Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Childbirth in Public


 Catherine Delors reports on the birth of Madame Royale:
At Versailles, not only the Queen, but princesses of the royal blood were required to give birth in public. Why? To prevent any substitution of the infant in case he was destined to reign. I say “he” by design, because France’s unwritten constitution prevented women to step unto the throne in their own right, though they could, and often did govern the Kingdom as Regents.

In the case of Marie-Antoinette, her first laying-in was all the more eagerly awaited that she had been married for eight years without presenting her husband with an heir. For a Queen, this was a glaring failure.

Her sister-in-law, the Comtesse d’Artois, married to the King’s youngest brother, had already been delivered of two healthy little boys. Marie-Antoinette had attended the deliveries, as required by the etiquette, and deeply felt the political and personal humiliation of her own childlessness.

Now at long last she herself was pregnant. The stakes could not be higher: if the child were stillborn, or a girl, the heir to the throne would remain the Comte de Provence, another brother of Louis XVI... (read more.)
Share

9 comments:

Margaret said...

Ugh, how utterly humiliating.

Matterhorn said...

It must have been so hard, to have EVERYTHING in your life become a public matter.

Gareth Russell said...

I've often wondered if this was a reaction to the "Warming Pan Baby" Scandal which dogged Maria of Modena in England, 1688, but I'm sure the public birthing-rites in France probably predated this?

lara77 said...

This ritual just proved how intertwined the monarchy was with the people of France. When the King and Queen awoke in the morning to the time they retired in the evening; eating, giving birth, all was done in public.It would take an amazing strength of character in a woman to be Queen of France and endure all the ritual.I think of the late Princess Diana and her difficulty in adjusting to the Royal Family of Britain. Queen Marie Antoinette must have known so very well the same difficulties.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, dear friends, and Marie-Antoinette found it especially humiliating~ and nearly fatal....

Gareth, I don't know that it had anything directly to do with the "Warming Pan" incident, since it had long been a tradition in France to have royal births "witnessed." Part of the reason for this was indeed to make certain that a baby impostor had not been smuggled in. Even after Louis XVI abolished the rite of the public birthing, official witnesses were still appointed to verify the royal nativities. When the Duc de Bordeaux was born in 1820 the official witnesses could not be found, and the Duchesse de Berry was in great discomfort waiting for the cord to be cut (the umbilical cord could not be cut without witnesses. This event is described in the novel Madame Royale.)

Yes, Lara, it is also true that at the heart of the public birthing was the concept that the royal child belonged to all the people of France.

Mrs Jackie Parkes MJ said...

Can you imagine having 7 girls in a row like me before my 2 sons??

elena maria vidal said...

That is very admirable, Jackie. Being a Christian mother can be a form of white martyrdom.

Alexandra said...

I found it humiliating having medical students traipsing through the room while I was delivering. I can identify a little bit, but in the end I suppose for their purposes it saved the headache of proving any doubt of the right to succession.

Benedicamus said...

It WOULD be humiliating... by the way, Jackie, I miss seeing you around! Nice to see you here, hope you are well :)