Sunday, October 8, 2017

Marie-Antoinette and Donkey Riding

From Geri Walton:
When Marie Antoinette voiced her desire to ride horses, she was immediately met with opposition. Among those opposing her riding horses was the Austrian diplomat named the Count of Mercy-Argenteau, but better known simply as Mercy. Mercy was the person who had cemented Marie Antoinette’s marriage to the Dauphin, and when he arrived in France with Marie Antoinette, Mercy found himself in a position of power. He could impress the Empress by revealing everything that Marie Antoinette was doing, thinking, or feeling, and then influence Marie Antoinette in the ways that her mother wanted.

Under the guise of being helpful, Mercy sometimes carried his supervision of Marie Antoinette too far. When the subject of horse riding was mentioned, he immediately applied to King Louis XV. He stated that Marie Antoinette was too young and fearing that she would be hurt, he noted “the probable want of moderation that she would show in the practice of ‘such violent exercise.'” He also wrote to her mother who agreed “thinking it ruinous to the complexion, injurious to the shape, and not to be safely indulged in under thirty years of age.”

Because of all the opposition and fear that horse backing riding was too dangerous, Louis XV told Marie Antoinette that she could not ride horses. However, he did manage to reach a compromise with her. It was agreed she could ride donkeys. Mercy had no objections and even characterized donkeys as “not at all dangerous.” Thus, a search for sweet-tempered donkeys was undertaken throughout the French countryside.

 When amiable and sweet donkeys were found, it was not just Marie Antoinette who rode them. All of her ladies did too. This included Anne d’Arpajon who was a French aristocrat and dame d’honneur to Marie Antoinette. However, because Anne was a stickler about court etiquette and insistent that no minutia of court etiquette be overlooked, altered, or disregarded, Marie Antoinette nicknamed her “Madame Etiquette.” From her nickname, you can tell that she and Marie Antoinette had a contentious relationship and the donkeys did not make their relationship any better. (Read more.)


Helen Davis said...

Donkeys? They are much less steady than horses.

elena maria vidal said...

True. I thought it was a mule they made her ride. Her mother thought horses were dangerous.