Memoirs of Marie Antoinette
Public Domain Books
From the time of Louis XVI.’s accession to the throne, the Queen had been expecting a visit from her brother, the Emperor Joseph II. That Prince was the constant theme of her discourse. She boasted of his intelligence, his love of occupation, his military knowledge, and the perfect simplicity of his manners. Those about her Majesty ardently wished to see at Versailles a prince so worthy of his rank. At length the coming of Joseph II., under the title of Count Falkenstein, was announced, and the very day on which he would be at Versailles was mentioned. The first embraces between the Queen and her august brother took place in the presence of all the Queen’s household. The sight of their emotion was extremely affecting.
The Emperor was at first generally admired in France; learned men, well- informed officers, and celebrated artists appreciated the extent of his information. He made less impression at Court, and very little in the private circle of the King and Queen. His eccentric manners, his frankness, often degenerating into rudeness, and his evidently affected simplicity,–all these characteristics caused him to be looked upon as a prince rather singular than admirable. The Queen spoke to him about the apartment she had prepared for him in the Chateau; the Emperor answered that he would not accept it, and that while travelling he always lodged at a cabaret (that was his very expression); the Queen insisted, and assured him that he should be at perfect liberty, and placed out of the reach of noise. He replied that he knew the Chateau of Versailles was very large, and that so many scoundrels lived there that he could well find a place; but that his valet de chambre had made up his camp-bed in a lodging-house, and there he would stay.
He dined with the King and Queen, and supped with the whole family. He appeared to take an interest in the young Princesse Elisabeth, then just past childhood, and blooming in all the freshness of that age. An intended marriage between him and this young sister of the King was reported at the time, but I believe it had no foundation in truth.
The table was still served by women only, when the Queen dined in private with the King, the royal family, or crowned heads.
[The custom was, even supposing dinner to have commenced, if a princess of the blood arrived, and she was asked to sit down at the Queen’s table, the comptrollers and gentlemen-in-waiting came immediately to attend, and the Queen’s women withdrew. These had succeeded the maids of honour in several parts of their service, and had preserved some of their privileges. One day the Duchesse d’Orleans arrived at Fontainebleau, at the Queen’s dinner-hour. The Queen invited her to the table, and herself motioned to her women to leave the room, and let the men take their places. Her Majesty said she was resolved to continue a privilege which kept places of that description most honourable, and render them suitable for ladies of nobility without fortune. Madame de Misery, Baronne de Biache, the Queen’s first lady of the chamber, to whom I was made reversioner, was a daughter of M. le Comte de Chemant, and her grandmother was a Montmorency. M. le Prince de Tingry, in the presence of the Queen, used to call her cousin. The ancient household of the Kings of France had prerogatives acknowledged in the state. Many of the offices were tenable only by those of noble blood, and were sold at from 40,000 to 300,000 franca. A collection of edicts of the Kings in favour of the prerogatives and right of precedence of the persons holding office in the royal household is still in existence.]
I was present at the Queen’s dinner almost every day. The Emperor would talk much and fluently; he expressed himself in French with facility, and the singularity, of his expressions added a zest to his conversation. I have often heard him say that he liked spectacculous objects, when he meant to express such things as formed a show, or a scene worthy of interest. He disguised none of his prejudices against the etiquette and customs of the Court of France; and even in the presence of the King made them the subject of his sarcasms. The King smiled, but never made any answer; the Queen appeared pained. The Emperor frequently terminated his observations upon the objects in Paris which he had admired by reproaching the King for suffering himself to remain in ignorance of them. He could not conceive how such a wealth of pictures should remain shut up in the dust of immense stores; and told him one day that but for the practice of placing some of them in the apartments of Versailles he would not know even the principal chef d’oeuvres that he possessed.
[The Emperor loudly censured the existing practice of allowing shopkeepers to erect shops near the outward walls of all the palaces, and even to establish something like a fair in the galleries of Versailles and Fontainebleau, and even upon the landings of the staircases.]
