Saturday, December 27, 2014

Listen to Your Mother

~ Marie Antoinette at about the age at which she wrote the Count Rosenberg letter ~

It pains me to acknowledge that Marie Antoinette wasn't perfect.  

But, so what, who likes perfect people anyway?  

Her tendency toward mockery and cattiness reached back to her childhood in Vienna and was no secret to her mother.  That irreverent spirit may've been one of the characteristics Empress Maria Theresa had in mind when she wrote to Louis XV, Marie Antoinette's future father-in-law, requesting patience for the fourteen year old archduchess who would soon be in his care... "Her intentions are excellent, but given her age, I pray you to exercise indulgence for any careless mistake."  The Empress had tried to nip that playful mischief in the bud by separating her youngest daughter from her sidekick, the Empress' second youngest daughter,  Maria Carolina, in the children's wing of the palace.

It was one thing, though, to hear through the grapevine that her daughter, the Dauphine, then Queen of France, giggled with her ladies over the nicknames she assigned various members of her household.  It was entirely different when Marie Antoinette wrote to Count Rosenberg, an old friend of the Austrian Imperial family, bragging that she'd manipulated her husband, the King of France, the poor man, "le pauvre homme," into giving her permission to meet with the duc de Choiseul.  The letter is an illuminating example of her interference in the workings at court, as well, as she told him of her machinations regarding the appointment of her close friend, Princesse de Lamballe to a post that should've, by tradition, gone to another family.   

Marie Antoinette to Count Rosenberg, 13 July 1775

I was not at my ease, Monsieur, when I wrote you my last letter because it was to go by post.  I must go all the way back to M. d'Auguillon's departure to give you a full account of my behavior.  That departure is altogether my work.  I had had enough;  that nasty man kept all sorts of spying and unpleasant talk.  He tried to brave me more than once in the business of M. de Guines;  immediately after the judgement, I asked the King for his removal.  It is true I didn't want to use a lettre de cachet, be he gained nothing by this because instead of staying in Touraine, as he wanted to do, he was asked to keep going all the way to Aiguillon, which is in Gascony.

You may have heard about the audience I gave the duc de Choiseul at Rheims.  People have talked about it so much that I wouldn't be surprised if old Maurepas was afraid he was going to be sent home for a rest.  You may well believe that I didn't see him without first telling the King, but you will never guess the stratagem I used not to look as if I were asking for his permission.  I told him that I felt like seeing M. de Choiseul and that I was only puzzled about the day.  I managed it so well that the poor man settled himself the hour at which it would be most convenient for me to see him.  I think I used my prerogative as a woman to the full.

At last we are going to be rid of M. de la Vrillièrre.  Although he was hard of hearing, he still heard that it was time he left, for fear he might find the door locked against him.  He will be replaced by M. de Malesherbes...

I have made a great loss... in Mme de Cossé...  Mme de Chimay has replaced her. 

I have quite another project in mind.  The maréchale de Mouchy will be leaving, I'm told.  I do not know who I will take in her place;  but I have asked the King to take advantage of this change to appoint Mme de Lamballe as Superintendent.  Imagine how happy I am;  I will make my intimate friend happy and will enjoy it even more than she.  This is a secret;  I am not yet telling the Empress. Only the Emperor knows;  insist that he tell no one - you can easily see why..."

Count Rosenberg was horrified by the Queen's casual disrespect for the King and passed the letter on to her mother who wrote her a reproachful letter two weeks later.

Empress Maria Theresa

Maria Thesesa to Marie Antoinette, 30 July 1775

Madame my dear daughter,

The courier goes a day earlier as it is carrying money to the [Austrian] Netherlands;  I wanted to tell you at the earliest possible opportunity how the too magnificent present of the hair of my dear children pleased me;  it is perfectly worked and does honor to the artisans of Paris and to my dear daughter, who wanted to treat her old Mama.

But how little that pleasure lasted!  I cannot hide from you that a letter you sent to Rosenberg upset me most dreadfully.  What style!  What frivolity!  Where is the kind and generous heart of the Archduchess Antoinette?  All I see is intrigue, low hatred, a persecuting spirit, and cheap wit - intrigue of a sort a Pompadour or a Barry would have indulged in so as to play a great role, something which is utterly unfitting for a Queen, a great Princess of the House of Lorraine and Austrin, who should be full of kindness and decency.  Your too early successes and your entourage of flatterers have always made me fear for you, ever since that winter when you wallowed in pleasures and ridiculous fashions.  Those excursions from pleasure to pleasure without the King and in the knowledge that he doesn't enjoy them and that he either accompanies you or leaves you free out of sheer good nature - all that causes me to mention in my letters justified concern.  Now I see it all too confirmed by your letter.

What a tone!  "The poor man!"  Where is the respect and the gratitude you owe him for all his kindness?  I leave you to your own thoughts and say no more, although there would be much more to be said.

Nor do I mention the secret you are trying to keep in regard to your appointment of the Lamballe.  I wrote you what I did for your own good.  Two Piedmontese sisters-in-law, one of which has provided an heir to the throne, and the other leading the wisest and quietest life which earns the approval of all sensible people, and all foreigners, and you want your Superintendent to be another Piedmontese?...

Your happiness can vanish all too fast, and you may be plunged, by your own doing, into the greatest calamities.  This is the result of your terrible dissipation, which prevents your being assiduous about anything serious.  What have you read?  And, after that, you dare to opine on the greatest State matters, on the choice of ministers?  What does the abbé do?  And Mercy?  It seems to me that you dislike them because instead of behaving like low flatterers, they want you to be happy and do not amuse you or take advantage of your weaknesses.  You will realize all this one day but it will be too late.  I hope not to survive that dreadful time, and I pray to God that He end my days sooner, since can no longer help you but cannot bear to lose or watch the sufferings of my dear child, whom I will love dearly till my last breath."

For the record, mother wasn't above pressuring daughter to use those feminine wiles to get what mother wanted from Louis XVI.  Nor was she, early on, above showing a lack of respect for him in her letters.  All the same, Marie Antoinette's life would've probably ended differently had she heeded her mother's warnings.

I have Marie Antoinette's and Maria Therese's correspondence in book form, because I prefer holding a book in my hand to reading one on a screen, but some of their letters (among others) can also be found at this website.  You could also order Secrets of Marie Antoinette, by Olivier Bernier on  which contains the expanded collection.

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