Liselotte, Duchesse d’Orléans

Elisabeth Charlotte von der Pfalz, also known simply as Liselotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, was quite a character and is rather popular amongst Early Modern historians to this day. Liselotte was born on this day the 27th of May, 1652.

Elizabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate, Duchess of Orléans, in hunting dress, by Louis Elle (1612-1689). Image: Deutsches Historisches Museum Berlin

Some people think Liselotte was a lesbian, as she was certainly a tomboy. Neither feminine, beautiful, nor particularly interested in diversions that most 17th century women were fond of, she preferred going hunting and exercising. In a time which favoured white skin for women, her skin was tanned from her love of the outdoors. She was intellectual in a time when women tended to refrain from intellectual pursuits.

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The reason Liselotte is an important figure in 17th-and 18th-century histories is due to her letters, and what are contained therein:

I would willingly have married the Prince of Orange, for by that union I might have hoped to remain near my dear Electress (of Hanover).

Yes, the above excerpt from Liselotte’s letters shows that she was an early contender to marry William III of Orange, and in her letters she reminisces about her early visits.

When we arrived at the Princess Royal’s, whom I did not know, I saw her son [the later King William III], whom I had often played with; after having gazed for a long time at his mother without knowing who she was, I went back to see if I could find any one to tell me what was this lady’s name. Seeing only the Prince of Orange, I accosted him thus,– “Pray, tell me who is that woman with so fiery a nose?” He laughed and answered, “That is the Princess Royal, my mother.”

Mary, Princess of Orange, William’s mother, was said to have had a bad cold during this visit, hence the “fiery” (red) nose. I love the next bit, where we get a glimpse of William being playful with Liselotte:

“I had told them to call me when the Queen should be ready to go, and we were rolling upon a Turkey carpet when I was summoned.”

Screen Shot 2013-05-26 at 20.02.00That always conjures up a lovely mental image of two children – a boy and a girl – rolling about on a costly rug – it’s nice to hear about William just being a kid.

As a German (Palatinate) Princess – why was she referred to as the Duchess of Orléans? She was married off to King Louis XIV’s younger, probably homosexual brother, the flamboyant Philippe I, Duc d’Orléans. She and Monsieur had three children – including a son and heir – Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, which everyone was very pleased about, including Philippe and Liselotte themselves, who seemed to have come to a mutually agreeable position where they no longer had to have sexual intercourse together. Philippe had previously been married to the popular little sister of English King Charles II – Henrietta, aka Minette, who bore him two daughters – Marie Louise and Anne Marie. She wrote about Minette (Madame) in this excerpt:

It is true that the late Madame was extremely unhappy; she confided too much in people who betrayed her: she was more to be pitied than blamed, being connected with very wicked persons, about whom I could give some particulars. Young, pretty and gay, she was surrounded by some of the greatest coquettes in the world, the mistresses of her bitterest foes, and who sought only to thrust her into some unfortunate situation and to embroil her with Monsieur.

The thing that people like most of all about her is her extraordinary penchant for gossip. I like to call her a gossipmonger extraordinaire, because of the amount of gossip in her letters. I personally hate gossip, and I get very irritated when someone starts to reel off nosey information about other people around me, but it’s obviously always been popular, especially with women. I know her letters provide great insight into life at the court of Louis XIV, but still, I don’t think I would have enjoyed to be around her! :p

Liselotte in later life…

Many historians love her letters because of the amount of things we could learn from them – though, truth be told, I take everything she wrote with a pinch of salt. Whenever I read her letters, I get the feeling that she was a slightly bitter woman who still was a upset that she hadn’t married William III. I also believe she harboured some envy about his wife, Queen Mary II, for she was the exact opposite of Liselotte – beautiful, passionate, emotional, feminine, a real girly girl- and she married William.

It seems that Queen Mary of England was something of a coquette in Holland.

That’s the only time I’ve found her commenting about Mary, and this smacks of something a woman would say when envious of another (I know I would). When Mary II died in 1694, Liselotte later proposed that the widower King William marry her daughter! This, he declined. Who knows what she made of that? Did she get personally offended by this? Did the fact that William refused to re-marry anyone else help? So many questions…

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Marie Antoinette, doomed descendent of Liselotte…

Liselotte died in 1722, aged 70, at the Château de Saint-Cloud, France. Many royal European figures, including her great-granddaughter, France’s (in)famous Queen Marie Antoinette, were descended from Liselotte. As Liselotte lived during the time of the autocrat Sun King, I wonder what she would have made of the fact that her own flesh and blood – Marie Antoinette, her husband the King, and many nobles were no longer as powerful as her brother-in-law Louis had been, but would be murdered in the gruesome, cruel manner which the blade of Madame Guillotine would bring…

Hear ye! 11 thoughts — so far — on “Liselotte, Duchesse d’Orléans”:

  1. Susan Johnsdon

    WOW … another independent 17th century woman … do you have any information about her lesbian lovers? For one who loved gossip, did she at least keep that in code?

    1. Andrea Zuvich (The 17th Century Lady) Post author

      Hi Susan! I’m afraid there isn’t any solid evidence, or even any names to associate her with, but her overall character seems to support this theory. She might have been bisexual, which would explain her annoyance at not having married William III, but this is again conjecture as we really don’t know.

  2. Tabitha

    Wonderful post! I love Liselotte, and envy her long correspondence with relatives and friends. (No one likes to write letters anymore! But I do. I guess my heart is a bit old-fashioned).

    1. Andrea Zuvich (The 17th Century Lady) Post author

      Thank you, Tabitha – and excellent contributions with this and your other comments about Mary, Princess of Orange – it’s always a delight to “meet” another 17th Century lover! 🙂

  3. Carmen

    She probably had lesbian tendencies but was so very religious. I’m not sure she would have acted in them, but it does explain why she wasn’t hurt to not sleep with her husband after they’d had 3 issue.

  4. Andre' Cooper

    Personally I have always been a great fan of Elisabeth Charlotte von der Pfalz..a.k.a. “Liselotte”.
    I find her quite charming and of excellent character admiring very much her bluntness especially during an age such as that in which she lived.
    In regard to her sexuality I doubt very seriously if she was a lesbian.
    Enjoying the outdoors or being a tomboy doesn’t mean any individual is only means they prefer certain activities over those which were considered to be the norm for females during that particular era.
    I enjoyed the perspectives expressed here even if I don’t happen to agree with all of them..they are all very interesting none the less.

  5. Mary

    How would yuo construct a history lesson on liselotte and versailles? Im wondering rn bc I have no idea how to make it interesting enough for my learners.

    1. Andrea Post author

      Hi Mary, thanks for getting in touch. I’d say it really depends on your target audience. Are your students teenagers or older? Her letters are still amusing and interesting – I’d definitely include them in any lesson!

  6. Jess Cully

    Fascinating article! Liselotte is certainly one of the 17th C’s most larger than life characters. I read in The Mammoth Book of Oddballs and Eccentrics by Karl Shaw that she once shot her governess in the backside with an arquebus. I can find no source online for this story, but it sounds like something she was capable of.


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