He also reproached him for not having visited the Hotel des Invalides nor the Ecole Militaire; and even went so far as to tell him before us that he ought not only to know what Paris contained, but to travel in France, and reside a few days in each of his large towns.
At last the Queen was really hurt at the Emperor’s remarks, and gave him a few lectures upon the freedom with which he allowed himself to lecture others. One day she was busied in signing warrants and orders for payment for her household, and was conversing with M. Augeard, her secretary for such matters, who presented the papers one after another to be signed, and replaced them in his portfolio. While this was going forward, the Emperor walked about the room; all at once he stood still, to reproach the Queen rather severely for signing all those papers without reading them, or, at least, without running her eye over them; and he spoke most judiciously to her upon the danger of signing her name inconsiderately. The Queen answered that very wise principles might be very ill applied; that her secretary, who deserved her implicit confidence, was at that moment laying before her nothing but orders for payment of the quarter’s expenses of her household, registered in the Chamber of Accounts; and that she ran no risk of incautiously giving her signature.
The Queen’s toilet was likewise a never-failing subject for animadversion with the Emperor. He blamed her for having introduced too many new fashions; and teased her about her use of rouge. One day, while she was laying on more of it than usual, before going to the play, he pointed out a lady who was in the room, and who was, in truth, highly painted. “A little more under the eyes,” said the Emperor to the Queen; “lay on the rouge like a fury, as that lady does.” The Queen entreated her brother to refrain from his jokes, or at all events to address them, when they were so outspoken, to her alone.
The Queen had made an appointment to meet her brother at the Italian theatre; she changed her mind, and went to the French theatre, sending a page to the Italian theatre to request the Emperor to come to her there. He left his box, lighted by the comedian Clairval, and attended by M. de la Ferte, comptroller of the Queen’s privy purse, who was much hurt at hearing his Imperial Majesty, after kindly expressing his regret at not being present during the Italian performance, say to Clairval, “Your young Queen is very giddy; but, luckily, you Frenchmen have no great objection to that.”
I was with my father-in-law in one of the Queen’s apartments when the Emperor came to wait for her there, and, knowing that M. Campan was librarian, he conversed with him about such books as would of course be found in the Queen’s library. After talking of our most celebrated authors, he casually said, “There are doubtless no works on finance or on administration here?”
These words were followed by his opinion on all that had been written on those topics, and the different systems of our two famous ministers, Sully and Colbert; on errors which were daily committed in France, in points essential to the prosperity of the Empire; and on the reform he himself would make at Vienna. Holding M. Campan by the button, he spent more than an hour, talking vehemently, and without the slightest reserve, about the French Government. My father-in-law and myself maintained profound silence, as much from astonishment as from respect; and when we were alone we agreed not to speak of this interview.
The Emperor was fond of describing the Italian Courts that he had visited. The jealous quarrels between the King and Queen of Naples amused him highly; he described to the life the manner and speech of that sovereign, and the simplicity with which he used to go and solicit the first chamberlain to obtain permission to return to the nuptial bed, when the angry Queen had banished him from it. The time which he was made to wait for this reconciliation was calculated between the Queen and her chamberlain, and always proportioned to the gravity of the offence. He also related several very amusing stories relative to the Court of Parma, of which he spoke with no little contempt. If what this Prince said of those Courts, and even of Vienna, had been written down, the whole would have formed an interesting collection. The Emperor told the King that the Grand Duke of Tuscany and the King of Naples being together, the former said a great deal about the changes he had effected in his State. The Grand Duke had issued a mass of new edicts, in order to carry the precepts of the economists into execution, and trusted that in so doing he was labouring for the welfare of his people. The King of Naples suffered him to go on speaking for a long time, and then casually asked how many Neapolitan families there were in Tuscany. The Duke soon reckoned them up, as they were but few. “Well, brother,” replied the King of Naples, “I do not understand the indifference of your people towards your great reforms; for I have four times the number of Tuscan families settled in my States that you have of Neapolitan families in yours.”
