Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Marriage of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI

We have seen royal marriages before here at the salon but today marks the anniversary of a particularly iconic match of two young people. The leading players in this drama would meet famously unhappy ends, but for now let us visit them in earlier times and see how the match between Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI came to be.


Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria by Martin van Meytens, 1767-1768
Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria by Martin van Meytens, 1767-1768
The first die was cast with the death of Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, in 1765. His widow, Maria Theresa, was left to rule the Holy Roman Empire alongside her son, Joseph II, and the politically astute Empress set about a carefully planned programme of dynastic marriages. These weddings were intended to cement alliances that were entered into during the Seven Years' War and Austria was set to advance via the altars of Europe.

With betrothals arranged with various royal houses, Maria Theresa intended that one of her daughters would marry the 14 year old Louis, Dauphin of France. However, smallpox swept through the House of Habsburg-Lorraine and killed or permanently disfigured the possible candidates for this key marriage other than 12 year old Archduchess Maria Antonia, who had survived the disease earlier in her childhood. The Empress presented Maria Antonia as a match for Louis and negotiations began in earnest, led by Étienne François, Duc de Choiseul.
Louis XVI by Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis, 1776
Louis XVI by Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis, 1776

Over the two years that followed an enormous dowry of 200,000 crowns was agreed upon and the family of the groom to be began to view their likely new member with a critical eye. Her teeth were crooked and her smile unpleasant, they commented, and the young lady was subjected to months of unanaesthetised corrective surgery at the hans of dentist, Pierre Laveran, until both France and Austria were satisfied. Her wardrobe, hair, make up and etiquette skills were overhauled and finally, it was agreed that the young Archduchess was fit to marry into the Bourbon household.

On 19th April 1770, Maria Antonia attended the Augustinerkirche in Vienna to be married by proxy to Louis. Her brother, Ferdinand, served as groom for the ceremony and she officially took the name and title, Marie Antoinette, Dauphine of France.


The Augustinerkirche in Vienna
The Augustinerkirche in Vienna

By now all of 14, Marie Antoinette immediately began the journey to her new life and two weeks later she was handed over to her French carers, including our old friend, Madame Etiquette, better known as Anne d'Arpajon, comtesse de Noailles. Finally, on 16th May, the bride and groom were married ceremonially in the royal chapel at Versailles before a crowd of 5000 who crowded into grandstands in the Hall of Mirrors to watch the procession pass. It was to be the start of a far from settled union plagued by politics, gossip and intrigue but for now let us leave the newlyweds on this, the 244th anniversary of their marriage.

To read about the tragedy that befell a public firework display in honour of the marriage, click here.


Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

Pen and Sword
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)

14 comments:

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    1. It's absolutely breathtaking, I think!

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  2. I always felt so sorry for these two poor children. They had no good life, from the first moment. Only chess dollies and nobody cared for them, only for the match they would make one day. She wasn't greeted as parents would greet a newborn normally and he was only the future king, not more. And in the end nobody lend a hand, even the own brother did not care, and this is heartbreaking.

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    1. I feel such sympathy for them too, and for so many other royal children who were just intended to make good political marriages. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, it is a sad story.

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  3. Great post, thank you. I always felt sorry for her too, though less sorry for Louis, I must admit, who always struck me as a bit arrogant. I had no idea about the dentistry though, I didn't know there was such a thing as cosmetic dentistry back then - save pulling everything out and replacing it with teeth of a dead person.

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    1. I think Louis was ill-equipped for the role in which he found himself. I'm not convinced he was a natural leader and certainly lacked the skills to cope with such dramatic events. The whole concept of dentistry in the Georgian era is one that makes me shudder!

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  4. So sad. Thank you, Catherine

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  5. Those two have gotten a bum rap in history; married as teens who scarcely knew each other; expected to overcome so many obstacles. I've written about their marriage in my nonfiction book, NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES and my research for that chapter spurred me to write about them from Marie Antoinette's point of view in my historical novel trilogy (under the pen name Juliet Grey). History is written by the winners as we know, and Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI are two of history's biggest losers. They have really been maligned and traduced by propaganda since their reign and it dismays me to see the errors repeated in contemporary history books and biographies and by our own politicians and journalists who still believe MA said "Let them eat cake" and was a flighty bimbo, tone-deaf to the suffering of the French -- or worse -- the cause of the French Revolution.

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    1. It won't surprise you to know that they make a fair few appearances in my own forthcoming book, Life in the Georgian Court; any not a mention of cake!

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  6. Beautifully written, Catherine. I can't imagine the pain of 18thC dentistry!

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  7. What a fascinating story - I never knew that they were so controlled or even forced to have cosmetic surgery! Not quite the luxurious life we all imagine, thank you for sharing and correcting us! I look forward to reading more!

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    1. Thank you for visiting the salon - it's quite a tale, isn't it?

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