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From Vienna to Versailles: Marie Antoinette’s Bridal Journey – Part One

On 21 April 1770, a procession passed by the imperial summer palace of Schönbrunn, consisting of 21 state coaches, followed by 36 fine carriages, with a total of 450 horses and an accompanying personal suite of some 257 people. This was the beginning of a two and a half week journey for the future Marie Antoinette, already French Dauphine by proxy, from Vienna to Versailles.

She was the eventual embodiment of the Austrian half of the Treaty of Versailles, signed just a year after her birth, on 1 May 1756. This treaty, the result of an extraordinary volte-face in European foreign policy with the rapprochement of Austria and France, was helped by the political stance that Austria’s arch-enemy, Prussia, had taken with England. Because of the claims asserted by Frederick II on Silesia – a Habsburg birthright – the subsequent invasion by Prussia of Maria Theresia’s dominions resulted in what became known as the War of the Austrian Succession, prompted through the sudden death of Maria Theresia’s father, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI in 1740.

Charles VI had made desperate attempts to get the European Great Powers to recognise his daughter Maria Theresia as his rightful heir because of his lack of any surviving male offspring. Indeed, the so-called ‘Pragmatic Sanction’ of 1713 was proclaimed by Charles VI four years before the birth of Maria Theresia, probably in an attempt to address the possible eventuality of his having daughters as the only children to succeed him.

Marie Antoinette in 1767, attributed to Martin van Meytens [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The eleventh daughter of Maria Theresia and her fifteenth surviving child, Archduchess Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna, was known within the imperial family as ‘Antoine’. The diminutive of her name draws important attention to the French blood that flowed through her veins, her father Francis Stephen having been a Duke of Lorraine, though he was forced to renounce the duchy as part of the negotiations that eventually enabled him to marry the Archduchess Maria Theresia, receiving the grand Duchy of Tuscany instead by way of compensation.

As Antonia Fraser points out, the Lorraine connection – deeply significant for a future Queen of France – was rendered lesser by the fact that Lorraine was an independent adjoining principality and that consequently, any prince of Lorraine was not viewed in the same way as was a royal prince of France, or French duke. Thus, the way that the future Marie Antoinette’s ancestry was regarded was pre-set in French minds before her arrival, where she was known at the anti-Austrian French court as “L’Autrichienne”.

The sense of her being the daughter of Lorraine – a ‘foreign’, adjoining principality, meant that this underlined the sense of her being an “outsider” in French royal terms and thus unequal to its exacting demands of pedigree and etiquette. This, despite the fact that her blood-line included the second wife of ‘Monsieur’ – the younger brother of Louis XIV – the Orleans Palatine-born princess known popularly as ‘Liselotte’, her paternal great-grandmother. Francis Stephen, elected Holy Roman Emperor in his own right, spoke French as his only language throughout his life. Marie Antoinette’s own French would only ultimately improve with her hasty re-education, which sought to make good the gaps that for a future Queen of France, would desperately need to be filled, now it was clear she had been chosen. By the time that Marie Antoinette set out for France, her command of French was relatively fluent.

Had there been any other available archduchesses among Maria Theresia’s daughters, it would seem likely that any one of them could have been chosen – for when Marie Antoinette’s elder sister Josepha – intended for the royal throne of Naples – died suddenly of smallpox in 1767, she was simply substituted by her next sister, Maria Carolina, who did indeed travel to Naples and became the Neopolitan queen instead. Whatever the private loss to their mother, the Empress, marriage politics simply did not allow for personal emotion and the importance of these alliances meant that they were made to be upheld – so the name of one archduchess was simply replaced by another.

It was the equivalent of one name being ‘rubbed out’ and another inserted in its place. In Marie Antoinette’s own case however, there was no other archduchess available left from which to choose, as Maria Carolina – also briefly floated for the French marriage – was now in Naples, since 1768. Marie Antoinette was her mother’s youngest surviving daughter – and in 1770, she was aged fifteen.

