Ambitious Facts About Marie Jeanne Baptiste, The Lucky Duchess Of Savoy

March 21, 2024 | Brendan Da Costa

Ambitious Facts About Marie Jeanne Baptiste, The Lucky Duchess Of Savoy

Marie Jeanne Baptiste was the wildly ambitious Duchess of Savoy who managed to turn everyone else’s bad luck into her good fortune...that is, until her son put a stop to it.

1. She Wanted Her Birthright

Marie Jeanne Baptiste wanted just one thing in life: to assume her natural birthright and rule with total control. So, every time someone in her path suffered a tragedy, she couldn’t help but take advantage of it. Whether it was her father’s demise or her husband’s curious downfall, Marie Jeanne always came out on top.

Then her son put an end to her winning streak.

Marie Jeanne Baptiste

2. She Had Blue Blood

Marie Jeanne Baptiste had the bluest of blue blood. Born in the Hôtel de Nemours in Paris in April 1644, she could trace her lineage back to Henry IV of France. With such a distinguished lineage, she may have felt that she belonged on the throne herself. Or, at least, that her offspring did. However, she had a chip on her shoulder.

Portrait of Marie Jeanne Baptiste of Savoy - 17th centuryUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

3. Her Bloodline Was Illegitimate

There was no question that Marie Jeanne was royalty—but, much to her chagrin, her royal blue blood had more common red in it than she cared to admit. Marie Jeanne's mother, Princess Élisabeth de Bourbon-Vendôme, came from an illegitimate branch of the Bourbon line. She was, herself, the daughter of a misbegotten son of King Henry IV of France.

That never stopped Marie Jeanne from tirelessly seeking her birthright.

Portrait of Élisabeth de Bourbon duchesse of Nemours - 17th centuryJean Frosne, Wikimedia Commons

4. She Was Related To Everyone Who Was Anyone

Thanks to her mother's (somewhat questionable) lineage, Marie Jeanne was a cousin of the current king, Louis XIV. In fact, she was technically a princess by birth and, thanks to her family’s history of intermarrying, she was a relation to most royal houses in Europe. As such, no one could question her family’s pedigree.

Just their sanity.

Portrait de Louis XIV - 1662Wikimedia Commons, Picryl


5. Her Family Feuded

When she was just eight years old, Marie Jeanne learned a valuable lesson—one that she would not soon forget. The people who can hurt you most are the people closest to you. In her case, no one was closer to the House of Savoy than the House of Savoy. Her family’s feuds, however, had some truly dire and bloody consequences.

Portrait of Marie Jeanne Baptiste of Savoy - 17th centuryUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

6. Her Father Lost A Duel

In 1652, Marie Jeanne’s father, Charles Amadeus, Duke of Nemours, lost a duel and, tragically, his life. The real kicker, however, wasn't that her father perished in the test of will and righteousness without a suitable male heir. The real scandal was that her father's opponent had been her maternal uncle, François, Duke of Beaufort.

Charles Amédée Of Savoy, Duke Of Nemours In 1652, Wikimedia Commons

7. She Was The Real Winner

It's not entirely clear why Marie Jeanne’s father and uncle, the Duke of Beaufort, engaged in their dangerous duel. It likely had something to do with honor and justice but we may never know the full reasons. What is clear, however, is that even though her uncle walked away totally unscathed, Marie Jeanne was the real winner.Portrait of Marie Jeanne Baptiste of Savoy - 17th centuryUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

8. She Lost The Duchy of Nemours

Marie Jeanne, her siblings, and her mother didn't spend too much time mourning the loss of their family’s patriarch. They fell under the guardianship of Marie Jeanne’'s paternal uncle, Henri II, the new Duke of Nemours. But, from the sounds of it, Marie Jeanne inherited the only thing from her father that actually mattered.

