Their name is associated with the fire in the Bazaar de la Charité in 1897. But this couple was not spared by personal tragedies and family tragedies.

In this new episode of the Europe 1 Studio podcast "At the heart of History", Jean des Cars tells you about the fate of the Duke and Duchess of Alençon.

In 1868, Sophie-Charlotte of Bavaria, Sissi's little sister, married the Duke of Alençon, grandson of Louis-Philippe.

In this new episode of the Europe 1 Studio podcast "At the heart of history", Jean des Cars tells the story of these well-born young people who should never have married ...

Since the official engagement announced on January 23, 1867 of their young king Louis II, with his cousin Sophie-Charlotte (who is also Sissi's sister), the Bavarians live only while waiting for marriage.

It was originally scheduled for August 25 of the same year, the sovereign's 22nd birthday.

Preparations are well underway.

The king ordered a sumptuous carriage but also two court coats that the couple must wear on the day of the ceremony.

Woven for the occasion in a Munich workshop, they each cost 7,000 Florins, a huge sum!

They are of a bright red velvet on which have been embroidered the two diamonds Azure and Silver, arms of Bavaria.

The royal coat of arms, surmounted by a crown and held by two lions, is inserted in the middle of the train.

Everything is lined with ermine.

The dimension of the coats is approximately 3 by 3 meters, impressive but heavy and difficult to wear! 

What we would now call derivative products will also be made in large quantities, such as a series of black porcelain vases, one showing the portrait of Louis II, the other that of his fiancée.

You can also get colorized photos of Sophie-Charlotte in an oval brass frame.

The king had a silver medal struck in Augsburg on which we see the profile of the future spouses: "Louis II, King of Bavaria, Sophie-Charlotte-Augusta, Duchess in Bavaria, 1867".

On the reverse, a burning torch stands in an interlacing of ribbons and roses, surrounded by this inscription: "May the bond of Love unite your hearts and ours".

The sovereign also requested that the crown of the queens of Bavaria be adapted to the head of his fiancée.

This crown was made by Napoleon I's goldsmith, Biennais, for the wife of the first Bavarian monarch, Maximilian I.

It is enriched with diamonds, pearls and many other precious stones.

Thus, Sophie-Charlotte appears as a desired and spoiled bride… and her wedding as an event of the utmost importance!

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In reality, things are more complicated.

The king is too busy to court his fiancee assiduously.

He hardly sees her.

The wedding, initially scheduled for August 25, is postponed to November and then there is talk of postponing it again, to December.

Sophie-Charlotte's parents, Duke Max and Duchess Ludovika, exasperated, demand from the king that the wedding take place no later than the end of November.

The monarch does not like ultimatums and he takes it very badly!

On October 7, he sends his fiancée a letter of rupture.

After complaining about the formal notice of his future parents-in-law, Louis II explains to him why he is not going to marry her: "By making preparations for the wedding, by talking to you about it and by talking to you about it. by letters, handing them over without however abandoning them, I absolutely did not want to fool you ... I had time to put myself to the test, to think in calm and solitude, and I understood that what I had always nurtured in myself was a brotherly love, not the one that is indispensable for marriage. My dear Elsa, I owed you this frank declaration. Please keep me your friendship. If you return me my word, if we separate from each other, I ask you to do it without reproach and without bitterness ... If during the year, you have not found anyone capable in your eyes of giving you more happy that me, and if it was also my case, something by no means impossible, we could always unite, as long as you still want to… "

The official announcement of the breakdown of the engagement was sent to the press on October 10, 1867. Any bride who would suffer such a snub a few weeks before a ceremony which would have made her a queen of Bavaria, would be at the table. both desperate and furious.

It's not sure, because Sophie-Charlotte is a complex character, almost as much as her cousin.

Both are from Wittelsbach, a tormented dynasty ...   

Sophie, the youngest of a legendary sibling

Sophie was born in Munich in 1847.

