On 19 April 1770, Mr de La Vauguyon’s function as governor of the Dauphin comes to an end.  This is because his pupil, aged fifteen-and-a-half, puts an end to his childhood by marrying, by procuration, the Archduchess Marie-Antoinette, daughter of the Empress Marie-Therese of Austria.  The Dauphin’s mother-in-law gives him the following advice:

“Love […] your duties to God, I say to you, my dear Dauphin, and I said it to my daughter.  Love well the peoples over whom you will only too soon reign.  Love the King, your grandfather, inspire and renew this attachment in my daughter;  be good like him!  Make yourself accessible to the poor;  it is impossible that in acting like this, you will not be happy.”

Upon the arrival of the Dauphine in France, she will receive these wishes from an old lady, aged one hundred and five, who had never been ill:

“Princess, I make vows to heaven for you to live as long as I have and as free from infirmities.”

Marie-Antoinette answered:

“I desire it to be so, if it is for the good of France.”

The festivities last several days.  On 16 May, the grounds and palace of Versailles are decked out for the marriage ceremony.  Boats pack the rivers and the gardens swarm with people.  Triumphal arches glow with thousands of little lamps so that this celebration will be placed under the sign of Light.  The festivities look as if they will be spectacular.  However, a few formalities have to take place first.

At one o’clock, the ceremony begins.  Louis-Auguste makes a few mistakes in his responses and Marie-Antoinette signs the marriage act with an enormous ink-blot.  Nothing very serious.  But, as they leave the church, a big storm breaks.  A capricious cloud pours down great buckets of water, inundating the marriage feast preparations.  The celebrations are postponed.  And this heavenly anger only serves to announce the drama which will explode a few days later in Paris.

An over-dense crowd crams into the Rue Royale to join the festivities on the boulevards.  One hundred and thirty-two people perish trampled or suffocated.  The tolling of the bells for this event announces the approaching end of the solemnities.  On 8 June, a tornado closes them definitively by blowing away the Temple of the Sun which had been erected to celebrate the union.  So many bad omens were accumulated during these days of national celebration…

The first months of the marriage pass without any noteworthy incidents.  In the Prince’s diary, only frequent indigestions are noted, along with a few blood-spittings and temporary stomach weakness.  But the future King commits no excesses… anywhere.  Rumour even has it that the young husband is rather late in accomplishing his conjugal duties, limiting himself to the courtesies codified by sacrosanct “etiquette”.  On 15 June 1770, it is reported to Marie-Therese that King Louis XV speaks of

“the cold countenance of the Dauphin, underlining however “that he should be left alone”, that he was extremely “timid and unsociable”, and that he wasn’t “a man like others” “.

Whatever the cause, everyone is surprised and worried about this abnormal situation.  Rumour spreads not only in Versailles, but also in all the European courts.  The “matrimonial state” of the Dauphin fuels the conversations of the salons and the couple becomes everyone’s laughing-stock. 

Marie-Antoinette occupies herself as best she can.  She learns to ride a horse and follows the royal hunts.  She plays with the children of her chambermaids.  She teases the dogs in the palace grounds.  Her impatience grows from day to day.  To her wifely frustration is added that of the woman who ardently wants to be a mother.  But she holds a gleam of hope.  She is told that, according to a doctor’s report, Louis-Auguste

“is well-constituted, he loves [his wife] and is full of goodwill, but he is of a nonchalance and a laziness which leaves him only for hunting”.

The young husband even assures his wife himself that he “loves her tenderly”… and that he “estimes her even more”.  However, the months pass and the Dauphine starts to get tired of waiting.  She says:

“The coldness of the Dauphin, young husband aged twenty, toward a pretty woman, is inconceivable to me.  In spite of the assertions of the Faculty, my suspicions are growing as to the physical constitution of this prince… “

In reality, it should be remembered that, at his marriage, the young man was only sixteen.  He had been raised in the aversion of the sins of the flesh.  The devout people’s teachings had stopped at the chapter on guilt.  Of women, he knows only the severe judgement of his preceptors, who saw in them replicas of the first temptress.  This is perhaps the reason for the reserve which the Prince feels toward these singular creatures.

We know that this moral righteousness will be the subject of a dispute with his grandfather, Louis XV.  Since the death of his wife Marie Leszezynska, the King diverts himself by making frequent visits to the “little houses” of the Parc-au-Cerfs…  Rapidly, the Countess du Barry becomes his “favourite” and the Prince does not hide his reprobation.

Gradually, however, time will bring the two men together, and it is another heart-wrenching moment for the young boy when he is told that his grandfather is living his last instants.  Blood-lettings succeed each other, but they don’t work.  A doctor discovers a suspicious rash, which removes all interrogation on the illness…  and at the same time, any hope of a cure.  The infection progressively covers the whole body and a sickening odour spreads throughout the apartments.  On 10 May 1774, smallpox kills the King.

To be continued.