Maria Fortunata was born on 24 November 1731 at the Ducal Palace of Modena and was fourth daughter and eighth child of Francesco III d’Este, Duke of Modena, and Charlotte Aglaé d’Orléans.
Maria Fortunata was said to have been a pious but charming young woman who had a rather torrid childhood since her parents separated after her mother was discovered having an affair with Armand de Vignerot du Plessis, 3rd duc de Richelieu. Afterwards, Charlotte Aglaé was exiled to France but she still managed to arrange marriages for her daughters.
A marriage was arranged for Maria Fortunata with Louis François Joseph, Prince of Conti, who was known as the comte de La Marche at court. The couple were married by proxy in Milan on 7 February 1759 and they were married in person on 27 February at Nangis-en-Brie in France. Unfortunately, the couple did not get along and this was blamed on Louis François’ mistress, Marie Anne Véronèse, known as Mademoiselle Coraline. While no children were born of the marriage, Louis François had two illegitimate children with his mistress. Despite the failure of her marriage, Maria Fortunata was respected at the French court and she and Louis François were only one of twelve couples invited to dine with Louis XVI and his new bride, Marie Antoinette, in the Opéra of the Palace of Versailles.
Although Maria Fortunata was not destined to be part of the new queen’s inner circle at court, she did present her niece, Louise Marie Adélaïde de Bourbon, to the king and the court. Louise would eventually marry Louis Philippe Joseph d’Orléans, duc de Chartres, the future Philipe Égalité, in April 1769. Maria Fortunata’s other niece, Marie, Princess of Lamballe, became a close friend of Marie Antoinette.
Maria Fortunata separated from her husband in 1779, after which she bought the Château de Triel, and would later escape the French Revolution under the name comtesse de Triel. Although Maria Fortunata had remained loyal to the royal family during the crisis, she was eventually forced to flee to Brussels and then Sardinia where she settled in Chambéry. In 1791, Maria Fortunata moved to Fribourg, a small village in Switzerland where many French émigrés had fled.
Three years later, Maria Fortunata set up home in Bavaria with her great-niece, Adélaïde d’Orléans, daughter of Louise Marie Adélaïde de Bourbon, who had been imprisoned during the Revolution, however they were forced to flee to Hungary to avoid Napoleon’s advancing troops. When Adélaïde was finally reunited with her mother, Maria Fortunata decided to retire to the Convent of the Visitation in Venice where she died of pleurisy on 21 September 1803.
Name: Maria Fortunata
House (birth): House of Este
House (marriage): House of Bourbon
Father: Francesco III d’Este, Duke of Modena
Mother: Charlotte Aglaé d’Orléans
Born: 24 Nov 1731
Died: 21 Sep 1803
Spouse: Louis François Joseph, Prince of Conti
HMSH Princess Maria Fortunata
24 Nov 1731 – 07 Feb 1759
HSH The Countess of La Marche
07 Feb 1759 – 02 Aug 1776
HSH The Princess of Conti
02 Aug 1776 – 21 Sep 1803