All this week, Royal Central’s Elizabeth Jane Timms has been telling the story of Marie Antoinette’s bridal procession as she made her way to her new home in France. Today, she reaches the end of the story and that first, fateful meeting between Marie Antoinette and her groom:
On 14 May, the procession reached Compiegne. The first meeting between Marie Antoinette and 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 here that she got her first sight of the King’s unmarried daughters still at court, Princesses Adelaide, Victoire and Sophie, known as ‘Mesdames’. The night was spent at the chateau of Compiegne, where Marie Antoinette met what was 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 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.
Incidentally, the Musee des Carrosses 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 sledges and a little child’s wagon belonging to Marie Antoinette’s son, the first Dauphin Louis Joseph. The great caravan that helped pulled the Dauphine across the Holy Roman Empire did not survive.
The Dauphine’s arrival at Versailles was, however, a mere station on her journey, albeit the monumental one that took her towards her destiny in France. Alighting at Versailles marked for Marie Antoinette the beginning of the role in reality which she had taken on in name by means of her marriage by proxy, which had allowed her to travel according to her new status. The carriage wheels that had rumbled across the treacherous roads of royal Europe would finally transform themselves into the rough cart that pulled its way through the crowds that October morning in 1793, transporting a ci-devant French Queen (‘Madame Capet’) on her last journey. But this is to anticipate history through later hindsight. The wheels of the Dauphine’s carriage had reached Versailles and conveyed Marie Antoinette safely to her destination – the future lay ahead.