Saturday, January 11, 2020

Harry and Meghan...and Marie-Antoinette?

Once again, as happens every time a politician or a royal has behaved selfishly or willfully, the person is compared to the last Queen of France, Marie-Antoinette. In the present debacle involving the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, it was expected (by me) that Marie-Antoinette would eventually be dragged into the fray. To quote from RT:
The couple will kindly be giving up a slice of the Queen's Sovereign Grant, a payment they get for official duties, which covers the upkeep of their home. But they'll be doing fewer duties, so that's fair enough. It's as independent as Marie Antoinette creating the peasant village of Hameau de la Reine in 1783. 
Just like Meghan, she was sick of the perpetual structure and demands of the title, and created a little rustic retreat in the park of the Palace of Versailles in order to feel free and peasant-like. 
Marie Antoinette sought refuge dressing up as a milkmaid or a shepherdess, strolling around in peasant garb, milking cows which were cleaned by hired hands, while still enjoying the privileges of royal life and keeping the masses out of the gates. In the Harry and Meghan version, it's 'we will only travel by commercial air carriers, local trains, and fuel-efficient vehicles.' 
In Marie Antoinette's case, her oblivious, seemingly innocuous, unintentional mockery of the French poor didn't go down too well and was followed by a brutal beheading during the French revolution. How it will work out for Harry and Meghan remains to be seen, but historically denouncing your royal duties like a spoiled rich kid hasn't always worked out. (Read more.)
So many misconceptions. Oh where to begin? The Queen's hameau was not built as an escape from royal duties; rather it was a creative way in which to fulfill them. In 1783, Queen Marie-Antoinette commissioned the architect Mique to build a village and farm on the grounds of her private retreat, the Petit Trianon. The "little hamlet" was to provide food for the royal family, thus giving an example of self-sufficiency to other nobles, as well as celebrating the traditional agricultural life of the French people. It a working farm, plus there were orchards, berry bushes, and fish in the pond. The Queen invited several destitute families to live and work in the hameauA peasant village had existed at Trianon a century before but had been torn down by Louis XIV. The farm has often been cited as an example of decadence on the part of Marie-Antoinette, particularly the dairy with the porcelain milk pitchers. However, it must be taken into account that wealthy people all over Europe were building "follies" in their gardens, such as a fake ruined castles, ornate mosques, Chinese tea houses, solely for decoration. At least Marie-Antoinette's hameau had a practical purpose. Of course, she would not wear an elaborate court gown when spending time on the farm; she would wear a simple cotton dress and sometimes an apron. Therefore she is still accused of "playing dairy maid," although it is doubtful that she ever actually milked any cows. In the main "farm house" there was elegant furniture, a billiard table and such amenities for entertaining in the manner expected of a queen. Foreign guests and ambassadors were occasionally given hospitality at the hameau; the entire estate of Trianon was used on several state visits and was open to the public on Sundays.  In our busy world there seems to be more of an appreciation of Marie-Antoinette's creative way of carving out a retreat for herself and her family, one which patronized and exulted French craftsmanship while simultaneously helping the poor.

One way in which Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Marie-Antoinette might have something in common is a desire to modernize the monarchy. While still a prince and princess, Marie-Antoinette and her husband the Dauphin caused a stir by indulging in public displays of affection, as do Prince Harry and Meghan. However, most of the changes that Louis XVI and his Queen made to the royal household occurred after they had been married several years and had become the sovereigns. They abolished the custom of royal childbirth in public, for instance. Such reforms made many French people upset as they saw it as the foreign Queen imposing her ways upon France. As a young queen in her late teens and early twenties, Marie-Antoinette was known to break with protocol at times, such as when she rode through Paris on a sleigh without an escort, and went to a party in a taxi when her coach broke down. She also loved casual dress and manners but when she had herself painted in a simple white dress it nearly caused a riot, as it was seen as inappropriate for her royal status. The various incidents fed the gossip that was already rife about the former Austrian archduchess, leading to the ruin of her reputation, as well as her gambling debts and extravagant dress expenditures. She reformed a great deal by the time she turned thirty.

For the most part, it is a bad idea to compare Meghan and Harry to Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI. Louis and Antoinette were married when they were innocent teenagers. They did not choose each other but stayed together through many difficulties, both private and public. They were both from ancient and extremely powerful dynasties, and neither had known any other life but that of royalty. They were killed in their late thirties, at the age where Harry and his bride are just venturing into a new chapter. Any meaningful comparison is not only ridiculous but brutal.

Meanwhile, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have launched an elegant website which explains their goals, HERE.

More on the royal drama HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.

And Meghan already has a contract with Disney, HERE.

As Harry's uncle Prince Edward has commented: “There is little escape for anyone in the public eye. And for the Royal Family, nothing at all.” Share

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