Portrait of Henri of Savoy, Duke of Nemours - 1652Robert Nanteuil, Wikimedia Commons

9. She Got To Keep All The Cash

After her father's untimely demise, Marie Jeanne became a fabulously wealthy little girl. Even though her uncle inherited the Duchy of Nemours and all of its titles, Marie Jeanne bagged the majority of her father's sources of income. Still, ambition ran in Marie Jeanne's veins—and it would rule over her future decisions.

Portrait of Marie Jeanne Baptiste of Savoy - 	17th centuryCastle of Racconigi, Wikimedia Commons


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10. She Learned To Scheme

If Marie Jeanne ever wanted to gain power, she would have to learn to wield it. And she learned from the best. From a young age, she held an audience with the astute Madame de La Fayette from whom she learned the surreptitious ways of the French court. She applied her skills to devastating effect.

Portrait of Marie-Madeleine Pioche de La Vergne, comtesse de La Fayette - 17th centuryUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons


11. She Lost Her Birthright For Good

Just as it had in 1652 with her father's demise, in 1659, someone else's bad luck was good news for Marie Jeanne. This time, her uncle passed, reverting the Duchy of Nemours to the French crown. But what looked like the permanent loss of her birthright turned out to be the opportunity of a lifetime. One she would not pass up.

Marie Jeanne of Savoy-Nemours, Duchess of Savoy - Royal Palace of Turin - between 1690 and 1699Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

12. She Was Fabulously Rich

With her uncle’s passing, Marie Jeanne lost her claim to the Duchy of Nemours for good. But she kept the only thing that really mattered: the money. She retained the income from the properties in Nemours, making her a wealthy maiden without a match. Thankfully, her mother had plenty of very powerful connections to call on.

Portrait of Marie Jeanne Baptiste of Savoy looking at front - 17th centuryUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

13. She Was The Most Eligible Bachelorette

Marie Jeanne’s mother, Élisabeth, wanted to ensure that her daughter married up in life. So, she reached out to her own mother, Princess Françoise of Lorraine, to arrange an appropriate match. Given her status (and considerable income) it shouldn’t have been too difficult to find Marie Jeanne the man of her dreams...unless someone intervened.Portrait of Elisabeth De Bourbon - between 1652 and 1664Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

14. She Found Her Path To Power

With her mother’s and grandmother’s help, Marie Jeanne fixed her sights on the highly eligible Charles Emmanuel II, Duke of Savoy. Much like Marie Jeanne herself, Charles Emmanuel II was descended from royalty. He was the grandson of Henry IV of France—AKA Good King Henry. To everyone, this seemed like the perfect match—everyone except for the would-be mother-in-law.Portrait of Charles Emmanuel II, Duke of Savoy - 1700s, Wikimedia Commons

15. Her Would-Be Mother-In-Law Blocked Her Marriage

Pairing Marie Jeanne with Charles Emmanuel II was a natural fit. But the match pitted Marie Jeanne against another power-hungry woman: Charles Emmanuel II’s mother, Chrstine Marie of France. As the daughter of one king and sister of another, she had served as Charles Emmanuel II’s regent after her husband’s early demise.

She was not about to let her son go without a fight.

Portrait of Christine of France Duchess of Savoy - circa 1640Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

16. She Had The Duke Right Where She Wanted Him

Wanting to get a sense of her son’s potential new bride, Christine Marie invited Marie Jeanne along with her sister and mother to Turin in 1659. Just as she had expected, Marie Jeanne had Charles Emmanuel II eating out of the palm of her hand in no time. Clearly, he wanted to make her his wife and the Duchess of Savoy.

His domineering mother, however, had another idea.

Portrait of Marie Jeanne Baptiste of Savoy-Nemours - 1668Charles Beaubrun, Wikimedia Commons


17. Her Ambitious Reputation Preceded Her

The influential courtier and diplomat, Cardinal Mazarin, warned Christine Marie that Marie Jeanne was a highly ambitious young woman. Additionally, Christine Marie must not have been a fan of how easily Marie Jeanne had overpowered her lovelorn son. She definitely didn’t need to have Marie Jeanne stepping on her toes.

