• Dana Arpquest

Marie- ANtoinette and her Favourites

Marie- Antoinette was eighteen when she became Queen of France. The first time she arrived in Paris, she was not yet fifteen, but already was very popular and brought hope to the French people. They welcomed her with acclamations in the streets. At the time, everything seemed to go her way.

The first few years in France were happy ones; she was popular. Tall and slim with big, soft blue eyes and a complexion that was like porcelain, she was a refreshing figure in the French Court of Versailles. Although people said she was not particularly pretty, she had a lot of charisma and charm.

Marie-Antoinette was still young and wanted to have fun, privacy, friends and be busy, but she understood she had a mission in France. In Austria, where she grew up, she had not many constraints and was fairly free. But when she became Queen of France, she still wanted to distract herself, and she was bored with the etiquette. Besides, she hated the fact that she had to be always visible to people and that everything she was doing was reported to Madame de Noailles, or Madame Etiquette as Marie-Antoinette nicknamed her. Maire-Antoinette had no privacy, and some of the practices were quite frustrating. For example, if she wanted a glass of water, she had to ask the first lady who then asked the second lady, who asked one of the servants. It could take fifteen minutes to get water.

The fairytale soon started to fade. Marie-Antoinette was not very popular within the court, firstly because she was Austrian. The court said she was an agent of Austria, and they nicknamed her The Austrian.

Marie-Antoinette created her own circle of people of her age or roughly; the men in that circle were handsome, tall and real men. The Princess of Lamballe was one of her friends— she came from the same region as Marie-Antoinette, was of a similar rank, and both women were foreign at the French court. Apparently, the princess was not very intelligent, didn’t have a grand house, but she was very sweet and therefore a strong friendship found the two girls together. At 19, the Princess became a widow with no children, and therefore she had all her time to devote to the Queen. She became her confidante and the two women spent a lot of time together, laughing at old courtiers, singing and listening or playing music together.

In winter, Marie Antoinette enjoyed long sleigh-strolls in the snow from Versailles to another castle, taking some warm collations and then returning to Versailles later the same day. A bit like in a fairy tale.

When Yolande de Polignac met the Queen, she was poor, but she was also stunning and did not chew her words. Madame de Polignac was rather open and claimed her laziness with pride. She was also quite distant and that aroused the interest of Marie Antoinette. Quickly, she replaced the Princess de Lamballe in being the confidante of the Queen.

Madame de Polignac was free; she had lovers and did whatever she wanted when she wanted, and Marie Antoinette dreamt of being like her. To keep Yolande close to her, Marie Antoinette offered her new friend a place at Versailles. However, Madame de Polignac did not come alone. She came with all her entourage, including her sister-in-law, Diana. Diana wanted to get as much as possible out of the friendship. And she probably was the one the Polignac could thank; a few months only after their arrival at Versailles, the Polignac family suddenly became one of the richest families in the country, receiving favours from the Queen. In her defence, Marie Antoinette had a kind heart and only wanted to please people, and since the King wanted to please his wife, he never refused her anything, which of course created jealousy amongst the courtiers who later would jump on the opportunity to take their revenge.

The King wanted to please his wife and therefore tolerated Marie Antoinette’s passion for games; she particularly enjoyed a game called the Pharaoh, which was purely a game of chance and on which she gambled large sums of money. One day, a game lasted thirty-six hours and she lost 400,000 Livre, which was equivalent to double a yearly allowance, and that day, she missed the morning mass. The King then had to pay all her debts and the old courtiers were outraged.

On days she had had enough of court, Marie-Antoinette took refuge in the Petit Trianon where she felt at home and could play the harp.

With her closed circle, she enjoyed games and talking about all the classics, and particularly relished futile conversation and gossip. Sometimes, she regretted not being able to be part of the life in Paris where she could attend dinners and catch up on the latest gossip.

All her favourites had the reputation of being philanders, and some were pushing their luck and the limits which she did not want them to cross. Marie-Antoinette enjoyed being admired and complimented, but she would not allow them to be too intimate. The King let her get on with her entertainment for he trusted her. With one favourite, she liked taking long walks, with another, attending the theatre or horse riding. Her male friends were all handsome, brilliant, and some were powerful. Amongst those, the Earl of Artois, the Duc de Lauzin. There were also the Duc of Coigny and the Earl of Esterhazy. Those men were great seducers, and they distracted her from boredom, but they also reassured her. It was as though there was a small court within the court, though that did not please courtiers who were excluded from her entourage.

But now the most famous of her favourite comes into her life. Monsieur de Fersen. Issued from a wealthy family in Sweden, one of the most powerful ones in the country who owned mines and commercial trade with India. Axel de Fersen had no place in Sweden. Hence, he travelled the world to find his destiny, which happened to be in France. He visited Paris in 1770 for the first time and met Marie Antoinette at a masquerade, though he ignored who she was at the time. But four years later, he went to Versailles and was properly introduced. Immediately she recognised him.

No one could doubt she had feelings for him, for she could not really hide it; however, he appeared more distant, and no one could’ve seen if any feelings were coming from him, but the letters he left behind seemed to say otherwise.

Though after that, each time he returned from a campaign, he regularly came to visit her at Versailles. Fersen was the shoulder Marie Antoinette needed, and she could count on him. When trouble came, most of her friends abandoned her, except for the Princess de Lamballe who stayed until the end and had the same tragic ending. But also, Fersen stayed until the end and did all he could to help her. He invested some of his money and borrowed to a few friends to fund her escape, though it did not work as they both had wished.

Fersen was the love of her life and she of his. Even if we will never really know what happened, no one can doubt that they loved each other, but that could be another story together.

If you love historical fiction mixed with romance, a strong heroine and light entertainment, then you’ll love The Road to Versailles, a novel inspired by the love story between Marie-Antoinette and Axel von Fersen.

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