Marie Antoinette’s wedding – “per procurationem” – took place at the Hapsburg Court Church of St Augustin, within the great Hofburg Palace’s Augustine Wing, on 19 April 1770, at six o’clock in the evening. Naturally, it was a proxy wedding as her bridegroom, the Dauphin Louis-Auguste, was awaiting her instead in France, and so, he was represented by Marie Antoinette’s brother, the Archduke Ferdinand, at the altar. The royal couple would not meet until Marie Antoinette arrived at Compiegne, where the marriage, already celebrated by proxy in Vienna, would enable the two to finally meet for the first time.

The choice of the St Augustin Church was an appropriate one – Marie Antoinette had been christened there, and it was also here that Maria Theresia had married Francis Stephen in 1736. It remained the favourite court Church of the Hapsburg family well into the next century – other important imperial marriages took place here, including that of Napolean Bonaparte to the Austrian Archduchess, Marie Louise, as well as most famously, that of Emperor Franz Josef I to Princess Elisabeth in Bavaria.

There is no record of Marie Antoinette’s marriage in the church today, nor is the altar the original one – instead, the church contains a huge memorial by the sculptor Antonio Canova to her eldest sister, the Archduchess Marie Christine, who was the exception amongst her sisters of being her mother’s favourite, a fact which enabled her in turn, to marry as an additional exception, the husband of her choice, Prince Albert of Saxe-Teschen. This was the cause of understandable embitterment to her other sisters that did marry, who were forced, for better or worse, to contract treaty marriages for the ultimate benefit of the State.

Interior of the Church of St. Augustin in Vienna, where Marie Antoinette’s marriage by proxy took place (User: Bgabel at wikivoyage shared [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

The imperial procession departed from Vienna at nine o’clock in the morning on 21 April 1770, and the famous long neck of Marie Antoinette, was reported by the son of her wet-nurse Joseph Weber, as “craning” out of the windows of her carriage to look again and again at the sight of the summer palace of Schönbrunn. The Marquis de Durfort had brought with him the two carriages which would transport Marie Antoinette personally to France – one decorated in crimson, the other in blue.

The distressing leave-taking scene is in some ways reminiscent of Mary, Queen of Scots’s fabled farewell to France, clinging to the part of the ship closest to the French coast as she sailed for Scotland – Mary, Queen of Scots being another figure in Marie Antoinette’s distant ancestry – yet these farewells were not supposed to mean return. As Antonia Fraser points out in her book, Love and Louis XIV, using the words of Louis XIV to the future Queen Marie-Luise of Spain, when she left for Madrid – “Farewell, for ever…” – meant that to return would ultimately mean royal failure. She was accompanied by Prince Starhemberg – Maria Theresia’s chief chamberlain, the Princess of Paar – her Mistress of the Court (Obersthofmeisterin), her ladies-in-waiting and maids-of-honour, together with chamberlains and whole accompanying court retinue, plus staff and servants. These included secretaries, lackeys, cooks and even more obscurely named servants, such as a sugar-inspector.

Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna (By Jebulon (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons)

The procession had its afore-planned route, which had been worked out well in advance, to meet the necessary needs of both the practical and the ceremonial. Horses had to be ready at their posts to be changed when the procession met them en route. En route stops meant fireworks, music, triumphal arches, receptions, theatrical performances. In short, it was a justly apt preparation in more ways than one, for the court of Versailles, from where Marie Antoinette would write a mere two months after her arrival, “I put on my rouge… in front of all the whole world.”

Bells rang when the procession entered; canons were fired. Invariably for such a huge retinue, it was necessary to find places to stop overnight, which could accommodate the Dauphine as well as her suite, ladies-in-waiting and attendants. Often, monasteries and castles appear to have been chosen, as they represented places equal in size as well as importance which could be deemed worthy of receiving en route both an Austrian Archduchess as well as a future French Queen. As such, the roads had to be made passable, streets improved and food and fine cutlery sourced in enough quantity as would be needed.

Marie Antoinette’s journey would cross much of the Holy Roman Empire, of which her father had been Emperor in his lifetime, her mother being Holy Roman Empress also, albeit by marriage. Crucially, she would then be handed over formally to France as its future Dauphine, but this time in order to ‘become’ fully French, thereafter entering Strasbourg and then her father’s former duchy of Lorraine. Many of the cities and towns through which she passed would count the passing of her procession through them as a high point in their cultural history.

