Marie Therese de Savoie, princesse de Lamballe by
Louis-Édouard Rioult (1790–1855)
Princess of Lamballe 1788 by Anton Hickel at the Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna
Marie Thérèse Louise of Savoy, Princesse de Lamballe by Duplessis
Marie Thérèse was born in Turin. Her father was Louis Victor, Prince of Carignano, a maternal grandson of Victor Amadeus II of Sardinia and his mistress Jeanne d'Albert de Luynes.
Her mother, Landgravine Christine of Hesse-Rheinfels-Rotenburg, was the daughter of Ernest Leopold, Landgrave of Hesse-Rotenburg. Her aunts included, Polyxena of Hesse-Rheinfels-Rotenburg, the wife of Charles Emmanuel III of Sardinia (Victor Amadeus III was her first cousin) and Caroline, Princess of Condé and wife of Louis Henri, Duke of Bourbon. Louis Joseph, Prince of Condé was another first cousin who was at the French court. Not much is known of her childhood.
On 31 January 1767, she was married by proxy to Louis Alexandre de Bourbon-Penthièvre, prince de Lamballe, grandson of Louis XIV's legitimised son, Louis Alexandre de Bourbon, comte de Toulouse, and the only surviving son of Louis de Bourbon-Toulouse, Duke of Penthièvre.
The marriage was arranged after it had been suggested by Louis XV as a suitable match, both the bride and the groom being members of a royal sideline, and it was accepted by her family because the King of Sardinia had long wished for an alliance between the House of Savoy and the Royal House of France: in the following years, further marriage alliances between France and Savoy would follow.
The wedding by proxy, followed by a bedding ceremony and a banquet, was held at the Savoyard royal court in Turin and attended by the King of Sardinia and his court. On January 24, the bride crossed the bridge of Beauvoisin between Savoy and France, where she left her Italian entourage and was welcomed by her new French retinue, who escorted her to her groom and father-in-law at the Chateau de Nangis. She was introduced to the French royal court at the Palace of Versailles by the Countess de La Marche in February, where she made a favorable impression.
The marriage was initially described as very happy, as both parties were attracted to each other's beauty; after only a few months, though, Louis Alexandre was unfaithful with two actresses, which reportedly devastated Marie Thérèse. She was comforted by her father-in-law, to whom she became close.
In 1768, at the age of nineteen, Marie Thérèse became a widow when her husband died of a venereal disease at the Château de Louveciennes, nursed by his spouse and sister. She inherited her husband's considerable fortune, making her wealthy in her own right. Her father-in-law successfully persuaded her to abandon her wish to become a nun and instead stay with him as his daughter. She comforted him in his grief, and joined him in his extensive charitable projects at Rambouillet, an activity which earned him the name "King of the Poor" and her the nickname "The Angel of Penthiévre".
In 1768, after the death of the Queen, Princess Marie Adélaïde of France supported a match between her father and the dowager princess. She reportedly preferred a queen who was young and beautiful but lacked ambition; who could attract and distract her father from state affairs, leaving them to Madame Adélaïde. She supported the Dowager Princess de Lamballe as a suitable candidate for that purpose and was supported by the powerful Noailles family. However, the Princess de Lamballe was not willing to encourage the match herself and her former father-in-law, the Duke of Penthievré, was not willing to consent so the marriage plan never materialized.
She lived at the Hôtel de Toulouse in Paris and at the Château de Rambouillet. On 4 January 1769, there was an announcement of the marriage of Marie Thérèse's sister-in-law Mademoiselle de Penthièvre, heiress to the greatest fortune in France, to the young Philippe d'Orléans, duc de Chartres, an old friend of the late prince de Lamballe.
The princesse de Lamballe had a role to play in royal ceremonies by marriage, and when the new Dauphine, Marie Antoinette, arrived in France in 1770, she was presented to her along with the Dukes and Duchesses of Orléans, Chartres, Bourbon and the other "Princes of the Blood" with her father-in-law in Compiégne. During 1771, the Duke de Penthiévre started to entertain more, among others the Crown Prince of Sweden and the King of Denmark; Marie Thérèse acted as his hostess, and started to attend court more often, participating in the balls held by Madame de Noailles in the name of Marie Antoinette, who was reportedly charmed by Marie Thérèse, and overwhelmed her with attention and affection that spectators did not fail to notice.
