French Royal Hunt of 1773 or the “Incident of Achères”

The French royal hunt of 1773, also sometimes referred to as the “Incident of Achères.” was only one of many hunts enjoyed by the royal court. King Louis XV loved hunting, as did his grandson, Louis-Auguste. the dauphin and future Louis XVI. In fact, the dauphin loved hunting so much “in preparation for his hunts he would fire so many practice shots his face would be blackened with powder upon his return.”[1] There were even more comments about the dauphin’s love of hunting from those at court:

“Staff members … recalled how he would methodically relive the details of a day’s hunt, sometimes rambling on until 3am in the morning, well past the point of tediousness. Furthermore, stag, or falcon, or wild-board, it was all the same to him, and he gloried in bringing down the great number of heads of game, afterward detailing his success or failure in one of his hunting notebooks and noting the quality of the game, number and kinds, their ages, and circumstances surrounding their death.”[2]

Louis XV (left) and Louis XVI (right). Public domain.

Besides Louis XV and the dauphin being in attendance on 16 October the dauphine, Marie Antoinette, was at the memorable French royal hunt of 1773. In addition, the Viscountess of Choiseul was riding in the carriage with Marie Antoinette, and she provided a version of what happened, which was then retold by the Austrian ambassador to France, the Count Mercy-Argenteau. His version has been stated to accurately match her account and is generally the accepted version.

The story is that during the hunt a stag being chased took refuge in an enclosure in a small village called Achères about 6½ miles from Fontainebleau. Finding that it could not escape and being cornered, the stag severely wounded a peasant in the thigh and torso with its antlers. It then threw the bloodied man (described as either a vine dresser or a wine grower) to the ground and fled.

“The [injured man’s] wife, half beside herself at the sight, rushed to meet the hunt and fell senseless at the horses’ feet. The King stayed a few moments and departed … but Marie-Antoinette, who had meanwhile reached the spot, got out of her carriage, held smelling-salts to the poor woman, supported her in her arms, and issued rapid directions for treating the wounded man … The poor woman regained consciousness to find herself supported by a young girl, who whispered words of consolation in her ear, shed tears over her, and finally placed her in a magnificent carriage, in which, accompanied by two villagers, she was driven to the hovel in which she lived, further cheered by a considerable sum of money. Comte de Mercy added that over a hundred spectators shed tears as they watched the Dauphine in an immobility caused by surprise and admiration of a scene as unqiue as it was touching.'”[3]

Marie Antoinette comforting the wife of the injured man. By
Jean-Baptiste-André Gautier-Dagoty. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Although many people tell a somewhat similar version of the above, there are a couple of other slightly different versions. The first is that Marie Antoinette was told a stag attacked a wine grower. The injured man’s wife heard about the attack attacked and believed he was dead, despite everyone telling her he was alive. Thus, Marie Antoinette went to the wife, told her he was alive, and to prove it, took the wife to see her injured husband in her royal coach.

French royal hunt of 1773 - ivory and mother of pearl fan

An ivory and mother of pearl fan, French, circa 1773, showing Marie Antoinette, titled “Acte de bienfaisance de Marie-Antoinette,” after a drawing by Jean-Michel Moreau. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Another version that people claim is the “Incident of Achères” is that during the hunt, as the royal hunting party was thundering down the road to catch their prey, one rider accidentally ran over a man working in a field. The man was seriously injured, but no one in the hunting party showed any concern except for Marie Antoinette, who ordered her carriage stopped. She leaped out, tended to the man, and then order surgeons to care for him until he recovered.

French royal hunt of 1773 - fan

Detail on fan showing Marie Antoinette’s kind deed. Titled “Acte de bienfaisance de Marie-Antoinette,” after a drawing produced by Jean-Michel Moreau. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Several other versions also exist about Marie Antoinette’s kindness that are faintly similar to the “incident of Achères. The first is claimed to be a completely different event and not in anyway related to the “Incident of Achères.” The story goes:

“When the Royal hunt was pressing hard on the tracks of a poor grasping stag, and already enjoying the anticipation the grievous spectacle of its death, the Dauphine requested the cortège to diverge … to avoid trampling … some fields of wheat, for damage to which the cultivators were scantily compensated. … the previous November she had been kindly permitted by madame de Marsan … to take Princess Clothilde with her, and while returning early on her account, a leader in her carriage fell while crossing a bridge – four horses passed over the postillion’s body. He was picked up senseless and covered with blood, and for more than an hour the Dauphine remained in the road, sending everyone right and left in search of doctors, appliances, and help of all kinds, addressing every one, beginning with an Exempt of the Guard … as ‘mon ami.'”[4]

The next version is also purported to be a completely different event than the incident that occurred at the French royal hunt of 1773. However, it seems to have been somehow mixed up with what has been reported. Notice the similarities in this version to other versions and how Marie Antoinette once again comes to the rescue:

“The horse belonging to an outrider attending the Comtesse de Provence slipped when proceeding through the town of Compiègne, and it was generally remarked that, while the Princess continued on her way apparently quite unconcerned the Dauphine, who was following, ordered her carriage to be stopped at once, and insisted on the unfortunate man receiving all the attention he required.”[5]

Whatever the truth, Marie Antoinette’s supposed sympathetic and noble actions at the French royal hunt of 1773 provided an example for the rest of the court. It was reported that the dauphin was so touched by his wife’s kindness, he emptied his purse to the Achères couple and that his sister-in-law, the Countess of Provence, did the same. In addition, it was reported that the despite the wounded peasant not being expected to recover, Marie Antoinette ordered court surgeons to care for him. She then followed up and checked on him daily and because of his good medical care, he recovered.

When the public learned of the peasant’s injuries and Marie Antoinette’s selfless concern, they supposedly lauded her for her kindness. Historian Maxime de La Rocheterie reported:

“The public, on learning these details, and delighted with the tears of sympathy which the dauphiness had shed, was inexhaustible in its praises of her; there was but one cry of admiration for her. At Fontainebleau the people crowded together wherever there was chance of seeing her.”[6]

As word spread about Marie Antoinette’s caring and generous deed, the French populace was extremely impressed, and reports of the incident began to be printed in newspapers. Artists also began celebrating the French royal hunt of 1773 by depicting Marie Antoinette’s kind deed on items like snuff boxes. A drawing was also completed by Jean-Michel Moreau, which was then published on 28 February 1774 in La Gazette de France. In addition, it was reported:

“One witty woman, the Princesse de Beauvau, originated this saying, which was too much in the taste of the day not be popular, ‘Madame the Dauphiness follows nature, and Monsieur the Dauphin follows Madame the Dauphiness.’”[7]

French royal hunt of 1773 drawing

Print published by François Godefroy after the drawing completed by Jean-Michel Moreau. “Exemple d’humanité donné par Madame la Dauphine le 16 Octobre 1773.” Courtesy of British Museum.

References:

  • [1] Geri Walton, Marie Antoinette’s Confidante: The Rise and Fall of the Princesse de Lamballe (London: Pen & Sword Books Limited, 2016), p. 33.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] Younghusband, Helen A., Marie-Antoinette, Her Early Youth (1770-1774), (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1912), p. 384-385.
  • [4] Ibid., p. 383-384.
  • [5] Ibid. p. 384. 
  • [6] Maxime de La Rocheterie, The Life of Marie Antoinette (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1906), p. 79.
  • [7] Ibid.

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