How do you solve a problem like Marie?

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This appears to be a question asked by Marie Theresa about her daughter Marie Antoinette in a letter she wrote to her on the 30th July 1775.

At this time Marie Antoinette was nineteen and had been Queen of France for a year, with her husband Louis having ascended to the throne as Louis XVI in 1774. Her first forays into Queenship were clearly concerning her mother, the powerful Empress Marie Theresa of the Austrian Empire as she wrote…”I cannot hide from you that a letter you sent to Rosenberg upset me most dreadfully. What style! What frivolity!…I see only intrigue, vulgar spite, delight in mockery and persecution“.

When you hear of the contents of the letters sent by Marie to Count Rosenberg (an Austrian Count) you can see why she received such a strong chastisement. In these letters she criticized her husband the king, referring to him as “the poor man“, and complained that they did not share similar interests. She also boasted that she held significant influence over Louis, despite her dissatisfaction with their marriage. If these letters were released they would have caused a significant scandal and make Louis the laughing stock of Europe. This was not a politically astute action, especially as Marie Antoinette was already distrusted for her Austrian Hapsburg background at the French court.

Alongside these letters, comments about Marie Antoinette’s frivolous behaviour at the French court must also have reached her mother’s ears for she also wrote…”All the winter long I have trembled at the thought of your too easy success and the flatterers surrounding you, while you have thrown yourself into a life of pleasure and preposterous display. This chasing from pleasure to pleasure without the king, and knowing that he takes no joy in it and only goes with you or lets you do what you want out of sheer good nature, has made me write before to express my fears.”

Marie Theresa had a cause to be concerned, if Marie Antoinette continued on this road she could alienate her husband and the French court putting the French-Austrian alliance at risk. This alliance had been secured by Louis and Marie’s marriage, and although it certainly wasn’t a love match it was imperative for French-Austrian relations for it to succeed. Marie Theresa had worked diligently to ensure her children were married well and secured alliances for the Austrian Empire. These political marriages were quite standard during the 18th Century unlike today, however, it did not mean the princesses involved were usually happy about them. Marie Antoinette’s older sister Charlotte wrote in a letter after her arranged marriage to the King of Naples “When I think her [Marie Antoinette] fate may be like mine…I would like to write her entire volumes on the subject… for I must say the agony suffered is all the greater in that one must always appear happy“. Louis and Marie had been married for 5 years by the time of Marie Theresa’s letter in 1775, and the marriage still had not been consummated. This was causing further tensions, as one of Marie Antoinette’s main roles was to produce children and secure the French monarchy. Two years after this letter the marriage still had not been successfully consummated, and Marie Theresa’s son Emperor Joseph II travelled to France to speak to the couple about this ongoing issue. He did not think much of the pair and wrote to his brother Leopold “they’re two incompetents together“. However, at some point the royal couple were able to consummate their marriage and ended up having 4 biological children as well as adopting others.

Over the course of her reign, Marie Antoinette was never able to shed her growing reputation as a frivolous, extravagant Queen who cheated on her husband and didn’t care about the French populace. A lot of these slanders and rumours were either untrue or major exaggerations yet her unpopularity, along with the king’s inadequacy as a monarch, contributed towards the growing dissatisfaction of the French populace that led to the French Revolution.  Over the years Marie Theresa must have watched events in France with trepidation, in her letter of 1775 she had written “your luck can all too easily change, and by your own fault you may find yourself plunged in to the deepest misery” with the benefit of hindsight we can see how true this warning was and how it went unheeded. Marie Theresa also wrote “I pray to God to end my days quickly, since I am no longer of any use to you, and I could not bear to lose my dear child or see her unhappy, whom I shall love tenderly until I die“. In this Marie Theresa’s prayers were answered as she died in 1780, nine years before the revolution that would throw Marie Antoinette’s life into chaos and result in her death by guillotine in 1793 at the age of 37.

What do you think of Marie Theresa’s letter to her daughter? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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Marie Antoinette (L) and Marie Theresa (R) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Wikipedia.

Sources:

https://www.marie-antoinette.org

https://www.historyextra.com/period/georgian/marie-antoinette-facts-life-death-cake-buried/

https://www.historytoday.com/archive/birth-marie-antoinette

https://www.gallery.ca/magazine/exhibitions/a-scandal-in-muslin-marie-antoinettes-little-white-dress

Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette by Carolyn Harris

Written in History: Letters that Changed the World by Simon Sebag Montefiore

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