‘13th June 1765, late at night, Schonnbrunn.
I do not know what to write. I am not witty like my sister Christina or funny like Elizabeth or interesting like Amalia or clever like our eldest sister Marianna or sweet like Josepha. I am just me, the youngest and some might say, most insignificant daughter of the Empress Maria Theresa, the most powerful female monarch in the world. One might well think that the youngest daughter would also be the most pretty and the most loved but life here in Vienna is not so very fairy tale like and I am not only the youngest but also the least important, which is very unfair but there, as Mama would say, it is and we must make the best of it. Besides, Christina is Mama’s favourite and Elizabeth is the beauty of the family which means that I must find some other way to make my mark. Amalia says that I could always aspire to be the naughtiest of Mama’s daughters but I rather fear that Carolina takes that particular crown, if not Amalia herself for we have all seen the way that she flirts with the Swiss Guards at the Hofburg.
Oh, how I wish that I were beautiful too. In fact, secretly I would much rather be beautiful than clever anyway. Mama says that I will be a very pretty little lady when I am fully grown but that is such a long time away and I would like the young men of the court to look at me as they look at beautiful Elizabeth with her perfect complexion and bright blue eyes or to flirt with me as they flirt with Amalia. It is so very hard sometimes to be the youngest and smallest of so many sisters and to always be looked at last. If it were not for Papa then I am sure no one would remember me at all. One of my earliest memories is being brought in to one of the big court galas in the enormous lilac and beeswax scented, yellow and gold ballroom at the Hofburg and losing hold of of my governess’ hand in the midst of all the hundreds of people who pressed close to stare at me. ‘It is the youngest girl,’ I heard them whisper to each other. ‘What a pretty little child she is.’ I was surrounded by a sea of musk and Jasmine scented, brightly coloured silk and brocade skirts and the spindly legs and high heeled shoes of the court gentlemen and was just about to scream with panic when all of a sudden my handsome Papa appeared in his red velvet coat and swung me up up up into his arms high above the crowd before carrying me to my mother, whose diamond encrusted yellow brocade gown blazed and glimmered in the candlelight. I remember pressing my face into his broad shoulder, breathing in his Papa like smell of rosemary, ambergris, wine and horses and thinking that I loved my Papa more than anyone else on earth. I think that I still do. I love Mama of course, but I fear her too whereas with Papa it is all love and nothing else. It would be impossible to fear him, to be in awe of someone so honest and kind hearted, who thinks only of the happiness of the people around him.
I must think of more pleasant things and this is such a pretty book (it is blue silk and embroidered with pink flowers) that I have promised myself that I will only ever write pretty thoughts within it.
Today was very splendid. It started with breakfast in Papa’s private breakfast pavilion in the very centre of his menagerie, where we can watch the giraffes and elephants stroll about as we eat our pastries, delicious crescent shaped vanillekipferl and drink steaming cinnamon flavoured hot chocolate with cream and curls of chocolate scattered on top. My actual birthday is in November but it is considered far less important than the feast day of my very own saint, Saint Anthony, which I much prefer because it means that I have a party at our yellow stone Summer palace of Schönbrunn instead of at the gloomy old Hofburg, where I was born almost ten years ago. But I digress. My presents this year included this book (which I think I do love after all, although I was not so sure when I first saw it as I thought it was a very boring present indeed), a very pretty doll all the way from London from Mama, a new harp from Papa, some small things like books (boring!), games (much better) and chocolates (best of all!) from my brothers and sisters (which amounted to quite a large pile as there are so many of us) and best of all my very own pearl bracelet with a cameo clasp from my godparents, the King and Queen of Portugal. How very kind of them. Carolina is terribly jealous about this, which I hardly think very fair for her godfather is King Louis of France and every year he sends her something lovely from Paris. I once heard Mama say to Christina that she thought Madame de Pompadour must have chosen the gift (a very pretty silk parasol with brightly coloured flowers painted on the shade and dragons twisting up the carved handle) which she clearly disapproved of very much for she looked annoyed and pouted her rouged lips a little. I do not know who this Madame de Pompadour is but she obviously has very good taste. I wish she would choose a present for me.
I always feel very guilty about my godparents though because I have been told so many times about the terrible earthquake that struck their capital of Lisbon on the day before I was born. The poor king and queen had been forced to flee their capital (I have heard that the poor king was so frightened by the earthquake that he has never set foot in a building since that day and instead chooses to reside in a very large and opulent tent) and Mama was very afraid that they would not want to be my godparents after all or worse, that the disaster was an omen of impending doom for myself. Mama can be very superstitious like that and we all know that she likes to secretly consult with fortune tellers and soothsayers. I do not know what they had to say about me when I was newly born and I do not think that I wish to know either.
