Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria, Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, Dauphin of France, Duc de Berry, Empress Maria-Theresa of Austria, Holy Roman Emperor Franz I, Louis XV of France and Navarre, Louis XVI of France and Navarre, Marie Antoinette, Palace of Versailles, Prince Louis-Augusté de Bourbon of France, Proxy Marriage
Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria was born on November 2, 1755 at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria, at 8:30 in the evening. She was the youngest daughter of Empress Maria Theresa, ruler of the Hereditary Habsburg Lands, and her husband Franz I, Holy Roman Emperor. Archduchess Maria Antonia was raised together with her sister, Archduchess Maria Carolina, who was three years older, and with whom she had a lifelong close relationship. Maria Antonia had a difficult but ultimately loving relationship with her mother, who referred to her as “the little Madame Antoine”.
Following the Seven Years’ War and the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756, Empress Maria Theresa decided to end hostilities with her longtime enemy, King Louis XV of France. Their common desire to destroy the ambitions of Prussia and Great Britain, and to secure a definitive peace between their respective countries 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-Augusté, Duc de Berry and Dauphin of France.
Louis-Augusté de Bourbon of France, who was given the title Duc de Berry at birth, was born in the Palace of Versailles on August 23, 1754. One of seven children, he was the second surviving son of Louis, the Dauphin of France and the grandson of Louis XV of France and of his consort, Maria Leszczyńska. His mother was Marie-Josèphe of Saxony, the daughter of Augustus III, Prince-Elector of Saxony and King of Poland and Archduchess Maria Josepha of Austria, the eldest child of Joseph I, Holy Roman Emperor and Princess Wilhelmina Amalia of Brunswick-Lüneburg.
Louis-Augusté was overlooked by his parents who favored his older brother, Louis-Joseph, Duc of Burgundy, who was regarded as bright and handsome but died at the age of nine in 1761. Louis-Augusté, a strong and healthy boy but very shy, excelled in his studies and had a strong taste for Latin, history, geography, and astronomy and became fluent in Italian and English. He enjoyed physical activities such as hunting with his grandfather and rough play with his younger brothers, Louis-Stanislas, Comte de Provence, and Charles-Philippe, Comte d’Artois. From an early age, Louis-Augusté was encouraged in another of his interests, locksmithing, which was seen as a useful pursuit for a child.
When his father died of tuberculosis on December 20, 1765, the eleven-year-old Louis-Augusté became the new Dauphin. His mother never recovered from the loss of her husband and died on March 13, 1767, also from tuberculosis.
Archduchess Maria Antonia formally renounced her rights to Habsburg domains, and on April 19, 1770 the 15 year old Archduchess Maria Antonia was married by proxy to the 16 year old Prince Louis-Augusté, 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 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. The couple’s longtime failure to consummate the marriage plagued the reputations of both Louis-Augusté and Marie Antoinette for the next seven years.
The initial reaction to the marriage between Marie Antoinette and Louis-Augusté 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. On the other hand, those opposed to the alliance with Austria had a difficult relationship with Marie Antoinette, as did others who disliked her for more personal or petty reasons.