elena maria vidal

On April 21, 1770, the youngest Archduchess left her family home forever. The moment came when she was to bid farewell to her mother. They had become particularly close in the last few months because the Empress had decided to keep Antoine constantly at her side, day and night, in order not to lose the opportunity to instruct the little bride in her duties of her new state in life. There was profuse weeping, not only on the part of the mother and her child, but the members of the imperial household, both servants and courtiers mourned the loss of their Archduchess, as did the citizens of Vienna. She knelt for her mother’s blessing. In the future she would see her sister Mimi and her brothers Joseph and Max; she would never see her mother or her other siblings again.

Marie-Antoinette, Daughter of the Caesars: Her Life, Her Times, Her Legacy - Elena Maria Vidal

Archduchess Maria Amalia had a stubborn disposition and was the only daughter who refused to even to pretend to follow her mother’s advice after she was married. She was therefore shunned by the Empress, although her younger sisters were quite fond of her. Considered one of the prettiest sisters in a family of beauties, she had been determined to marry the man she loved the way Mimi had. Maria Theresa, having recovered her strength of mind, would not hear of it. Instead Amalia had to marry Ferdinand of Parma, another grandson of Louis XV. They had several children although they both cheated on each other, and Amalia later behaved so badly people thought she was mad. Maria Theresa worried that the rumours about Amalia would make it to France and soil Antoine’s reputation; indeed it may have contributed to the French people’s readiness to believe anything unsavoury about their Queen. As a widow, Amalia was driven out of Parma by Napoleon’s army and sought refuge in Bohemia, where she died in Prague in 1804.

Marie-Antoinette, Daughter of the Caesars: Her Life, Her Times, Her Legacy - Elena Maria Vidal

Madame Élisabeth became an orphan at the age of three and was reared by her governesses. She was a stubborn child but eventually conquered her wilfulness so that gentleness and kindness became her most outstanding character traits. She was also quite playful and mischievous. Once at a party at the château of Meudon, when Élisabeth was only three, she amused herself by clinging to Louis-Auguste’s coattails, following him from room to room, refusing to let go. The courtiers noticed, and crowded around to see the sight, but pressed in on the children so tightly that Élisabeth’s safety was threatened. Louis picked her up, hoisting her on his shoulder, saying: “Gentlemen, take care you do not crush my little sister, or she will not come to see you again.”

Marie-Antoinette, Daughter of the Caesars: Her Life, Her Times, Her Legacy - Elena Maria Vidal

However, the surroundings did not diminish the beauty of the Dauphine, who emerged from the pavilion arrayed in cloth of gold like the goddess of the dawn; the Baroness said that Antoinette looked “a thousand times more charming” in her new French clothes, describing her as having a lily and rose complexion and the Habsburg lip which gave her mouth an air of slight disdain, as well as being slender, graceful and stately in spite of her extreme youth.
—  Marie-Antoinette, Daughter of the Caesars: Her Life, Her Times, Her Legacy - Elena Maria Vidal

By the standards of the era, Louis-Auguste could be considered handsome. He had thick dark eyebrows, an aquiline Bourbon nose, deep set, large blue-grey eyes, and a full sensual mouth. The Duchess of Northumberland, a friend of Choiseul’s, was at Versailles for Louis and Antoinette’s wedding; she said: “The Dauphin disappointed me much. I expected him to be horrid but I really liked his aspect. He is tall and slender with a très intéressant figure and he seems witty. He has a quite pale complexion and eyes. He has a mass of fair hair very well planted.” As a teenager, Louis-Auguste was tall and thin, soon to be the tallest man at Court, and enjoyed intense physical exercise, such as hunting and hammering at his forge. His physical strength became legendary; he could lift a shovel to shoulder height with a young boy standing on the end of it. Possessing a hardy appetite, he developed a paunch as he approached his thirties. He was often clumsy and diffident in his manner although not without dignity in his bearing. The efforts of his detractors to make him unattractive and therefore unlovable serve the purpose of giving his wife an “excuse” for chronic infidelity, another highly-popularized myth.

Marie-Antoinette, Daughter of the Caesars: Her Life, Her Times, Her Legacy - Elena Maria Vidal

   On January 20, 1793, Louis XVI said farewell to his family. He was to be guillotined the next morning. Madame Royale later recorded their last meeting; it is said that she fainted when saying good-bye to her father.

About seven o'clock in the evening we learned the sentence by the newsmen, who came crying it under our windows: a decree of the Convention permitted us to see the King. We ran to his apartment, and found him much altered; he wept for us, not for fear of death; he related his trial to my mother, apologizing for the wretches who had condemned him; he told her, that it was proposed to attempt to save him by having recourse to the primary assemblies, but that he would not consent, lest it should excite confusion in the country. He then gave my brother some religious advice, and desired, him above all, to forgive those who caused his death and he gave him his blessing, as well as to me.