In March 1771 the Austrian ambassador reported:
- "'For some time past the Dauphiness has shown a great affection for the Princesse de Lamballe. . . . This young princess is sweet and amiable, and enjoying the privilèges of a Princess of the Blood Royal, is in a position to avail herself of her Royal Highness's favour."
The "Gazette de France" mentions Madame de Lamballe's presence in the chapel at high mass on Holy Thursday, at which the King was present, accompanied by the Royal Family and the Dukes of Bourbon and Penthièvre. In May 1771, she went to Fontainebleau, and was there presented by the king to her cousin, the future Countess of Provence, attending the supper after. In November 1773, another one of her cousins married the third prince, the Count of Artois, and she was present at the birth of the future Louis-Philippe of France in Paris in October 1773. After her cousins had married Marie-Antoinette's brothers-in-law, the royal princes, Marie Thérèse de Lamballe came to be treated by Marie-Antoinette as a relation, and during these first years, the counts and countesses of Provence and Artois formed a circle of friends with Marie-Antoinette and the princesse de Lamballe and spent a lot of their time together, the princesse de Lamballe being described as almost constantly by Marie-Antoinette's side. The empress Maria Theresa somewhat disliked the attachment, because she disliked favorites and intimate friends of royalty in general, though the princesse de Lamballe was because of her rank regarded as an acceptable choice, if such an intimate friend was needed.
On 18 September 1775, following the ascension of her husband to the throne in May 1774, Queen Marie Antoinette appointed Marie Thérèse "Superintendent of the Queen's Household", the highest rank possible for a lady-in-waiting at Versailles. This appointment was controversial: the office had been vacant for over thirty years because the position was expensive, superfluous and gave far too much power and influence to the bearer, giving her rank and power over all other ladies-in-waiting and requiring all orders given by any other female office holder to be confirmed by her before it could be carried out, and Lamballe, though of sufficient rank to be appointed, was regarded too young, which would offend those placed under her, but the queen regarded it a just reward for her friend.
After Marie Antoinette became queen, her intimate friendship with Lamballe was given greater attention and Mercy reported:
- "Her Majesty continually sees the Princesse de Lamballe in her rooms [...] This lady joins to much sweetness a very sincere character, far from intrigue and all such worries. The Queen has conceived for some time a real friendship for this young Princess, and the choice is excellent, for although a Piedmontese, Madame de Lamballe is not at all identified with the interests of Mesdames de Provence and d'Artois. All the same, I have taken the precaution to point out to the Queen that her favour and goodness to the Princesse de Lamballe are somewhat excessive, in order to prevent abuse of them from that quarter."
Empress Maria Theresa tried to discourage the friendship out of fear that Lamballe, as a former princess of Savoy, would try to benefit Savoyan interest through the queen. During her first year as queen, Marie Antoinette reportedly said to Louis XVI, who himself was very approving of her friendship with Lamballe: "Ah, sire, the Princesse de Lamballe's friendship is the charm of my life." Lamballe welcomed her brothers at court, and upon the queen's wish, Lamballe's favorite brother Eugène was granted a lucrative post with his own regiment in the French army to please his sister; later, Lamballe was also granted the governorship of Poitiou for her brother-in-law by the queen.
