Marie Antoinette in the limelight

Joseph Kranzinger: Marie Antoinette in a red hunting habit, pastel on vellum, c. 1772

Marie Antoinette’s refreshing ways and graceful deportment enchanted the French court. She was judged to be ‘aimable’ – the catchword of the Rococo. At first the young dauphine was the darling of court society. However, her position was increasingly jeopardized by the persisting childlessness of her marriage. Doubts grew as to whether this had in fact even been consummated.

Joseph Kranzinger: Marie Antoinette in a red hunting habit, pastel on vellum, c. 1772

Marie Antoinette’s new husband was a boyish fifteen-year-old, introverted and unsuited to rule. Helplessly shy with his pretty bride and of a rather simple disposition, Louis Auguste was a compliant instrument of the warring cliques at the French court.
The young bride had been instructed by her mother to make every effort to win the affection of her husband. Her chief duty as a wife was to bear offspring as soon as possible in order to secure the succession. This was what her position at court would be measured by.
The issue of the consummation of the marriage was an affair of state. The court grew nervous as there was no sign that marital intercourse had taken place. Marie Antoinette was now put under pressure from all sides; Maria Theresa sent letters with well-meaning advice. The fact that her mother far off in Vienna was well-informed about how her daughter’s married life was developing shows how closely she was being observed and that there was no privacy at the court of Versailles. Maria Antoinette’s every step and utterance was monitored and commented upon.
At first Marie Antoinette made a conscientious attempt to fulfil the expectations placed in her. However, as time went by she increasingly reacted to the demands made on her with scorn and dismissal. A young company of favourites formed around the dauphine, who began an innocent rebellion against the conventions of the court. This made her numerous enemies, particularly as her position was not adequately secured due to her childlessness after several years of marriage.

Martin Mutschlechner