2nd of November 1755: birth of Marie-Antoinette


Maria Theresa, Francis I and the imperial family

Or, to give her her proper birthname, Archduchess Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna von Habsburg-Lothringen, fifteenth child of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I Stephen ( François-Etienne de Lorraine) and his wife, Empress Maria Theresa. The little Archduchess was born at the Palace of the Hofburg in Vienna.

Within the imperial family the little girl was simply called Antonia, Antoine or Antoinette. Eighteen years later she would become Queen of France under the name of Marie-Antoinette.

Here she is as a baby (lying in the gilded cradle at the center of the picture) surrounded by her parents and siblings. This was painted in 1755, when she could not be more than two months old. It must be the earliest of her many portraits.

Martin van Meytens, official painter of the Viennese Court, made several versions of this life-size picture of the Familia Augusta, the imperial family, represented here on the terrace of the Palace of Schönbrunn. From time to time van Meytens produced updated versions to include the newest additions to the ruling couple’s increasing brood.

This particular version was purchased during the 19th century by King Louis-Philippe and is now in the Versailles collections. There exists a later version that includes Marie-Antoinette’s younger brother, little Archduke Maximilian Franz.

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19 Comments to “2nd of November 1755: birth of Marie-Antoinette”

  1. Jen, thanks for stopping by. Yyou obviously care about Marie-Antoinette, and if I may, I suggest you read The Wicked Queen: The Origins of the Myth of Marie-Antoinette, by Chantal Thomas. http://www.amazon.com/Wicked-Queen-Origins-Myth-Marie-Antoinette/dp/094229940X
    Thomas explains the origin of the industry of anti-MA pamphlets. And they go back to before the time she gave birth to her first child, many years before the Revolution, let alone the wars. The origin of the early pamphlets (she was barely 20) can be traced to her brother-in-law, the Comte de Provence, future Louis XVIII. A very cunning man, and Louis and MA’s most dangerous enemy, right to the time of the Revolution.
    Another thing: MA, at least as a young woman, was bored by politics, and had no ambitions to play any kind of political role. Yet she did. Admittedly against her wishes, but one cannot deny she was a political figure of major importance.
    As for Louis, yes, he was a kind man, and very popular well into the Revolution. An intellectual too. At the time of Revolution, he was suffering from TB, and probably also from clinical depression.
    Tragic figures, both of them. See my post on MA’s execution: http://blog.catherinedelors.com/16th-of-october-1793-execution-of-marie-antoinette-2/
    the Chapelle Expiatoire: http://blog.catherinedelors.com/la-chapelle-expiatoire-and-marie-antoinettes-smile/
    and Saint-Denis: http://blog.catherinedelors.com/marie-antoinette-at-saint-denis/

  2. Jen says:

    Although I am admittedly not as well-read as I others on this forum. I can’t help but speak up for Marie Antoinette and Louis. Firstly, a lot of things written about M.A were written as propaganda during the war, afterwards to be used as a fact. For example, there is no evidence to support any kind of relationship between her and Fersen. Well at least, none written before the Revolution, if I’m not mistaken. Additionally I think it’s silly to say that if M.A had been taught politics and all that jazz the Revolution would have been different. Although she was a queen, she was not an essential political figure, nor would she ever be, simply because she was a women. I think most people forget that the queen’s real duties were to produce an heir-not much else. Not to be anti-feminist.

    As for Louis, I believe he had the people in his heart and acted the way he thought was appropriate for the situation. It was a difficult and dangerous time. I’m sure he tried to do what was right. But how could he know what was right when everyday the people’s opinions changed?

    Finally, I would just like to add that these people were the products on the time. They were told by their families and the people from day 1 that they were chosen by God to rule. Why would they suddenly give it all up? Wouldn’t that be against God? Everyone acted accordingly. Everyone acted the way that the times allowed them too. Harsh Criticism of there actions are generally useless.

  3. janet fauble says:

    I love the portrait of queen Marie-Therese with her grand family. Enjoyed the comments,and appreciate the recommendation of the book The King’s Flight. Must read that. Happy birthday to all who share this day.

  4. Penny says:

    I have the Tackett book. I thought had M-A been taught politics, economics etc at an early age and studied the world as it is rather than let her play with her dolls until it was too late. She could have guided her husband but was not able until it was too late. the Fersen flirtation did not help either although he did drive them to their destiny. The escape attempt was such a bad idea that even Count Mercy was opposed to it. and I agree it changed the revolution course.

  5. Ashley Paget says:

    Catherine, I read WHEN THE KING TOOK FLIGHT earlier last year and it was one of the better books on the French Revolution I have ever read. It is extremely easy to read and understand, without being too political and boring. Tackett presents us with detailed information that one can actually believe that one is living during that particular era. Also, he makes the reader see events and situations during that time frame which is still going on now. For instance, people were often jailed or interrogated simply because they dressed differently, were foreigners, had accents, were traveling to/from France to surrounding countries with whom France was at war, and even carrying sums of money on their person. The post offices would censor mail, denounce the person if they were writing to others outside of France, etc. Sounds alot like post 9/11 to me, doesn’t it? (This is coming from a woman who lived and worked in NYC (for 25 yrs)and saw with my own eyes the events of 9/11/01 unfolding and really could see the similarities between then and now. History sure does repeat itself, no matter where on this small planet one lives.) I would highly recommend this book for all those interested in French history!

