History of Europe

Marie-Antoinette, a modern mother

Marie Antoinette of Habsburg-Lorraine marries the future Louis XVI May 16, 1770. Married too young, awkward with each other and uneducated about the realities of love, they will take seven years to consummate their marriage.

Marie-Thérèse, nicknamed Madame Royale , was born on December 20, 1778. She was followed in 1781 by a heir apparent, Louis-Joseph . A second son, Louis-Charles , Duke of Normandy and future Louis XVII, was born in 1785. Finally the Queen gave birth to Princess Sophie , who will live barely a year, in 1786.

These children come too late to restore the image of the king and queen in public opinion. Parisians see Marie-Antoinette as a young scatterbrain who indulges in debauchery and Louis XVI as a clumsy man with no authority over his wife... In the golden cocoon of Versailles, on the other hand, Marie-Antoinette and her children thrive in family intimacy. For the couple, it's even arevelation . If the Queen abhors public childbirth, she discovers a very developed maternal instinct. She takes personal care of her children, having a very precise and quite avant-garde vision of her role as a mother .

The discovery of motherhood with the birth of Madame Royale

After the birth of Madame Royale, Count Mercy Argenteau, Vienna's ambassador to Paris, was delighted to be able to report to Marie-Thérèse that his daughter seemed to flourish in ways other than going to the theater or the opera. He wrote on March 17, 1779:

The queen makes a sweet occupation of going, at different times of the day, to see her august child, who is growing stronger and enjoys the best health. The king shares such precious care, and gives it a following and a tenderness which is the pledge of that which he has devoted to the queen.

Marie-Antoinette, who is not a great letter writer, blackens out sheets to keep her "dear mother" informed of the progress of the little one, whom she loves infinitely and of whom she is very proud. Thus on August 16, 1779:

I dare to send my dear mother the portrait of my daughter; he is very similar. This poor little girl is starting to walk very well in her basket. For the past few days, she has been saying daddy. Her teeth haven't come through yet, but you can feel them all. I am very glad that she began by naming her father, it is for him an additional attachment. […] My dear mama will forgive me all my gossip about this little one, but she is so good that I sometimes overdo it.

The following year, she told Marie-Thérèse a touching anecdote about the princess, who was not yet two years old, but seemed very resourceful, walking, stooping and getting up on her own. She is very awake and delights Marie-Antoinette:

I dare to confide in the tender heart of my dear mother a happiness that I had four days ago. Being several people in my daughter's room, I had someone ask her where her mother was. This poor little girl, without anyone saying [sic] a word to her, smiled at me and came to hold out her arms to me. This is the first time she has marked recognize me. I admit that it made me very happy […]

Marie-Antoinette never separates from her daughter and even plans to breastfeed her for a time, a practice that is completely decried in the upper echelons of society. During her trips to Marly with the Court, she experienced the separation from Madame Royale, who had to stay at Versailles, as a heartbreak. She goes back and forth as much as possible to visit him.

👉 Read also:Childbirth in public, the pet peeve of Marie-Antoinette

Marie-Antoinette and her children:an unusual investment in education at Court

Mother of a string of archdukes and archduchesses, Marie-Thérèse could not love them all with the same intensity and show them equal tenderness. The youngest especially were more left to their own devices and kept at a distance , unlike the elders. The penultimate of sixteen children, Marie-Antoinette was never very close to her mother. She has more respect for her than love.

Mother in turn, Marie-Antoinette does not wish to reproduce this pattern. Allergic to etiquette, she frees herself from the ceremonial that governs the life of princely families. She intends to raise her children with simplicity and show them her affection in complete freedom!

To begin with, the Queen constituted their House herself, in agreement with Louis XVI. If the staff is always very numerous, it reduces the train. Above all, she closely followed the work of educators and decided to give them her dearest friend, the Duchess of Polignac, as governess. , from 1782.

She also does more than monitor and appoint the staff in charge of her children. It is she who draws the main lines of their education. She is really involved in their daily life and closely monitors their progress. The educational principles of the queen stand out in the 18 th century. To realize this, just read the notes written for Madame de Tourzel, appointed governess after the departure of the Duchess of Polignac in 1789:

My children have always been accustomed to have great confidence in me and, when they have been wrong, to tell me. themselves. This makes scolding them make me look more pained and distressed about what they did than angry. I have accustomed them all to the fact that yes or no pronounced by me is irrevocable, but I always give them a reason within reach of their age so that they cannot believe that it is humor on my part.

Words that contrast sharply with the usual speech of the royal houses! She also advocates the beneficial effects of the great outdoors . But beware, nothing codified or constrained:it's just quiet strolls in the groves and innocent antics in the gardens. Speaking of her son, she wrote on July 24, 1789:

He was born gay; he needs a lot of air for his health, and I think it is better to let him play and work the soil on the terraces than to take him farther. The exercise that small children get by running and playing in the air is healthier than being forced to walk, which often strains their kidneys.

Very surprisingly, Marie-Antoinette does not foresee any religious training before the age of reason! She also wants to raise her children by instilling in them kindness and respect. When she mentions her son again to Madame de Tourzel, she is no doubt thinking of her own childhood:"He has no idea of ​​height in his head, and I really want that to continue:our children always learn quite early what 'they are. »

Mrs. Campan tells another evocative anecdote that takes place in 1784:

Wanting to teach her children yet another lesson in charity, she ordered me to have them brought from Paris, like the other years , on New Year's Eve, all the fashionable toys, and have them displayed in his closet. Then taking her children by the hand, she showed them all the dolls, all the mechanisms that were stored there, and told them that she had planned to give them pretty gifts; but that the cold made the poor so unhappy that all his money had been spent on blankets, clothes, to protect them from the rigors of the season and to give them bread; so that this year they would only have the pleasure of seeing all these novelties.

