Last treasures of the French royal family go under the hammer in Paris

Marie Antoinette's purse will be put up for auction next week by heirs to the Comte de Paris

The last remaining treasures of the French royal family – including a silk purse embroidered by Queen Marie Antoinette in her prison cell – will be auctioned in Paris next week. The objects, including jewellery, paintings, miniatures and furniture, are the remnants of one of the greatest royal fortunes in Europe, diminished first by revolution and, more recently, by scandal. The auction is also the latest chapter in a dispute that broke in 1999 upon the death of the pretender to the French throne, the Comte de Paris.

Among the items expected to generate much interest and excitement is "a royal silk purse" embroidered by Queen Marie Antoinette while she was being held at the Temple Prison in 1792. The ivory coloured purse, which is embroidered with roses, includes a copy of the last letter written by the queen, to her sister-in-law, Madame Elisabeth, dated 16 October 1793.

In the celebrated final letter, written just hours before her execution in what is now the Place de la Concorde, Marie Antoinette, by then a wizened woman of 48, wrote: "I pardon my enemies the wrongs that they have done me ... I also had friends ... Let them know that, to my last moment, I was thinking of them."

The purse has been estimated to be worth about €15,000 (£12,000). Also up for auction is the quill used by King Louis Philippe to sign the act of abdication in 1848, and rosary beads belonging to his wife, Queen Marié-Amelie, with a much more affordable price tag of €300-€500.

The artefacts, which will be auctioned at Christie's, are mostly from the Parisian apartment of the late Count and Countess of Paris, and are being sold by their nine children and one nephew in an attempt to replenish family funds depleted by their father.

The late Count of Paris, a longtime Orleaniste pretender to the French throne, tarnished the royalist claim by running off with his mistress and dispersing the family fortune. He had inherited a fortune worth €200m (£138m) but when he died in 1999, he left behind a rather nasty surprise for his children.

Having grown up in what he believed to be one of the richest families in Europe, Prince Henri d'Orléans, eldest son of the Count, was shocked to discover the family fortune reduced to a mere €12.2m, calling it a "catastrophic situation".

Three years after the Count's death, he brought a complaint before a Paris judge to try to establish the reason for such a dramatic loss of inheritance. Henri d'Orléans explained at the time that he wished to "demand justice and put things back the way they should be".

His lawyers were unsuccessful, however, in tracing millions of euros withdrawn by his father in the years before his death The inquest did manage to shed some light on the financial side of the Count's relationship with his former nurse, Monique Friese, with whom he lived with for 20 years before his death. She is accused by five of his children of having "unduly benefited" from their father's wealth. That charge mostly stems from the Count's purchase of a house for his mistress and the subsequent funds that he spent on upgrading and furnishing the property.

The family is just one of the claimants to the throne, tracing its lineage back to Louis XVI. The Orleanistes, as they are known, are the best documented pretenders, claiming to be descended directly from the last French king, Louis Philippe (1830-1848) and the brother of Louis XVI, who was guillotined along with Marie Antoinette and their only son during the Revolution. Although there are other rival claimants to the throne, the Orleans family has generally been accepted by most French royalists as the most legitimate.

Ironically, it was the obscene expenditure and opulent lifestyle of the last court at Versailles that led in part to the French Revolution of 1789 and the abolition of the monarchy in favour of a republic, although it was later reinstated before being finally axed for good.

Next week's auction of 500 lots is valued at a modest €1m – a far cry from the luxury of years gone by.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us