   My mother was very desirous that the whole family should pass the night with my father; but he opposed this, observing to her how much he needed some hours of repose and quiet. She asked at least to be allowed to see him next morning, to which he consented. But, when we were gone, he requested that we might not be permitted to return, as our presence afflicted him too much. He then remained with his confessor till midnight, when he went to bed….

Marie-Antoinette, Daughter of the Caesars: Her Life, Her Times, Her Legacy - Elena Maria Vidal

Archduchess Maria Elisabeth, called “Liesl,” was lovely but like Mimi also had a sharp tongue. She was supposed to have gone to France to marry Louis XV but was prevented not only by Louis’ mistress Madame du Barry but by an attack of smallpox, which disfigured her. This was tragic on more than one level. How helpful it would have been for Antoine to have an older sister at Versailles who was already Queen of France! Instead, Antoine had to face the French court practically alone and without her family. Meanwhile, Liesl became fat and crabby; Joseph eventually expelled her from the Imperial court, as he did all his sisters. She went to live with La Marianne and discovered a religious vocation, becoming an Abbess. 

Marie-Antoinette, Daughter of the Caesars: Her Life, Her Times, Her Legacy - Elena Maria Vidal

The eldest surviving sister was Archduchess Maria Anna, or “La Marianne” as Empress Maria Theresa referred to her in her letters to Antoinette. Maria Anna had numerous physical handicaps, including a crooked back and weak lungs. It was early on decided that she was unmarriageable and so she was encouraged to become a nun. She eventually became the Abbess at Klagenfurt monastery in the Austrian Alps; it may be through her influence that Antoinette acquired some of her liturgical books, such as The Little Office of The Blessed Virgin Mary: According to the Usage of the Cistercian Order. The Abbess, who eschewed society as much as it eschewed her, was a patroness of the arts and sciences like her father the Emperor, and was perhaps one of the most intellectual of the sisters. She died at the age of 51.

Marie-Antoinette, Daughter of the Caesars: Her Life, Her Times, Her Legacy - Elena Maria Vidal

Leopold II, called “Poldy,” is often overlooked because his reign lasted only two years. Nevertheless, he had the most children of any of his siblings—sixteen, just like his parents—with the exception of Maria Carolina, who had eighteen. He stood in as proxy bridegroom at some of his sisters’ weddings. Although his demeanour is described as being cold and intellectual, he was by far the handsomest of his surviving brothers and quite the ladies’ man. His parents had intended for him to become a priest but as he approached manhood it became clear that he did not have a vocation. He eventually married Maria Luisa of Spain, the sweet pious mother of his sixteen children, the oldest of whom, Francis II, was to be the last Holy Roman Emperor. While Leopold displayed concern in his letters to Antoinette for her safety and that of her family, as the violence of the French Revolution escalated, he was not displeased to see the French monarchy destabilized. His son and heir would be much less concerned. It was only when the revolutionary government showed itself to be belligerent that Francis II realized that a Pandora’s Box had been opened and the Habsburg Empire was threatened. Leopold’s sudden and unexpected death in 1792 at age 45 stirred up rumours of poison. Antoinette felt his loss greatly.

Marie-Antoinette, Daughter of the Caesars: Her Life, Her Times, Her Legacy - Elena Maria Vidal

2

There was no trouble, however, with Archduchess Maria Johanna and Archduchess Maria Josepha, sweet and docile girls who were being brought up together. Then Johanna contracted a virulent case of smallpox after receiving an inoculation, which was known to occur. She died at age twelve, much to her family’s horror, especially Josepha’s. But soon Josepha was being groomed to marry Ferdinand of Naples and being painted in honour of the occasion, for she would become a queen. There is at least one portrait of Josepha in blue which is often mistaken for Antoinette; they both possessed the same delicate winsomeness so it is an easy mistake to make.

Marie-Antoinette, Daughter of the Caesars: Her Life, Her Times, Her Legacy - Elena Maria Vidal

At one o’clock that morning, his agony came to an end. He was dressed in a golden crown and spurs, laid in a white coffin, and carried in procession to the Cathedral of Saint Denis, where he was buried in the royal crypt with his ancestors. Custom did not permit the bereaved parents to follow their son to his tomb. Instead, they went alone to the château of Marly, to mourn together for a week, until duty recalled them to Versailles. The King, incessantly badgered by deputies, was overcome by his son’s death, and cried out to them: “Are there no fathers in the Third Estate?” He and Antoinette arranged for a thousand Masses to be said for the soul of Louis-Joseph, paying for the stipends with what was left of their silver plate.

Marie-Antoinette, Daughter of the Caesars: Her Life, Her Times, Her Legacy - Elena Maria Vidal

6

Sadly, the picture many people now have of Antoinette is of her running through Versailles with a glass of champagne in her hand, eating bonbons all day long, and rolling in the bushes with a lover. In reality, she was a teetotaler who ate frugally. She was notorious for her intense modesty. Even some prominent biographers, who have insisted upon the possibility of an affair with Swedish Count Axel von Fersen, have had to admit that there is no solid evidence.

Marie-Antoinette, Daughter of the Caesars - Elena Maria Vidal

3

He was shocked. From everything Tante Adelaide had said, he had half-expected a bold, flaunting woman like Madame du Barry. But his wife did not appear to be more than twelve years old! He had been told she was fifteen; he soon discovered she was only fourteen. Heavy powdering covered her hair, reported to be of a reddish colour, as his brothers had liked to tease him. With a high forehead, a thin, aquiline nose, the full Hapsburg lower lip, hers was a comely and bewitching visage. Her large sapphire eyes looked into his own, with unabashed curiosity. His feeling of consernation combined with a strong urge of protectiveness towards this foreign child. Somehow, he must shield her from the intrigues of the court. He himself was not quite sixteen; he did not know how he could protect her, just as he did not know how he could be expected to be a husband to such a little girl. In an instant, he realized he would have to wait to love her, wait for her to grow up, giving himself time to win her affection and respect.

Trianon, Elena Maria Vidal

3

He was shocked. From everything Tante Adelaide had said, he had half-expected a bold, flaunting woman like Madame du Barry. But his wife did not appear to be more than twelve years old! He had been told she was fifteen; he soon discovered she was only fourteen. Heavy powdering covered her hair, reported to be of a reddish colour, as his brothers had liked to tease him. With a high forehead, a thin, aquiline nose, the full Hapsburg lower lip, hers was a comely and bewitching visage. Her large sapphire eyes looked into his own, with unabashed curiosity. His feeling of consernation combined with a strong urge of protectiveness towards this foreign child. Somehow, he must shield her from the intrigues of the court. He himself was not quite sixteen; he did not know how he could protect her, just as he did not know how he could be expected to be a husband to such a little girl. In an instant, he realized he would have to wait to love her, wait for her to grow up, giving himself time to win her affection and respect.

Trianon, Elena Maria Vidal

One of the jurors rose. “Citizen President, the accused has not fully replied concerning the incident mentioned by Citizen Hébert, regarding what allegedly happened between herself and her son.”

The Queen rose to her feet. “If I did not reply, it was because nature recoils at such an accusation against a mother.” She turned to the galleries. “I appeal to all the mothers who may be here!” A stir broke out among the spectators. The tricoteuses all began talking at once, and a few of them cheered her, with boos and hisses at Hébert. They were generally disgusted with him. The judges and jurors whispered among themselves. Hermann had to suspend the proceedings for two hours, after which they continued again until eleven o’clock at night.

Marie-Antoinette, Daughter of the Caesars: Her Life, Her Times, Her Legacy - Elena Maria Vidal

On June 11, 1775, Trinity Sunday, Louis XVI was crowned at the Cathedral of Rheims, the sacred center of the realm. The festivities went on for days before and after the coronation itself, with both solemn religious ceremonies and lively festivals in the streets. Antoinette went everywhere with Louis, sometimes incognito, and she was usually accompanied by Louis’ little sisters, the exuberant Madame Élisabeth and the plump Madame Clothilde. Although some ministers had tried to persuade Louis to have a simple civil ceremony to save money, Louis insisted on the traditional nine hour religious ceremony, to be followed by the King giving the blessing to the sick: “The King touches you, God heals you.”

Marie-Antoinette, Daughter of the Caesars: Her Life, Her Times, Her Legacy - Elena Maria Vidal

3

But as Louis-Auguste and Antoinette bashfully peered at each other during those initial awkward moments, it was spring and the sun was shining. Louis-Auguste had been warned by his tutor the Duc de La Vauguyon to beware of the wiles of the female sex, so he remained aloof. He did not want to be ruled by a woman the way his grandfather was. Plus, his bride was little more than a child. Thus Antoinette had the easy task of winning over Louis XV, who immediately found her enchanting, as well as the monumental challenge of seducing his grandson, her own betrothed husband, who was determined not to become entrapped by her. All the while, she had hostile forces awaiting her first mistake.

Marie-Antoinette, Daughter of the Caesars: Her Life, Her Times, Her Legacy - Elena Maria Vidal