At the Imperial Abbey of Schuttern, Marie Antoinette spent her last night on German soil and in the Holy Roman Empire. On this night, she was formally introduced for the first time to some of the French officials that had journeyed to the border for the ceremony the following day. The court of Versailles would be expecting the Dauphine instead at Compiegne, where the meeting of Marie Antoinette and Louis Auguste was destined to finally take place.
The following day was an extraordinarily important one. Near the town of Kehl in Baden-Württemberg – just over twenty-five modern miles away from Schuttern – on an island in the Rhine, Marie Antoinette would officially be ‘handed over’ and at last become properly ‘French’ – as such, she would then formally enter France. The choice of Kehl was a well-made one, as not only is the town located exactly opposite Strasbourg, with the great Rhine River in-between, but it represented a very convenient mid-way point for the Dauphine to be ‘handed over’ on ‘neutral’ ground and to exchange one nationality for another. Kehl had also been used for the handover ceremony of Louis Auguste’s mother, the previous Dauphine Maria Josepha of Saxony; although, the wooden pavilion which had been constructed for Maria Josepha’s ‘hand-over’ had fallen into disrepair and so something else had to be built for Marie Antoinette instead.
So much did the dictates of court ceremonial dominate this solemn occasion, that there had to be a ‘neutral’ ground within the actual pavilion itself – with a table covered with red velvet to stand for the border between Austria and France, as Antonia Fraser, Marie Antoinette’s biographer, tells us. It was during the ‘hand over’ that Marie Antoinette would formally meet the woman who importantly would serve her in the capacity of Mistress of the Household, the Comtesse de Noailles, whom Marie Antoinette would later give the cheeky sobriquet, (although not without some truth) of ‘Madame Etiquette’.Her Austrian entourage had to be left behind (except Prince Starhemberg) as did her fine clothes – even her favourite dog, Mops. This might seem cruel to modern sensibilities, but such thoroughness was necessary to prove the ultimate point that – as Marie Antoinette’s First Lady of the Bedchamber Madame Campan, would later write – the bride retain “nothing from a foreign court.” In many ways, it formed something of an apt introduction to the very public rituals of the morning dressing of ‘lever’ and the evening undressing of ‘coucher’, which Marie Antoinette would immediately encounter as being de rigeur at Versailles. In the case of the ‘hand-over’, Marie Antoinette was undressed, however, in order to be dressed again. There was every reason to assume that subsequent Dauphines might be ‘handed over’ at Kehl in the decades to come as Maria Josepha had been. Nothing appears to exist today in Kehl to commemorate Marie Antoinette’s ‘hand-over’ ceremony, as it did not, of course, take place in the town itself. Kehl does literally, however, symbolise the end of the Austro-German journey that the Dauphine had made to the French border.
Strasbourg, in France’s Grand-Est, had the honour of welcoming the future Queen of France as ‘French’ after her ‘hand-over’. Having literally left behind her all that remained of Austria – symbolically as well as geographically – from her personal entourage, down to her clothes, Marie Antoinette was now ‘Dauphine’ in France, which was something quite different to being simply ‘Dauphine’ by proxy, en route across the Holy Roman Empire. For although Marie Antoinette was now to be regarded as ‘French’, to the anti-Austrian court, she had been dubbed before her arrival, ‘L’Autrichienne’, despite her formal ‘shedding’ of Austria.
Strasbourg provided fireworks for its future Queen. Marie Antoinette was met by children dressed as shepherds and shepherdesses, who greeted her with flowers. She stayed the night in the residence of the Prince-Bishops and Cardinals of Rohan, the Palais Rohan, situated next to the cathedral which had been floodlit for her arrival. The Polish Princess Marie Leszczyńska married Louis XV by proxy in Strasbourg Cathedral in 1725. The Palais Rohan, completed in 1742, has been listed as a historical monument since 1920, and today, it houses three museums, one of decorative arts, one of fine arts and another of archaeology.Once in Lorraine – her father’s former duchy before he acquired that of Tuscany as a recompense – the procession made its way to Nancy, the seat of the Dukes of Lorraine and incidentally, her father’s birthplace. She may have stayed at the Hotel de la Reine. Today, at least, a grand hotel with the same name is within a former 18th century building on Place Stanislas – named after the Polish King, Stanisław I Leszczyński, the father of Marie Leszczyńska – the baroque square of Nancy, flanked by its now famous golden gates. Importantly at Nancy, she visited the tombs of her Lorraine forbears, in the fifteenth-century Church of the Cordeliers, situated in the old town.
