16th May, later.

  • Posted on June 6, 2009 at 11:29 pm

Hall of Mirrors by me

As soon as the introductions were over, the King took my hand and led me to the Dauphin, who I had barely noticed since entering the room. He seemed to be trying his best to hide from view and looked uncomfortable and ill at ease in his suit of white satin, sewn all over with diamonds and gold embroidery and I noticed with irritation that he was scratching at his neck underneath the fine white linen of his shirt collar, leaving red scratch marks beneath his powdered wig.

‘Are you ready?’ the King asked as he gave my hand to the Dauphin. ‘All of Versailles awaits you.’

I nodded, feeling the Dauphin’s hand grow hot and clammy against my own. ‘I am ready.’

The King nodded to the waiting footmen and they instantly flung open the huge doors that led to the Hall of Mirrors. The Dauphin led me out and the King, royal family and our attendants arranged themselves behind us so that we formed a long, glittering procession.

I paused for a second in the doorway, my courage failing me as I looked at the rows upon rows upon rows of splendidly dressed courtiers who all stared at me as they jostled each other rudely for space. I wanted to be able to remember this scene, my first proper glimpse of Versailles for the rest of my life. There was light and crystal and marble and splendour wherever I looked and I knew that the Abbé had not lied when he told me that the Hall of Mirrors was the most beautiful room in all of the world.

‘Madame,’ the Dauphin murmured, gently reminding me that there was no time to stand and stare.

I gathered up all of my bravado and lifted my head high before allowing him to lead me slowly down the gallery and then through a series of equally opulent and gorgeously appointed rooms, all of which were crammed with beautiful furniture, portraits, statues and wonderful ceiling paintings depicting Roman deities. Each room was filled with people, who fell silent and curtsied with insolent stares as I went past. The women openly looked me up and down then whispered to each other behind their painted fans while the men’s gazes were much more appraising and lingered on my bosom then my ankles, which were just visible beneath the heavy silver skirts.

‘This is the way to the chapel,’ the Dauphin whispered as we went down some stairs, leaving the King who would be watching from his balcony upstairs. Oh marvellous, he likes to lecture me as well. What fun. ‘We go this way to Mass every morning.’

‘In front of all those people?’ I whispered back, aghast.

He looked at me then and I believe that I saw the faintest glimmer of a smile. ‘Naturally.’

It did not take us long to reach the royal chapel and there was a small pause in the vestibule as my ladies came forward and tweaked my skirts and tried their best to hide the wide expanse of lacing at my back which betrayed the fact that my dress was much too small for me. ‘Good luck,’ Madame de Mailly whispered as they melted back again, their silk skirts rustling against the marble floor. ‘You look beautiful. Look straight ahead at the altar and ignore all the stares.’

I smiled and squeezed the Dauphin’s hand reassuringly, wishing, now that I had overcome my own fears that there was some way that I could bring the colour back to his cheeks and stop him trembling. ‘It will be over soon,’ was the best that I could manage as we stepped forward into the luminous white and gold light of the chapel.

Versailles chapel by me

This is the end of the first part of Marie Antoinette’s journals. I am going to be taking  a short break now while I work on a different project but never fear, we will be picking up again very soon so please don’t unsubscribe! I hope that you have enjoyed reading this imagined diary, please feel free to let me know what you thought! Comments are always welcome. Many thanks for all the support. x

16th May, later.

  • Posted on June 6, 2009 at 9:18 am

Oeil de Boeuf

At the stroke of one exactly, all of the pretty ormolu, porcelain and gold clocks in my rooms chimed in unison and the footmen opened the bedroom doors with a great deal of bowing, clicking of heels and flourishing.

‘It is time,’ Madame de Noailles intoned with a solemn look. ‘The King awaits us.’

I hastily stood up, whereupon all of the maids knelt around my feet and teased out the heavy folds of my wide, panniered skirts so that they would appear to best advantage. As soon as I was deemed absolutely presentable, my ladies in waiting arranged themselves behind me and we slowly retraced our steps through the apartment until we came back to the glass and marble vestibule and the beautiful maroon and green marble staircase that lay beyond it.

‘This is the Queen’s staircase,’ Madame de Noailles whispered, unable as ever to resist the urge to lecture me. ‘It leads to what will be your own rooms in the palace.’

I ignored her as I was too busy trying to remember where we were going and at the same time walk up the staircase with the correct amount of mingled gravitas and grace as my head turned this way and that, admiring the beautiful trompe l’oeil architectural vistas on the walls and the exquisite gilt and marble decorations.

At the top of the stairs, a pair of guards swung open a door and I walked through two empty white wainscotted rooms which overlooked the main marble courtyard of the château. ‘This is the room of the King’s guard,’ I could hear Madame de Noailles murmuring behind me, ‘and this is his state dining room where his Majesty eats his meals in public.’

I smiled and nodded, while all the while I was listening to every sound and breathing in the very essence of my new home. As I walked through the hyacinth, rose and beeswax scented white and gold rooms, which were more magnificent than beautiful, I listened to the delicate tinkling of the chandeliers overhead, the sound of a harpsichord being jauntily played in the distance, the whispers of my ladies behind me, the gentle squeak of the aged parquet beneath my cloth of silver high heeled shoes and the excited yapping of the dozens of dogs that scampered freely through the state rooms, their sharp nails skittering across polished floors.

We came to a richly decorated room with mirrors set into the walls and a beautiful cornice decorated with a gilt trellis and golden cherubs playing with garlands of flowers. I looked with interest at a huge painting which hung between the tall windows and depicted a young Louis XIV surrounded by his family. I recognized my great grandfather, Philippe d’Orléans sitting in between his pretty English wife, Henriette Anne and her mother, Queen Henrietta Maria and I imagined to myself that he was looking down upon me with approval in his dark eyes.

The doors swung open and I was admitted into a sumptuously decorated gilt encrusted
bedchamber, dominated by an enormous crimson and gold brocade hung four poster bed with huge white ostrich plumes at each corner. ‘This is the King’s own bedchamber,’ Madame de Noailles hissed as I looked about myself with interest. A huge white cat was curled up, fast asleep on a giant blue and silver cushion in front of the fireplace.

‘His Majesty awaits you in his council chamber,’ she continued as we came to another closed door, which a waiting footman sprang to open.

I took a deep breath and stepped into a large room with beautiful gilt decorations on the white panelled walls, tall mirrored doors and heavy sky blue and gold curtains, which were pulled open so that beams of sunlight spilled across the floor. The King and his family had arranged themselves in front of the fireplace to greet me and I smiled at each in turn, desperately keen to make a good impression.

‘Welcome to Versailles,’ King Louis said with a gentle smile. ‘You are most welcome.’ He brought forward two little girls, both of whom seemed to be no more than ten years old. ‘May I present my granddaughters, Madame Clothilde and Madame Élisabeth?’

I smiled down at the little girls as they curtsied stiffly before me. ‘I hope that I will be like a sister to you,’ I said, taking their hands in mine and kissing them. ‘How pretty you both look.’ Both girls were dressed in matching gowns of pale primrose yellow satin with their hair powdered and dressed in the same formal style as all of the adults. The eldest of the two, Princesse Clothilde was quite fat with merry brown eyes while the younger, Princesse Élisabeth was pale with blue eyes and a distinctly mutinous air.

‘I like your dress,’ she said now with a smile before retreating behind her grandfather’s back and sticking her tongue out at me.

‘You must forgive her,’ the King said with a fond look at the little girl as I tried not to laugh. ‘She was little more than a baby when she lost her mother and has been much indulged ever since.’

Madame Élisabeth by Drouais.

16th May, later, Versailles.

  • Posted on June 3, 2009 at 11:42 pm

Versailles by me

I am here! I am finally here! I feel almost giddy with excitement and can’t stop looking about myself in awe, pinching myself as I take in the expanse of shiny parqueted floors, the tall windows overlooking the enormous park, the lofty ceilings where the reflected pink, blue and yellow light from enormous crystal chandeliers dances and scatters. Everywhere I look there is beautiful furniture, flowers, statues and paintings. Very little in this palace is designed to be practical, even the chairs are spindly legged, exquisite and horribly uncomfortable but somehow that doesn’t matter at all.

I felt quite sick with dread as I climbed into my lovely carriage for the last time but this was swiftly replaced by excitement as I gazed out of the windows and saw the hundreds of happy, smiling people who had lined the route to see me pass. It was a beautiful blossom scented morning; bright, fresh, sunny and giving no hint at all of the storms that had struck during the previous night.

‘It is a perfect day for a wedding,’ Madame de Chaulnes remarked to me with a smile. ‘No bride could ever wish for better.’

