Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Marie-Antoinette's Sleigh Rides

One of Marie-Antoinette's favorite youthful pastimes was sleigh-riding, which she made popular after she became Queen. What was a perfectly innocent amusement was twisted into something sordid by those who liked to see dirt. It was during the winter of 1775-1776 that the Queen befriended the unfortunate Princesse de Lamballe. According to Madame Campan's Memoirs:
The winter following the confinement of the Comtesse d’Artois [1775-76] was very severe; the recollections of the pleasure which sleighing-parties had given the Queen in her childhood made her wish to introduce similar ones in France.
This amusement had already been known in that Court, as was proven by sleighs found in the stables, which had been used by the Dauphin, the father of Louis XVI. Some were made for the Queen in a more modern style. The Princes also ordered several; and in a few days there was a fair number of these vehicles around. They were driven by the princes and noblemen of the Court. The noise of the bells and pompoms with which the horses’ harnesses were decorated, the elegance and whiteness of their plumes, the varied shapes of the carriages, the gold with which they were all trimmed, made these parties a delight for the eye. The winter was very favorable to them, the snow remaining on the ground nearly six weeks; the drives in the park afforded a pleasure shared by the spectators.
No one imagined that any blame could attach to so innocent an amusement. But the party was tempted to extend its drives as far as the Champs-Elysées; a few sleighs even crossed the boulevards; the ladies being masked, the Queen’s enemies took the opportunity of saying that she had traveled through the streets of Paris in a sleigh.
This became a momentous issue. The public discovered in it a predilection for the habits of Vienna; but all that Marie Antoinette did was criticized. Sleigh-driving, smacking of the Northern Courts, found no favor among the Parisians. The Queen was informed of this; and although all the sleighs were kept, and several subsequent winters lent themselves to the amusement, she would not resume it.
It was at the time of the sleighing-parties that the Queen became intimately acquainted with the Princesse de Lamballe, who made her appearance in them wrapped in fur, with all the brilliancy and freshness of the age of twenty, the image of spring, peeping from under sable and ermine.
To quote from a wonderful post by Catherine Delors:
The Queen introduced sleighing parties, which were organised like this: the Queen invited the women she wanted to be there. When she invited the princesses, she sent a page to convey her personal invitation to those of the princesses’ ladies-in-waiting it pleased her to choose; usually she only asked one at a time. Everyone met at the Queen’s at midday for luncheon; all the men dined together in another room. The Queen never ate in the company of men when the King was not present. The Queen had all the ladies seated at her table. We had quite a long lunch-dinner; then, we went into a salon where we rejoined all the men. Then, as one had to be escorted by lords, as people said in those days, the Queen and the princesses named those who would escort them, and all the ladies relied on chance and drew lots; a very prudent custom which avoided the inconveniences of favouritism and malicious gossip. We went from Versailles to country houses, to La Muette, to Meudon, etc. There, we descended from the sleighs, went into a salon, got warm, chatted for three-quarters of an hour or an hour; after that, we got back into the sledges and returned to Versailles.
(Artwork: "Winter" by François Boucher, 1755)



duchessizzy said...

Ah, this post reminds me of my childhood in Switzerland! I feel for the Queen, why do people have to be so cruel to such a good woman?

TQ said...

What a story and how sad ...

Your writng, as always, is a delight to read.

Elena, you have inspired me, I now enjoy the pleasure of searching-out relationships and connections through researching.

Thank You !

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, ladies!

Catherine Delors said...

And many thanks for the link, Elena!