The Infanta Queen, the Lisbon Earthquake and Marie-Antoinette

Marie Antoinette Liotard

Marie Antoinette as a child by Liotard

A follow-up on my post on Marie-Anne-Victoire. There are at least two connections between the Infanta Queen and Marie-Antoinette. First, the Queen of Portugal and her husband, King Joseph I, were godparents to the little Archduchess. Of course, this did not mean that they would have attended the baptism and later acted as spiritual guides to the infant. In royal families this kind of link simply served to reinforce dynastic and diplomatic alliances, and sovereigns seldom left their countries. Royal godparents would never even meet their godchildren. It remained that Queen Marie-Anne-Victoire was Marie-Antoinette’s nominal godmother.

But there was another connection between Marie-Antoinette and Portugal: she was born on November 2, 1755, the day of the catastrophic Lisbon Earthquake. As usual, Madame Campan has much to say about it:

Marie Antoinette Josèphe Jeanne de Lorraine, Archduchess of Austria, daughter of François de Lorraine and of Maria Theresa, was born on the 2d of November, 1755, the day of the earthquake at Lisbon; and this catastrophe, which appeared to stamp the time of her birth with a fatal mark, without forming a motive for superstitious fear with the Princess, nevertheless made an impression upon her mind.

Does Madame Campan cite a single example of this “deep impression” the Lisbon Earthquake would have made on Marie-Antoinette’s mind? No. The good chambermaid loved drama, and could never resist adding some to her Memoirs whenever she thought it would enhance the story.  This is one of the few instances where I don’t put much trust in her testimony.

Lisbon earthquake

Lisbon earthquake

As for the impressions the coincidence made on the contemporaries, let us remember that news, bad or good, did not travel fast across 18th century Europe. By the time the Viennese realized the full extent of the Lisbon catastrophe, little Marie-Antoinette must have been several weeks old. Few must have been tempted to make the connection.

As for Queen Marie-Anne-Victoire, I was again reminded of her last week-end, when I visited the Royal Pomp exhibition at Versailles. There was jewelry that had belonged to her there. Extremely interesting show, by the way, and worthy of its own post.

It remains to wish everyone a happy 4th of July. And today happens to be my birthday, which I will celebrate with my family and closest friends in beautiful Bordeaux.

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8 Comments to “The Infanta Queen, the Lisbon Earthquake and Marie-Antoinette”

  1. Clarice says:

    Its good to hear you had a wonderful time, my dear. :)

    Well i try/tried the same about Mme.Campan, as well as you. ;)But i´m still sceptical. Most of all, when i look at the things MA did finally. Of course except these Earthquake in here. In German Televion we had some days ago a documentation about the these Earthquake, but they didn´t say anything about MA. ;)

    Yes thats right it was a lil bit to few… But for other wonderful pieces you still have the museum´s in France. ;)

  2. Catherine Delors says:

    First, thanks to everyone for the kind birthday wishes! And yes, I am having a great time in Bordeaux with my Mom and son.

    About Madame Campan’s veracity, I tend to be somewhat less severe than Clarice. It varies depending on the subject. After many rereadings, I hope I have acquired the right “ear” for our memoirist and can pretty much tell when she tells the truth, and when she bends it a bit for the sake of drama or prejudice.
    And Clarice, I do agree with you: the Royal Pomp show displayed extraordinary pieces, unfortunately too few. That was a bit of a let-down.
    Helena, thanks for the reference to the reference for Portuguese baroque. I realize I know too little about the history of that fascinating country. It seems that for Marie-Antoinette and most contemporaries, the coincidence between her birthday and the anniversary of the Lisbon Earthquake did not register at all.
  3. Happy Birthday, Catherine!

  4. Elisa says:

    Bonne anniversaire!

  5. Felio Vasa says:

    Joyeux Anniversaire. Probably having a fabulous time in Bordeaux.

    The post was most interesting and would love it if you share your insights on the Royal Pomp/ Jewelry show.

  6. Helena says:

    Ms Delors, thank you for the interesting image of the earthquake. As a curator I have come across the earthquake in an art-historical context – not only the royal palace but its contents were destroyed, and the king ordered sumptuous new silver and gold dinner services, still in existence today. There’s more about this in an exhibition catalogue, The Age of the Baroque in Portugal, ed. Jay A. Levenson, Yale University Press, 1993.

    As for Mme Campan’s comment, I have read through most of the primary sources dealing with Marie Antoinette’s lifetime without ever coming across a comment connecting her and the earthquake. I keep an open mind, but think it is likely to be part of the nineteenth century recasting of her as ‘the tragic queen.’

    And happy birthday!

  7. Lucy says:

    Hello Catherine:) I’m still surprised at how back then there was no spiritual connection in being the godparent, considering how religious they were.
    Happy 4th! And best of all, Happy Birthday!

  8. Clarice says:

    Well the drama and own impression/views are the reason why i really don´t believe in the most of what Mme Campan wrote and says about MA. Cause the truth wasn´t a friend of her.

    But yes i also saw the exhibition – Court Pomp and Royal Ceremonies I loved the wedding dress of Edwige Elisabeth Charlotte de Holstein-Gottorp. But poor women back in days with these soo tight corsage… And especially all the big prints of my darling Louis XVI. like of course his portrait at the beginning ^__^ And his Ordre du Saint-Esprit!!!! *-* But it was a lil bit tooo few i find.

    So have a nice birthday-party my dear.

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