Portrait of cardinal Jules Mazarin - from 1658 until 1660Pierre Mignard I, Wikimedia Commons

18. Her Marriage Plans Fell Through

Despite making Charles Emmanuel II fall madly in love with her, Marie Jeanne left Turin without a husband (and the lands and title that would come with him). Charles Emmanuel II’s mother, Christine Marie, opposed the match once she realized that Marie Jeanne had her eye on the prize. As long as his domineering mother was alive, Marie Jeanne couldn’t get the Duchy of Savoy.

But no one lives forever—particularly not people blocking Marie Jeanne’s path to power.Christine Marie of France, Dowager Duchess of Savoy - circa 1638-1640Philibert Torret, gen. Il Narcisso, Wikimedia Commons

19. She Had To Keep Her Suitors At Bay

It seemed like Marie Jeanne had lost her opportunity. Christine Marie arranged for her son to marry the much younger, far more controllable bride, Françoise Madeleine d'Orléans. In the meantime, Marie Jeanne had to keep swatting away proposals from lesser royalty from the Portuguese court—until she fixed her sights on another man with land and title.

Portrait of Françoise Madeleine d'Orléans, Duchess of SavoyUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

20. She Was Attractive And Intelligent

Marie Jeanne had returned to France from Turin with the unofficial title, Mademoiselle de Nemours. It didn’t take her long to move on from her disappointment with Charles Emmanuel II. Her reputation as an “attractive and intelligent” bachelorette quickly caught the eye of Prince Charles of Lorraine, the heir of the Duke of Lorraine.

He was just as smitten as the Duke of Savoy had been.

Portrait of Prince Charles of, Wikimedia Commons

21. She Almost Had What She Wanted

The match between Marie Jeanne and Prince Charles of Lorraine seemed to be an even better one than her flirtation with Charles Emmanuel II. Even Queen Anne of France approved of the match. Prince Charles might not have been the Duke of Lorraine yet, but he almost certainly would be in time. Almost certainly. Emphasis on almost.Portrait of Anne of Austria, Queen of France - circa 1625After Peter Paul Rubens, Wikimedia Commons

22. Her Fiancé Lost It All

In early 1662, Marie Jeanne managed to secure a marriage engagement with Prince Charles. But, just as the Duchy of Savoy had, the land and title of the Duchy of Lorraine slipped through her fingertips at the last minute. Under the terms of the Treaty of Montmartre, Prince Charles signed away the Duchy of Lorraine to King Louis XIV.

Just like that, Marie Jeanne found her new fiancé a lot less attractive.

Portrait of Charles V, Duke of Lorraine - 17th centuryUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons


23. She Annulled Her Engagement

Without his land or title, Prince Charles had no choice but to join the imperial court and do the honorable thing: back out of his marriage engagement to Marie Jeanne. Thankfully, the couple had not yet actually consummated their marriage and, therefore, managed to annul whatever arrangement they had. 

Then Marie Jeanne got some good news—but it was bad news for someone else.

Portrait of Marie Jeanne Baptiste as the Duchess of Savoy - 17th centuryUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

24. Her Old Rival Croaked

In late 1663, Marie Jeanne’s would-have-been mother-in-law, Christine Marie croaked. Just like that, the woman who had blocked her happy nuptials to Charles Emmanuel II was no longer in the picture. Unfortunately, one of her final acts had been to finalize the marriage between her easily manipulable son and the equally docile Françoise Madeleine d'Orléans.Portrait of Christine Marie of France looking at front - 17th centuryCircle of Charles Beaubrun, Wikimedia Commons

25. Her Beloved Was Betrothed To Someone Else

Marie Jeanne had a way of profiting off of other people’s suffering. In the span of just two weeks, Charles Emmanuel II suffered two terrible losses. First, his Oedipal mother kicked the bucket only two days after Christmas. Then, his new bride, Françoise Madeleine d'Orléans, croaked at the tender age of fifteen a mere two weeks into the New Year.