She is the penultimate child and the last daughter of Maximilian, Duke of Bavaria, head of the younger branch of the Wittelsbach.

Her mother, Ludovica, is a daughter of the first king of Bavaria, Maximilian.

She is therefore the daughter of a king and her five sisters made brilliant marriages.

Among them, an Archduchess of Austria, also named Sophie, mother of Emperor Franz Joseph. 

The union of Ludovica is less prestigious: Max is only the head of a younger branch not called to reign and he has a character and a lifestyle that takes him far from the Munich court.

He is an intellectual, a poet, who is interested in natural sciences and history but at the same time plays the zither, and drinks abundantly in the company of his learned friends or bourgeois artists!

And he turns out to be an unfaithful husband! 

In Munich, he had a very beautiful palace built in which he created a circus track for Haute-École shows which his children will greatly enjoy.

Having a deep taste for Upper Bavaria and its way of life, he bought a charming castle on the shores of Lake Starnberg, Possenhofen.

This residence allows her, in summer, to give her children a free and country life.

His wife Ludovika therefore had to be satisfied with this original and whimsical husband. 

When Sophie-Charlotte is born, she already has 6 brothers and sisters, including Elisabeth (Sissi), who was then 10 years old.

She was raised in a warm and happy family environment, the youngest being of course the darling of her siblings.

Like them, she lives the winter in the beautiful palace in Munich and the wonderful bright summers in Possenhofen.

Like her brothers and sisters, she adores her father, who is often absent because he travels a lot.

But when he is there, he takes them into his unconstrained world, between his circus horses and his mountain hikes.

And what joy when he returns from a trip!

Not content with bringing back fabulous gifts to everyone, he enchants his children with his stories.

He tells them about the pyramids of Egypt (he climbed that of Giza), the souks of Constantinople, the secrets of Jerusalem… But Sophie-Charlotte also benefits from the permanent, warm and attentive presence of her mother.

She takes care of the education of the siblings without being heavy, she loves them and dreams for each of them of great marriages for which she will work.

She has ambition for her children, hoping for a brighter life for them than hers.

1852: Sophie-Charlotte's older sisters get married

In the summer of 1852, Sophie-Charlotte was only 5 years old but she undoubtedly observed all the agitation which reigned in Possenhofen around her sister Hélène, known as "Néné".

She is about to leave for Bad Ischl, in Austria, to get engaged to the young Emperor Franz Joseph.

Sophie-Charlotte stays with her father in Possenhofen.

She thought Sissi would do the same.

But as she was a little sad that summer, mom decided to take her too.  

And Sophie-Charlotte learns from dad that in Bad Ischl, nothing went as planned!

François-Joseph did not get engaged to Néné, but to Sissi with whom he fell head over heels in love !!

But the whole family, except Hélène, who is very affected by it, is delighted with this surprise wedding.

During the following months, Sophie-Charlotte will dream in front of the trousseau and the wardrobe that her mother constitutes for Sissi.

She rejoices in the surprise visits of Franz Joseph, always charming and bringing wonderful gifts to his sister.

And above all, it will not be like in Bad Ischl: Sophie-Charlotte and her family will accompany Sissi throughout the fabulous journey that will take her from Munich to Vienna, including during the magical cruise on the Danube then the sumptuous ceremony of the wedding.

A fairy tale for the little girl!

Sissi is therefore the first bride of the tribe.

His older brother, Louis, has already left home to study.

In 1854, a new tutor took charge of the education of the little princes.

The excellent teacher is loved by children.

He teaches them a little discipline and rigor in this very fanciful family. 

In the summer of her 15th birthday, Sophie-Charlotte sees three of her sisters arrive in Possenhofen: Sissi, Marie and Mathilde.

No wonder they spend a few days in the family castle.

However, they are not gay, they are even very tormented.

Did Sophie-Charlotte understand what was going on?

Marie, who became Queen of Naples by marrying the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, is destabilized because she is pregnant ... but not by her husband, François II! 

