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The Life of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France By Charles Duke Yonge Characters: 19634

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Proposal for the Marriage of Marie Antoinette to the Dauphin.-Early

Education of the Dauphin.-The Archduchess leaves Vienna in April, 1770.-

Her Reception at Strasburg.-She meets the King at Compiègne.-The

Marriage takes place May 16th, 1770.

Royal marriages had been so constantly regarded as affairs of state, to be arranged for political reasons, that it had become usual on the Continent to betroth princes and princesses to each other at a very early age; and it was therefore not considered as denoting any premature impatience on the part of either the Empress-queen or the King of France, Louis XV., when, at the beginning of 1769, when Marie Antoinette had but just completed her thirteenth year, the Duc de Choiseul, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, who was himself a native of Lorraine, instructed the Marquis de Durfort, the French embassador at Vienna, to negotiate with the celebrated Austrian prime minister, the Prince de Kaunitz, for her marriage to the heir of the French throne, who was not quite fifteen months older. Louis XV. had had several daughters, but only one son. That son, born in 1729, had been married at the age of fifteen to a Spanish infanta, who, within a year of her marriage, died in her confinement, and whom he replaced in a few months by a daughter of Augustus III., King of Saxony. His second wife bore him four sons and two daughters. The eldest son, the Duc de Bourgogne, who was born in 1750, and was generally regarded as a child of great promise, died in his eleventh year; and when he himself died in 1765, his second son, previously known as the Duc de Berri, succeeded him in his title of dauphin. This prince, now the suitor of the archduchess, had been born on the 23d of August, 1754, and was therefore not quite fifteen. As yet but little was known of him. Very little pains had been taken with his education; his governor, the Duc de la Vauguyon, was a man who had been appointed to that most important post by the cabals of the infamous mistress and parasites who formed the court of Louis XV., without one qualification for the discharge of its duties. A servile, intriguing spirit had alone recommended him to his patrons, while his frivolous indolence was in harmony with the inclinations of the king himself, who, worn out with a long course of profligacy, had no longer sufficient energy even for vice. Under such a governor, the young prince had but little chance of receiving a wholesome education, even if there was not a settled design to enfeeble his mind by neglect.

His father had been a man of a character very different from that of the king. By a sort of natural reaction or silent protest against the infamies which he saw around him, he had cherished a serious and devout disposition, and had observed a conduct of the most rigorous virtue. He was even suspected of regarding the Jesuits with especial favor, and was believed to have formed plans for the reformation of morals, and perhaps of the State. It was not strange that, on the first news of the illness which proved fatal to him, the people flocked to the churches with prayers for his recovery, and that his death was regarded by all the right- thinking portion of the community as a national calamity. But the courtiers, who had regarded his approaching reign with not unnatural alarm, hailed his removal with joy, and were, above all things, anxious to prevent his son, who had now become the heir to the crown, from following such a path as the father had marked out for himself. The negligence of some, thus combining with the deliberate malice of others, and aided by peculiarities in the constitution and disposition of the young prince himself, which became more and more marked as he grew up, exercised a pernicious influence on his boyhood. Not only was his education in the ordinary branches of youthful knowledge neglected, but no care was even taken to cultivate his taste or to polish his manners, though a certain delicacy of taste and refinement of manners were regarded by the courtiers, and by Louis XV. himself, as the pre-eminent distinction of his reign. He was kept studiously in the background, discountenanced and depressed, till he contracted an awkward timidity and reserve which throughout his life he could never shake off; while a still more unfortunate defect, which was another result of this system, was an inability to think or decide for himself, or even to act steadily on the advice of others after he had professed to adopt it.

But these deficiencies in his character had as yet hardly had time to display themselves; and, had they been ever so notorious, they were not of a nature to divert Maria Teresa from her purpose. For her political objects, it would not, perhaps, have seemed to her altogether undesirable that the future sovereign of France should be likely to rely on the judgment and to submit to the influence of another, so long as the person who should have the best opportunity of influencing him was her own daughter. A negotiation for the success of which both parties were equally anxious did not require a long time for its conclusion; and by the beginning of July, 1769, all the preliminaries were arranged; the French newspapers were authorized to allude to the marriage, and to speak of the diligence with which preparations for it were being made in both countries; those in which the French king took the greatest interest being the building of some carriages of extraordinary magnificence, to receive the archduchess as soon as she should have arrived on French ground; while those which were being made in Germany indicated a more elementary state of civilization, as the first requisite appeared to be to put the roads between Vienna and the frontier in a state of repair, to prevent the journey from being too fatiguing.

By the spring of the next year all the necessary preparations had been completed; and on the evening of the 10th of April, 1770, a grand court was held in the Palace of Vienna. Through a double row of guards of the palace, of body-guards, and of a still more select guard, composed wholly of nobles, M. de Durfort was conducted into the presence of the Emperor Joseph II., and of his widowed mother, the Empress-queen, still, though only dowager-empress, the independent sovereign of her own hereditary dominions; and to both he proffered, on the part of the King of France, a formal request for the hand of the Archduchess Marie Antoinette for the dauphin. When the Emperor and Empress had given their gracious consent to the demand, the archduchess herself was summoned to the hall and informed of the proposal which had been made, and of the approval which her mother and her brother had announced; while, to incline her also to regard it with equal favor, the embassador presented her with a letter from her intended husband, and with his miniature, which she at once hung round her neck. After which, the whole party adjourned to the private theatre of the palace to witness the performance of a French play, "The Confident Mother" of Marivaux, the title of which, so emblematic of the feelings of Maria Teresa, may probably have procured it the honor of selection.

