The archduchess Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna von Habsburg-Lothringen, the fifteenth child of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I Stephen and his wife, Empress Maria Theresa, was born at the Palace of the Hofburg in Vienna on 2 November 1755. The Empress went into labour early in the morning, but because she hated wasting time and giving birth was no novelty to her, she kept working, reading and signing state papers and documents. She finally gave birth to a “small but completely healthy Archduchess”* in her luxurious apartments at the Palace at about half past eight in the evening.
After the Te Deum and Benediction had been sung, the Emperor Francis Stephen announced the birth of his daughter to the courtiers who were waiting for news in the palace’s Mirror Room. Maria Theresa had in fact put a stop to the odious practice of having members of the court present during the delivery. The baby, which would be called Antonia, Antoinette or Antoine by her family, was then handed over to her wet nurse. Her mother the Empress went back to work, signing documents from her bed, as soon as it was possible for her to do so.
The baby was born on 2 November, the Day of the Dead, which was considered bad luck by superstitious people. The day of her birth, Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, was also hit by a major earthquake that devastated the city and caused the death of 30,000 people. The King and Queen of Portugal, who were the baby’s godparents, were forced to leave the city. When news of this calamity reached Vienna, it too was interpreted as a bad omen for the future of the little girl, who would go on to become Queen of the French at 18, only to lose her crown, her family and her life during the French Revolution.
* Count Khevenhüller, the Court Chamberlain, thus described the newborn baby.
Maria Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser