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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Marie Antoinette

BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time, Marie Antoinette

"‘She was married by, symbolically married when she was 14, and he was 18 or 19. And then a year later, they were properly married’...

‘What happens as is the case for all these marriages between two princes of separate dynasties. You have an initial proxy marriage in the woman's home town or home city. So Marie Antoinette is married by proxy in the Augustinerkirche which is the Habsburgs’ palace church and parish church indeed in Vienna. She then undertakes a very long trip from Vienna to Versailles and the proper marriage takes place in Versailles’...

‘This proxy marriage enabled her to travel through France as the prospective bride of the future king of France so she had dignity and status from the word go’

‘She has dignity and status, she has a very large retinue - lots of characters going with her. She has an Austrian suite which accompanies her as far as the border where she sort of leaves the German speaking world and she's then handed over to France’

‘That's an intriguing ceremony because as I understand it a posse of ladies-in-waiting from France take her into a Roman tent - I don't know what it is - strip her of all her clothes, dress her in French clothes and even take away her Austrian dog and she comes out as a French person... She isn't made to undress completely but has to disrobe and symbolically puts on a French dress… rest assured tender-hearted listeners she gets the dog back afterwards because she is so unhappy at not having him that he is sent to her in Versailles’...

‘France and Austria have been at war with each other - hereditary enemies from the 15th century but Louis the 15th and Maria Theresa had decided that to curb Prussia’s powers they would have an alliance and Marie Antoinette becomes the seal of that alliance. So when she arrives in France she is in part a hostage ambassador for Austrian good behavior...

Her primary function in France is to bear heirs… she didn't for seven years. There's a lot of debate as to whose fault that was. The marriage was not consummated for seven years. Which was a very humiliating situation for her because her only function at court is to provide the male heir that will guarantee the Bourbon line continues...

I think consensus is now that that Louis did not suffer from phimosis but nevertheless found intercourse uncomfortable. Joseph the Second certainly believed that he hadn't equated ejaculation with procreation... he came to try and sort things out because Maria Teresa his mother was tearing her hair out because until the marriage is consummated, the alliance is not sealed. So it's absolutely of crucial importance on both sides - both the French side and the Austrian side that the marriage is consummated and that Marie Antoinette becomes pregnant as quickly as possible...

I think it's very significant that Louis did not have a mistress. From the... beginning of the Borbon dynasty, Henry the Fourth onwards the tradition or the custom had been for the king to take a mistress, several mistresses, official mistresses, unofficial mistresses.

And in part the official mistresses in particular served as a way of deflecting attention from the Queen whose role is to bear children. The official mistress can be blamed if the king makes unpopular decisions. The mistress is also a way to gain the King’s ear. So the mistress fulfills several functions within the court.

Because Louis showed no interest whatsoever in either his wife or in having a mistress, it means that a lot of the gossip falls on Marie Antoinette. She effectively falls into representing both mistress and Queen. The gossip is directed towards her. She's also the only one who has the King’s ear so there's a concentration of power in terms of offering favors and influence. That means that her position becomes perhaps more powerful than people would like it to be.'...

The diamond necklace affair, again from 1785, is one of the biggest con tricks of the 18th century. Is masterminded by a fake countess Jeanne de la Motte who convinced her lover Cardinal Louis de Rohan, that the best way to gain the Queen's favor was ultimately to buy for her a big ugly, expensive necklace... the Queen supposedly was keen to have this but couldn't because it will just enhance her reputation as a ruinous spendthrift in France. So the way that Jeanne de la Motte ultimately convinced her lover to buy it was two impersonations of the queen. One was in writing, forging her signature.

The other was having a prostitute masquerade as the Queen for a midnight tryst in the gardens of Versailles. So, basically Louis de Rohan fell for this and he bought the necklace, gave it to Jeanne. It was spirited away to London, broken up and sold off... She’s sort of accused by association, by implication. It's almost as though the general population is saying: in principles she didn't do it. But if she could have she would have... She was as philanthropic in many ways as she was profligate...

She's trying to carve a private life for herself at a time when, as a public body, she doesn't really have a private life. Her childbirth is a public event, because you have to be sure that the child is coming out of her womb. This is someone who doesn't have much of a private life and in part her spending time with her children, in part her time down at the Petit Trianon is a way of trying to get outside of the constraints she feels at court.

It backfires in part on her when she has a portrait done by Madame Vigée-Le Brun in a very simple white dress with a straw hat. She's criticized for being too informal and not reflecting the grandeur of the French court... She's wearing this very plain muslin dress. And she’s setting the fashion for these very plain muslin dresses with sashes and big straw hats. And one of the most important industries in France at the time is the Lyon silk industry. And if Marie Antoinette goes around wearing white muslin, which is sent over from England, it is said, she is going to be bankrupting France. So she's damned if she doesn’t, damned if she does... if she wears the silk... she’s said to be spending too much...

‘In some ways, if you can, if you ask someone their opinion of Marie Antoinette, you can work out their opinion on politics in general, not just the revolution’

‘Certainly in France. Yes.’"
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