  6. Let me know what you think… :)

  7. Maurício says:

    Thanks for the recomendation, I’m gonna find that book and read it for sure!

  8. Again, Mauricio, I see 1791 as the turning point (June, to be precise.) Louis XVI lost his popularity overnight (Marie-Antoinette had done so decades earlier.) On this issue, and others, I highly recommend “When the King took Flight” by Timothy Tackett.

  9. Maurício says:

    Maybe I’m being a bit radical here, but the reality (as we were told) was very different from the harmony of powers proposed in the 1791 constitution. Yes, the King was the head of state but he was treated poorly, wasn’t he? His palaces were attacked, his family was harassed daily by some of the people (the queen, for example, could hardly spend time in the Tuileries gardens withou being insulted), he had to ask permission to move from one palace to the other (St. Cloud for example), his vetoes (a constitutional power of the monarch) were overwhelmingly criticized, etc.
    I mean, he was a King but he was hardly treated and respected like one. I think, as the years went by, he was perceived as someone belonging to the past, to the Ancien Regime, uncompatible with the ”future”. Maybe the constitutional monarchy could work with a new head of state, the dauphin for example, someone raised to respect the constitution and unwilling to go back the ”old France”.

  10. I have to disagree with you here, Mauricio. I am convinced that, until 1791, the French (1) wanted a King, and (2) wanted Louis XVI as that King. No one even thought of disputing the concept of monarchy in the first years of the Revolution, and Louis XVI enjoyed an immense popularity.
    What people hated what the Ancien Regime, with its skewed tax system, ist caste system, the arrogance of the nobility. They also hated the hypocrisy and wealth of a Church whose highest ranking prelates were openly atheists and libertines. All that had nothing to do with the monarchy or Louis XVI, and he was very aware of the shortcomings of the system. What Louis XVI might have done (and I don’t blame him for not achieving it, because it was a very difficult political act) was become the leader of the Revolution. This is, by the way, how he was perceived until 1791.
    So I think that the concept of constitutional monarchy, far from being doomed, was the way of the future. In fact it was the future. Look at what happened with Napoleon (though his regime was far closer to a dictatorship) and in the 19th century: all constitutional monarchies until 1870, and it might have remained a monarchy even after that.

  11. Maurício says:

    For the longest time I used to wonder ”If I were Louis XVI, what could I have done to avoid the revolution?”. I never found an easy answer for that question. The truth is, as MA herself recognized, in the late years of the 18th century, the majority of the french simply didn’t want a soreveign. The tentative constitutional monarchy was destined to failure in my opinion, mostly because the figure of a ”king” was contrary to the central beliefs of the revolutionaries.

    That’s exactly why I never quite understood how the french, after the revolution, accepted the figure of an Emperor, maybe as absolutist as their former king. Napoleon must have been quite a character to achieve that.

  12. Marie-Antoinette and Madame de Pompadour could not have been more different. The latter was far more “intellectual” in her pursuits, and she was the King’s friend, not the Queen. Furthermore, she may have been almost as hated as Marie-Antoinette…

  13. Penny Klein says:

    sorry for taking up so much space on this. but I want to thank you for the clear explanation. On the other hand once the revolution started and he knew it when they told him of the Bastille didn’t he handle things badly? OTH, M-A took her time even learning and appreciating France and admittedly they never gave her a chance but she should have modeled herself on Pompadour for example instead of bringing in Gluck. I mean the good parts of Pompadour I mean the things she did for the arts & humanities for example.

  14. Penny, semantics apart, I still see common sense and leadership as two very different qualities. Louis XVI’s hobby of locksmithing certainly attracted the derision of courtiers, but it made him quite popular with the people of France. Until the Varennes debacle, he remained one of the most popular French kings, probably the most popular after his ancestor Henri IV. He tried very hard to reform the Ancien Regime. It is easy with 20/20 hindsight to blame the failure of such efforts on his shortcomings as a rule, but implementing structural reform of the scope he considered was a daunting task.
    Louis XVI received an excellent education. True, there was no frank communication with his grandfather Louis XV, himself an introvert. Both men were orphaned (father AND mother) at a very early age.

  15. Penny says:

    Catherine, isn’t it a matter of semantics? I never said he was unintelligent just not up to the job and there are different types of smart. A CEO needs to be ruthless and some sense of leadership as well. His hobbies did not help him at all, wouldn’t you agree? Where was his grandfather in all this tutoring?

  16. Penny, as you know, we disagree on Louis XVI. I don’t think he lacked common sense at all. He may indeed have lacked a sense of leadership, and the ruthlessness needed to be a good politician (or CEO.)

  17. Penny says:

    I love the painting. First I noticed that she does look like her mother and I couldn’t help but wonder if the dog fight had anything to do with symbolism of her life, the struggle not to be hated and to keep her head(you can take that any way you want)

    I also thought it sad that she was not married to a man with common sense, he may have had brains but he had no common sense and I don’t think he made a particularly good monarch. he would have been booted out of a corp if he were the CEO.

  18. You too, Elizabeth! Many of my friends (and my Mom) were born on or around this date…
    Thank you, and happy birthday to you!

  19. Wonderful post Catherine. I’ve adored Marie Antoinette even before I realized that we shared a birthday.

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