In truth, her marriage is a disaster.

She does not get along with her husband.

So she consoled herself with an officer of the Pontifical Guard - the father of the child she is expecting, you will understand!

Marie was sent to conceal her pregnancy in an Ursuline convent in Augsburg.

There, she gives birth to a little girl who will, fortunately, be taken care of by her father.

It is evident that this awkward situation disturbed the family, especially Ludovica.

Sophie-Charlotte, who is far from being stupid, did she realize at that time that marriage was not necessarily the key to happiness? 

Without being as beautiful as Sissi, she has become a pretty young girl, thin and sensitive.

She is a good musician.

She will be 16 years old.

It's time to marry her too!

She has already been asked for marriage by a Württemberg then by the King of Portugal but no project has come to fruition.

In 1866, Sissi was worried about her sadness: if only her younger daughter found a husband who loved her and who made her happy ...

The strange engagement of Louis II and Sophie

At the same time, Sophie-Charlotte's cousin, the young King Ludwig II of Bavaria, was still in a state of shock at having had Richard Wagner expelled, under pressure from the Munich government.

He devotes a cult to this composer whose music has moved him since his adolescence.

Upon his accession in 1864, he had invited him to Munich so that he could work there, without worrying about bailiffs, creditors and jealous people.

He financed it generously, undoubtedly too much: the Munich people ended up realizing that if Wagner multiplied ceaseless requests for money from the sovereign, he was pushed there by his mistress, Cosima von Bülow, the wife of his conductor. .

A behavior both greedy and scandalous! 

Louis II, courageous, sliced ​​and drove Wagner from Bavaria but he is very unhappy.

Sophie-Charlotte and he had known each other since childhood.

At 21, the king is not credited with any female affair.

One day, at the Residenz Palace in Munich, Sophie takes up the piano and plays a Wagner melody with a certain talent.

Louis is immediately won over!

She loves Wagner as much as he does!

Here he is under the spell of his cousin because, in addition to her qualities as a musician, she is the younger sister of Sissi, to whom Louis II dedicates a boundless admiration and whom he despairs of not seeing enough since she became Empress of Austria.

For this hyper-sensitive Louis II, Sophie-Charlotte becomes a sort of double of Sissi but also (and this is more serious!) The heroine of Wagner Lohengrin's opera since he calls her Elsa while let him sign his letters Heinrich!

Their engagement is therefore logically a spectacle ... 

He keeps seeing her, but he does not propose to her.

Ludovica is worried.

On January 8, 1867, Louis wrote a long letter of rupture to Sophie Charlotte when there was nothing between them, they had not even exchanged a kiss!

Twelve days later, a grand ball was given at the Residenz in Munich.

Total change: the king only dances with Sophie-Charlotte!

Three days later, he asks his parents for his hand.

They are officially engaged.

What happened ?

The king has just learned that two of his relatives, his aide-de-camp, Paul de Tour and Taxis and his grand squire, Count Holstein, are going to get married.

He just wants to do the same!

The engagement takes place in a strange way.

Louis II hardly ever sees Sophie-Charlotte, he writes to her a lot while being very absent physically.

And for good reason !

In May, he meets his new squire Richard Hornig.

He is handsome, blond and athletic.

Immediately, they set off on a trip to Thuringia and then in August to France.

The visit to Versailles and Pierrefonds upset the king to the point of giving him the idea of ​​building similar castles.

During this stay, he also realizes that he is homosexual.

His attachment to Richard Hornig goes beyond a simple friendship.

This reality, confirmed by his doctor, deeply disturbs him.

She is the real cause of his breakup with Sophie-Charlotte. 

If she breaks down in tears when she hears it, it is also because she herself feels very guilty.

During the summer of 1867, when her fiancé was away, she fell in love with the son of the photographer responsible for his official engagement portraits, no doubt a little frustrated with tenderness.

