Monday, December 14, 2009

Lullaby for a Dauphin

On October 22, 1781 the long-awaited heir to the throne of France was born to Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. The birth of the Dauphin Louis-Joseph brought unprecedented popularity to the Queen as well as increasing her political clout. While Marie-Antoinette was not involved in politics at the time, being the mother of a future king made her more dangerous to the enemies of the crown, and therefore a target for increasingly lurid calumnies. However, the first days of Louis-Joseph's short life were those of unmitigated bliss for his parents. As Maxime de la Rocheterie reports:

On the 22d, on wakening, the queen felt some pain; she none the less took a bath; but the king, who was to go to shoot at Sacle, countermanded the hunt. Between twelve and half-past, her pain increased; at a quarter past one the dauphin was born. In order to prevent a repetition of the accident which had occurred at the birth of Madame, it had been decided that the crowd should not be allowed to invade the royal apartment, and that the mother should not know the sex of the child until all danger was past. On learning the news at half-past eleven, Madame de Polignac had run to the queen; but the other persons who ran there with equal haste—the ladies of the palace in the greatest undress, the men as they were — had found the door closed. Only Monsieur, the Comte d'Artois, Mesdames the aunts, Mesdames de Lamballe, de Chimay, de Mailly, d'Ossun, de Tavannes, and de Guéménée, were there, passing alternately from the bedchamber to the Salon de la Paix. When the child was born, it was silently carried to the large dressing-room, where the king saw it washed and dressed, and gave it to the governess, the Princesse de Guéménée.

The queen was in bed, anxious and knowing nothing; all those who surrounded her controlled their countenances so well that the poor woman, seeing their constrained air, thought that she had given birth to a second girl. "You see how reasonable I am," she said gently; "I do not question you." But the king could no longer restrain himself. Approaching the bedside of his wife, "Monsieur le Dauphin," he said, with tears in his eyes, — "Monsieur le Dauphin requests permission to enter." The child was brought; the queen embraced it with an enthusiasm that cannot be described, then handing it to Madame de Guéménée, "Take him," she said, — "he belongs to the State; but I shall have my daughter."

The scene was indescribable: all constraint was thrown aside; joy broke forth freely; it was so lively and so genuine that it even silenced jealousy and hate. An eye-witness wrote: —

"The antechamber of the queen was charming to see. The joy was overwhelming; all heads were turned. You saw them laughing and crying alternately. People who did not know one another, men and women, fell upon one another's necks; and even those who were least attached to the queen were carried away by the universal delight. It was the same when, half an hour after the birth, the doors of the queen's chamber were thrown open, and Monsieur le Dauphin was announced. Madame de Guéménée, radiant with joy, held him in her arms and traversed the apartments in her chair, to carry him to her own apartment. There were acclamations of joy and clapping of hands, which penetrated to the queen's chamber and assuredly to her heart. The crowd adored and followed him. Arrived at his apartment, the archbishop wished to decorate him with the cordon bleu; but the king said that he must be made a Christian first."

Madame heard the news, which was to remove her forever from the throne, in an amusing fashion. She was hastening to the queen, when she encountered one of those valiant Swiss then attached to the fortunes of France, the Count of Stedingk, who could not contain his joy: "A dauphin, Madame," he blurted out, "a dauphin, what happiness!" The princess answered nothing; but she had sufficient tact to hide her feelings and to manifest, outwardly at least, great satisfaction, being more clever than Madame de Balbi, "who showed the temper of a dog."

Monsieur, like his wife, dissembled his sentiments. Madame Elisabeth was so delighted that she could not believe it; she laughed, cried, and was almost ill from emotion. The Comte d'Artois, alone of the royal family, let fall a word which betrayed his disappointment. His son, the young Due d'Angouleme, had gone to see the dauphin. "Mon Dieu! papa," he said on leaving the chamber, "how little my cousin is!" "A day will come, my son," the prince could not help replying, "when you will find him big enough."

As for the king, he was intoxicated with his happiness; he did not cease to look at his son and to smile at him; tears ran from his eyes; he presented, without distinction, his hand to every one; his joy overcame his habitual reserve. Gay and affable, he sought every occasion to pronounce the words, "My son, the dauphin;" and taking the child in his arms, he held it up at the window, with an expression of content which touched every one.

