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 were invited to attend the boar hunt. One of the English hunters 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.”
The Englishman also 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.” 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.”
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 to covert in closed carriages (sit and wait in the forest in spots where they thought the boar might appear). Moreover, each horse was also led rather than ridden. Each horse was also covered with a rich cloth, and the cloth corresponded to the livery colors of its owner. At each corner of the cloth the family’s arms, cipher, or coronet was also displayed. 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.
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.” 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.”
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. Marcassins were small young boars. When the marcassin was let loose, it supposedly offered little, if any, sport.
It was reported that after the marcassin bolted, it was quickly surrounded, forced down a corridor where the nobles and royals were waiting, and then “easily taken and killed.” Thus, according to the English hunters, 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.”
The Englishman recording the hunt was so unimpressed he 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.” However, apparently, the Marie Antoinette served as a juxtaposition to the dismal hunt because he also noted, “After the hunt the Royal party adjourned to the pavillon, 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.”
- “Literature,” in Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 09 December 1831