The Queen being at the Opera with the Emperor, the latter did not wish to show himself; but she took him by the hand, and gently drew him to the front of the box. This kind of presentation to the public was most warmly received. The performance was “Iphigenia in Aulis,” and for the second time. the chorus, “Chantons, celebrons notre Reine!” was called for with universal plaudits.
A fete of a novel description was given at Petit Trianon. The art with which the English garden was not illuminated, but lighted, produced a charming effect. Earthen lamps, concealed by boards painted green, threw light upon the beds of shrubs and flowers, and brought out their varied tints. Several hundred burning fagots in the moat behind the Temple of Love made a blaze of light, which rendered that spot the most brilliant in the garden. After all, this evening’s entertainment had nothing remarkable about it but the good taste of the artists, yet it was much talked of. The situation did not allow the admission of a great part of the Court; those who were uninvited were dissatisfied; and the people, who never forgive any fetes but those they share in, so exaggerated the cost of this little fete as to make it appear that the fagots burnt in the moat had required the destruction of a whole forest. The Queen being informed of these reports, was determined to know exactly how much wood had been consumed; and she found that fifteen hundred fagots had sufficed to keep up the fire until four o’clock in the morning.
After staying a few months the Emperor left France, promising his sister to come and see her again. All the officers of the Queen’s chamber had many opportunities of serving him during his stay, and expected that he would make them presents before his departure. Their oath of office positively forbade them to receive a gift from any foreign prince; they had therefore agreed to refuse the Emperor’s presents at first, but to ask the time necessary for obtaining permission to accept them. The Emperor, probably informed of this custom, relieved the good people from their difficulty by setting off without making a single present.
About the latter end of 1777 the Queen, being alone in her closet, sent for my father-in-law and myself, and, giving us her hand to kiss; told us that, looking upon us both as persons deeply interested in her happiness, she wished to receive our congratulations,–that at length she was the Queen of France, and that she hoped soon to have children; that till now she had concealed her grief, but that she had shed many tears in secret.
Dating from this happy but long-delayed moment, the King’s attachment to the Queen assumed every characteristic of love. The good Lassone, first physician to the King and Queen, frequently spoke to me of the uneasiness that the King’s indifference, the cause of which he had been so long in overcoming, had given him, and appeared to me at that time to entertain no anxiety except of a very different description.
In the winter of 1778 the King’s permission for the return of Voltaire; after an absence of twenty-seven years, was obtained. A few strict persons considered this concession on the part of the Court very injudicious. The Emperor, on leaving France, passed by the Chateau of Ferney without stopping there. He had advised the Queen not to suffer Voltaire to be presented to her. A lady belonging to the Court learned the Emperor’s opinion on that point, and reproached him with his want of enthusiasm towards the greatest genius of the age. He replied that for the good of the people he should always endeavour to profit by the knowledge of the philosophers; but that his own business of sovereign would always prevent his ranking himself amongst that sect. The clergy also took steps to hinder Voltaire’s appearance at Court. Paris, however, carried to the highest pitch the honours and enthusiasm shown to the great poet.
It was very unwise to let Paris pronounce with such transport an opinion so opposite to that of the Court. This was pointed out to the Queen, and she was told that, without conferring on Voltaire the honour of a presentation, she might see him in the State apartments. She was not averse to following this advice, and appeared embarrassed solely about what she should say to him. She was recommended to talk about nothing but the “Henriade,” “Merope,” and “Zaira.” The Queen replied that she would still consult a few other persons in whom she had great confidence. The next day she announced that it was irrevocably decided Voltaire should not see any member of the royal family,–his writings being too antagonistic to religion and morals. “It is, however, strange,” said the Queen, “that while we refuse to admit Voltaire into our presence as the leader of philosophical writers, the Marechale de Mouchy should have presented to me some years ago Madame Geoffrin, who owed her celebrity to the title of foster-mother of the philosophers.”