Princesse de Lamballe was described as proud, sensitive and with a delicate though irregular beauty. Not a wit and not one to participate in plots, she was able to amuse Marie Antoinette, but she was of a reclusive nature and preferred to spend time with the queen alone rather than to participate in high society: she suffered from what was described as "nerves, convulsions, fainting-fits", and could reportedly faint and remain unconscious for hours. The office of Superintendent required that she confirmed all orders regarding the queen before they could be performed, that all letters, petitions, or memoranda to the queen was to be channeled through her, and that she entertain in the name of the queen. The office aroused great envy and insulted a great number of people at court because of the precedence in rank it gave. It also gave the enormous salary of 50,000 crowns a year, and because of the condition of the state's economy and the great wealth of Lamballe, she was asked to renounce the salary. When she refused for the sake of rank and stated that she would either have all the privileges of the office or retire, she was granted the salary by the queen: this incident aroused much bad publicity and Lamballe was painted as a greedy royal favorite, and her famous fainting spells widely mocked as manipulative simulations. She was openly talked about as the favorite of the queen, and was greeted almost as visiting royalty when she traveled around the country during her free time, and had poems dedicated to her.
In 1775, however, Lamballe was gradually replaced in her position as the favorite of the queen by Yolande de Polastron, duchesse de Polignac. The outgoing and social Yolande de Polastron referred to the reserved Lamballe as a boor, while Lamballe disliked the bad influence she regarded Polignac to have over the queen. Marie Antoinette, who was unable to make them get along, started to prefer the company of Yolande de Polastron, who could better satisfy her need for amusement and pleasure. In April 1776, Ambassador Mercy reported: "The Princesse de Lamballe loses much in favour. I believe she will always be well treated by the Queen, but she no longer possesses her entire confidence", and continued in May by reporting of "constant quarrels, in which the Princesse seemed always to be in the wrong". When Marie Antoinette started to participate in amateur theater at Trianon, Polignac convinced her to refuse Lamballe admission to them, and in 1780, Mercy reported: "the Princesse is very little seen at court. The Queen, it is true, visited her on her father's death, but it is the first mark of kindness she has received for long."
Though de Lamballe was replaced by de Polignac as favorite, the friendship with the queen nevertheless continued on an on-and-off-basis: Marie Antoinette occasionally visited her in her rooms, and reportedly appreciated her serenity and loyalty in between the entertainments offered her by Polignac, once commenting, "She is the only woman I know who never bears a grudge; neither hatred nor jealousy is to be found in her." After the death of her mother, Marie Antoinette isolated herself with Lamballe and Polignac during the winter to mourn.
Lamballe kept her office of superintendent at court after she lost her position as favorite, and continued to perform her duties; she hosted balls in the name of the queen, introduced debutantes to her, assisted her in receiving foreign royal guests, and participated in the ceremonies around the birth of the queen's children and the queen's annual Easter Communion. Outside of her formal duties, however, she was often absent from court, attending to the bad health of both herself and her father-in-law. She engaged in her close friendship with her own favorite lady-in-waiting countess Étiennette d'Amblimont de Lâge de Volude, as well as her charity and her interest in the Freemasons. De Lamballe as well as her sister-in-law became inducted in the Freemasonic women's Adoption Lodge of St. Jean de la Candeur in 1777, and was made Grand Mistress of the Scottish Lodge, the head of ail the Lodges of Adoption, in January 1781: though Marie Antoinette did not become a formal member, she was interested in Freemasonry and often asked Lamballe of the Adoption Lodge. During the famous Affair of the Diamond Necklace, Lamballe was seen in an unsuccessful attempt to visit the imprisoned Jeanne de la Motte at La Salpetriere; the purpose of this visit is unknown, but it created widespread rumors at the time.
De Lamballe had long suffered from a weak health, which deteriorated so much during the mid 1780s that she was often unable to perform the duties of her office; at one occasion, she even engaged Deslon, a pupil of Mesmer, to magnetize her. She spent the summer of 1787 in England, advised by doctors to take the English waters in Bath to cure her health. This trip was much publicized as a secret diplomatic mission on behalf of the queen, with speculations that she was to ask the exiled Minister Calonne to omit certain incidents from the memoirs he was about to publish, but Calonne was in fact not in England at that time. After the visit to England, Lamballe's health improved considerably, and she was able to participate more at court, where the queen now gave her more affection again, appreciating her loyalty after the friendship between Marie Antoinette and Polignac had started to deteriorate. At this point, Lamballe and her sister-in-law joined in with the Parliament to petition on behalf of the duke of Orléans, who was exiled. In the spring of 1789, Lamballe was present in Versailles to participate in the ceremonies around the Estates General of 1789 in France.