I grinned and nodded, feeling as light hearted and cheerful as any simple village girl going to marry her love as we drove through sunlight dappled woods and past charming little cottages swarming with happy, grinning children. For a while I did not allow myself to worry about the Dauphin or the strange family that I was about to enter, but simply gave myself over to enjoying the moment and allowing the obvious excitement of the spectators to lift my spirits.

I do not think that I will ever forget my first glimpse of Versailles. I had seen pictures before of course as the Duc de Choiseul had very kindly sent me engravings of the château, which Mama had had framed and then hung in my rooms at the Hofburg but nothing could ever have really prepared me for the reality. I tried to remain blasé in front of my ladies, who were watching me closely for my initial reaction but I could not help but gasp when we began the short drive up the tree lined avenue that led to the main gates and I saw the enormous, golden edifice slowly unfold before me, the sunshine making the soft yellow stone appear to shimmer while the light from dozens of tall windows gleamed and glittered.

The chapel bells rang out as my carriage passed through the ornate golden gates and then pulled up in the courtyard, where I was immediately surrounded by a chattering press of courtiers, all impatient to get their first glimpse of me, the girl who may well one day be their Queen. A footman elbowed his way through the throng and let down the carriage steps before pulling open the door and offering me his arm. ‘Have a care! Have a care!’ he shouted over his shoulder as he helped me down and then led me through the crowd into the marble and glass vestibule of the château and then on to a large white paneled room hung with portraits.

‘Your apartments are not yet ready for you and so in the meantime you are to be lodged here in the rooms previously inhabited by her Highness the Dauphine Marie-Josèphe.’ It was Madame de Noailles of course, keen as always to impress upon me that I was an imposter leaping into the shoes, jewels and now bedchamber of the dead. ‘His Majesty hopes that you will be comfortable here.’

I looked around with a smile, loving the high ceilings and bright, huge windows which opened on to a flower covered parterre. ‘It is lovely.’ I followed the Comtesse through two more large white airy rooms to the bedchamber, where a crowd of maids and hairdressers awaited me. They all fell silent and curtseyed low as I walked into the room, my high heels tip tapping on the polished wooden floor and I blushed as I felt their eyes sweep over me, noting my every deficiency and appraising my good features.

‘She has nice eyes,’ I heard one of them whisper. ‘Pretty hair too.’

Madame de Mailly led me to the huge lace bedecked dressing table that stood in front of the windows and gently pressed me down on to the stool. ‘The wedding is in three hours time,’ she said with a smile. ‘Plenty of time to make you the most beautiful bride that Versailles has ever seen.’

I yawned and struggled to stay awake as they swiftly stripped me then laced me into a new whalebone corset and tied panniers to my slim waist. Next came layer after layer of gauzy petticoats, each one trimmed with beautiful lace and finished with blue and pink velvet ribbons. After this there was a beautiful gown of white brocade and cloth of silver, spangled all over with diamonds and pearls and with yet more exquisite lace at the bosom and sleeves. There was some consternation when it was discovered that my dress was slightly too small but after much conferring with the dressmaker and maids, it was decided that no one would notice and so they laced me up and hoped for the best.

When I was in my dress and the skirt had been tweaked to the satisfaction of Madame de Noailles, a gorgeous diamond necklace was fastened around my neck, diamond and pearl earrings were hung from my earlobes and the dead Dauphine’s diamond bracelets were slipped on to my wrists.

It was then time to sit in front of the mirror, which was surrounded by a swarm of chubby gilt cherubs holding aloft garlands of roses, and allow the ladies to apply a two pink circles of rouge to the apples of my cheeks and a touch of red rouge to my lips.

‘You look magnificent,’ Madame de Chaulnes said with an approving nod. ‘Like a Queen.’
I stared at myself in the mirror and almost burst into tears as I looked so different, so unlike myself, so terribly old. If I ever do become Queen, one of my first acts will be to abolish the hideous and deeply unflattering overuse of rouge that seems to be prevalent at this court. My second act will be to sack Madame de Noailles.

Versailles windows by me

16th May, half past seven.

  • Posted on June 2, 2009 at 7:04 pm

louis xvi

We leave for Versailles in half an hour and I am already sitting here in all of my finery and diamonds, waiting to go. I have been up since dawn and have not had nearly enough sleep thanks to the thunderstorm that raged overhead in the middle of the night, the seemingly endless sound of rain beating against the window panes and the flutterings of panic deep in my stomach.

I had to rush to my little privy to be horribly sick after the fashionable Parisian coiffure had finished dressing, pomading and powdering my hair and poor Mesdames de Chaulnes and Mailly had to hold my ringlets, lace sleeves and blue satin skirts back as I clutched the china chamber pot and heaved and shuddered.