On the occasion of the duel of the Comte d’Artois with the Prince de Bourbon the Queen determined privately to see the Baron de Besenval, who was to be one of the witnesses, in order to communicate the King’s intentions. I have read with infinite pain the manner in which that simple fact is perverted in the first volume of M. de Besenval’s “Memoirs.” He is right in saying that M. Campan led him through the upper corridors of the Chateau, and introduced him into an apartment unknown to him; but the air of romance given to the interview is equally culpable and ridiculous. M. de Besenval says that he found himself, without knowing how he came there, in an apartment unadorned, but very conveniently furnished, of the existence of which he was till then utterly ignorant. He was astonished, he adds, not that the Queen should have so many facilities, but that she should have ventured to procure them. Ten printed sheets of the woman Lamotte’s libels contain nothing so injurious to the character of Marie Antoinette as these lines, written by a man whom she honoured by undeserved kindness. He could not have had any opportunity of knowing the existence of the apartments, which consisted of a very small antechamber, a bedchamber, and a closet. Ever since the Queen had occupied her own apartment, these had been appropriated to her Majesty’s lady of honour in cases of illness, and were actually so used when the Queen was confined. It was so important that it should not be known the Queen had spoken to the Baron before the duel that she had determined to go through her inner room into this little apartment, to which M. Campan was to conduct him. When men write of recent times they should be scrupulously exact, and not indulge in exaggerations or inventions.
The Baron de Besenval appears mightily surprised at the Queen’s sudden coolness, and refers it to the fickleness of her disposition. I can explain the reason for the change by repeating what her Majesty said to me at the time; and I will not alter one of her expressions. Speaking of the strange presumption of men, and the reserve with which women ought always to treat them, the Queen added that age did not deprive them of the hope of pleasing, if they retained any agreeable qualities; that she had treated the Baron de Besenval as a brave Swiss, agreeable, polished, and witty, whose gray hairs had induced her to look upon him as a man whom she might see without harm; but that she had been much deceived. Her Majesty, after having enjoined me to the strictest secrecy, told me that, finding herself alone with the Baron, he began to address her with so much gallantry that she was thrown into the utmost astonishment, and that he was mad enough to fall upon his knees, and make her a declaration in form. The Queen added that she said to him: “Rise, monsieur; the King shall be ignorant of an offence which would disgrace you for ever;” that the Baron grew pale and stammered apologies; that she left her closet without saying another word, and that since that time she hardly ever spoke to him. “It is delightful to have friends,” said the Queen; “but in a situation like mine it is sometimes difficult for the friends of our friends to suit us.”
In the beginning of the year 1778 Mademoiselle d’Eon obtained permission to return to France, on condition that she should appear there in female dress. The Comte de Vergennes entreated my father, M. Genet, chief clerk of Foreign Affairs, who had long known the Chevalier d’Eon, to receive that strange personage at his house, to guide and restrain, if possible, her ardent disposition. The Queen, on learning her arrival at Versailles, sent a footman to desire my father to bring her into her presence; my father thought it his duty first to inform the Minister of her Majesty’s wish. The Comte de Vergennes expressed himself pleased with my father’s prudence, and desired that he would accompany him to the Queen. The Minister had a few minutes’ audience; her Majesty came out of her closet with him, and condescended to express to my father the regret she felt at having troubled him to no purpose; and added, smiling, that a few words from M. de Vergennes had for ever cured her of her curiosity. The discovery in London of the true sex of this pretended woman makes it probable that the few words uttered by the Minister contained a solution of the enigma.