The next day the young princess executed a formal renunciation of all right of succession to any part of her mother's dominions which might at any time devolve on her; though the number of her brothers and elder sisters rendered any such occurrence in the highest degree improbable, and though one conspicuous precedent in the history of both countries had, within the memory of persons still living, proved the worthlessness of such renunciations.[1] A few days were then devoted to appropriate festivities. That which is most especially mentioned by the chroniclers of the court being, in accordance with the prevailing taste of the time, a grand masked ball,[2] for which a saloon four hundred feet long had been expressly constructed. And on the 26th of April the young bride quit her home, the mother from whom she had never been separated, and the friends and playmates among whom her whole life had been hitherto passed, for a country which was wholly strange to her, and in which she had not as yet a single acquaintance. Her very husband, to whom she was to be confided, she had never seen.

Though both mother and daughter felt the most entire confidence that the new position, on which she was about to enter, would be full of nothing but glory and happiness, it was inevitable that they should be, as they were, deeply agitated at so complete a separation. And, if we may believe the testimony of witnesses who were at Vienna at the time,[3] the grief of the mother, who was never to see her child again, was shared not only by the members of the imperial household, whom constant intercourse had enabled to know and appreciate her amiable qualities, but by the population of the capital and the surrounding districts, all of whom had heard of her numerous acts of kindness and benevolence, which, young as she was, many of them had also experienced, and who thronged the streets along which she passed on her departure, mingling tears of genuine sorrow with their acclamations, and following her carriage to the outermost gate of the city that they might gaze their last on the darling of many hearts.

Kehl was the last German town through which she was to pass, Strasburg was the first French city which was to receive her, and, as the islands which dot the Rhine at that portion of the noble boundary river were regarded as a kind of neutral ground, the French monarch had selected the principal one to be occupied by a pavilion built for the purpose and decorated with great magnificence, that it might serve for another stage of the wedding ceremony. In this pavilion she w

as to cease to be German, and was to become French; she was to bid farewell to her Austrian attendants, and to receive into her service the French officers of her household, male and female, who were to replace them. She was even to divest herself of every article of her German attire, and to apparel herself anew in garments of French manufacture sent from Paris. The pavilion was divided into two compartments. In the chief apartment of the German division, the Austrian officials who had escorted her so far formally resigned their charge, and surrendered her to the Comte de Noailles, who had been appointed embassador extraordinary to receive her; and, when all the deeds necessary to release from their responsibly the German nobles whose duties were now terminated had been duly signed, the doors were thrown open, and Marie Antoinette passed into the French division, as a French princess, to receive the homage of a splendid train of French courtiers, who were waiting in loyal eagerness to offer their first salutations to their new mistress. Yet, as if at every period of her life she was to be beset with omens, the celebrated German writer, Goethe, who was at that time pursuing his studies at Strasburg, perceived one which he regarded as of most inauspicious significance in the tapestry which decorated the walls of the chief saloon. It represented the history of Jason and Medea. On one side was portrayed the king's bride in the agonies of death; on the other, the royal father was bewailing his murdered children. Above them both, Medea was fleeing away in a car drawn by fire-breathing dragons, and driven by the Furies; and the youthful poet could not avoid reflecting that a record of the most miserable union that even the ancient mythology had recorded was a singularly inappropriate and ill-omened ornament for nuptial festivities.[4]

A bridge reached from the island to the left bank of the river; and, on quitting the pavilion, the archduchess found the carriages, which had been built for her in Paris, ready to receive her, that she might make her state entry into Strasburg. They were marvels of the coach-maker's art. The prime minister himself had furnished the designs, and they had attracted the curiosity of the fashionable world in Paris throughout the winter. One was covered with crimson velvet, having pictures, emblematical of the four seasons, embroidered in gold on the principal panels; on the other the velvet was blue, and the elements took the place of the seasons; while the roof of each was surmounted by nosegays of flowers, carved in gold, enameled in appropriate colors, and wrought with such exquisite delicacy that every movement of the carriage, or even the lightest breeze, caused them to wave as if they were the natural produce of the garden.[5]

In this superb conveyance Marie Antoinette passed on under a succession of triumphal arches to the gates of Strasburg, which, on this auspicious occasion, seemed as if it desired to put itself forward as the representative of the joy of the whole nation by the splendid cordiality of its welcome. Whole regiments of cavalry, drawn up in line of battle, received her with a grand salute as she advanced. Battery after battery pealed forth along the whole extent of the vast ramparts; the bells of every church rang out a festive peal; fountains ran with wine in the Grand Square. She proceeded to the episcopal palace, where the archbishop, the Cardinal de Rohan, with his coadjutor, the Prince Louis de Rohan (a man afterward rendered unhappily notorious by his complicity in a vile conspiracy against her) received her at the head of the most august chapter that the whole land could produce, the counts of the cathedral, as they were styled; the Prince of Lorraine being the grand dean, the Archbishop of Bordeaux the grand provost, and not one post in the chapter being filled by any one below the rank of count. She held a court for the reception of all the female nobility of the province. She dined publicly in state; a procession of the municipal magistrates presented her a sample of the wines of the district; and, as she tasted the luscious offering, the coopers celebrated what they called a feast of Bacchus, waving their hoops as they danced round the room in grotesque figures.