While he mourned his losses, Marie Jeanne marveled at her good fortune.

Portrait of Charles Emmanuel II, Duke of Savoy - 1664Peter Cross, Wikimedia Commons

26. She Rekindled An Old Flame

At first, it looked like Charles Emmanuel II was going to marry one of his recently departed wife’s sisters. However, he must have never truly gotten over his feelings for Marie Jeanne. Before his mother’s or wife’s corpses were even cold and rigid, he had already entered negotiations to rekindle his romance Marie Jeanne.

She couldn’t have been any happier.

Portrait of Marie Jeanne of Savoy - circa 1665-1675Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

27. She Married A Monster

Marie Jeanne finally married Charles Emmanuel II on May 20, 1665 at the age of 21. The elaborate celebrations took place at Castello del Valentino in Turin amidst a flurry of fanfare. But Marie Jeanne quickly learned that she brought more to the marriage than Charles Emmanuel II did. She had no idea what kind of monster she had married.Portrait of Marie Jeanne of Savoy - 17th centuryJean Petitot, Wikimedia Commons

28. Her Husband Sucked At His Job

The people of Turin welcomed Marie Jeanne with open arms. They affectionately gave her the unofficial title Madame Reale or Madame Royale, the same name Christine Marie had used. It was a clear sign that they saw her as the de facto successor to their effective ruler because their actual ruler left much to be desired.

Portrait of Charles Emmanuel II of Savoy - 1670/1675Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

29. Her Husband Cheated On Her—A Lot

Marie Jeanne quickly learned that Charles Emmanuel II had left most of the governing up to his now-deceased domineering mother, Christine Marie. While she had been busy with the contentious affairs of state, Charles Emmanuel II had been busy, well, getting busy. Despite the fact that he was now married (for a second time) he clearly had no intention of changing his ways.

Portrait of Marie Jeanne Baptiste of Savoy - circa 1670Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

30. She Bit Her Lip…Until She Bled

Throughout their marriage, Charles Emmanuel II cheated on Marie Jeanne and fathered more illegitimate children than actual heirs. For the most part, Marie Jeanne bit her lip and bottled up her disappointment. After all, she finally had some power. But then, in 1672 he crossed the line with an affair that she simply couldn’t forgive.Portrait of Marie Jeanne Baptiste of Savoy - between 1675 and 1685Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

31. Her Husband Crossed The Line

Much to Marie Jeanne’s chagrin, her husband had been carrying on an affair with the nubile Hortense Mancini. She just so happened to be the daughter of Cardinal Mazarin, the same courtier who had whispered in Christine Marie’s ear to block Marie Jeanne’s first engagement to Charles Emmanuel II. The affair was bad enough. The favors were worse.Portrait of Hortense Mancini - 17th centuryJacob Ferdinand Voet, Wikimedia Commons

32. Her Marriage Was An Unhappy One

Marie Jeanne wasn’t the only one in an unhappy marriage. Mancini had originally sparked up her affair with Marie Jeanne’s husband after she fled her own horrific marriage. However, the affair quickly blossomed with Marie Jeanne sitting on the sidelines as Charles Emmanuel II gifted his mistress the Château de Chambéry.

Portrait of Charles Emmanuel II of Savoy - 17th centuryUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

33. She Produced An Heir—And Enemy

In between all of her husband’s philandering, Marie Jeanne had managed to produce an heir. A little over a year into their marriage, she had given birth to a healthy and happy baby boy named Victor Amadeus. Ironically, she would spend the rest of her life trying to deny her son his birthright, just as others had tried to deny hers.

Portrait of Carlo Emanuele II and his wife Maria Giovanna of Savoy and their son Victor Amadeus II of Sardinia - 1666Charles Dauphin, Wikimedia Commons

34. Her Husband Had A Mysterious Demise

Marie Jeanne would never have become the savvy Duchess of Savoy if it hadn’t been for everyone else’s bad luck. Principally, her husband’s. Inexplicably, Charles Emmanuel II suffered a “series of convulsive fevers” in June 1675 and joined his Oedipal mother and first wife in the hereafter. His final act had been to give Marie Jeanne everything she ever wanted.

