Marie Antoinette and a Boar Hunt

Hunting was a popular sport in the 1700s, and there is at least one record of Marie Antoinette attending a hunt. It occurred in the Forest of St. Germain in Laye, an area that lies about 20 kilometers West of Paris and is located in a meander (bend) in the River Seine. Several Englishmen attended the boar hunt, and one unnamed English hunter recorded his observations. He summed up the entire event as a “bore” noting that “there was a great deal of hard riding, but no sportsman-like feats performed.”[1]

Marie Antoinette hunting

1783 equestrian portrait of Marie Antoinette in hunting attire by Louis-Auguste Brun. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The King, Louis XVI, was said to love hunting, and, perhaps that is why the Queen at least tried it. in fact, the King liked it so much Madame Campan, the Queen’s lady-in-waiting, said that hunting was one of the only passions he ever demonstrated. She also noted:

“He was so much occupied by it, that when I went up into his private closets, at Versailles, after the 10th of August, I saw upon the staircase six frames, in which were seen statements of all his hunts, both when dauphin, and when King. In them was detailed the number, kind and quality of game he had killed at each hunting party, with recapitulations for every month, every season, and every years of his reign.”[2]

It is unclear if Louis XVI was present at this hunt, but the unnamed Englishman reported that it was the first time that he laid eyes on France’s Queen, Marie Antoinette. He described her as “an Imperial model of female beauty: rich and royal were her charms.”[3] Besides wearing the uniform of the hunt, Marie Antoinette also sported an excess of gold lace and an abundance of white ostrich feathers that stuck out of her hat and looked so regal, he claimed she was “entitled to the epithet of the Queen of Women, and une belle parmi les belles.”[4]

The hunt had a field of hounds, carriages, and horses provided by Louis XVI’s younger brother, the comte d’Artois. The items were known as l’equipage de Monseigneur le comte d’Artois and included several fancy, specially crafted carriages. These fancy carriages, called voitures de chasse (hunting cars), were sometimes embellished with a stag’s head or had a stag’s forequarters on the front. In addition, some of the voitures de chasse’s looked like Roman chariots because they were equipped with three or more horses traveling abreast.

Atop the fancy voitures de chasse also sat fancy coachmen. The coachmen were not necessarily expert drivers as their real forte was how they looked: They were decked out in gold or silver lace and had their hair highly dressed. This also meant that postilions, responsible to control the carriages, sat on the lead horse dressed in their finery that consisted of a cocked hat and jackboots.

Most of the nobility attending the hunt were there in closed carriages and sat and waited (called coverting) in the forest in spots where they thought the boar might appear. Moreover, each horse was also led rather than ridden and these horses were covered with a rich cloth that corresponded to the livery colors of its owner. Displayed at each corner of the cloth was the family’s arms, cipher, or coronet. Although the comte d’Artois’s colors were more of a military look than a sporting one, he was decked out in dark green with gold lace and his livery was colored crimson and laced with rich gold.

The King’s sister, Madame Élisabeth was also in attendance. She, perhaps, looked more prepared to the hunt than the other attendees. She wore clothing purchased from London that included a plain blue riding habit and atop her head was an English riding hat that sported black feathers. She also rode à l’anglaise as she was mounted on an English horse.

(Left to right) comte d'Artois and His Sister, Madame Élisabeth, Public Domain

(Left to right) comte d’Artois and his sister, Madame Élisabeth. Public domain.

Marie Antoinette was not on a horse but rather riding in one of the voitures de chasse. It was drawn by eight English bay horses and her driver was said to have had the “most uncoachman-like appearance.”[5] He also supposedly whipped his horses so frequently and so audaciously they were said to be in a “furious state.” Thus, when Marie Antoinette made her appearance, she arrived as if “making a triumphal entry into some conquered state.”[6]

For this hunt, the hunters did not necessarily have to search for their prey. Wild boars were considered dangerous and ferocious, and one hunter remarked that they were surprisingly rapid despite their awkward and “ugly shape.” However, today, they had on hand a marcassin, a small young boar that when let loose, supposedly offered little, if any, sport. Another reason a marcassin might have been used was that procuring well-trained hounds to hunt a boar was difficult. Such dogs needed patience and young hounds often became discouraged:

“A boar is not so easily hunted down as a stag; and, let the establishment be so excellent, the chase seldom lasts less than four or five hours. Sometimes the animal is checked by firing a gun – or he is pursued by mastiffs and greyhounds. [However,] chases have been known to continue two whole days, and at last the hunters could not have taken the boar but by shooting him, on the third day.”[7]

On this day when the marcassin bolted, it was quickly surrounded, forced down a corridor where the nobles and royals were waiting and then “easily taken and killed.”[8 ] Thus, according to the Englishman, the expectation for a great hunt “literally ended in smoke, the horses streaming and smoking, and clouds of dust and leaves flying … our ears at the same time deafened with loud fanfares from French horns.”[9] He was so unimpressed by the hunt he also wrote:

“Not a single horseman rose in his stirrups to ease his horse but myself and few Englishmen, and we were laughed at for doing so.”[10]

Apparently, Marie Antoinette served as a juxtaposition to the dismal hunt because the Englishman also noted:

“After the hunt the Royal party adjourned to the pavilion, where refreshments were prepared, and where the Noblesse paid court to their superb Queen, who stood amongst the glittering throng like the brightest planet surrounded by lesser stars.”[11]

Le Repas de Chasse, (Hunting Meal) by Jean François de Troy in 1737, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Le Repas de Chasse, (hunting meal) by Jean François de Troy in 1737. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

References:

  • [1] “Literature,” in Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 09 December 1831, p. 3.
  • [2] Campan, Jeanne-Louise-Henriette, Madame, Memoirs of the Private Life of Marie Antoinette, 1823, p. 361
  • [3] “Literature,” p. 3.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] Johnson, Thomas Burgeland, The Hunting Directory, 1826, p. 282.
  • [8] “Literature,” p. 3.
  • [9] Ibid.
  • [10] Ibid.
  • [11] Ibid.

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