‘You worry too much,’ Jeanne de Mailly remarked afterwards with a kindly smile as I wiped my face with a linen cloth and tried to compose myself. ‘Everyone here thinks that you are exquisite and absolutely charming.’ She took my hand and gave it a comforting squeeze. ‘You really have nothing to worry about.’

‘But what if it all goes wrong?’ I said dubiously. ‘After all, the Dauphin can barely bring himself to look at me! What if he doesn’t like me? Can he have me sent back home to Vienna?’

Jeanne rolled her eyes. ‘Dear me, did no one take you aside before you left Vienna and tell you what an odd, cold fish your fiancé is?’ She took a cup of freshly made orange blossom tea from Madame de Chaulnes and handed it to me. ‘Drink this. I can’t promise you any miracles but it will at least help to calm your nerves.’

I drank thankfully. ‘So the Dauphin doesn’t really hate me?’ I asked nervously.

Both ladies laughed. ‘No, he really doesn’t hate you,’ Madame de Chaulnes replied with a smile. ‘It’s just the way that he is.’ She shrugged. ‘You should consider yourself fortunate that he isn’t a shameless flirt like his grandfather.’

‘Marie-Paule!’ Madame de Mailly stared at her friend, clearly torn between consternation and amusement. ‘Be careful!’

Madame de Chaulnes just shrugged again. ‘Oh why not just say it?’ she said, taking away my cup of tea and putting it back on the table beside us. ‘It’s only the truth after all.’

Louis XV and Madame du Barry

16th May, midnight, my wedding day.

  • Posted on June 1, 2009 at 10:08 am

Queen Marie by Latour

The royal family returned to Versailles immediately after the concert and I was left alone at La Muette with my attendants. I felt rather despondent as I walked through dark corridors back to my lovely rooms that overlooked the Bois de Boulogne but my mood soon lifted when Madame de Noailles, who was quivering with an unusual excitement drew my attention to a huge crimson velvet coffer that had been placed beside my lace and ribbon bedecked dressing table.

‘It was his Majesty’s wish that you be presented with the royal jewels before your wedding,’ she said as I ran forward and pulled open the lid. ‘These jewels were worn by Her Majesty Queen Marie and also Her Highness the Dauphine.’

I was barely listening, so excited was I by the wonderful, glittering, sumptuous display laid out before me on duck egg blue silk shelves. I allowed my fingers to trail over rubies, sapphires, emeralds, pearls and dazzling, perfect diamonds. It seemed incredible that all this wealth, this splendour should have fallen into my hands.

Madame de Noailles stepped forward and pointed out a particularly fine pearl necklace. ‘This belonged to the Queen Marie Thérèse, consort of Louis XIV,’ she said in a lecturing tone. ‘He presented it to her upon the occasion of the birth of their son, the Dauphin.’

I nodded, unable to take my eyes off the piles of necklaces, parures, stomachers, rings, brooches and bracelets. ‘How fascinating,’ I murmured, lifting out an exquisite diamond bracelet and fastening it around my slim wrist before turning it this way and that so that I could admire it.

‘That was one of the late Dauphine’s favourite pieces,’ Madame de Noailles said with a disapproving sniff. ‘She often wore it when she played cards in the evening. i believe that she was wearing it the evening that she was taken ill.’ She paused. ‘Before she died.’

I felt suddenly sick and hastily pulled the bracelet off.

Dauphine Marie Josèphe

Wednesday, 16th May, early morning.

  • Posted on May 29, 2009 at 11:23 pm

Madame du Barry - Drouais

Silly, gossipy Madame de Chartres filled in the gaps after dinner as we walked arm in arm to the lovely yellow and gold salon, where there was to be a recital by some of the stars of the Paris Opéra.

‘How pretty we look together,’ she said, posing in front of one of the enormous gilt framed mirrors that lined the gallery. ‘It is so nice to have another young person to talk to.’ I looked at our reflections and had to agree that we looked charming together in our frothy pastel dresses, our eyes starry and cheeks delicately flushed thanks to a little too much wine and our powdered and scented hair tumbling in ringlets about our shoulders.

‘Who is Madame du Barry?’ I asked in a whisper, looking around carefully to ensure that the lady was not in earshot. ‘She is very pretty but, I think, not one of us.’

