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The future King Louis XVI of France and Navarre was born on August 23, 1754 in the Palace of Versailles. Christened Louis-Auguste and created Duc de Berry he was one of seven children, and the third surviving son, of Louis, the Dauphin of France, and Marie-Josèphe of Saxony, (daughter of Prince-Elector Friedrich-August II of Saxony, King of Poland).

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King Louis XVI of France and Navarre

Louis-Auguste’s two elder brothers died young, they were: Louis-Joseph of France, Duke of Burgundy (September 13, 1751 – March 22, 1761). Xavier of France, Duke of Aquitaine (September 8, 1753 – February 22, 1754), died in infancy. Louis-Auguste was the grandson of Louis XV of France and Navarre and his consort, Maria Leszczyńska of Poland (daughter of King Stanislaw I of Poland [later Duke of Lorraine] and Catherine Opalińska).

Upon the death of his father, who died of tuberculosis on December 20, 1765, the eleven-year-old Louis-Auguste became the new Dauphin. His mother never recovered from the loss of her husband and died on March 13, 1767, also from tuberculosis.

Maria-Antonia of Austria was born on November 2, 1755 at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria. She was the youngest daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Franz I and his wife, the Empress Maria Theresa (Queen of Hungry and Bohemia, Archduchess of Austria in her own right). Her godparents were King Joseph I and Queen Mariana Victoria (born an Infanta of Spain) of Portugal; Archduke Joseph of Austria and Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria acted as proxies for their newborn sister.

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Archduchess Maria-Antonia of Austria

During the Seven Years’ War* Empress Maria Theresa decided to end hostilities with her longtime enemy, King Louis XV of France and Navarre. Their common desire was to destroy the ambitions of Prussia and Great Britain and to secure a definitive peace between their respective countries. This common goal led them to seal their alliance with a marriage: on February 7, 1770, Louis XV formally requested the hand of Maria Antonia for his eldest surviving grandson and heir, Louis-Auguste, Duke of Berry and Dauphin of France.

Maria-Antonia formally renounced her rights to the Habsburg domains, and on April 19, 1770 she was married by proxy to the Dauphin of France at the Augustinian Church in Vienna, with her brother Archduke Ferdinand standing in for the Dauphin. On May 14, she met her husband (and her second cousin once removed) in person at the edge of the forest of Compiègne. Upon her arrival in France, she adopted the French version of her name: Marie Antoinette. A further ceremonial wedding took place on May 16, 1770 in the Palace of Versailles and, after the festivities, the day ended with the ritual bedding for the fifteen-year-old, Louis-Auguste and the fourteen-year-old Marie-Antoinette.

The initial reaction to the marriage between Marie Antoinette and Louis-Auguste was mixed. On the one hand, the Dauphine was beautiful, personable and well-liked by the common people. Her first official appearance in Paris on June 8, 1773 was a resounding success.

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Marie-Antoinette, Dauphine of France

However, because of France’s alliance with Austria which had pulled the country into the disastrous Seven Years’ War, in which France was defeated by the British and the Prussians, both in Europe and in North America; the French people generally disliked the Austrian alliance, and Marie-Antoinette was seen as an unwelcome foreigner.

For the young couple themselves the marriage was initially amiable but distant. Louis-Auguste’s shyness and, among other factors, the young age and inexperience of the newlyweds, coupled with the fact, as mentioned earlier, that they were were nearly total strangers to each other: having met only two days before their wedding, meant that the 15-year-old bridegroom failed to consummate the union with his 14-year-old bride. His fear of being manipulated by her for imperial purposes caused him to behave coldly towards her in public. Over time, the couple became closer, though while their marriage was reportedly consummated in July 1773, it did not actually happen until 1777.

Marie-Antoinette ‘s brother, the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, came to France incognito, using the name Comte de Falkenstein, for a six-week visit during which he toured Paris extensively and was a guest at Versailles. He met his sister and her husband on April 18, 1777 at the château de la Muette, and spoke frankly to his brother-in-law, curious as to why the royal marriage had not been consummated, arriving at the conclusion that no obstacle to the couple’s conjugal relations existed save the queen’s lack of interest and the king’s unwillingness to exert himself. In a letter to his brother Leopold, Joseph described them as “a couple of complete blunderers.”

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His Imperial Majesty The Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, King of Germany, Jerusalem, Hungary, Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia and Lodomeria, Archduke of Austria, etc.

Suggestions that Louis suffered from phimosis, which was relieved by circumcision, have been discredited. Nevertheless, following Joseph’s intervention, the marriage was finally consummated in August 1777. Eight months later, in April 1778, it was suspected that the queen was pregnant, which was officially announced on May 16, 1778 (the couple’s eight Wedding Anniversary). Marie Antoinette’s daughter, Marie-Thérèse Charlotte, Madame Royale, was born at Versailles on December 19, 1778.

* The Seven Years Warrior was a global conflict fought between 1756 and 1763. It involved every European great power of the time and spanned five continents, affecting Europe, the Americas, West Africa, South Asia, and the Philippines. For this reason the Seven Years War is often called World War 0 by some historians.

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