During the fireworks celebrating the marriage of the young prince and princess in May 1774, there was a stampede in which many people were killed. Louis and Antoinette gave all of their private spending money for a year to relieve the suffering of the victims and their families. They became very popular with the common people as a result, which was reflected in the adulation with which they were received when the Dauphin took his wife to Paris on her first "official" visit in June 1773. Marie-Antoinette's reputation for sweetness and mercy became even more entrenched in 1774, when as the new Queen she asked that the people be relieved of a tax called "The Queen's belt," customary at the beginning of each reign. "Belts are no longer worn," she said. It was only the onslaught of revolutionary propaganda that would eventually destroy her reputation.
Louis XVI often visited the poor in their homes and villages, distributing alms from his own purse. Madame Campan records in her Memoirs that during the difficult winter of 1776, the king oversaw the distribution of firewood among the peasants. The king was responsible for many humanitarian reforms. He went incognito to hospitals, prisons, and factories so as to gain first-hand knowledge of the conditions in which the people lived and worked.
The King and Queen were patrons of the Maison Philanthropique, a society founded by Louis XVI which helped the aged, blind and widows. The queen taught her daughter Madame Royale to wait upon peasant children, to sacrifice her Christmas gifts so as to by fuel and blankets for the destitute, and to bring baskets of food to the sick. Antoinette started a home for unwed mothers at the royal palace of Versailles. She adopted three poor children to be raised with her own, as well as overseeing the upbringing of several needy children, whose education she paid for, while caring for their families. She brought several peasant families to live on her farm at Trianon, building cottages for them. There was food for the hungry distributed every day at Versailles, at the King's command.
During the famine of 1787-88, the royal family sold much of their flatware to buy grain for the people, and themselves ate the cheap barley bread in order to be able to give more to the hungry. There were many other things they did; what I mentioned here is taken from Vincent Cronin's Louis and Antoinette, as well as Marguerite Jallut's and Philippe Huisman's biography of the Marie-Antoinette. The king and queen did not see helping the poor as anything extraordinary, but as a basic Christian duty. The royal couple's almsgiving stopped only with their incarceration in the Temple in August 1792, for then they had nothing left to give but their lives. Share