‘Not one of us?’ the Duchesse trilled with laughter. ‘No, no, most assuredly not!’ She leaned closer so that I was overpowered by her heavy violet and rose scent and whispered in my ear. ‘I do not know all the details but what I do know is all perfectly shocking, my dear! Apparently Madame la Comtesse is the illegitimate daughter of a common seamstress and a monk!’ She drew back to observe my reaction and then, clearly satisfied with what she saw, carried on. ‘I have also heard that she plied her trade on the streets before she found a wealthy protector and that she was passed from man to man until she caught His Majesty’s eye and found herself at Versailles.’

I could not hide my shock. In all my pampered, sheltered life no one, not even Amalia who could be counted on to divulge pretty much anything no matter how shocking, had ever spoken to me about such matters and yet here was the pretty Duchesse de Chartres, a girl not much older than myself, talking about it as though it was just a matter of course.

‘Now, now, do not look so scandalized!’ Madame de Chartres said with a giggle. ‘You will have to get used to such things if you are going to live amongst us all at Versailles! The whole palace is a hotbed of gossip and intrigue.’ She gave me a pitying look and I could tell that she found me rather disappointing, all things considered. ‘You aren’t excessively devout are you?’

‘I don’t know. No, I don’t think so.’ I blushed, crossing my fingers behind my back and feeling like I was betraying Mama with every word that dropped from my lips. However, Mama was hundreds of miles away in Vienna and I was here, in Paris and all alone.

The Duchesse gave me a quick shrewd look then shrugged her glittering shoulders and carried on. ‘We were all terribly shocked when we found out that Madame la Comtesse du Barry had been invited to the dinner party tonight. It was supposed to be for family only and she may well be the King’s mistress but that certainly doesn’t make her one of us, does it?’ She pulled an exquisite painted porcelain snuff box from her bosom and flicked it open before offering it to me. ‘Do you?’ She smiled at my disgusted expression. ‘Ah, no, you do not.’ She tapped some out on to her wrist and sniffed deeply. ‘I could not believe my ears when I heard that the King had invited that woman here but what can we do? He is the master here and we have no option but to do as he says or find ourselves shipped off to the provinces, there to kick our poor heels amidst the cows and rustics.’ She shook her pretty feather covered head dolefully . ‘No, no, that would not do at all and so, my dear one, we endure and so must you.’

Oh really?

The Duchesse de Chartres sleeping

15th May, very late.

  • Posted on May 28, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Artois

There was a private dinner party tonight in the beautiful pale green and gold dining room in La Muette. It was for the royal family only and after being met at the door by the King himself who took me gracefully by the hand and led me, blushing and self conscious into the room, I was finally introduced to the Dauphin’s two younger brothers the Comte de Provence, a sly looking fat youth only a few weeks younger than myself with sleepy brown eyes and the youngest of the trio, the Comte d’Artois, who is the best looking of the princes with a distinctly Italianate look about him and full, sensual lips.

The Comte de Provence almost made me laugh behind my fan when he gave me a quick look up and down rather as all the ladies do. ‘I am very pleased to meet you at last,’ he intoned with a heavy courtesy in German. ‘I have been studying your language with my tutor,’ he said when I looked surprised and perhaps I imagined it but did I detect a hint of triumph in the look that he shot towards the Dauphin? ‘I thought it would be nice for someone to greet you in your own tongue.’ No, I didn’t imagine it at all, he was definitely trying to get one over his elder brother.

I turned to the Comte d’Artois, whose dark eyes met mine admiringly. ‘I do hope that when it is time for me to marry they find a princess as pretty as you,’ he said with a charming smile as he raised my hand to his lips with a practised grace. It is hard to believe that he is only twelve years old as he seems far older both in appearance and manners.

With an air of regret the King passed my hand to the Dauphin, who without looking at me stiffly walked to the table, which was lit by dozens of candelabra and covered with luscious blooming pink, peach and yellow Peonies, gleaming silverware, fine crystal glasses and a beautiful Sèvres dinner service.

‘How pretty everything looks,’ I remarked to my husband in a pleasant manner.

He gave a tiny shrug. ‘I suppose that it is.’ He stared down miserably at his plate and played nervously with the silver fork that lay beside it.

I watched him for a moment in silence, trying desperately to think of something, anything that I could say that would at least make him look at me or show some enthusiasm. ‘Do you enjoy hunting?’ was all that I could think of and inwardly I kicked myself.

‘Yes, I do.’ The Dauphin still didn’t look at me and there was another long pause as he played with his fork and tried to think of something else to say. ‘Do you hunt?’

