Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Louis XVI Coronation Coach

In July 1775, newly crowned King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette paused, en route from the coronation in Reims to their Chateau de Versailles, to accept praise, in verse, from an outstanding teenage student named Maximilien Robespeirre.  Robespierre, on bended in knee, in the rain, no less, was rewarded with what was reported to be less than positive feedback from the King and Queen.  It seems that the royal couple appeared to endure the moment rather than revel in it or show any appreciation for it.

Maybe the royal couple's lukewarm response was because they were in a hurry to get home and get out of the spectacularly gilded, magnificently appointed (albeit bumpy, uncomfortable, hot-and-muggy-in-the-summer-heat) berlin in which they bounced along the (revoltingly smelly) streets of Paris. Certainly, they'd heard plenty of praise during the courses of their lives and more from a relative Nobody like Robespierre wasn't going to impress them.  After all, at his recent coronation, Louis XVI had literally been anointed with holy oil and declared a divinity.  The social graces they'd been taught, and there were beauçoup, didn't include expressing effusive gratitude in such situations.   By nature, though,  he was nothing if not a humble man.  A humble, socially awkward man and not an intentionally rude or hurtful one.  Not usually anyway.  He could be pretty brusque and maybe he was here, as well....  Well, I don't know, but I like to give him the benefit of the doubt.

I'm reminded of one of my favorite Louis XVI anecdotes in which he's quoted as reassuring Madame de Staël, who was embarrassed at the state of her torn dress, with the words, "If you can't be comfortable with us, you can't be comfortable with anyone." - or words to that effect.  He was a kind man.

There are those who look to the rejection Robespierre must've felt as he knelt in the rain that day as impetus for his implacable hatred for royalty and aristocrats during the Revolution.  Indeed, eighteen years later, when Robespierre had most decidedly become a Somebody, he campaigned for and voted for Louis' execution and two years after that, the National Convention, of which Robespierre was Paris delegate, voted to destroy the coronation coach.  Two hundred more years passed and a lavishly decorated coach door that had been in a relatively insignificant museum for forty years was identified as belonging to the coronation coach.  It had probably originally been found in the dusty attic of a descendent of one of the lofty-minded/sticky-fingered revolutionaries, but that's just a guess.

Maximilien Robespierre's rain-drenched rejection is too simple an explanation.  I'm going to go with deep-seated insecurities resulting from his being conceived out of wedlock, his mother's early death in childbirth, his father's abandonment, and his likely bullied status because he was so priggish and uptight.  Robespierre was one of the few revolutionaries that continued to powder his hair and dress as a wanna be aristocrat all through the Revolution.  Not that I'm slamming priggish and uptight.  I may come across to strangers as being the same.  (They'd be way off-base, though.  I'm actually quite the free spirit, in my head.  I just write and present myself as an uptight rule follower!)

So, there you have it.  Louis XVI's coronation coach.

Oh, and this is Maximilien Robespierre on a good day.

And, Robespierre on a not so good day.  His last day, good or bad.  Taking a last "carriage" ride, in a tumbrel, directly past the Duplay family's home in which he lived, toward the waiting arms of Madame Guillotine.   A story for another day.


Steve Shapiro said...

Robespierre was born in 1758 to married parents. He was always brilliant and hard working. His death was horrific, including a long Via Dolorosa through savage mobs. Robespierre was crucified in a certain sense.

Madeleine Doak said...

My memory of past reading was that Robespierre's parents weren't married, but a quick check with Wikipedia revealed that he was conceived out of wedlock, not "born out of wedlock." Thanks for the correction. Absolutely his death was horrific, prolonged, humiliating. I appreciate your comment.