Thursday, April 25, 2013


From the day the Austrians transferred the commodity that was Marie Antoinette to the French in May 1770, she was subject to the stifling etiquette Louis XIV had, decades before, established to keep his Court close and under control.  According to Madame Campan, at the scene of the transfer, near Kehl, the teenage future Dauphine of France had been "entirely undressed, in order that she might retain nothing belonging to a foreign Court (an etiquette always observed on such occasions), the doors were opened ;  the young Princesse came forward, looking round for the Comtesse de Noailles;  then, rushing into her arms, she implored her, with tears in her eyes, and with heartfelt sincerity, to be her guide and support."  The Comtesse de Noailles, Marie Antoinette's new Mistress of the Household, in a gesture foreshadowing the manner in which she'd respond to situations right up to the actual steps to the guillotine, pulled back from her young charge and informed her that the prerogative of the first introduction belonged not to herself, but to her husband, the Comte, who stood waiting to exercise his rights.  That subtle rebuke was but a foreshadowing of lifetime of mismatch between Marie Antoinette's personality and the life she was expected to lead.

Madame Campan's memoirs go on to say "While doing justice to the virtues of the Comtesse de Noailles, those sincerely attached to the Queen have always considered it as one of her earliest misfortunes not to have found, in the person of her adviser, a woman indulgent, enlightened, and administering good advice with that amiability which disposes young persons to follow it.  The Comtesse de Noailles had nothing agreeable in her appearance; her demeanor was stiff and her mien severe….  The Dauphiness was perpetually tormented by the remonstrances of the Comtesse de Noailles…" Marie Antoinette, in her lighthearted, irreverent way, nicknamed her Mistress of the Household, Madame L'Etiquette.

It takes me off topic, but I have to mention that the Comtesse became, at the least, innocuously demented towards the end of her life.  After being one of those Court members that spread rumors and held grudges against the Queen, thus paving the way for the Revolution, the Comtesse eventually became a victim to the reality she'd helped create.  Someday I'll relate the memoirs of an abbé who accompanied the Comtesse and her relatives to the scaffold.

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