The Chevalier d’Eon had been useful in Russia as a spy of Louis XV. while very young he had found means to introduce himself at the Court of the Empress Elizabeth, and served that sovereign in the capacity of reader. Resuming afterwards his military dress, he served with honour and was wounded. Appointed chief secretary of legation, and afterwards minister plenipotentiary at London, he unpardonably insulted Comte de Guerchy, the ambassador. The official order for the Chevalier’s return to France was actually delivered to the King’s Council; but Louis XV. delayed the departure of the courier who was to be its bearer, and sent off another courier privately, who gave the Chevalier d’Eon a letter in his own writing, in which he said, “I know that you have served me as effectually in the dress of a woman as in that which you now wear. Resume it instantly; withdraw into the city; I warn you that the King yesterday signed an order for your return to France; you are not safe in your hotel, and you would here find too powerful enemies.” I heard the Chevalier d’Eon repeat the contents of this letter, in which Louis XV. thus separated himself from the King of France, several times at my father’s. The Chevalier, or rather the Chevalaere d’Eon had preserved all the King’s letters. Messieurs de Maurepas and de Vergennes wished to get them out of his hands, as they were afraid he would print them. This eccentric being had long solicited permission to return to France; but it was necessary to find a way of sparing the family he had offended the insult they would see in his return; he was therefore made to resume the costume of that sex to which in France everything is pardoned. The desire to see his native land once more determined him to submit to the condition, but he revenged himself by combining the long train of his gown and the three deep ruffles on his sleeves with the attitude and conversation of a grenadier, which made him very disagreeable company.
[The account given by Madame Campan of the Chevalier d’Eon is now known to be incorrect in many particulars. Enough details for most readers will be found in the Duc de Broglie’s “Secret of the King," vol. ii., chaps. vi. and g., and at p. 89, vol. ii. of that work, where the Duke refers to the letter of most dubious authenticity spoken of by Madame Campan. The following details will be sufficient for these memoirs: The Chevalier Charles d’Eon de Beaumont (who was born in 1728) was an ex-captain of dragoons, employed in both the open and secret diplomacy of Louis XV. When at the embassy in London he quarrelled with the ambassador, his superior, the Comte de Guerchy (Marquis do Nangis), and used his possession of papers concerning the secret diplomacy to shield himself. It was when hiding in London, in 1765, on account of this business, that he seems first to have assumed woman’s dress, which he retained apparently chiefly from love of notoriety. In 1775 a formal agreement with the French Court, made by the instrumentality of Beaumarchais, of all people in the world, permitted him to return to France, retaining the dress of a woman. He went back to France, but again came to England, and died there, at his residence in Millman Street, near the Foundling Hospital, May 22, 1710. He had been a brave and distinguished officer, but his form and a certain coldness of temperament always remarked in him assisted him in his assumption of another sex. There appears to be no truth in the story of his proceedings at the Russian Court, and his appearing in female attire was a surprise to those who must have known of any earlier affair of the sort.]
At last, the event so long desired by the Queen, and by all those who wished her well, took place; her Majesty became enceinte. The King was in ecstasies. Never was there a more united or happier couple. The disposition of Louis XVI. entirely altered, and became prepossessing and conciliatory; and the Queen was amply compensated for the uneasiness which the King’s indifference during the early part of their union had caused her.
The summer of 1778 was extremely hot. July and August passed, but the air was not cooled by a single storm. The Queen spent whole days in close rooms, and could not sleep until she had breathed the fresh night air, walking with the Princesses and her brothers upon the terrace under her apartments. These promenades at first gave rise to no remark; but it occurred to some of the party to enjoy the music of wind instruments during these fine summer nights. The musicians belonging to the chapel were ordered to perform pieces suited to instruments of that description, upon steps constructed in the middle of the garden. The Queen, seated on one of the terrace benches, enjoyed the effect of this music, surrounded by all the royal family with the exception of the King, who joined them but, twice, disliking to change his hour of going to bed.
