Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas Charities of Marie-Antoinette

During Christmastide it is helpful to see the example of Queen Marie-Antoinette, who made the needs of the poor a priority, especially in the cold of winter. For Marie-Antoinette, this was nothing extraordinary, but the basic duty of a Christian. While surfing the internet, it is all too common to see Marie-Antoinette characterized as someone who ignored the plight of the poor. Nothing could be further from the truth. Her charities were quite extensive and are a matter of public record. She also took great care to instill a love of the needy in her children. At Christmastime, during a particularly brutal winter, the queen had them renounce their Christmas gifts in order to buy food and blankets for the destitute. As Maxime de La Rocheterie relates:
One year, on the approach of the 1st of January, she had the most beautiful playthings brought from Paris to Versailles; she showed them to her children, and when they had looked at them and admired them, said to them that they were without doubt very beautiful, but that it was still more beautiful to distribute alms; and the price of these presents was sent to the poor.
(The Life of Marie Antoinette by Maxime de La Rocheterie, 1893)
 Another biographer Charles Duke Yonge discusses how the queen's generosity was well-known by her contemporaries, in spite of her efforts to be discreet, and the efforts of her enemies to portray her as a decadent spendthrift. 
By the beginning of December the Seine was frozen over, and the whole adjacent country was buried in deep snow. Wolves from the neighboring forests, desperate with hunger, were said to have made their way into the suburbs, and to have attacked people in the streets. Food of every kind became scarce, and of the poorer classes many were believed to have died of actual starvation....

Not only were Louis and Marie Antoinette conspicuous for the unstinting liberality with which they devoted their own funds to to supply of the necessities of the destitute, but the queen, in many cases of unusual or pressing suffering that were reported to her in Versailles and the neighboring villages, sent trustworthy persons to investigate them, and in numerous instances went herself to the cottages, making personal inquiries into the condition of the occupants, and showing not
only a feeling heart, but a considerate and active kindness, which doubled the value of her benefactions by the gracious, thoughtful manner in which they were bestowed.

She would willingly have done the good she did in secret, partly from her constant feeling that charity was not charity if it were boasted of, partly from a fear that those ready to misconstrue all her acts would find pretexts for evil and calumny even in her bounty. One of her good deeds struck Necker as of so remarkable a character that he pressed her to allow him to make it known. "Be sure, on the contrary," she replied, "that you never mention it. What good could it do? they would not believe you;" but in this she was mistaken. Her charities were too widely spread to escape the knowledge even of those who did not profit by them; and they had their reward, though it was but a short-lived one.

Though the majority of her acts of personal kindness were performed in Versailles rather than in Paris, the Parisians were as vehement in their gratitude as the Versaillese; and it found a somewhat fantastic vent in the erection of pyramids and obelisks of snow in different quarters of the city, all bearing inscriptions testifying the citizens' sense of her benevolence. One, which far exceeded all its fellows in size--the chief beauty of works of that sort--since it was fifteen feet high, and each of the four faces was twelve feet wide at the base, was decorated with a medallion of the royal pair, and bore a poetical inscription commemorating the cause of its erection:

"Reine, dont la beaute surpasse les appas

Pres d'un roi bienfaisant occupe ici la place.

Si ce monument frele est de neige et de glace,

Nos coeurs pour toi ne le sont pas.

De ce monument sans exemple,

Couple auguste, l'aspect bien doux pur votre coeur

Sans doute vous plaira plus qu'un palais, qu'un temple

Que vous eleverait un peuple adulateur.[10]"

(Life of Marie-Antoinette
by Charles Duke Yonge, 1876)



Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Patricia said...

This is such a wonderful, informative blog and makes up for so much of the untruth that is being bandied about across the internet regarding the life of Marie Antoinette and her family.
So glad she has a champion in you!

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you very much, Patricia!

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Thank you for sharing, blessed feast of St Andrew!

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Hans!

lara77 said...

Thank you for this entry Elena Maria and congratulations on your new book. Again, my thanks for your illuminating the story of Queen Marie Antoinette's generosity. I have to hope that every time you educate the many readers on the truth about the Queen of France; Her Majesty is smiling from heaven.

May said...

I've always found the story of that snow monument very poetic and touching. But isn't it strange and frightening, the way all that love could so easily be turned to hatred?

elena maria vidal said...

The Queen was loved by many people even up to the moment of her death. However, the relentless pornographic pamphlets polluted her reputation. And once the war with Austria started, public opinion really turned against her.

May said...

Yes, of course. I suppose I shouldn't have said *all* that love. But I just meant, popularity is so fragile!

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Your new book=The Night's Dark Shade?

I thought you were doing something on the Spanish or Irish side of your ancestry?

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, Matterhorn, it is fragile.

Yes, Hans, I am working on a novel about my Irish ancestors, too.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Did you know (maybe it's too far back for your known and identified ancestors) that Owen Roe O'Neill under blessing of Pope Innocent X made the Kilkennny Confederacy in sth like 1641?

Stupid asking, you should know Irish history better than any of us, but I just looked i-t up last week.

elena maria vidal said...

Irish history is very complicated.....

The North Coast said...

I have always had a great deal of sympathy and respect for this much-maligned queen, and think of her when I consider the position of our own First Ladies here in the United States.

Like Marie Antoinette, most of our First Ladies never asked to be public figures, and many are by temperament ill-fitted to the role, yet each has given her best as she saw it, only to be vilified and slandered by the malicious and envious. I can't hate any of these women, and it hurts to read the vicious slanders against them all. Poor Rachel Jackson, who died on the eve of her husband's assumption of office, was viciously slandered as an adultress and bigamist, and Mary Todd Lincoln was vilified for her extravagance, while the saintly Mamie Eisenhower was described as a drunk, and intelligent, gentle Laura Bush condemned as "Stepford Wife". Nancy Reagan and Mrs Carter were condemned for expressing their opinions, and Mrs Ford trashed for her frankness. And the insults heaped on Michelle Obama and Melania Trump are unprintable. Only Pat Nixon and Lady Bird Johnson escaped the vicious insults and slanders heaped on so many of these ordinary women who all managed their roles with aplomb. How they all didn't have nervous breakdowns, I'll never know, but I'm in awe of them all.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

If Irish history is very complicated, back then, what will heavenly historians be saying about XX-XXI C. world history for eternity?