Marie Thérèse was by nature reserved and, at court, she had the reputation of being a prude. However, in popular anti-monarchist propaganda of the time, she was regularly portrayed in pornographic pamphlets, showing her as the Queen's lesbian lover to undermine the public image of the monarchy.
During the Storming of the Bastille in July 1789 and the outbreak of the French Revolution, the princesse de Lamballe was on a leisure visit in Switzerland with her favorite lady-in-waiting countess de Lâge, and when she returned to France in September, she stayed with her father-in-law in the countryside to nurse him while he was ill, and thus was not present at court during The Women's March on Versailles, which took place on 5 October 1789, when she was with her father-in-law in Aumale.
On 7 October she was informed of the events of the Revolution, and immediately joined the Royal Family to the Tuileries Palace in Paris, where she reassumed the duties of her office. She and Madame Elizabeth shared the apartments of the Pavillon de Flore in the Tuileries, in level with the Queen's, and except for brief visits to her father-in-law or her villa in Passy, she settled there permanently.
In the Tuileries, the ritual court entertainments and representational life was to some level reinstated. As the king held his levées and couchers, the queen held a card party every Sunday and Tuesday, and held a court reception on Sundays and Thursdays before attending mass and dining in public with the king, as well as giving audience to the foreign envoys and the official deputations each week; all events in which Lamballe, in her office of superintendent, participated, being always seen at the queen's side both in public as well as in private. She accompanied the royal family to St. Cloud in the summer of 1790, and also attended the
Fête of the Fédération at the Champ the Mars in Paris in July.
Previously often unwilling to entertain in the queen's name as her office required, during these years she entertained lavishly and widely in her office at the Tuileries, where she hoped to gather loyal nobles to help the queen's cause, and
her salon came to serve as a meeting place for the queen and the members of the National Constituent Assembly, many of whom the queen wished to win over to the cause of the Bourbon Monarchy. It was reportedly in the apartment of Lamballe that the queen had her political meetings with Mirabeau.
In parallel, she also investigated the loyalty among the court staff through a network of informers. Madame Campan described how she was interviewed by Lamballe, who explained that she had been informed that Campan had been receiving deputies in her room and that her loyalty toward the monarchy had been questioned, but that Lamballe had investigated the accusations by use of spies, which had cleared Campan from the charges; "The Princesse then showed me a list of the names of all those employed about the Queen's chamber, and asked me for information concerning them. Fortunately, I had only favorable information to give, and she wrote down everything I told her."
After the departure from France of the duchess de Polignac and most of the other of the queen's intimate circle of friends, Marie Antoinette warned Lamballe that she would now in her visible role attract much of the anger among the public toward the favorites of the queen, and that libels circulating openly in Paris would expose her to slander. Lamballe reportedly read one of these volumes, and was informed of the hostility voiced toward her in them.
De Lamballe supported her sister-in-law the duchess of Orléans when she filed for divorce from the duke of Orléans, which has been viewed as a reason of discord between Lamballe and Orléans; though the duke had often used Lamballe as an intermediary to the queen, he reportedly never quite trusted her, since he expected Lamballe to blame him for encouraging the behavior which caused the death of Lamballe's late spouse, and when he was informed that she had ill will toward him during this affair, he reportedly broke with her.
She was not informed beforehand of the Flight to Varennes. The night of the escape in June 1791, the queen said goodnight to her and advised her to spend some days in the country for the sake of her health before she retired; Lamballe found her behavior odd enough to remark about it to M. de Clermot, before leaving the Tuileries to retire to her villa in Passy. The day after, when the royal family had already departed during the night, she received a note from Marie Antoinette who told her about the flight and told her to meet her in Brussels.
In the company of her ladies-in-waiting countess Étiennette de Lâge, countess de Ginestous and two male courtiers, she immediately visited her father-in-law in Aumale, informed him of her flight and asked him for letters of introduction.