His name is Edgar Hanfstaengl.

It seems that in the father's studio, the two young people fell in love with each other. 

They see each other a lot that summer because the Hanfstaengl property is close to Possenhofen.

They exchange a romantic correspondence.

Official fiancee of the King of Bavaria, Sophie-Charlotte does not resist this idyll.

Years later, she will still prove that when she has a crush, nothing stops her!

This is the reason why, during her breakup with the king, she feels so bad, even if, at the time, no one seemed to have guessed this romance.

The young woman is tormented.

It always will be.

1868: Sophie-Charlotte marries the Duke of Alençon

The breakdown of the engagement was a thunderclap, as much for the subjects of the King of Bavaria, who are perplexed, as for the family of Sophie-Charlotte, who is furious.

Ludovica is distraught: a young princess, abandoned a few weeks before her wedding, will not be easy to marry!

To begin with, she sends her daughter to wipe away her tears in Dresden, with her sister, the Queen of Saxony. 

During this time, she thinks for Sophie of a grandson of the ex-king of the French, Louis-Philippe, the Duke of Alençon.

He is the son of the Duke of Nemours, the second son of Louis-Philippe.

Their family, the Orléans, has been dethroned since the Revolution of 1848 and resides in England. 

The year before, Ludovica had met the Duke of Nemours who was traveling in Bavaria and Austria with his children, Ferdinand and Victoire.

The young Duke of Alençon had made a very good impression on him.

She then opened up to the great matchmaker of the Courts of the time, Clémentine de Saxe-Cobourg-Gotha, sister of the Duke of Nemours.

Clémentine thinks the idea is excellent and organizes a meeting of the two young people in Dresden at Ludovica's sister's house.

They met in June 1868. They liked each other and a short week later, they were officially engaged.

Ferdinand, Duke of Alençon, is therefore the second son of the Duke of Nemours.

He is 24 years old.

He did not take advantage for long of the delicious life of the grandchildren of the King of the French in Neuilly.

He was 4 years old when the whole family had to settle in England, in Surrey, at Claremont Castle, placed at the disposal of the monarch exiled by Queen Victoria.

The Duke of Nemours was the only one of Louis-Philippe's five sons to remain in Claremont with his mother after the king's death.

He lost his wife in 1857, when she gave birth to their last daughter, Blanche.

It is therefore Queen Marie-Amélie who serves as mother to her children.

After his death, the Duke of Nemours moved alone in the castle of Bushy House with his four children. 

Sophie-Charlotte is apparently very much in love with Ferdinand.

She wrote a formal letter to her future father-in-law, the Duke of Nemours, in whose house she would live after her marriage.

The wedding took place on September 29, 1868 in Possenhofen.

It's more of a family celebration than a grand princely wedding.

Obviously, the presence of Sophie-Charlotte's ex-fiancé, King Louis II, is not desired.

But on the Wittelsbach side, only two sisters of the fiancée are present: Hélène and Mathilde.

Neither Sissi nor Marie made the trip.

Apart from the father of the groom and his two daughters, the presence of Orléans is also reduced.

Only two first cousins ​​of Ferdinand, the Count of Paris, head of the family, and his brother, the Duke of Chartres, came.

The bride and groom are very beautiful and charming.

After a few days in Possenhofen, they reach England.

Will the fragile Sophie-Charlotte adapt to her new life?

Bibliographic resources:

Dominique Paoli,

Sophie-Charlotte, Duchess of Alençon

(Racine, 1995)

Jean-Paul Clébert,

The fire in the Bazar de la Charité

(Denoël, 1978)

Chronicle of Paris

(Dargaud, 2003)

Jean des Cars,

Tragic couples in history

(Perrin, 2020)

At the heart of History "is a Europe 1 Studio podcast

Author and presentation: Jean des Cars

Production: Timothée Magot

Director: Jean-François Bussière 

Distribution and editing: Clémence Olivier

Graphics: Karelle Villais