killed. The driver stopped in time and the boy was unharmed but screaming in fear. His grandmother came running and told the Queen that the boy’s mother had just died and left four children in her care. The Queen immediately said “I adopt them.” She took the little boy to the palace and paid for the support of the others.

The boy’s name was François Michel Gagné, but he was called Jacques by his family. When he was taken to Versailles, the Queen renamed him Armand.

Marie Antoinette's adopted son, ArmandFrançois Michel Gagné, adopted by the Queen and called Armand.

It seems that Armand was always a difficult child and the grandmother even tried to warn the Queen, telling her that “Jacques was a very naughty boy.” And it turns out that Grandma was right. When the Revolution erupted and the Royals were forced to leave Versailles, the teenaged Armand turned against his adoptive family and joined the revolutionaries. He died in 1792 in one of the French Revolutionary Wars.


In 1778, after the King and Queen had finally figured out what to do in the royal bed, their first child was born. The baby girl, named Marie Thérèse Charlotte, was titled “Madame Royale”.

Little Madame Royale was a difficult child (maybe because they called her Madame Royale) and the Queen wanted her to be more sociable, so she brought in a companion for her: Marie Philippine Lambriquet, daughter of one of the maids who was the same age as Marie Thérèse. At first, the little girl spent her days at the palace, where she was called Ernestine, and went home each evening.

But when Ernestine’s mother died, the Queen immediately adopted her and moved her into apartments adjoining those of her royal playmate. Marie Antoinette gave orders that the two girls were to be treated exactly the same.

Ernestine went with the family when they were removed from Versailles and installed in the Tuileries. She left their household only when the Royals (including children) were imprisoned a year later.

Marie Antoinette  in a royal family sceneA Royal Family scene.

Jean Amilcar

In 1787, the Chevalier de Boufflers returned from a trip to Senegal bearing gifts for the Queen. Marie Antoinette was presented with a parrot and a young Senegalese boy, five or six years of age. This practice, which seems barbaric to us now, was not uncommon at the time. Normally a boy like this would have been made a servant, but Marie Antoinette had him baptised as Jean Amilcar and he was looked after at the palace.

He would have been about ten years old when the family was forced to leave Versailles. He was placed in a pension which the Queen paid for until she was imprisoned and no longer able. When the money from the Queen stopped, Jean Amilcar was kicked out of the pension and died on the streets of Paris.


Even though the family’s situation at the Tuileries in Paris was precarious, Marie Antoinette didn’t stop helping or adopting children. In 1790, Marie Antoinette heard that one of her husband’s ushers and his wife had died within a few months of each other, leaving three orphaned girls. She immediately declared she would adopt them. The two older girls were placed in a convent where all expenses were paid by the Queen. But the youngest, Jeanne Louise Victoire, who was three years old, almost the same age as the Dauphin Louis-Charles, was brought into the palace as his companion. Her name was changed to Zoe.

Marie Antoinette in garden with childrenMarie Antoinette with children. It seems there are no portraits of the adopted children after Armand.

These four children actually lived with the Queen, but there were many others that she supported financially. Marie Antoinette may have had many faults, but she did love children and would go out of her way to help them. It seems that a Queen like that couldn’t be all bad.

In case you are wondering about the Royal couple’s natural children:

    • Marie Thérèse Charlotte (1778-1851) – She was the only one of the Royal Family to survive the Revolution.
    • Louis Joseph (1781-1789) – Died at age seven from tuberculosis at the beginning of the Revolution, before the family was imprisoned.
    • Louis Charles (1785-1795) – Died in prison at age ten.
    • Sophie (1786-1787) – Died at age one, before the beginning of the Revolution.

More from Margo: www.curiousrambler.com


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