Marie was the only child of Henri de Bourbon, Duc de Montpensier, and his wife Henriette-Catherine de Joyeuse. Born at the château de Gaillon, in the former province of Normandy, on 15 October in 1605 into the royal house of Bourbon, Marie was a Princesse du Sang.
Her mother, one of the richest women in France, was the last member of the Bourbon branch Joyeuse and brought vast possessions into the marriage. Henri de Bourbon wanted to prevent that these possessions could one day be transferred to the protestant Bourbon-Montpensier line, thus he arranged for his daughter Marie to marry into the royal family. She was only two years old then and the chosen groom a son of Henri IV and Marie de Médicis.
Marie’s father died only a month later and Mademoiselle de Montpensier became suo jure -in her own right- Duchesse de Montpensier as well as a Pair de France. Marie grew up in Paris, first under the care of her uncle François de Joyeuse, then under that of her mother. She received a good education, one that prepared her for her future role as wife of a royal prince.
As Marie was six years old, her intended groom died suddenly. He is commonly referred to as Monsieur d’Orléans or Nicolas-Henri, the Nicolas implying that he died before his baptism, therefore before he was officially named. Marie de Médicis was eager to secure the vast Montepensier fortune, consisting of various estates, lands, liquid funds and a yearly income of 300.000 livres, for the royal family and suggested, with approval of Cardinal de Richelieu, that Marie should be instead married to her youngest son, Gaston de France.
The suggestion was not met with general approval. Gaston himself did not want to marry Marie, despite all the money he would get, and most of the Princes du Sang were against it too. The latter because the current King, Louis XIII, and his wife had not yet produced an heir and if Gaston would remain unmarried, thus not produce an heir either, their chances to sit on the throne one day were more favourable. The anti-party also included Queen Anne d’Autriche, who feared the marriage, and possible children born during it, might weaken her own position at court… after several years of marriage to Louis XIII, the couple was still childless.
A group of people gathered around Gaston to grant him their support… and plot the death of Richelieu… it was the Conspiration de Chalais, named after the involved Comte de Chalais, and failed. Gaston was forgiven and ordered to marry Marie de Bourbon.
The marriage contract was signed in Nantes on 5 August in 1626 and the marriage took place the next day at the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul de Nantes. According to Vita Sackville-West, quoting a member the court, a sadder wedding was never seen.. Marie received a diamond worth 80.000 écus from her mother, who had married for a second time in the meanwhile. Gaston was officially named Duc d’Orléans. The opulent celebrations lasted for eight days.
Marie was a young and beautiful woman with ash-blonde hair and of a dainty figure. Her character and idea of morals were the total opposite of that of her quite libertine husband. She tried her very best to shine in her new position and was greatly admired. It did not take long until a pregnancy could be announced and Marie already dreamt of becoming the mother of the heir of the throne of France.
On 29 May in 1627, she became the mother of daughter after a long, exhausting and complicated birth. The little girl was given the name Anne-Marie-Louise and entered the history books as the celebrated la Grande Mademoiselle.
Six days later, on 4 June in 1627, Marie de Bourbon died aged only twenty-one at around ten o’clock in the morning. According to the doctors, who declared her death, the cause of death was abdominal cancer. After an autopsy was performed on wishes of Marie de Médicis, the cause of death was determined to have been puerperal fever and all eyes turned to the midwife, Louyse Bourgeois, who was present at the birth. It was the same midwife who was present during the birth of Gaston. She was accused of negligence, denied it and lost her good reputation at court.
Marie de Bourbon’s body was placed in a lead coffin and remained in the Louvre for two weeks until it was transported to the Tuileries to lay in state. The court flocked to the Tuileries in order to pay their respects, before the coffin was brought to Saint-Denis on the night of 24 to 25 June. One a carriage drawn by white horses. The funeral took place on 30 June.