5 People Marie Antoinette Disliked (or Despised)

A View of Hameau de la Reine. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Marie Antoinette loved hot chocolate, towering hairdos, and flowers. She also loved the small château called Petit Trianon that Louis XVI gave after he became King. It was Marie Antoinette’s retreat where she could ramble through pathways dressed in muslin gowns and floppy hats and pretend she was a commoner. She could also visit the Hameau de la Reine (The Queen’s Hamlet) near Petit Trianon with its rustic gardens, dairy, and functional farm. Yet, despite all these things that Marie Antoinette loved, there were at least five people at court that she disliked (or despised). These five people included Anne d’Arpajon, Madame du Barry, Jacques Necker, Madame de Genlis, and the famous general of the American Revolution Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette.

Madame Etiquette. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Anne d’Arpajon, Countess of Noailles was a French aristocrat and dame d’honneur. She first served Louis XV’s wife, Marie Leszczyńska, and after the arrival of the Dauphine, she served her as it was Anne’s responsibility to instill proper etiquette and court behavior in Marie Antoinette. Because Anne was a stickler about etiquette and because she insisted that no minutia of court etiquette be overlooked, altered, or disregarded, Marie Antoinette nicknamed her “Madame Etiquette.”

One example of the dislike Marie Antoinette held for Madame Etiquette involves a time when Marie Antoinette fell off her donkey while riding in the Bois de Boulogne. The donkey suddenly decided to roll in the grass and after both she and her donkey found themselves sitting upon the ground, Marie Antoinette refused to get up and ordered someone to fetch Madame Etiquette. When Madame Etiquette arrived, Marie Antoinette assumed a mock gravity, did not rise, and summoned the dignified Madame Etiquette to stand next to her. She then asked:

“Madame, I have sent for you that you may inform me as to the etiquette to be observed when a Queen of France and her donkey have both fallen — which of them is to get up first?”[1]

Their contentious relationship continued, and, in 1774, when Marie Antoinette became queen, she fired Madame Etiquette, who become a part of the noble opposition to the monarchy and contributed to its downfall.

Madame du Barry, by Vigée Le Brun. Courtesy of Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington

Another person at court that Marie Antoinette disliked (or despised) was Madame du Barry. They met shortly after Marie Antoinette’s arrival in France while attending a dinner. The dinner was held at the Chateau de la Muette to honor the Dauphin and Dauphine. A woman with a high squeaky voice intrigued Marie Antoinette, and when she inquired of Madame Etiquette as to the woman’s name, she learned it was Madame du Barry and that Madame du Barry was the King’s mistress. Marie Antoinette was so appalled, “she spoke openly to her friends about her dislike [of Madame du Barry] and refused to utter a word to her.”[2] In fact, Marie Antoinette once wrote to her mother and described Madame du Barry as “the most stupid and impertinent create that you can imagine.”[3]

When not butting heads with Madame Etiquette or Madame du Barry, Marie Antoinette was busy disliking Jacques Necker. Necker was a Swiss banker who became a French statesman and then finance minister to Louis XVI. From 1777 to 1781, Necker was essentially in control of all of France’s wealth, and, in 1781, France began suffering financial issues. Because Necker was in charge of the finances, he was blamed for the debt by the court, even though much of the debt France had accrued was because of the American Revolutionary War. Necker had also instituted reform policies that were popular with the people but unpopular with many at court, including Marie Antoinette. In fact, she became his sworn enemy. Louis XVI dismissed Necker on 11 July 1789, but his dismissal provoked such public outrage, Louis XVI recalled him eight days later, on 19 July, and he was swept back into office like a hero. Despite his popularity with the people, Necker was no statesman and his financial policies did not solve France’s financial woes. Thus, his popularity vanished, and he resigned in 1790 with a damaged reputation.

Miniature of Madame de Genlis by Pierre Noël Violet. Courtesy of Christie’s.