Portrait of Charles Emmanuel II, Duke of Savoy - between 1650 and 1699Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

35. She Finally Had Power

Charles Emmanuel II had named Marie Jeanne as the Regent of Savoy over their son and heir, Victor Amadeus. Her first act as regent was to exact revenge: She promptly expelled Mancini from the Château de Chambéry. Apart from that, however, Marie Jeanne assumed her new responsibility with “interest and ambition”. Perhaps too much. Portrait of Hortense Mancini Duchess Of MazarinGodfrey Kneller, Wikimedia Commons

36. She Had A Younger Lover

Clearly, there was no love lost between Marie Jeanne and her recently departed husband. Shortly after his unexpectedly (suspiciously) sudden demise, she began a relationship with a man who was 10 years her junior, the Count of Saint Maurice. The open affair made her vulnerable at court and strained her relationship with her son.

But she had plans for him anyway.

So-called Portrait of Marie Jeanne of Savoy - 17th centuryUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

37. She Wanted To Remove Her Son

Just as Christine Marie had used marriage as a way to control Charles Emmanuel II, Marie Jeanne planned to do the same with her own son. She knew that Victor Amadeus would come of age in 1680 and thus end her regency. But, if she was clever about it, she could arrange a marriage for him that would take him far away from Turin.

Vittorio Amedeo II as Duke of Savoy with ducal regalia - circa 1678Giovanni Battista, Wikimedia Commons

38. She Came Up With A Brilliant Scheme

At first, Marie Jeanne considered any number of potential matches, from her cousin, the Archduchess Maria Antonia to Anne Marie d'Orléans. But then she had an epiphany—a truly Machiavellian plan to deprive her son of his natural birthright and seize power for good. To put her plan in motion, she reached out to her sister, Marie Françoise, the Queen of Portugal.

Portrait of Marie Françoise of Savoy  - 17th centuryBeni Culturali, Wikimedia Commons

39. She Wanted To Ship Her Son Off To Portugal

At the time, Marie Jeanne’s sister had only managed to produce one child—a daughter, the Infanta Isabel Luísa Josefa of Portugal. However, her sister’s poor womb turned out to be, yet again, a golden opportunity. According to Portuguese law at the time, a female heir to the throne had to remain in the country and marry one of her kin.

Marie Jeanne knew just the right bachelor for her niece.

Portrait of Isabel, Princess of BeiraDominico Dupra, Wikimedia Commons

40. She Had A Win-Win Situation

Marie Jeanne’s plan was quite simple. If she managed to marry off Victor Amaedus to Isabel Luísa, then he would have to live in Portugal. As such, she could stay behind in Turin and rule the Duchy of Savoy all on her own, without threat of her regency coming to an end. Then, upon her passing, Victor Amadeus would inherit the Duchy of Savoy as the King of Portugal.

She just had to convince him to give up his birthright.

Portrait of Victor Amadeus II of Savoy - between 1675 and 1699Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

41. Her Son Was Wise To Her Plot

Marie Jeanne tactfully negotiated the marriage between her only child, Victor Amadeus, and her sister’s only child, Isabel Luísa. Reluctantly (and with great protest), Victor Amadeus tacitly agreed to the match and made plans to travel to Portugal. But he was every bit as shrewd as his mother. Marie Jeanne had finally met her match.Portrait of Victor Amadeus II of Savoy - circa 1684Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

42. Her Son Outsmarted Her

Unbeknownst to Marie Jeanne, Victor Amadeus had a following of loyal supporters. Before long, a party formed in Turin that refused to allow Victor Amadeus to leave court for Portugal. Also against his impending nuptials, Victor Amadeus postponed the marriage for two years. Marie Jeanne could do nothing but fume and consider her options.

