Court etiquette at Versailles was one of the most important factors in Marie Antoinette’s life. To get through a day meant the Queen had to adhere to excessive etiquette, regulations, and protocols, and these began from the moment she opened her eyes. Marie Antoinette disliked much of the pomp and circumstance associated with her position as Queen, and this was one reason why she often fled to her beloved Petit Trianon, a small homey palace given to her by Louis XVI shortly after he became King. At Petit Trianon, the Queen did not have to suffer the same strict etiquette applied at Versailles, and, in fact, she was often seen strolling through the gardens incognito, wearing a muslin dress and sporting a floppy hat.
To understand what a regular day at Versailles might entail and how etiquette ruled the Queen’s life, I have provided a daily schedule that Marie Antoinette might typically follow: Continue reading →
During the reign of King Louis XVI, many Frenchmen disliked the King’s wife, Marie Antoinette. In fact, they often blamed Marie Antoinette for coercing her husband into making unpopular decisions. While Louis XVI often agreed with her and allowed Marie Antoinette’s to give gifts and rewards to her favorites, he did not allow her to coerce or sway his decisions when it came to matters of state.
Illustrative of this is a disagreement that occurred between the couple and was reported by Scots Magazine in 1776 and follows almost verbatim: Continue reading →
Louis XVI was executed on 21 January 1793. Three weeks after his execution, a revolutionary journal called Thermomètre du jour published an inaccurate account claiming the King was led to the scaffold with a pistol to his temple, the guillotine struck his neck instead of his head, and the King died without courage. Because the newspaper story was so inaccurate, the executioner’s account of Louis XVI’s execution was published.
Louis XVI’s executioner was Charles-Henri Sanson. Sanson’s reply to the editor of the Thermomètre du jour provided what Sanson called an “accurate” description of what happened. Sanson dated his account 20 February 1793, and here is that account almost verbatim. Continue reading →
Princesse de Lamballe, who was Marie Antoinette’s friend and her Superintendent of the Household, married the heir of the richest man in France. Because the princesse was royalty and because she was rich, many people were intrigued by her and many portraits were painted of her. One well-known painting that is currently displayed at Versailles was done by Antoine-François Callet in 1776. Another painting was painted by Louis-Édouard Rioult between 1780 and 1785 and appeared on a supplementary issue of Le Petit Journal in 1892. Another person who painted the princesse de Lamballe was one of Marie Antoinette’s favorite painters, Madame Le Brun. Yet, perhaps of all the paintings of the princesse, one particular painting bears mention because it was stolen in an art heist in the 1980s. Continue reading →
In the mid 1770s, Passy was about three miles outside Paris. It drew wealthy people, because of its bucolic setting. Located on the hillside of the Seine’s right bank, Passy also had a renowned mineral spring owned by Passy’s first mayor, Louis-Guillaume Le Veillard. The spring purportedly had healing waters described as “copious blue.” Moreover, its location made Passy the perfect distance between Versailles and Paris. That was part of the reason that the United States’ first Ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin, called it home for the nine years—1776-1785, and why the Princesse de Lamballe purchased a home in Passy in February of 1783. Continue reading →
Marie Adélaïde Clotilde of France was once described as “fat as butter, very merry, and good-natured.” On the other hand, her husband, Charles Emmanuel, Prince of Piedmont (later Charles Emmanuel IV of Sardinia), was just the opposite. He was described as “thin and sickly, like a worn-out man.” Their marriage was part of a wider political scheme of marriages by Marie Clotilde’s oldest brother, Louis XVI. For example, Louis XVI had arranged the marriage of his brother, the Count of Provence, to Charles Emmanuel’s younger sister, Marie Joséphine in 1771, and, in 1773, he arranged the marriage of his other brother, the Count of Artois, to another of Charles Emmanuel’s sisters, Maria Theresa of Savoy.