Nothing could be more innocent than these parties; yet Paris, France, nay, all Europe, were soon canvassing them in a manner most disadvantageous to the reputation of Marie Antoinette. It is true that all the inhabitants of Versailles enjoyed these serenades, and that there was a crowd near the spot from eleven at night until two or three in the morning. The windows of the ground floor occupied by Monsieur and Madame –[The wife of Monsieur, the Comte de Provence.]– were kept open, and the terrace was perfectly well lighted by the numerous wax candles burning in the two apartments. Lamps were likewise placed in the garden, and the lights of the orchestra illuminated the rest of the place.
I do not know whether a few incautious women might not have ventured farther, and wandered to the bottom of the park; it may have been so; but the Queen, Madame, and the Comtesse d’Artois were always arm-in-arm, and never left the terrace. The Princesses were not remarkable when seated on the benches, being dressed in cambric muslin gowns, with large straw hats and muslin veils, a costume universally adopted by women at that time; but when standing up their different figures always distinguished them; and the persons present stood on one side to let them pass. It is true that when they seated themselves upon the benches private individuals would sometimes, to their great amusement, sit down by their side.
A young clerk in the War Department, either not knowing or pretending not to know the Queen, spoke to her of the beauty of the night, and the delightful effect of the music. The Queen, fancying she was not recognised, amused herself by keeping up the incognito, and they talked of several private families of Versailles, consisting of persons belonging to the King’s household or her own. After a few minutes the Queen and Princesses rose to walk, and on leaving the bench curtsied to the clerk. The young man knowing, or having subsequently discovered, that he had been conversing with the Queen, boasted of it in his office. He was merely, desired to hold his tongue; and so little attention did he excite that the Revolution found him still only a clerk.
Another evening one of Monsieur’s body-guard seated himself near the Princesses, and, knowing them, left the place where he was sitting, and placed himself before the Queen, to tell her that he was very fortunate in being able to seize an opportunity of imploring the kindness of his sovereign; that he was “soliciting at Court"–at the word soliciting the Queen and Princesses rose hastily and withdrew into Madame’s apartment.– [Soulavie has most criminally perverted these two facts.-MADAME CAMPAN.]- I was at the Queen’s residence that day. She talked of this little occurrence all the time of her ’coucher’; though she only complained that one of Monsieur’s guards should have had the effrontery to speak to her. Her Majesty added that he ought to have respected her incognito; and that that was not the place where he should have ventured to make a request. Madame had recognised him, and talked of making a complaint to his captain; the Queen opposed it, attributing his error to his ignorance and provincial origin.
The most scandalous libels were based on these two insignificant occurrences, which I have related with scrupulous exactness. Nothing could be more false than those calumnies. It must be confessed, however, that such meetings were liable to ill consequences. I ventured to say as much to the Queen, and informed her that one evening, when her Majesty beckoned to me to go and speak to her, I thought I recognised on the bench on which she was sitting two women deeply veiled, and keeping profound silence; that those women were the Comtesse du Barry and her sister-in-law; and that my suspicions were confirmed, when, at a few paces from the seat, and nearer to her Majesty, I met a tall footman belonging to Madame du Barry, whom I had seen in her service all the time she resided at Court.
My advice was disregarded. Misled by the pleasure she found in these promenades, and secure in the consciousness of blameless conduct, the Queen would not see the lamentable results which must necessarily follow. This was very unfortunate; for besides the mortifications they brought upon her, it is highly probable that they prompted the vile plot which gave rise to the Cardinal de Rohan’s fatal error.
Having enjoyed these evening promenades about a month, the Queen ordered a private concert within the colonnade which contained the group of Pluto and Proserpine. Sentinels were placed at all the entrances, and ordered to admit within the colonnade only such persons as should produce tickets signed by my father-in-law. A fine concert was performed there by the musicians of the chapel and the female musicians belonging to the. Queen’s chamber. The Queen went with Mesdames de Polignac, de Chalon, and d’Andlau, and Messieurs de Polignac, de Coigny, de Besenval, and de Vaudreuil; there were also a few equerries present. Her Majesty gave me permission to attend the concert with some of my female relations. There was no music upon the terrace. The crowd of inquisitive people, whom the sentinels kept at a distance from the enclosure of the colonnade, went away highly discontented; the small number of persons admitted no doubt occasioned jealousy, and gave rise to offensive comments which were caught up by the public with avidity. I do not pretend to apologise for the kind of amusements with which the Queen indulged herself during this and the following summer; the consequences were so lamentable that the error was no doubt very great; but what I have said respecting the character of these promenades may be relied on as true.
