One of the last french royal weddings of the Ancien Régime was that of Louis Auguste (future Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in May 1770. The festivities lasted about two months, with successive performances, fireworks and balls ... at a very high cost: 9,000,000 pounds! Despite the country's dire finances, it was necessary to show Europe that the kingdom was still rich and still vibrant.
To consolidate the alliance between Austria and France, and above all in order to avoid the rapprochement of Austria with Prussia and Russia, the only way is a royal marriage. Choiseul Minister of Foreign Affairs began negotiations in 1764 until the agreement in principle signed in May 1766. But Ambassador Mercy-Argenteau was reluctant, considering that Louis Auguste was "so neglected on his exterior, so ignorant of politeness and the most ordinary uses of the world. This prince by his countenance and his words, announces only a very limited meaning, a lot of disgrace and no sensitivity ". On the French side, the Abbé de Vermond, sent to Austria to teach Marie-Antoinette about French posture and traditions, writes “this savage of twelve years, naturally gracious and petulant, but dizzy and rebellious, only dreamed of distraction and to flee from studies ”.
Louis XV finally gave his final agreement in June 1769, his grandson would marry the daughter of Marie Thérèse of Austria on May 16, 1770. According to the conditions of the marriage contract, Marie Antoinette would renounce her rights to Austrian possessions, would bring a dowry 200,000 florins and the equivalent in jewelry, to receive in return an income of 20,000 gold crowns and 100,000 crowns in jewelry.
The trip to Vienna ...
On April 15, 1770, the French ambassador in his sumptuous crew entered Vienna as envoy extraordinary to the King of France. The next day, he asks for Marie Antoinette's hand for the dolphin, giving her a pendant representing her fiancé. On the 17th, the young girl renounces her Austrian possessions, then attends a superb party at the Belvedere Palace, followed by a masked ball. After the marriage by proxy at the Augustinian Church on the 19th, she listens first to her mother's final instructions, then to the final instructions written by her late father with moral recommendations and warnings against worldly miracles. The 21st is the farewell in tears, where Marie Antoinette "made faces, bit her lips, scratched her nose and head" to hide her anxiety.
A procession of 132 people (ladies of honor, pages, secretaries, surgeons, bodyguards), 57 cars and 376 horses take the way to France, a journey that will last twenty four days before arriving in Versailles with receptions , parties, balls, Te Deum, through Munich, Augsburg, Friborg. In Strasbourg, Marie Antoinette gets changed, leaves her wholesale Tour Blanc travel dress for a dress and petticoat of gold material and abandons a large part of her crew. In the anteroom of the reception pavilion, she meets the people who are now attached to her: the Countess de Noailles, first lady of honor, as well as various duchesses and counts. She also meets Louis Edouard de Rohan, the one who will compromise her in the Collier case. The harangues starting in German, Marie Antoinette replies “don't speak German, sir; As of today, I no longer hear any language other than French ". The trip to Paris resumes via Saverne, Nancy, Reims where festivities such as triumphal arches, balls and entertainment also take place.
... in Versailles
During this time, the Dauphin accompanied by his house and his grandfather the king, takes the direction of Compiègne, then the road to Soisson to stop at the bridge of Berne. Marie Antoinette arrives, graciously gets out of the coach to the sound of fanfares, kneels before the king, kisses his hand and calls him papa. While Louis XV is delighted, the young man timidly grants a kiss on the young lady's cheek. She met the sisters of the king, then in Compiègne the brothers of the Dauphin, as well as the blood princes and all the great of the kingdom.
On the evening of May 15, during dinner at the Château de la Muette, she discovers a "radiant creature with a sparkling breast of diamonds being there to amuse the king". We understand, it is Madame du Barry. Finally, on May 16, 1770, the young couple made their entry into Versailles and on returning to the castle, Louis Auguste left his apartment at the Children of France to settle on the ground floor of the central building.
A sumptuous wedding
After two hours necessary for her toilet, Marie Antoinette in a dress of silver cloth with baskets enters the royal chapel on the arm of Louis Augustus dressed in a doublet of cloth of gold and the order of the Holy Spirit in saltire. After the religious ceremony where the young groom had blushed strongly as he passed the ring on his wife's finger, it was the delivery of gifts, the reception of the ambassadors, the king's game at the end of the afternoon in the large gallery, the evening feast in the new opera house where, contrary to rumor, the dolphin loaded his stomach too much… to sleep better, he eats little and instead plays with his knife.
The works of the royal opera have just been completed: the floor of the parterre is raised to the level of the stage, thus forming a large oval room that can accommodate the royal table and its twenty-one guests, the orchestra of musicians positioned on the stage, the courtiers admitted to the boxes. Among the guests at the royal table, we find the three grandsons: Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X, the Duke of Orleans, Marie Antoinette, the Princess of Lamballe ... all characters who will have a more or less tragic end.
The continuation of the festivities in the park with illuminations, a show on the water with gondolas and the giant fireworks display over the Apollo Basin, are canceled due to a thunderstorm.
Finally, at midnight, the bedtime ceremony takes place with a large number of officers and courtiers, the bed is blessed, the dauphin receives his shirt from the king's hand, the curtains are drawn and everyone withdraws discreetly ...
On May 17, the opera resumed its main allure for the performance of Persée by Lully; on the 19th, it was transformed again to host the paré ball followed by the fireworks display (canceled two days earlier) using 30,385 rockets, 14,445 cartridges, 90,000 lanterns of all colors, 603,611 illuminated terrines in the surrounding park from the Grand Canal.
These are beautiful festivities, unfortunately interrupted by the death of more than 130 people during the illuminations and fireworks offered by Paris on May 30, not to mention a large number of injured.
The celebrations continued, however, until July 14, 1770 with the performance of Athalie de Racine, Castor and Pollux by Rameau, until the last show La Tour Enchantée de Joliveau et Dauvergne requiring 1000 extras.
Louis XV had demanded a sumptuous marriage; he had difficulty paying, some suppliers were still claiming their due on the eve of the Revolution!
- Jean Christian Petitfils for the review Château de Versailles from the Ancien Régime to the present day.
- Alexandre Maral - Louis XVI misunderstood him. West-France 2013.