Marie Clothilde would have preferred not to marry because of her pious character. Her parents were both dead by the time she was eight (her father died from consumption in 1765 and her mother from tuberculosis in 1767). She was raised under the supervision of a royal governess, Madame Marsan, with her younger sister, Madame Élisabeth. She and Élisabeth both focused on religion and virtue and adapted themselves at a young age to strict Catholic devotion. In addition, their aunt, who was Louis XV’s daughter, Madame Louise, was a nun in the Order of the Carmelites, and both girls had a strong desire to follow in their aunt’s path. Continue reading →
The Count of Provence (comte de Provence), later Louis XVIII, was born 17 November 1755 at the Palace of Versailles to Louis, Dauphin of France and his wife Maria Josepha of Saxony. In accordance with Bourbon tradition, he spent the first six months of his life nameless before he was baptized Louis Stanislas Xavier. Louis Stanislas was a favorite among his siblings and considered an intelligent boy. He was also said to be studious and a prodigious reader.
In April 1771, when the Count’s education formally ended, he received several other titles but was still usually called the Count of Provence. His own independent household was also established and by 1773 was so extravagant with its 300 servants his contemporaries were astounded. A month after he finished his education, on 14 May 1771, he also married. His bride was the Princess Maria Giuseppina of Savoy (known in France as Marie Joséphine). The Princess’s sister, Maria Teresa, was the Countess of Artois and married to the Count of Provence’s younger brother, and the Princess’s brother, Charles Emmanuel IV, was married to the Count of Provence’s younger sister, Clotilde. Continue reading →
Louis-Joseph Xavier, Duke of Burgundy (duc de Bourgogne), was born on 13 September 1751 at the Palace of Versailles. His grandfather was Louis XV and his parents were the Dauphin Louis and Maria Josepha of Saxony. The Duke was also the older brother to three future kings: Louis XVI, Louis XVIII, and Charles X and was therefore the oldest in line to inherit the throne, which was probably why he was the favorite of his parents.
A fateful event happened in 1759 when the Duke or “Burgundy” as he was called, injured his leg. There are at least two stories as to how the injury happened. One story is that he was of fiery and impetuous temperament when it came to riding his wooden horse, a horse that traveled under the power of his attendants. One day when Burgundy was urging excessive speed by his “horse,” he was thrown pell-mell from the horse and flew against an open door that damaged his hip-joint. Another story is that he was pushed off his wooden horse by a playmate, and because Burgundy was a kind boy, he did not tell anyone he was hurt. Continue reading →
Marie Antoinette’s father, Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, reigned twenty years and died unexpectedly on August 18, 1765, while at Innsbruck from a massive apoplexy attack. His death greatly affected his wife, Maria Theresa of Austria. In fact, she never recovered and thereafter wore widow weeds. Replacing the Emperor was his oldest son, Joseph who became Joseph II and who reigned in conjunction with his mother, Maria Theresa.
In response , Maria Theresa and Joseph II wrote separate heartfelt letters to the Archduchesses (Maria Theresa’s daughters and Joseph’s sisters) on the death of Francis I. At the time there were seven — Maria Anna, Maria Christina, Maria Elisabeth, Maria Amalia, Maria Josepha, Maria Carolina, and the youngest, Maria Antonia, who was the future Marie Antoinette and nine years old at the time. Continue reading →
Louis-Charles was the second son of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI and a precocious, forthright, and frank child. People who knew him claimed he developed “a sort of childish fondness which charmed all who approached him.” Demonstrative of this is the following anecdote. Apparently, from an early age he was attracted to the plight of orphans, and nearly every time his mother went to visit them, he accompanied her. One day his father found him counting out gold coins and placing them in a box. The King asked, “How is it Charles … that you are scraping money together like a miser?” He blushed and then responded, “‘I am scraping my money together, but it is for those poor [orphan] children. If you were to see them I am sure you too would have pity on them.’ The King embraced him, and said, ‘If that is the case … I will gladly help you to fill your box.'” Continue reading →