At three o'clock the new-born child was baptized in the chapel of Versailles by the Cardinal de Rohan, grand almoner. He was held at the font by Monsieur in the name of the emperor, by Madame Elisabeth in the name of the princess of Piedmont, and named Louis Joseph Xavier Francois. After the ceremony, the Comte de Vergennes, chief treasurer of the St. Esprit, brought him the cordon bleu; the Marquis de Segur, minister of war, the cross of St. Louis. A Te Deum succeeded the baptism, and in the evening there were fireworks on the Place d'Armes.

He was an exceptionally beautiful child, of surprising strength, so it was said; and when one saw him fresh and rosy in his little bed, rocked by his nurse, Madame Poitrine, a predestined name, — a robust peasant woman from the neighbourhood of Sceaux, who swore like a trooper, was surprised at nothing, not even at the lace and caps worth six hundred livres with which she was decked out, but declared that she would not put on powder because she had never used it, — one called flown upon that little head the fairest wishes for the future. The ladies of the court, admitted to look at the royal infant, found him "as beautiful as an angel; " the courtiers disputed about the choice of the future governor; and one noticed, not without malice, the disappointed mien of the Duc de Guines, who had once flattered himself that he should have that place, and whose recent disgrace had robbed him of all hope. When the President of the Court of Accounts and the President of the Court of Aid came to pay their compliments, the latter said to the dauphin, "Your birth is our joy; your education will be our hope; your virtue our happiness."

At Paris the transports were not less lively when Monsieur Croismare, lieutenant of the guards, announced the great news at the Hôtel de Ville. People laughed and embraced one another in the streets....
It was "Madame Poitrine" who "swore like a trooper" who made popular the tune Malbrouk s'en va-t-en d'guerre, which she sang to the Dauphin as his lullaby. What may have originated as an Arab tune, brought to Europe by the medieval crusaders, had been known in France for quite some time. According to Kitchen Musician:
Captain George Bush (1753-1797), a junior officer in the Continental Army, carried his fiddle with him, and kept a notebook collection of his favorite tunes, songs and dances. Here is one of those tunes, "Malbrouk" or "Malbrouk s'en va-t'en guerre", known to us today as "The Bear Went Over the Mountain", or "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow". This tune has been popular in France for some 250 years, and the French words and translation can be found in Peter Kennedy's book Folksongs of Britain and Ireland. It was named after John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722), whose military exploits under James II, William III and Queen Anne were well known. (And he was an ancestor of Sir Winston Churchill.) Apparently, it was a satirical song written in 1722 when France's foe Marlborough died, beginning "Malbrouk s'en va-t-en d'guerre, J'ne sais quand i' r'vindra" (Marlborough he's gone to the war, I don't know when he'll be back.)
As the story goes, the Queen heard the tune being hummed by Madame Poitrine, and began humming it herself. Soon the entire court, even the King, were singing the song. It soon spread to Paris, where it was sung everywhere, as an expression of the people's joy over having a Dauphin. To commemorate the national exultation, Marie-Antoinette had a small tower built in her gardens at Trianon, called the tour de Malbrouk (below). The dauphin Louis-Joseph often played there before he died at age seven in 1789. Later, the verse Madame à sa tour monte ("My Lady climbs into her tower") was used to mock Marie-Antoinette as she was imprisoned in the tower of the Temple Prison in 1792.

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Julygirl said...

Oh for the simple life. I can see why she so yearned for it.

May said...

Sweet family. This was a lovely episode in their lives, thanks:)

lara77 said...

How beautiful Maria Elena! The pageantry and dictates of protocol could not hide the sheer happiness and joy of the Royal Family of France. Thank you for this entry; I had to smile thinking of the joy of Their Majesties. How cruel the twists and turns of life. At least the King and Queen knew love and happiness in their too short lives.

Valerie Villanueva said...

I read anything I can find on Marie Antoinette and anything to do with her...Thank you for posting all this wonderful information on all my favorite subjects!