Portrait of Victor Amadeus II holding a Savoyard baton - circa 1690Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

43. She Planned A Secret Marriage

Sensing that her grip on power was already slipping away, it seems like Marie Jeanne tried to make nice with her son. She began secret negotiations with the Grand Duchy of Tuscany for the hand of Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici in marriage. Even Victor Amadeus favored the match but, for reasons that we may never know, the negotiations fell through.

Then Marie Jeanne really lost control of the situation.

Portrait of Anna Maria Luisa de' MediciJan Frans van Douven, Wikimedia Commons

44. She Lost Power

Marie Jeanne’s regency had officially ended in 1680 but she managed to retain power so long as her son remained unmarried and childless. That all changed in 1684. Eager to put an end to the in-fighting in the Savoyard court, King Louis XIV offered Victor Amadeus his niece’s hand in marriage. When Victor Amadeus agreed, Marie Jeanne had to accept her fate.Portrait of Anne Marie d'Orléans duchess consort of Savoy and queen of Sardinia - 1683Louis Ferdinand Elle the Younger, Wikimedia Commons

45. Her Son Banished Her

With the full support of the Savoyard court and the French king, Victor Amadeus finally put an end to his mother’s schemes. He banished Marie Jeanne from the Savoyard court at the Ducal Palace, forcing her into an early retirement. But that didn’t mean that she couldn’t still exert some influence—even if she had to do it covertly.

Portrait of Victor Amadeus II of Sardinia - 18th centuryUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

46. She Moved Across The Street

Marie Jeanne moved into the Palazzo Madama, directly opposite the Ducal Palace. From her new vantage point, she couldn’t wield power like she used to use but she could still influence affairs at court. In fact, it almost seemed like she was even more powerful governing from her drawing room than she had ever been as regent.Palazzo Madama, Torino - 2022Lurens, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

47. She Still Exerted Power

Marie Jeanne maintained close relationships with her daughter-in-law, Anne Marie d'Orléans, and her eldest grandchild, Princess Maria Adelaide. With these powerful connections, she watched as both women made strategic marriages to elevate the House of Savoy. It seems like she lost all interest in gaining real power.

Portrait of Anne Marie d'Orléans (1669-1728) while Queen of Sardinia - 18th centuryGiovanni Panealbo, Wikimedia Commons

48. She Elevated The House Of Savoy

Thanks to the Treaty of Utrecht and Marie Jeanne’s careful machinations, she finally got what she always wanted: a crown. The Holy Roman Emperor named her son, Victor Amadeus, King of Sicily. In a turning of the tables, he asked his mother to step in and rule Savoy in his absence. Her response was shocking.

Marie Jeanne turned down the offer.

Portrait of Marie Jeanne of Savoy as a widow - between 1800 and 1899, Wikimedia Commons

49. She Lost More Than She Gained

Throughout her life, Marie Jeanne had always profited off the misfortunes of others. Sadly, that changed in her later years. Between 1712 and 1714, she lost three of her favorite grandchildren in quick succession. Princess Marie Adelaide, Maria Luisa, and the precious Prince of Piedmont. These tragedies only pushed Marie Jeanne closer to her own grave.

Portrait of Marie Jeanne Baptiste of Savoy as a widow - circa 1680Laurent Dufour, Wikimedia Commons

50. She Drew Her Final Breaths

The devastating loss of three of her grandchildren humbled Marie Jeanne tremendously. It also helped her fix her broken relationship with her son, Victor Amadeus. However, her heartache likely followed her to her grave. In March 1724, a month before her 80th birthday, Marie Jeanne drew her final breaths. She did manage to secure her birthright.Portrait of Marie Jeanne of Savoy - 17th centuryUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

51. She Was Madame Royale

Even though Marie Jeanne never wore a crown of her own as she always wanted, her descendants claimed her birthright for her. At the time of her passing, Marie Jeanne was the mother of the King of Sardinia, the grandmother of the Queen of Spain and the great grandmother of the kings of Spain and France. She truly was Madame Royale.

Portrait of Marie Jeanne of Savoy - 17th centuryUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

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