I shook my head. ‘No, alas.’ I caught the eye of the Princesse de Lamballe, who was sitting near the end of the table, next to her sister-in-law, the Duchesse de Chartres and we shared a shy smile. It made me feel so much better to have a friend amongst the guests, especially when I allowed my gaze to wander about the table and realized that everyone present was staring at me with the same expressions of mixed curiosity and hostility.

Everyone that is except the extremely pretty blonde with melting blue eyes and a charming smile who sat at the far end of the table and whose long lashed eyes regarded me with a disconcerting degree of frank amusement. She was beautifully dressed in a lace edged gown of shimmering pale gold silk that gleamed in the candlelight and revealed rather more of her opulent bosom than was perhaps strictly necessary and the more I looked at her, the more I began to feel that my own carefully chosen gown of pale pink satin trimmed with pink ribbons, diamonds and exquisite lace was hopelessly and embarrassingly gauche.

I stared back at her in envious resentment then quickly turned away with a blush when she caught my eye, winked and sardonically raised her wine glass to me in a silent toast.

I leaned towards the Dauphin, who was enthusiastically chewing on a chicken leg and not paying the slightest bit of attention to any of the conversations about the table or any of the other guests. ‘Who is that pretty lady at the end of the table?’ I whispered, making sure that I did not allow my eyes to slide again in her direction.

He looked up at me then with a startled expression. ‘What?’ His mouth hung slightly open as he frowned and peered past me, his eyes screwed up as he tried to see past the rich gleam of the candles and silverware. ‘What lady?’ I felt myself go crimson lest she overhear him and began to wish that I had not asked.

His cousin, Madame de Chartres who was sitting on his other side came to my rescue and leaned languidly across him with a smile to whisper: ‘That, my dear one, is Madame la Comtesse du Barry.’

The name was not familiar to me and I did not remember my Abbé ever mentioning anyone of this name to me. ‘Who is she? What is her position at court?’

Madame de Chartres began to laugh while the Dauphin frowned down at his plate, looking as though he wished he could be anywhere else. I had already noticed that his ears went quite pink when he felt embarrassed and now they were glowing scarlet beneath his white, powdered wig.

‘Her position at court?’ The Duchesse hid a smile behind her diamond encrusted fan. ‘Well, let me see, Madame la Comtesse’s position is to… amuse his Majesty.’ She spoke in an exaggerated whisper and I was mortified when a muted ripple of laughter swept down the table.

I did not immediately understand her. Why would I? ‘Then I would like to be her rival,’ I said rather stiffly with an affectionate look at King Louis, who was pretending not to listen to our conversation. ‘I too would like to amuse his Majesty.’  I met his eyes and he smiled and like Madame du Barry raised his glass to me.

The Dauphin looked up then, finally, from his meal and fixed his eyes upon me for a moment as though he had only just realized that I was there and was seeing me for the very first time. He looked as though he would have liked to have said something but after a few seconds he looked away again and the moment had gone.

I glanced down the table at Madame du Barry and saw that she was still staring at me, only this time with a hint of defiance. I do not think that we are going to become friends.

Provence

Tuesday 15th May, later still

  • Posted on May 23, 2009 at 10:43 pm

The Penthievre family

Upon our arrival at La Muette I was immediately taken to my own rooms, which are really quite delightful. ‘It is the custom that all royal brides spend the night before their wedding here,’ Madame de Noailles said as I looked about myself with pleasure, admiring the pale blue and gilt paneling, the pretty pink silk curtains embroidered all over with flowers and peacock feathers and the huge arrangements of flowers that stood upon every surface. Someone had put a lot of thought into making the room as pleasant as possible.

‘It is charming,’ I said to Madame de Noailles with a smile, still hopeful that I could win her over.

She remained impervious and looked coldly and unsmilingly back at me. ‘The King had the room refurbished before your arrival in the hopes that it would be to your taste.’
‘How kind of him,’ I replied, sitting on the bed and bouncing on it a little to see how comfortable it is.

‘He wanted to make sure that you were shown all proper attention,’ Madame de Noailles replied stiffly. My goodness, I do wish that she would unbend a little. I wonder if she ever smiles at anyone or is it just me that she holds in dislike? Madame de Mailly told me that apparently Madame de Noailles absolutely adored the old Queen and resents the fact that I, a mere girl have taken her place. That is hardly my fault though is it?