When the season for evening walks was at an end, odious couplets were circulated in Paris; the ’Queen was treated in them in the most insulting manner; her situation ranked among her enemies persons attached to the only prince who for several years had appeared likely to give heirs to the crown. People uttered the most inconsiderate language; and those improper conversations took place in societies wherein the imminent danger of violating to so criminal an extent both truth and the respect due to sovereigns ought to have been better understood. A few days before the Queen’s confinement a whole volume of manuscript songs, concerning her and all the ladies about her remarkable for rank or station was, thrown down in the oiel-de-boeuf.–[A large room at Versailles lighted by a bull’s-eye window, and used as a waiting-room.]– This manuscript was immediately put into the hands of the King, who was highly incensed at it, and said that he had himself been at those promenades; that he had seen nothing connected with them but what was perfectly harmless; that such songs would disturb the harmony of twenty families in the Court and city; that it was a capital crime to have made any against the Queen herself; and that he wished the author of the infamous libels to be discovered and punished. A fortnight afterwards it was known publicly that the verses were by M. Champcenetz de Riquebourg, who was not even reprimanded.
[The author of a great many songs, some of which are very well written. Lively and satirical by nature, he did not lose either his cheerfulness or his carelessness before the revolutionary tribunal. After hearing his own sentence read, he asked his judges if he might not be allowed to find a substitute.–MADAME CAMPAN.]
I knew for a certainty that the King spoke to M. de Maurepas, before two of his most confidential servants, respecting the risk which he saw the Queen ran from these night walks upon the terrace of Versailles, which the public ventured to censure thus openly, and that the old minister had the cruelty to advise that she should be suffered to go on; she possessed talent; her friends were very ambitious, and longed to see her take a part in public affairs; and to let her acquire the reputation of levity would do no harm. M. de Vergennes was as hostile to the Queen’s influence as M. de Maurepas. It may therefore be fairly presumed, since the Prime Minister durst point out to his King an advantage to be gained by the Queen’s discrediting herself, that he and M. de Vergennes employed all means within the reach of powerful ministers in order to ruin her in the opinion of the public.
The Queen’s accouchement approached; Te Deums were sung and prayers offered up in all the cathedrals. On the 11th of December, 1778, the royal family, the Princes of the blood, and the great officers of State passed the night in the rooms adjoining the Queen’s bedchamber. Madame, the King’s daughter, came into the world before mid-day on the 19th of December.–[Marie Therese Charlotte (1778-1861), Madame Royale; married in 1799 Louis, Duc d’Angouleme, eldest son of the Comte d’Artois.]– The etiquette of allowing all persons indiscriminately to enter at the moment of the delivery of a queen was observed with such exaggeration that when the accoucheur said aloud, “La Reine va s’accoucher,” the persons who poured into the chamber were so numerous that the rush nearly destroyed the Queen. During the night the King had taken the precaution to have the enormous tapestry screens which surrounded her Majesty’s bed secured with cords; but for this they certainly would have been thrown down upon her. It was impossible to move about the chamber, which was filled with so motley a crowd that one might have fancied himself in some place of public amusement. Two Savoyards got upon the furniture for a better sight of the Queen, who was placed opposite the fireplace.
