Louis XVI was crowned king on July 11, 1775 at Notre Dame de Reims. His wife, Marie Antoinette, was present but she wasn’t crowned with him because a double ceremony would have been too expensive considering the bad financial situation the country was in. The new king and queen were very popular at the beginning of their reign. The French people had high hopes that their young virtuous prince and his glamorous wife would bring about a moral regeneration and improve the economy. Marie Antoinette though, didn’t have any political power. Her husband and most people in his government distrusted the Austrians and the queen didn’t have any interest in politics and court intrigues.
Childless and with no political power, the queen spent her time partying, gambling and spending lots of money on clothes and renovations on the Petit Trianon, donated to her by her husband in 1775. The Queen was very criticised for it and pretty soon seditious libels started circulating about her promiscuity, affairs and frivolous spending, despite the fact that she was actually very chaste and that the disastrous economic situation of the country was to blame on wars expenses. And Louis XVI’s decision to aide the American Revolution against Britain made things worse.
Marie Antoinette still hadn’t fulfilled what everyone considered to be her main purpose: giving France an heir. In 1777 her brother Emperor Joseph visited Versailles to sort things out. His advice led to the royal couple finally consummating their marriage and on 19 December 1778 the Queen, in a room full of courtiers, gave birth to her first child. It wasn’t the long-awaited heir, but a baby girl called Marie-Therese, who was nonetheless very loved by her parents. The baby was also proof of the fecundity of the royal couple and about three years later, in 1781, Louis Joseph, the heir to the throne of France, was born. The whole country rejoiced.
Motherhood changed the queen’s lifestyle. Marie Antoinette gave up partying and settled down. She also dressed more simply, preferring to wear white muslin dresses, and spent more and more time at the Petite Trianon, where no one could go without an invitation. There, she enjoyed private theatre performances (the Queen herself would sometimes act too) and spending time in the gardens. Jealous courtiers who weren’t invited harshly criticized her for it and implied that something lewd and dodgy was going on at the Petite Trianon. Her friendship with Yolande De Polignac also attracted criticism, because of the gifts and fortune the De Polignac family acquired thanks to it.
But Marie Antoinette was just a woman who loved a simpler style of life and lived for her children. Her letters are full of news and anedoctes of her children, she personally saw to their education (the Duchess De Polignac was appointed Governess to the Royal children) and she was very concerned about their health, especially with that of the Dauphin. The poor child struggled all his life with ill health. In 1785, Marie Antoinette gave birth to another boy called Louis Charles. That same year, the Affair of The Diamond Necklace broke out, which, despite the fact the Queen was an innocent victim in the scam, completely destroyed her reputation.
In 1786, the Queen gave birth to another daughter, Sophie but she died the following year. In 1789, the king and queen lost another child: the Dauphin Louis Joseph died too. But the distraught parents weren’t given much time to mourn their loss. The country was on the verge of bankruptcy and the people were starving…
Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser