Monday 28 March 2011

Marie-Antoinette's morals

American novelist Elena Maria Vidal, author of the novel Trianon based on Marie-Antoinette's life, discusses the Queen's moral standards and how seriously she took the responsibilities of being a chaperon to her young ladies-in-waiting. It's always struck me that perhaps part of the reason why the 19th century was so fascinated by the story of Marie-Antoinette (she was an icon of popular interest in both the Old South and Victorian England) is because her manners and morals had reflected so much of what those societies prized as true, lady-like behaviour. The quote below from the memoirs of one of her ladies-in-waiting, Madame Campan, recalls Marie-Antoinette's interest in ensuring that both her servants and her guests always enjoyed themselves in her company. Personally, I think you can always tell a lot about someone's character by the way they treat their "inferiors." I hate seeing anyone who thinks birth or money entitles them to be insufferable to those who work for, or around, them. To quote a friend's mother, again, true class is making other people feel comfortable: -

"All who were acquainted with the Queen’s private qualities knew that she equally deserved attachment and esteem. Kind and patient to excess ... she indulgently considered all around her, and interested herself in their fortunes and in their pleasures. She had, among her women, young girls from the Maison de St. Cyr [a prestigious boarding school established by the Louis XIV's wife], all well born; the Queen forbade them the play when the performances were not suitable; sometimes, when old plays were to be represented, if she found she could not with certainty trust to her memory, she would take the trouble to read them in the morning, to enable her to decide whether the girls should or should not go to see them,–rightly considering herself bound to watch over their morals and conduct."


  1. It is very ironic that such a woman should have been portrayed (and is still often portrayed) as a whore of Babylon, when her true character was the polar opposite.

    BTW, while watching a new documentary on Leopold III of Belgium, I was reminded of the way the anti-Leopoldist press doctored photographs of his wife, Princess Lilian, to make her necklines appear lower than they were in reality and so on...These base tactics never change. And yet, people fall for them over and over.

  2. Exactly, Matterhorn! And you can't help but feel that if their cause really was as worthy as they claimed, they would have no need to resort to lying.

  3. Thank you, Gareth, for the link and the observations, right on target, as usual!


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