Mother hen with her daughter Marie-Thérèse

Marie-Antoinette watches over her daughter as over the apple of her eye, even if it means overprotecting her. During her younger years, she behaves like a real mother hen , holding her with her all day. Mercy-Argenteau attests to this in December 1782:

Since She takes care of the education of her august daughter and holds her continually in her cabinets , there is almost no way to deal with any important or serious subject that is not at all times interrupted by the little incidents of the games of the royal child.

She decides when her daughter shows up in public or not, chooses her outfits and strictly limits the opportunities to approach her. Keeping her away from the Court system, it also undermines her status as a royal princess.

Unsurprisingly, Marie-Antoinette opposes early marriage plans which are emerging. When in 1787, her sister Marie-Caroline unofficially requested the hand of the little one for her eldest son, heir to the throne of Naples, she immediately declined. She would rather have him marry her cousin, the son of the Comte d'Artois. She would thus remain in France and, as she says herself, "her position would be much preferable to that of queen in another country". Marie-Antoinette lived as a heartbreak his uprooting from Vienna. She does not wish in any case to transform her daughter into a pawn on the matrimonial chessboard of the great princely families as Empress Marie-Thérèse did with her children.

The Baroness of Oberkirch marvels at the close relationship that binds mother and daughter, while praising the qualities as an educator by Marie Antoinette:

Marie-Antoinette takes care of her daughter's education herself; she attends the lessons of her masters every morning, and is very severe with her little faults. She made, around this time, a reform in the house of her daughter, for fear of giving her a taste for splendor by the too large apparatus which surrounded her. Can we see a better mother and a more enlightened affection!

Their relationship, in fact, is far from obvious.

Chiffon the Serious

Madame Royale turns out to be a difficult child. Capricious and imbued with her rank, she was quickly nicknamed "Serious Mousseline". A noble and distinguished air constantly frozen on her face, the princess is capable of acerbic repartee that leaves contemporaries dumbfounded. The Baroness of Oberkirch one day had the audacity to tell the young girl that she found her quite charming and very grown up.

This freedom displeased Madame Royale, and I saw it instantly on her face. Her proud gaze brightened, her features contracted, and she replied without hesitation:“I am delighted, Madame la Baroness, that you find me thus; but I'm surprised to hear you say it.

The Abbé de Vermond would also have been indignant at the indifference shown by the princess after a fall from her mother's horse :if this one was dead, she would have been happy, because she could then do whatever she wanted!

Surprising, because Madame Royale is not a bad person. She does not realize the significance of her words. The haughty personality of the princess is no doubt encouraged by her aunt on the sly. Elizabeth and the old daughters of Louis XV , still at Court, who find that Marie-Antoinette does not show enough distance, as her rank should require.

Unaware that others are undermining her efforts, the queen strives to correct her daughter's precocious pride. She makes him distribute part of the ten thousand francs she receives for his charities and talks to him constantly about relieving misfortune as a sacred duty. She demands respect from the princess for little girls of modest rank. She even had the daughter of a servant raised near her, who received the same treatment, the same clothes and the same clothes as her royal companion. Knowing that her daughter cares a lot about her little things, she makes her share her toys with others.

Wasted effort. Madame Royale will always remain Mousseline the Serious. She finally looks a lot like the younger Marie-Antoinette , this proud princess who did not want to give in to Madame du Barry on her arrival in France and reminded anyone who wanted to listen of the superiority of her blood!

Still, the mother and the daughter, despite the efforts of Marie-Antoinette, misunderstand each other . No doubt the unconditional love displayed by the queen for her two sons did not help matters. It is certain that the two boys do not have the same character as Madame Royale!

Louis XVII, the cabbage of love

Marie-Antoinette loves her two sons. First, they are the long-awaited boys. Entrusted to the usual educators, they follow the Court ceremonial like heirs of the Monarchy going to the performance. The queen still maintains very intimate ties with them. Both very endearing, they are the sunshine of his life.

In 1786, the dolphin showed the first signs of tuberculosis, which would kill him three years later. Marie-Antoinette goes as soon as she can to the castle of Meudon where the child has been installed for the reputedly healthier air. When he died in excruciating pain in June 1789, at the very moment when the future of France was at stake, the pain for the parents was terrible . The mourning is brief, because it is necessary to quickly regain control of the destiny of the kingdom, but the wound is immense.

Marie-Antoinette transfers all her affection to her second son, whom she nicknames "Chou d'amour". He is more cuddly and more loving than Madame Royale. The Baroness of Oberkirch marvels at the easy character from the boy:

He had a charming face, full of wit; he had charming words and blind submission to the queen's orders. I have never known a child of a more serene and even temper.

Marie-Antoinette enjoys seeing her dear son show her love in return. It is more expansive than his daughter. She wrote to the Duchess of Polignac on December 29, 1789:“Le Chou d’amour is charming, and I love it madly. He loves me a lot too, in his own way, not embarrassing himself. »

One of the biggest wounds of his whole life will be to know his son manipulated by the revolutionaries, who will manage to extort from him false confessions of incest . Marie Antoinette's response to the slanderous accusations during her trial has remained famous:"I appeal to all the mothers in attendance!" »

Her children, by giving meaning to her life, held first place in Marie-Antoinette's heart. Her new role calms her down and brings her closer to Louis XVI. Motherhood, in short, transfigures her… She confesses to the Duchess of Polignac:“In truth, if I could be happy, I would be happy with these two little beings. !

👉 Want more captivating stories? Discover the Secret Cabinet, a universe where History is alive, entertaining, just the way you like it. 🤫

🗝 I open the door to the Secret Cabinet