It was a delightful day so we went for a walk in the gardens and for the first time since coming to France I felt entirely and wholeheartedly happy and comfortable as I strolled between the Duchesse de Chaulnes and Abbé Vermond, half listening as they talked at length about gardening and invited each other to sniff particularly lovely flowers. I can tell that the Abbé very much admires Madame de Chaulnes’ soulful good looks and she in her turn simpers more than usual when she talks to him, which is a frankly nauseating amount of simpering.

After a while I fell back, hoping that the Dauphin would see me walking alone and come and join me but he remained steadfastly at his grandfather’s side and so after a while I was forced to give up and instead link arms with the Princesse de Lamballe, who is thoroughly delightful, smells like lilacs and roses and had swapped last night’s gown of mauve gauze for an exquisite ensemble in flounced pale blue silk trimmed with blue and white striped ribbons and lace. ‘You seem so much happier today,’ she remarked with a friendly squeeze of my hand. ‘I felt very sorry indeed for you yesterday.’

I looked at her in some surprise. ‘Did you? Why?’ I am so used now to thinking myself the luckiest girl in the world that it was a shock to hear someone say that they pitied me.

The Princesse hesitated. ‘The Bourbons are not an easy family to enter and you looked so very young and lost and exhausted when you walked into the salon at Compiègne.’ She gave me a sidelong smile. ‘I confess that I was longing to run up to you and give you an enormous hug. It must be quite intolerable for you at times.’

I sighed. ‘Yes. Yes, it is.’ I thought of Vienna, Joseph and Mama, now all so very far away and then I remembered all the hundreds of miles and the long tedious hours sitting bored out of my mind in a carriage which had brought me here to this moment, to this garden in Paris. ‘I can hardly believe that I am here. I still sometimes feel shocked when I wake up in the morning and realize that I am no longer at home in Vienna.’

She nodded sympathetically. ‘I came from Turin in Italy to marry my husband and found it very hard.’ She gave me a rather embarrassed look and bent over a lovely pink rose in order to hide her blushes. ‘I expect that Madame de Mailly has told you all about my marriage?’

I couldn’t meet her candid gaze and looked away. ‘Um, yes, a little bit.’ Actually, Madame de Mailly told me all about it last night as she helped me prepare for bed and I know all about how Madame de Lamballe’s handsome young husband had been a dissolute wastrel who had abandoned her shortly after their wedding day and then conveniently died of some hideous disease caught in the brothels of Paris a year later leaving her mistress to an enormous fortune.

The Princesse sighed. ‘I was stupidly excited when I first learned that I was to be married to a French prince and indeed I felt very fortunate when I first met my husband and saw that he was both handsome and charming.’ She shrugged and tried to smile. ‘Of course, in his case a handsome face and a charming manner only served to disguise the libertine and horrible aspects of his personality.’

I saw that she was on the brink of tears and took her hand in a comforting clasp. ‘It must have been terrible. I am so sorry.’ I smiled at her, thinking that this poor unhappy princess badly needed someone to pay attention to her and make her feel loved again. I decided that I would be her friend and as I found that the thought of this made my own spirits rise for I too felt abandoned and out of place and in need of a friend in this strange country.

Madame de Lamballe smiled back and snapped a beautiful yellow rose from a nearby bush before handing it to me. ‘No, it is I who should apologise for talking about my own personal misfortune with you,’ she said. ‘Please, forget I said anything.’

I accepted the rose and tucked it behind my ear, which made her laugh. ‘There is no need to apologise, Madame,’ I replied shyly. ‘I am interested in knowing all about you as I want us to be friends.’

She returned my smile. ‘I should like that very much.’

At that moment there was one of those sudden delightful rain showers that are so typical of Spring and our conversation was rudely interrupted as all the ladies ran shrieking and laughing for cover, lifting their pale silk skirts and holding their fans and parasols vainly over their powdered heads as they went.

Princesse de Lamballe

Tuesday 15th May, even later.

  • Posted on May 22, 2009 at 1:11 pm

Chateau de la Muette

This morning we left Compiègne and travelled to La Muette, a beautiful little château nestled like a pearl in the verdant Bois de Boulogne on the outskirts of Paris. We stopped en route at the imposing, dark Carmelite convent at Saint Denis so that I could pay my respects to the King’s youngest daughter Louise who came here a few months ago, determined to take the veil and become a nun.

Madame de Mailly told me all about it during the bumpy carriage ride there. ‘It caused the most terrific scandal,’ she whispered with relish. ‘Madame Louise had been saying for a long time that she wanted to leave the court and devote her life to God but of course no one believed her and in fact we all thought that she was being rather melodramatic and attention seeking about the whole thing. However it turned out to be true!’