The noise and the sex of the infant, with which the Queen was made acquainted by a signal previously agreed on, as it is said, with the Princesse do Lamballe, or some error of the accoucheur, brought on symptoms which threatened fatal consequences; the accoucheur exclaimed, “Give her air–warm water–she must be bled in the foot!” The windows were stopped up; the King opened them with a strength which his affection for the Queen gave him at the moment. They were of great height, and pasted over with strips of paper all round. The basin of hot water not being brought quickly enough, the accoucheur desired the chief surgeon to use his lancet without waiting for it. He did so; the blood streamed out freely, and the Queen opened her eyes. The Princesse de Lamballe was carried through the crowd in a state of insensibility. The valets de chambre and pages dragged out by the collar such inconsiderate persons as would not leave the room. This cruel custom was abolished afterwards. The Princes of the family, the Princes of the blood, the chancellor, and the ministers are surely sufficient to attest the legitimacy of an hereditary prince. The Queen was snatched from the very jaws of death; she was not conscious of having been bled, and on being replaced in bed asked why she had a linen bandage upon her foot.
The delight which succeeded the moment of fear was equally lively and sincere. We were all embracing each other, and shedding tears of joy. The Comte d’Esterhazy and the Prince de Poix, to whom I was the first to announce that the Queen was restored to life, embraced me in the midst of the cabinet of nobles. We little imagined, in our happiness at her escape from death, for how much more terrible a fate our beloved Princess was reserved.
NOTE. The two following specimens of the Emperor Joseph’s correspondence forcibly demonstrate the vigour, shrewdness, and originality of his mind, and complete the portrait left of him by Madame Campan.
Few sovereigns have given their reasons for refusing appointments with the fullness and point of the following letter
To a Lady.
MADAM.–I do not think that it is amongst the duties of a monarch to grant places to one of his subjects merely because he is a gentleman. That, however, is the inference from the request you have made to me. Your late husband was, you say, a distinguished general, a gentleman of good family, and thence you conclude that my kindness to your family can do no less than give a company of foot to your second son, lately returned from his travels.
Madam, a man may be the son of a general and yet have no talent for command. A man may be of a good family and yet possess no other merit than that which he owes to chance,–the name of gentleman.
I know your son, and I know what makes the soldier; and this twofold knowledge convinces me that your son has not the disposition of a warrior, and that he is too full of his birth to leave the country a hope of his ever rendering it any important service.
What you are to be pitied for, madam, is, that your son is not fit either for an officer, a statesman or a priest; in a word, that he is nothing more than a gentleman in the most extended acceptation of the word.
You may be thankful to that destiny, which, in refusing talents to your son, has taken care to put him in possession of great wealth, which will sufficiently compensate him for other deficiencies, and enable him at the same time to dispense with any favour from me.
I hope you will be impartial enough to see the reasons which prompt me to
refuse your request. It may be disagreeable to you, but I consider it
necessary. Farewell, madam.–Your sincere well-wisher,
LACHSENBURG, 4th August, 1787.
The application of another anxious and somewhat covetous mother was answered with still more decision and irony:
To a Lady.
MADAM.–You know my disposition; you are not ignorant that the society of the ladies is to me a mere recreation, and that I have never sacrificed my principles to the fair sex. I pay but little attention to recommendations, and I only take them into consideration when the person in whose behalf I may be solicited possesses real merit.
Two of your sons are already loaded with favours. The eldest, who is not yet twenty, is chief of a squadron in my army, and the younger has obtained a canonry at Cologne, from the Elector, my brother. What would you have more? Would you have the first a general and the second a bishop?
In France you may see colonels in leading-strings, and in Spain the royal princes command armies even at eighteen; hence Prince Stahremberg forced them to retreat so often that they were never able all the rest of their lives to comprehend any other manoeuvre.
It is necessary to be sincere at Court, and severe in the field, stoical
without obduracy, magnanimous without weakness, and to gain the esteem of
our enemies by the justice of our actions; and this, madam, is what I aim
VIENNA, September, 1787.
(From the inedited Letters of Joseph IL, published at Paris, by Persan, 1822.)