The Original Queen of Shade

There are many people at Versailles today.

-Marie Antoinette, to her grandfather in-law King Louis XV of France’s mistress Madame Du Barry.

du-barry-marie-antoinette-1772

(On the left) Madame Du Barry, Maitresse-en-titre & Marie Antoinette, then Dauphine of France (on the right)

Context:

When 14-year old Marie Antoinette, Archduchess of Austria, arrived in France in 1770, it was to a whirlwind marriage to the heir apparent and (soon to be her ruin) Dauphin of France Louis XVI and an angered and resentful court over the now newly cemented alliance between France and Austria to which she was greeted.

One of her political foes was the current king and grandfather of her now husband Louis XV’s mistress Madame Du Barry who had been warming his bed and ear for some time. She was in large part responsible for kicking out the man who solidified the alliance and marriage of Marie Antoinette and was unpopular among the court for her vulgarity and well known history of “congressing“.

To innocent and as yet to be unflowered Marie Antoinette, Madame Du Barry was nothing short of appalling and certainly did not approve of her relationship with the King nor her opinions on Austria or shameless “your mamma” jokes. Encouraged by her husband’s sisters, Marie decided the best thing would be to stone cold shun Du Barry and ignore her in court.

Because the court protocol dictated that Du Barry, who was of lower rank than Marie, could not initiate conversation, she grew angry at the snub and the presumed lack of approval which, for political reasons, was important for Marie to give. Naturally, the King didn’t hear the end of it and Marie also received letters from her mother encouraging her to at least speak to Du Barry to please Louis XV since her position was a bit contentious since her husband had yet to consummate their marriage.

So, begrudgingly, on New Year’s day of 1772, two years after arriving to France and ignoring Du Barry, Marie Antoinette glided over to the Madame and uttered the choice words above, masterfully crafted to appease all concerned and yet needle Du Barry for her common (and illegitimate) birth and affinity for prostitution.

And what solidifies the shade, Du Barry didn’t pick up on the slight–happy to have been acknowledged at all. Marie strutted off never to speak another word to Du Barry, who in the next 2 years would be ousted from court and placed in a convent after the death of Louis XV.

Ironically, though Marie Antoinette was determined to distance herself from Madame Du Barry as much as possible–the two ultimately did share the same fate. They both became victims of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror, sentenced to beheading by guillotine.

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French Etiquette

Marie Antoinette's Execution

Pardon me, sir, I did not mean to do it.

-Marie Antoinette’s, the last Queen of France, supposed last words before being guillotined on October 16th, 1793 during the French Revolution. She had accidentally stepped on the executioner’s foot.

 

Memoirs of the Sansons, Chapter XXXI ‘The Queen’: [1] Source written by the executioner Henri Sanson’s grandson. Makes no mention of this comment, yet other passing phrases between The Queen and her executioner are as follows:

“Have courage, madam!”

“Thank you, sir, thank you.”

He then offered to support her to the scaffold to which she was said to have replied,

“No, I am, thank Heaven, strong enough to walk that short distance.”

Memoirs of Marie Antoinette, by Madame Campan; Removal of the Queen: [2] Memoirs on the court of Marie Antoinette as told by her lady in waiting, Campan. The below is a quote from Alphonse de Lamartine from his Histore des Girondins, a French poet, writer, and politician who helped to compile the Memoirs with Campan:

The Queen, after having written and prayed, slept soundly for some hours. On her waking, Bault’s daughter dressed her and adjusted her hair with more neatness than on other days. Marie Antoinette wore a white gown, a white handkerchief covered her shoulders, a white cap her hair; a black ribbon bound this cap round her temples …. The cries, the looks, the laughter, the jests of the people overwhelmed her with humiliation; her colour, changing continually from purple to paleness, betrayed her agitation …. On reaching the scaffold she inadvertently trod on the executioner’s foot. “Pardon me,” she said, courteously. She knelt for an instant and uttered a half-audible prayer; then rising and glancing towards the towers of the Temple, “Adieu, once again, my children,” she said; “I go to rejoin your father.”

This is, perhaps, the origin–and though most contemporary sources of her time weren’t without bias or accusations of cake eating, this is one of the few sources painting Marie as a sympathetic figure. Unfortunately, with the politics surrounding the French Revolution, it’s a mess to separate fact from fiction.

Marie Antoinette's Prayer Book