It was a busy day for her, that first day of her arrival on French soil. From the dinner-table she went to the theatre; on quitting the theatre, she was driven through the streets to see the illuminations, which made every part of the city as bright as at midday, the great square in front of the episcopal palace being converted into a complete garden of fire-works; and at midnight she attended a ball which the governor of the province, the Maréchal de Contades, gave in her honor to all the principal inhabitants of the city and district. Quitting Strasburg the next day, after a grand reception of the clergy, the nobles, and the magistrates of the province, she proceeded by easy stages through Nancy, Chalons, Rheims, and Soissons, the whole population of every town through which she passed collecting on the road to gaze on her beauty, the renown of which had readied the least curious ears; and to receive marks of her affability, reports of which were at least as widely spread, in the cheerful eagerness with which she threw down the windows of her carriage, and the frank, smiling recognition and genuine pleasure with which she replied to their enthusiastic acclamations. It was long remembered that, when the students of the college at Soissons presented her with a Latin address, she replied to them in a sentence or two in the same language.

Soissons was her last resting-place before she was introduced to her new family. On the afternoon of Monday, the 14th of May, she quit it for Compiègne, which the king and all the court had reached in the course of the morning. As she approached the town she was met by the minister, the Duc de Choiseul, and he was the precursor of Louis himself, who, accompanied by the dauphin and his daughters, and escorted by his gorgeous company of the guards of the household,[6] had driven out to receive her. She and all her train dismounted from their carriages. Her master of the horse and her "knight of honor[7]" took her by the hand and conducted her to the royal coach. She sunk on her knee in the performance of her respectful homage; but Louis promptly raised her up, and, having embraced her with a tenderness which gracefully combined royal dignity with paternal affection, and having addressed her in a brief speech,[8] which was specially acceptable to her, as containing a well-timed compliment to her mother, introduced her to the dauphin; and, when they reached the palace, he also presented to her his more distant relatives, the princes and princesses of the blood,[9] the Duc d'Orléans and his son, the Duc de Chartres, destined hereafter to prove one of the foulest and most mischievous of her enemies; the Duc de Bourbon, the Princes of Condé and Conti, and one lady whose connection with royalty was Italian rather than French, but to whom the acquaintance, commenced on this day, proved the cause of a miserable and horrible death, the beautiful Princesse de Lamballe.

Compiègne, however, was not to be honored by the marriage ceremony. The next morning the whole party started for Versailles, turning out of the road, at the express request of the archduchess herself, to pay a brief visit to the king's youngest daughter, the Princess Louise, who had taken on herself the Carmelite vows, and resided in the Convent of St. Denis. The request had been suggested by Choiseul, who was well aware that the princess shared the dislike entertained by her more worldly sisters to the house of Austria; but it was accepted as a personal compliment by the king himself, who was already fascinated by her charms, which, as he affirmed, surpassed those of her portrait, and was predisposed to view all her words and actions in the most favorable light. Avoiding Paris, which Louis, ever since the riots of 1750, had constantly refused to enter, they reached the hunting-lodge of La Muette, in the Bois de Boulogne, for supper. Here she made the acquaintance of the brothers and sisters of her future husband, the Counts of Provence and Artois, both destined, in their turn, to succeed him on the throne; of the Princess Clotilde, who may be regarded as the most fortunate of her race, in being saved by a foreign marriage and an early death from witnessing the worst calamities of her family and her native land; of the Princess Elizabeth, who was fated to share them in all their bitterness and horror; and (a strangely incongruous sequel to the morning visit to the Carmelite convent), the Countess du Barri also came into her presence, and was admitted to sup at the royal table; as if, even at the very moment when he might have been expected to conduct himself with some degree of respectful decency to the pure-minded young girl whom he was receiving into his family, Louis XV. was bent on exhibiting to the whole world his incurable shamelessness in its most offensive form.

At midnight he, with the dauphin, proceeded to Versailles, whither, the next morning, the archduchess followed them. And at one o'clock on the 16th, in the chapel of the palace, the Primate of France, the Archbishop of Rheims, performed the marriage ceremony. A canopy of cloth of silver was held over the heads of the youthful pair by the bishops of Senlis and Chartres. The dauphin, after he had placed the wedding-ring on his bride's finger, added, as a token that he endowed her with his worldly wealth, a gift of thirteen pieces of gold, which, as well as the ring, had received the episcopal benediction, and Marie Antoinette was dauphiness of France.

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