Marie Antoinette’s fate has made her the best-known of Maria Theresa’s daughters. The youngest of the imperial couple’s female offspring, she was still only a child when it was decided that she was to be the linchpin of her mother’s diplomatic masterpiece, the alliance with France, Austria’s erstwhile enemy.
Born in Vienna on 2 November 1755, Maria Antonia Anna Josepha was the fifteenth of the sixteen children of Maria Theresa and Franz Stephan of Lorraine. She grew up to be a young girl with great charm but was soon considered rather frivolous and superficial. At the age of eleven the young archduchess became the focus of attention when it was decided that she was to be betrothed to the heir to the French throne.
The union was to crown Maria Theresa’s life work, the renversement des alliances or reversal of the alliances. France, the ‘arch-enemy’ of the Habsburg Monarchy, now became an ally in the struggle for hegemony in Europe. Like the majority of Maria Theresa’s children, Marie Antoinette was married off to a Bourbon. However, whereas her siblings were married off to members of various collateral lines of the French dynasty who ruled over Spain and certain parts of Italy, the youngest daughter was to become queen of France at the side of her future husband, the dauphin (heir to the French throne) Louis Auguste, a grandson of the ruling king Louis XV.
Her intellectual and physical development now followed closely by numerous observers, Marie Antoinette underwent the education and training required to be able to hold her own at the court of Versailles. She was taught French language and history along with the subtle rules of conduct at court, for which tutors from France were specially hired.
By the spring of 1770, now aged fourteen, she was deemed ready: the young archduchess bade farewell to her family and set off on her journey to France. Her wedding to the dauphin was a magnificent spectacle that exhausted the young couple, testing them to their physical and mental limits.