The tombs of the Dukes of Lorraine are located in a chapel within the church which was established by Charles III in the style of the Medici Chapel in Florence. In an interesting twist of history, another Hapsburg event would take place here in due time – Archduke Otto von Hapsburg, son of the last Austro-Hungarian Emperor Karl I/IV, married Princess Regina of Saxe-Meiningen in the Church of the Cordeliers, in 1951. Marie Antoinette’s visit to the tombs of her ancestors was a deliberate attempt to emphasise her French lineage.The Dauphine’s route continued by way of Bar-le-Duc, considered a reasonable half-way point between Strasbourg and Paris. Sometimes known as Bar, this was again another important stop in Grand-Est Lorraine, as the medieval duchy of Bar had been granted to Stanisław I Leszczyński, Louis XV’s father-in-law, in the preliminary Treaty of Vienna. Stanisław I Leszczyński had lost his throne as a result of the War of the Polish Succession, and as a result of the Treaty of Vienna being confirmed, Stanisław received the Duchy of Lorraine for his lifetime, whilst Francis Stephen – Marie Antoinette’s father – received as the grand duchy of Tuscany by way of exchange, when the Medici Grand Duke Gian Gastone of Tuscany died without heirs.
On Stanisław’s death, Lorraine was annexed by France. Importantly, Francis Stephen was known as Francis III of Lorraine and Bar until he acquired the grand duchy of Tuscany, and as a result of his marriage to Maria Theresia, their two houses were united – after which Austria’s ruling family became known as the House of Haspburg-Lorraine. The following day the procession continued to Chalons-en-Champagne, where Marie Antoinette attended the theatre. The Porte Sainte-Croix (Gate of the Holy Cross) in the city was known as ‘Porte Dauphine’ in memory of Marie Antoinette’s procession passing through Chalon on its way to Paris; although it is important to remember that the city was known as Chalons-sur-Marne in Marie Antoinette’s day, only being renamed in 1988. The following day she continued by way of the ancient town of Soissons on the river Aisne, where she spent the night and had the following day at leisure.On 14 May, the procession reached Compiegne. The first meeting between Marie Antoinette and the Dauphin Louis-Auguste was destined to take place at three o’clock in the afternoon in a forest outside the town of Compiegne, not far from the eponymous chateau. Finally, the two symbols of the Franco-Austrian alliance were to meet for the first time as ‘man’ and ‘wife’ by proxy, after which they would journey on towards Versailles, where the second ‘French’ wedding ceremony would be performed.
The French Royal Family had travelled to Compiegne for the Dauphine’s arrival. It was also here that she got her first sight of the King’s unmarried daughters still at court, the Princesses Adelaide, Victoire and Sophie, known as ‘Mesdames’. The night was spent at the chateau of Compiegne, where Marie Antoinette met what were known as the Princes and Princesses of the Blood, in Versailles terms. The chateau had been rebuilt during the reign of Louis XV and the Dauphin Louis-Auguste would later enlarge parts of the chateau as Louis XVI. Later, the suite of rooms at Compiegne, which eventually became the apartment of Marie Antoinette as Queen of France, was turned into an apartment under the Emperor of the French, Napolean I, for Napolean’s only son from his second marriage to Empress Marie Louise – born an Austrian Archduchess – the Duke of Reichstadt, also known to history as the ‘King of Rome’.The following night of 15 May was spent at the Chateau of La Muette, close to the Bois de Boulogne. Importantly, at the supper party which took place at the Chateau of La Muette, Marie Antoinette saw for the first time, the notorious mistress of Louis XV, Madame du Barry. There had been a first chateau at La Muette, which was used by Louis XV until the early 1740s, when he had the chateau rebuilt – a project he completed in 1745, under the architects Jacques V Gabriel and Ange-Jacques Gabriel. This second chateau was dismantled following the death of the Count of Franqueville; the modern ‘chateau’ that can be seen today at La Muette, was completed in 1922. Marie Antoinette departed La Muette early on 16 May 1770 – a Wednesday – with her entourage and arrived at Versailles at around half-past nine in the morning. She would prepare for her wedding in the rooms which had belonged to Louis-Auguste’s mother, the previous Dauphine Maria Josepha, born Maria Josepha of Saxony. Her hooped dress was of “white brocade”, and the wedding ring had already been tried for size at Compiegne. Marie Antoinette and Louis-Auguste’s wedding took place in the Royal Chapel at Versailles, completed in 1710, towards the end of Louis XIV’s reign.
The culmination of the Austro-French Treaty had at last reached fruition, with Marie Antoinette becoming de facto Dauphine, nearly a month after her proxy wedding to the Dauphin in Vienna. The French carriages of crimson and blue which had transported her from Vienna to Versailles had fulfilled their task and ‘delivered’ the future Queen of France to the fabled palace of Louis XIV, enlarged and transformed out of the old hunting lodge of his father Louis XIII, into the most magnificent palace complex in Europe, to which he moved his court and governed from 1682 onwards.
Versailles comprises today of over 2,300 rooms – in comparison to, for example, Schönbrunn’s 1,441 – both palaces and their adjoining parks have enjoyed a World Heritage status under UNESCO – Versailles since 1979, Schönbrunn since 1996. Incidentally, the Musee des Carrosses (‘Royal Carriage Museum’) at Versailles, contains mostly royal coaches and carriages from the time of the Restoration onwards, the older royal vehicles prior to the French Revolution which are preserved there being sedan chairs, six sleds and a little child’s wagon, belonging to Marie Antoinette’s son, the first Dauphin Louis Joseph. So the carriages which had transported her from Vienna to Versailles, are – sadly – not be found today in either Versailles or Vienna.