She departed France from Boulogne to Dover in England, where she stayed for one night before continuing to Oosteende in the Austrian Netherlands, where she arrived on 26 June. She continued to Brussels, where she met Axel von Fersen and the count and countess de Provence, and then to Aix-la-Chapelle. She visited Gustav III of Sweden in Spa for a few days in September, and received him in Aix in October. In Paris, the Chronique de Paris reported of her departure and it was widely believed that she had gone to England for a diplomatic mission on behalf of the queen.
She was long in doubt as to whether she would be in most use for the queen in or outside of France, and received conflicting advice: her friends M. de Clermont and M. de la Vaupalière encouraged her to return to the service of the queen, while her relatives asked her to return to Turin in Savoy. During her stay abroad, she was in correspondence with Marie Antoinette, who repeatedly asked her not to return to France. However, in October 1791, the new provisions of the Constitution came into operation, and the queen was requested to set her household in order and dismissed all office holders not in service: she accordingly wrote officially to Lamballe and formally asked her to return to service or resign. This formal letter, though it was in contrast to the private letters Marie Antoinette had written her, reportedly convinced her that it was her duty to return, and she announced that the queen wished her to return and that "I must live and die with her."
During her stay at a house that she had rented in the Royal Crescent, Bath, Great Britain the princess wrote her will, because she was convinced that she risked mortal danger should she return to Paris. Other information, however, state that the will was made in the Austrian Netherlands, being dated "Aix la Chapelle, to-day the 15th October 1791. Marie Thérèse Louise de Savoie." She left Aix la Chapelleon 20 October and her arrival in Paris was announced in the Paris newspapers of November 4.
Back in the Tuileries, Lamballe resumed her office and her work rallying supporters to the queen, investigating the loyalty of the household and writing to the noble émigrées asking them to return to France in the name of the queen. In February 1792, for example, Louis Marie de Lescure was convinced to remain in France rather than emigrating after having met the queen in the apartment of Lamballe, who then informed him and his spouse Victoire de Donnissan de La Rochejaquelein of the queen's wishes that they should remain in France out of loyalty. Lamballe aroused the dislike of Mayor Pétion, who objected to the queen attending supper in Lamballe's apartment, and widespread rumors claimed that the rooms of Lamballe at the Tuileries were the meeting place of an 'Austrian Committee' plotting to encourage the invasion of France, a second St. Bartholomew's Day massacre and the destruction of the Revolution.
During the Demonstration of 20 June 1792, she was present in the company of the queen when a mob broke in to the palace. Marie Antoinette immediately cried that her place as by the king's side, but Lamballe then cried: "No, no, Madame, your place is with your children!", after which a table was pulled before her to protect her from the mob. Lamballe, alongside Princess de Tarente, Madame de Tourzel, the Duchess de Maillé, Mme de Laroche-Aymon, Marie Angélique de Mackau, Renée Suzanne de Soucy, Mme de Ginestous, and a few noblemen, belonged to the courtiers surrounding the queen and her children for several hours when the mob passed by the room shouting insults to Marie Antoinette.
According to a witness, Marie Louise de Lamballe stood leaning by the queen's armchair to support her through the entire scene: "Madame de Lamballe displayed even greater courage. Standing during the whole of that long scène, leaning upon the Queen's chair, she seemed only occupied with the dangers of that unhappy princess without regarding her own."
Marie Louise de Lamballe continued her services to the Queen until the attack on the palace on 10 August 1792, when she and Louise-Élisabeth de Croÿ de Tourzel, governess to the royal children, accompanied the Royal Family when they took refuge in the Legislative Assembly.
M. de la Rochefoucauld was present during this occasion and recollected:
- "I was in the garden, near enough to offer my arm to Madame la Princesse de Lamballe, who was the most dejected and frightened of the party; she took it. [...] Madame la Princesse de Lamballe said to me: "We shall never return to the Château."'
During their stay in the clerk's box at the Legislative Assembly, Lamballe became ill and had to be taken to the Feuillant convent; Marie Antoinette asked her not to return, but she nevertheless chose to return to the family as soon as she felt better. She also accompanied them from the Legislative Assembly to the Feuillant convent, and from there to the Temple.
