The 23 August 1754, the Duke de Luynes wrote in his Journal:
“Today, Madame la Dauphine gave birth a little before six o’clock in the morning… At her first pains, Mr Binet, First Valet of Monsieur le Dauphin’s Chamber, was ordered by him to write a note to the King and send it off immediately by a groom from the Petite Ecurie; it was half past four; the groom had a fall along the way which prevented him from going any farther. As soon as Madame la Dauphine had given birth, My Lord the Dauphin sent Mr de Montfaucon, one of his equerries, to tell the King. Mr de Montfaucon found the groom, took the note and carried it to the King at Choisy, so the King learned at the same time of the labour and of the delivery. […] The King gave […] a ten louis pension on his cassette to the groom who had fallen on his way to Choisy.”
Those are the facts.
But there is another story. It was born under the pen of the journalist Montjoye in his Eloge historique et funebre de Louis XVI:
“Louis XVI was born under unfortunate auspices which gave a sad impression, because they seemed to announce that he was not born for happiness. The messenger sent to the court to announce his birth was in such a hurry to carry this important news that he had a fall and died instantly.”
Other chroniclers have darkened the picture by reporting the death of the second messenger, the Dauphin’s equerry.
The tragic destiny of the one who was to attract all sorts of maledictions was therefore already written in the circumstances of this birth. At least, that is what people wanted to think, and a rocambolesque legend was built around the first steps of this prince, where truth is inextricably tied to completely imaginative episodes.
Let us go back a few years, into royalty’s private apartments.
The 19 July 1746, the Dauphin Louis-Ferdinand and his wife Marie-Therese of Spain lovingly contemplate the little girl who has just been born of their love. Everything seems to promise them perfect happiness. The Dauphin passionately loves his wife, and she loves him back. In sixteen months of conjugal life, she has even managed to attenuate in the heir to the throne a few faults which had been solidly entrenched: his childish traits and his excessive bigotry.
However, shortly after the birth, the Dauphine suddenly loses consciousness, then her life. The son of Louis XV will carry all his life the weight of this loss. He will always remain faithful to the memory of his first wife, taking her memory into death with him. In his Will, he will order that her heart be placed next to his.
At this time in his life, he had given all of his love and will never take it back. Not even to give it to Marie-Josephe of Saxe who, the 9 February 1747, becomes Dauphine de France. He kindly lets her know by her lady-in-waiting that
“whatever charm she might have, she would never make him forget the one whom he had just lost”…
To tell the truth, everything about this woman saddens him. In particular, her authoritative character which badly masks an excessive sensitivity and a pathological nervousness. To keep the upper hand, he spends his time rebuking and scolding her. He loves ordering people around anyway, and scolds all who surround him without distinction: his sisters, his mother, the clergy, and even his father Louis XV whose moral, political and religious conduct he disapproves.
On her side, the new wife will have every reason to flee her husband. On the death of his first wife, the Dauphin nonchalantly lets his nature regain ground. His “heavy burden” comforts him in his indolence, which he doesn’t even shake off to participate in court amusements. Since accidentally killing his equerry, he no longer goes hunting. He likes neither performances, gambling, nor balls.
“Whoever sincerely wants to please God should renounce all these vanities, and particularly avoid with the greatest care becoming attached to them”.
That’s his motto and his model for life.
To replace these amusements, he invents other distractions in his sisters’ company. A witness relates that
“they like to talk about death and catafalques; in their black antichamber, they please themselves playing at quadrille by the light of a yellow candle and say to each other in delight: “We are dead” “…
Louis-Ferdinand had not renounced all earthly pleasures, however. In spite of the reproaches which he addressed to his father, he, himself, did not disdain receiving gallant visits when chance offered them to him. His wife was not deceived, but a strong consciousness of her duty obliged her to hide her exasperation… at the risk of the sacrifice of her joy for living.
It is evident that this climate would one day affect their marriage. Heirs were not arriving. The first two years of their marriage went by without the Dauphine becoming pregnant. The third year, she had four miscarriages. In 1750, a little girl at last came into the world. But it was a boy that everyone wanted. He arrived the following year. The Duke of Burgundy was welcome. He assured family perennity. Two years later the Duke of Aquitaine was born. He was destined for a tragic end. Whooping cough rapidly took him from this existence…
It is therefore in this sombre context that the Dauphin’s family soon became bigger with another boy who had the heavy task of replacing the dead son. The court expected a lot of him.
Louis-Auguste, Duke of Berry, is born. And the heralds of his birth die delivering the news. Legend creates a biography of blood and ink…
To be continued.