The first stop was the great Benedictine baroque abbey of Melk above the Danube. According to Antonia Fraser’s biography of Marie Antoinette, the Dauphine was met here by her eldest brother Joseph II, her mother’s co-regent since the death of her father, Francis Stephen, where an opera was performed. Marie Antoinette stayed overnight at Melk Abbey. Marie Antoinette also spent a night at the medieval abbey at Lambach, in Upper Austria on the River Traun. The abbey has its own beautiful Rococo theatre, and we know that Marie Antoinette attended a performance there, as part of this journey.

The Benedictine Abbey of Melk, Austria, (by Walter Hochauer (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

The following day, the procession entered Bavaria and stopped at Munich, where Marie Antoinette was allowed a day of rest. She was permitted to stay in the glorious Rococo pavilion of the Amalienburg, constructed for Elector Karl Albrecht and his wife, the hunter Electress Maria Amalia. The pavilion – which survives today – is within the splendid surroundings of Nymphenburg Palace, the summer palace west of Munich belonging to the Wittelsbachs, Bavaria’s ruling family. It was governed by Maximilian III Joseph at the time of Marie Antoinette’s visit. In Nymphenburg Palace’s park can be found the Badenburg, or ‘Bathing Pavilion’, where Elector Max Emmanuel’s famous ‘Gallery of Beauties’ was kept. This consisted of portraits of ladies from the court of Louis XIV’s Versailles; although, it is not recorded whether Marie Antoinette saw these.

The Amalienburg Pavilion, Nymphenburg Palace Park, (by Richard Huber (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

After Munich, the procession proceeded to Augsburg, where the Dauphine attended a ball in the famous Ball Room of the Schaezlerpalais. The Ball Room still exists, resplendent with mirrors and is within what is today a superb state and city art gallery, containing what is widely considered to be one of the finest surviving baroque ballrooms in Germany.

The Ball Room at the Schaezlerpalais, Augsburg (by Mogadir (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

At Günzburg, in Swabia, Marie Antoinette broke her journey for two days and was joined by her father’s sister, Princess Anne Charlotte of Lorraine. Together, they made a pilgrimage to the church of Maria Königin Bild, near Limbach. The pilgrimage church near Limbach (Burgau) stood between 1679-1788; such was its popularity that the church was extended in the late 1690’s. The original church that Marie Antoinette visited with her aunt Princess Anne Charlotte now no longer exists – a chapel has stood again on the original site of the old pilgrimage church since 1964 – however, the altar’s sacred image of the Virgin Mary was preserved and is today to be found in the parish church of Burgau instead. From Ulm, the route followed onwards to the monastery of Obermarchtal, where she spent the night of 1-2 May. During her night at the monastery, she and her entourage feasted and saw a performance of a festspiel, “Beste Gesinnungen Schwäbischer Herzen” by Sebastian Sailer.

She next stayed at Stockach, then at Donaueschingen overnight. The procession also stopped at the old guesthouse, the Hofgut Sternen in the Black Forest, where Goethe would also stay in his time. At Freiburg im Breisgau, she stayed at the so-called “Kageneckschen Haus” on the Salzstraße, which had to be specially renovated for the occasion and which was later rebuilt following its destruction in World War II. The route by which the procession entered Freiburg was called Dauphine Street, even into the 19th century. Marie Antoinette gave a silver eternal lamp to the pilgrimage church of Maria Königin Bild, which was decorated with the images of her brothers and sisters, which later found its way to Freiburg Minster in 1789 and remains part of the Minster’s treasures today.

Freiburg im Breisgau, with the Freiburg Minster, (By Oberth (self-taken photo) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

On 6 May, Marie Antoinette’s entourage departed from Freiburg and made its way to the imperial abbey of Schuttern, where she spent her last night on German soil and importantly, within the Holy Roman Empire. Schuttern was mostly dissolved in 1806 following the Secularisation and became the property of the Margraves of Baden. What can be seen today, is only the remaining abbey church, the ensemble of abbey buildings having since been dismantled. The following day, the famous ‘hand-over’ ceremony would take place, whereby Marie Antoinette would formally enter France and as Dauphine already by proxy, become truly French at last.

The former abbey church of Schuttern, (S. Finner at the German language Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

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