Another person that Marie Antoinette intensely disliked was Madame de Genlis. She was a writer, harpist, and educator and become responsible for educating the children of Louis Philippe II, Duke of Chartres (later known as the Duke of Orléans) and Louise Marie Adélaïde de Bourbon. The Duke also made her gouverneur of his sons, a bold move as that title was given only to men. Because of the title and because Madame de Genlis was overbearing, it resulted in the resignation of all the tutors and generated scandal as to their relationship. In addition to this bad press, the Queen did not patronize the fine arts or literature and Madame de Genlis had written numerous books about raising and educating children. One incident that occurred demonstrates the Queen’s dislike for Madame de Genlis.

“When Marie Antoinette was confined of her first child, Madame de Genlis sent her excuses through the Duchess of Chartres for not paying the customary visit. Marie Antoinette proudly replied, that though Madame de Genlis might be missed at court on account of her celebrity, she was not of sufficient rank to authorise her making excuses. This being repeated to the wounded authoress, she wrote bitterly against the queen; who retaliated by condemning her conduct and literary productions.”[4]

Lafayette. Author’s Collection.

Lafayette made his name in the American Revolutionary War and returned to France a hero in 1782. Over the next few years, Lafayette established himself in Paris at the Hôtel de La Fayette and made it the headquarters for visiting Americans. Among the Americans that visited was Benjamin Franklin, John and Sarah Jay, and John and Abigail Adams. In fact, they met at Lafayette’s every Monday and dined with his family and friends.

Lafayette also continued to stay active in French politics. When Louis XVI called the Estates-General and it convened on 5 May 1789, Lafayette was there. Lafayette’s close relationships with American such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson influenced his beliefs and policies about government and this was demonstrated during the Estates-General.

At the Estates-General, the First and Second Estates could out vote the Third Estate. Instead of supporting voting by estates, Lafayette supported voting by head. When an agreement could not be reached among the Estates, the Third Estate broke away and declared itself the National Assembly. The King then locked out the National Assembly from the meeting place. They then congregated at a tennis court and took the Tennis Court Oath, an oath where they vowed not to disband until a constitution was created.

A few days later the Bastille was stormed, and the next day, on 15 July, Lafayette was declared commander-in-chief of the National Guard of France. As commander of the National Guard, Lafayette faced a difficult task. He needed to steer a middle ground and be supportive of both the people and the King and Queen.

The Queen, who had conducted many interviews with Lafayette, once remarked of him that he “would sacrifice anything for the sake of popularity.”[5] Moreover, because of his actions in the National Assembly and because of his role in the National Guard, she felt he was not loyal and disliked him. Those in the Queen’s household also disliked him, and it was reported that “a member of the queen’s household [once] called him a ‘rebel’ and a ‘brigand,’ and expressed a hope that her mistress would not trust him.”[6]

The Queen’s lack of trust in Lafayette became evident after the King’s failed flight to Varennes. After the family’s capture, Lafayette and the National Guard conducted the royal family back to Paris. It was a horrendous experience for the royal family, and when they rolled into Paris after four dusty days on the road, it was to dead silence. One historian wrote that some time later:

“Lafayette, indignant at the scenes which they [the royal family] had been called upon to endure … offered his army to the King, proposing to take them all to Rouen, where they could resist with more chance of success. Unhappily, the King and Queen mistrusted Lafayette, and refused his aid.”[7]

References:

  • [1] Davies, Lucy Clementina, Recollections of Society in France and England, (London, Hurst and Blackett, Publishers, 1872), p. 8. 
  • [2] Walton, Geri, Marie Antoinette’s Confidante: The Rise and Fall of the Princesse de Lamballe, (London, Pen and Sword, 2016), p. 44.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] Tinsley’s Magazine, Volume 6, (London, Tinsley Brothers, 1870) p. 326.
  • [5] Bicknell, Anna L., The Story of Marie-Antoinette, (New York, The Century Company, 1897) p. 227.
  • [6] Montagu, Violette M., The Celebrated Madame Campan, (Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott, 1914) p. 119.
  • [7] Bicknell, Anna L., The Story of Marie-Antoinette, (New York, The Century Company, 1897) p. 259.

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