On 19 August, she, Louise-Élisabeth de Croÿ de Tourzel and Pauline de Tourzel were separated from the Royal Family and transferred to the La Force prison, where they were allowed to share a cell. They were removed from the Temple at the same time as two valets and three female servants, as it was decided that the family should not be allowed to keep their retainers.
During the September Massacres, the prisons were attacked by mobs, and the prisoners were placed before hastily assembled people's tribunals, who judged and executed them summarily. Each prisoner was asked a handful of questions, after which the prisoner was either freed with the words 'Vive la nation', and permitted to leave, or sentenced to death with the words 'Conduct him to the Abbaye' or 'Let him go', after which the condemned was taken to a yard where they were immediately killed by a mob consisting of men, women and children.
The massacres were opposed by the staff of the prison, who allowed many prisoners to escape, particularly women. Of about two hundred women, only two were ultimately killed in the prison.
Pauline de Tourzel was smuggled out of the prison, but her mother and de Lamballe were too famous to be smuggled out. Their escape would have risked attracting too much notice. Almost all women prisoners tried before the tribunals in La Force were freed from charges. Among them was Lamballe's colleague, the lady-in-waiting Louise-Emmanuelle de Châtillon, Princesse de Tarente. Indeed, not only the former royal governess de Tourzel, but also four other women formerly employed at the royal household, Marie-Élisabeth Thibault and Bazile (former ladies-maids of the queen), St Brice (nurse of the Dauphin), Navarre (lady's maid of Lamballe), as well as de Septeuil (wife of the kings valet), where all put before the tribunals but freed of charges, as were even two male members of the royal household, the valets of the king and dauphin, Chamilly and Hue. Lamballe was therefore to be somewhat of an exception.
On 3 September, de Lamballe and de Tourzel were taken out to a courtyard with other prisoners waiting to be taken to the tribunal.
There are numerous conflicting reports about the trial as well as the exact manner of her death, as it was frequently used in propaganda during the French Revolution.
She was brought before a hastily assembled tribunal which demanded she "take an oath to love liberty and equality and to swear hatred to the King and the Queen and to the monarchy".
She agreed to take the oath to liberty but refused to denounce the king, queen and monarchy. At this point, her trial was summarily ended with the words, "emmenez madame" ("Take madame away"). She was in the company of de Tourzel until she was called into the tribunal, and the exact wording of the summary trial is stated to have consisted of the following swift interrogation:
- 'Who are you?'
- 'Marie Thérèse Louise, Princess of Savoy.'
- 'Your employment?'
- 'Superintendent of the Household to the Queen.'
- 'Had you any knowledge of the plots of the court on the 10th August?'
- 'I know not whether there were any plots on the 10th August; but I know that I had no knowledge of them.'
- 'Swear to Liberty and Equality, and hatred of the King and Queen.'
- 'Readily to the former; but I cannot to the latter: it is not in my heart.'
- [Reportedly, agents of her father-in-law whispered to her to swear the oath to save her life, upon which she added:]
- 'I have nothing more to say; it is indifferent to me if I die a little earlier or later; I have made the sacrifice of my life.'
- 'Let Madame be set at liberty.'
She was immediately taken to the street to a group of men who killed her within minutes.
There are many different versions of the exact manner of her death, which attracted great attention and was used in propaganda for many years after the revolution, during which it was embellished and exaggerated. Some reports, for example, allege that she was raped, and her breasts sliced off in addition to other bodily mutilations.
There is, however, nothing to indicate that she was exposed to any sexual mutilations or atrocities, which was widely alleged in the sensationalist stories surrounding her famous death. She was escorted by two guards to the door of the yard where the massacre was taking place; on her way there, the agents of her father-in-law followed and again encouraged her to swear the oath, but she appeared not to hear them.