‘What happened?’ I couldn’t imagine how anyone could possibly prefer the austere life of the cloister to the excitement of court. ‘Did the King know?’

‘Oh, well he apparently knew all about it and had refused his consent for many years until finally one day he decided that enough was enough and gave his permission. She left early the next morning and went straight to the convent where it is said that she spends her days praying for her father’s soul.’

I laughed. ‘How very noble of her! I do hope that he is grateful for her concern!’

Madame de Mailly joined in my laughter but then shook her head and tried to look severe. ‘Oh no, we must not mock! You do not yet know how superstitious the poor King is about such things!’ She smiled. ‘I wish that you could have seen how furious Madame Adélaïde was when she found out. I could hear her screams of chagrin from several rooms away.’

‘Did Madame Louise not wish to marry?’ I asked, still curious about this princess who had abandoned her life to take the veil.

The Comtesse sighed. ‘The King likes to keep his daughters close and only one, Madame Infante was ever sent away to be married.’ She lowered her voice then, which I had come to realize was a sign that she was about to impart some particularly juicy morsel of information. ‘I have heard that he had plans to marry Louise to Charles Edward Stuart, the pretender to the English throne but it didn’t happen after all.’

I was rather disappointed to find that Madame Louise was not the gentle, beautiful heroine that I had imagined her to be but instead a rather dumpy woman with a loud voice, strident manner and the thick black eyebrows that afflicted her nephew, the Dauphin. She looked me swiftly up and down in the brisk way that all Frenchwomen do then gave an approving nod before talking at length about how terrible the dinners in the convent are. I am starting to realize that the Bourbons only really become truly animated when they are on the subject of food.

After I had bowed my head to receive her blessing we all left and drove on to La Muette, entirely bypassing the centre of Paris so that I caught only the merest glimpse from my window despite straining back to see as much as I could of the French capital.

‘I had thought that we would see more,’ I remarked in some annoyance to Madame de Chaulnes.

She gave a small shrug. ‘The King does not like to go there.’

I immediately looked to the Comtesse de Mailly for an explanation but she just pursed her lips and shook her pretty head.

Madame Louise as a nun

Tuesday 15th May, La Muette.

  • Posted on May 20, 2009 at 10:49 am

Madame de Pompadour

And what of my new husband? What of him? He did not look at me once that evening in Compiègne and made his excuses and left as soon as he could. I do not understand it at all. Everyone else here seems to think that I am pretty so why doesn’t he? I really want to talk to him but don’t know how.

Madame de Mailly was very kind when she prepared me for bed last night and whispered that the King admires me very much and she heard him say several times how pleased he is with both my looks and my behaviour.

‘Tell me about him,’ I said, with a nervous look at Madame de Noailles, who was thankfully not close enough to hear our conversation. ‘I find him somewhat perplexing and not at all how I imagined he would be.’

The pretty Comtesse rolled her dark eyes and laughed. ‘Oh, I know what you mean. The King is a very complicated man and I believe that Madame de Pompadour is the only person to have ever truly understood him.’ She lowered her voice as she said the name of the now deceased favourite as of course it is considered the height of bad manners to mention the dead at court.

‘What was she like?’ I recollected the lovely presents that she had sent to Carolina and remembered also that along with Choiseul she had been instrumental in arranging my marriage. ‘Did the King love her? Does he miss her now?’

Madame de Mailly cast a cautious look at the Comtesse de Noailles who was busy reprimanding the maids at the other side of the room. ‘She was very pretty, really quite charming and extremely witty.’ She sighed. ‘She really loved that man.’

I felt suddenly breathless, imagining some sort of mystery. ‘What happened to her?’

As usual the truth turned out to be utterly commonplace, even banal. ‘Oh nothing! She had been ill for a long time and then one day she went to bed and didn’t get up again. The King was inconsolable when she died.’

‘He always looks so sad,’ I said now remembering the way that he had looked at the Dauphin and I in the carriage earlier. ‘Sad and disappointed.’

Madame la Comtesse shrugged her thin shoulders. ‘He has had much in his life to make him sorrowful,’ she said. ‘He once told me that he believed himself born to be unhappy as his grandmother was the daughter of the English Princesse Henriette and that like all Stuarts he has a melancholy, even morbid turn of mind.’ She laughed. ‘They also have a tendency to lose their heads.’

Henriette Stuart, Duchesse d'Orléans