When the door was opened and she was exposed to the sight of bloody corpses in the yard, she reportedly cried 'Fi horreur!' or 'I am lost!', fell back, but was pulled out into the front of the yard by the two guards. Reportedly, the agents of her father-in-law were among the crowd, crying 'Grâce! Grâce!', but were soon silenced with the shouts of 'Death to the disguised lackeys of the Duc de Penthièvre!' One of the killers, who were tried years later, described her as 'a little lady dressed in white', standing for a moment alone. Reportedly, she was first struck by a man with a pike on her head, which caused her hair to fall down upon her shoulders, revealing a letter from Marie Antoinette which she had hidden in her hair; she was then wounded on the forehead, which caused her to bleed, after which she was very swiftly stabbed to death by the crowd.
Treatment of remains
The treatment of her remains has also been the subject of many conflicting stories. After her death, her corpse was reportedly undressed, eviscerated and decapitated, with its head placed upon a pike. It is confirmed by several witnesses that her head was paraded through the streets on a pike and her body dragged after by a crowd of people shrieking 'La Lamballe! La Lamballe!'. This procession was witnessed by a M. de Lamotte, who purchased a strand of her hair which he later gave to her father-in-law, as well as by the brother of Laure Junot.
Some reports say that the head was brought to a nearby café where it was laid in front of the customers, who were asked to drink in celebration of her death.
Some reports state that the head was taken to a barber in order to dress the hair to make it instantly recognizable, though this has been contested.
Following this, the head was put on the pike again and paraded beneath Marie Antoinette’s window at the Temple.
Marie Antoinette and her family were not present in the room outside which the head was displayed at the time, and thus did not see it. However, the wife of one of the prison officials, Madame Tison, saw it and screamed, upon which the crowd, hearing a woman scream from inside the Temple, assumed it was Marie Antoinette. Those who were carrying it wished her to kiss the lips of her favourite, as it was a frequent slander that the two had been lovers, but the head was not allowed to be brought into the building. The crowd demanded to be allowed inside the Temple to show the head to Marie Antoinette in person, but the officers of the Temple managed to convince them not to break in to the prison.
In her historical biography, Marie Antoinette : The Journey Antonia Fraser claims Marie Antoinette did not actually see the head of her long-time friend, but was aware of what was occurring, stating, "...the municipal officers had had the decency to close the shutters and the commissioners kept them away from the windows...one of these officers told the king '..they are trying to show you the head of Madame de Lamballe'...Mercifully, the Queen then fainted away".
After this, the head and the corpse was taken by the crowd to the Palais Royal, where the Duke of Orléans and his lover Marguerite Françoise de Buffon were entertaining a party of Englishmen for supper. The Duke of Orléans reportedly commented 'Oh, it is Lamballe's head: I know it by the long hair. Let us sit down to supper', while Buffon cried out 'O God ! They will carry my head like that some day!'
The agents of her father-in-law, who had been tasked with acquiring her remains and having them temporarily buried until they could be interred in Dreux, reportedly mixed in with the crowd in order to be able to gain possession of it. They averted the intentions of the crowd to display the remains before the home of de Lamballe and her father-in-law at the Hôtel de Toulouse by saying that she had never lived there, but at the Tuileries or the
Hôtel Louvois. When the carrier of the head, Charlat, entered an alehouse, leaving the head outside, one agent, Pointel, took the head and had it interred at the cemetery near the Hospital of the Quinze Vingts.
While the procession of the head is not questioned, the reports regarding the treatment of her body has been questioned.
Five citizens of the local section in Paris, Hervelin, Quervelle, Pouquet, Ferrie, and Roussel, delivered her body (minus her head, which was still being displayed on a pike) to the authorities shortly after her death.
Royalist accounts of the incident claimed her body was displayed on the street for a full day, but this is not likely, as the official protocols explicitly states that it was brought to the authorities immediately after her death. While the state of the body is not described, there is, in fact, nothing to indicate that it was disemboweled, or even undressed: the report recounts everything she had in her pockets when she died, and indicate that her headless body was brought fully dressed on a wagon to the authorities the normal way, rather than being dragged disemboweled along the street, as sensationalist stories claimed.
Her body, like that of her brother-in-law Philippe Égalité, was never found, which is why it is not entombed in the Orléans family necropolis at Dreux. According to Madame Tussaud, she was ordered to make a death mask.