After breakfast and a walk with Papa to pat the rough, grey trunks of the elephants and feed them the apples he keeps in his coat pockets for this purpose, we proceeded in a procession of coaches to a Te Deum in the Church of the Minorities in Vienna, which is always very long winded and gloomy but I must sit up straight on the hard wooden bench beside Carolina and look like I am paying attention because it is being said in my honour. It always makes us giggle though to think that a Mass is being said in thanksgiving for my continued existence. It seems terribly conceited somehow doesn’t it? Carolina and I were very good today and hardly giggled at all but even so I think we must have made some noise because when I looked up at the end, Mama was watching us both with a terrible frown on her face, which softened when Papa leaned towards her and whispered something in her ear. I ought not to mind that though as we are always doing something wrong. It is almost a daily occurrence, although it is only my brother Leopold who dares to suggest that only Christina (or Mimi as Mama calls her, which always makes me feel a little sick with envy because I would love a pretty little pet name like that but instead am always plain old ‘Maria Antonia’ which isn’t very pretty at all is it?) never does any wrong here. Marianna does not have to endure any criticism or harsh remarks either but that is because she is the eldest of us all and is an invalid and so must never be upset. She is twenty seven now and has always lived at home with us. Imagine being twenty seven! I think it sounds very old indeed.
I haven’t explained Carolina yet have I? She is my favourite sister, my best friend in all of the world and my closest ally as she is only three years older than me. They say that we are very similar but sadly an attempt to confuse our governess, the Countess of Brandeis, by swapping clothes like the Princesses in a fairy tale backfired totally and we found that we are not so very alike after all for she recognised us both immediately. It would have been wonderful though to be able to swap clothes and pretend to be each other for a while, not that it would make so much difference perhaps as we are so seldom apart although Mama often threatens to separate us because she believes that we provoke each other into bad behaviour. Which, I am sad to report, is probably quite true.
‘You are a pair of exceedingly naughty and disobedient little girls,’ Mama is fond of saying to us, her big blue eyes very cold indeed. ‘You are an ill behaved and disgraceful rabble and I am ashamed of you both.’ Christina can smirk as much as she likes at this, but I am sure that I can hear pride in Mama’s tone as well as censure. I have heard her tell people that Carolina’s high spirits remind her of herself in her own youth and that my own ‘freshness, levity and disregard for etiquette’ bring to mind our darling Papa. This is praise indeed so pooh to you, Christina. I am sure that I would much rather be just like Papa than like anyone else in the whole world.
I am afraid that Carolina and I were not at all well behaved at my party this afternoon in the gardens of Schönbrunn. I was very conscious at first of the fact that it was a gala in my honour and that the eyes of all the court were therefore upon me, which was very nice at first because my maids had dressed me in a new and very pretty blue silk dress with a blue ribbon in my hair but even that soon became very dreary indeed and so I relinquished all elegance of manner and appearance in favour of running about the wide parterres with Carolina, my friends and Mama’s yappy little dogs and then dancing for a long time with my elder brothers Joseph, Leopold and Ferdinand. I always love to dance with my eldest brother Joseph because he is so very tall and handsome with twinkling blue eyes and a shy smile. He tells jokes as well and makes me laugh so much although I often do not quite understand what he means. All of the girls at the court stare at him when he walks past but he barely seems to notice them because of course he is the heir and so is already married to a princess, Josephina who is a cousin of ours from Bavaria. She does not much like to dance and I do not think that Joseph likes her very much for he was married before to the King of France’s grand daughter, Isabella and fell madly in love with her, as did we all for she was so very pretty and was always so sweet and kind if a little melancholy. Isabella died though, while having a baby and Joseph has looked really quite sad ever since. I feel sorry for his new little wife though – it must be very hard to be married to someone who is in love with a dead girl. How can one compete with that? Poor Josephina, she has only been here for six months and already she looks thoroughly miserable and like she would very much like to go home, but of course even I know that this would be quite impossible and really, who would rather be in boring old Bavaria than here in Vienna?
When my feet began to hurt in their blue silk slippers because of all the dancing, Carolina and I hid some cakes in our skirts and sat underneath one of the trees lining the great parterre to eat our spoils and talk about boys. I am not so very interested in that sort of thing but Carolina is thirteen and ‘boy mad’ in the opinion of our governess. I find boys fun to run about with but can’t even imagine the sorts of things that Carolina would like to do with them. Kissing, I suppose, and silly stuff like that. I ought not to know about such matters of course, but perhaps the only advantage of having seven elder sisters, all sighing about boys and daydreaming about weddings and princes and babies, is that somehow information does tend to filter down through the ranks although it is, as yet, mostly incomprehensible to me. One day though, I will know what they are talking about.
‘Just think,’ she said to me, her blue eyes as wide as saucers. ‘Just think, you are now almost ten and so they will be thinking about finding a husband for you soon.’
‘How disgusting!’ I exclaimed, although really, just like every other girl, I am desperate to be married, to be a bride and have everyone look at me as I walk down the aisle in a gown of ivory and cloth of gold with orange blossom in my hair. I try not to consider the possibility that I will end up as miserable as poor Josephina though. No. I will be married to a man just like Papa and live in a castle and have dozens of children and be very happy indeed.
Carolina looked thoughtful as she munched on an iced pastry. ‘I wonder who they have in mind for us,’ she said presently. ‘I do not think that there are enough kings to go around so I imagine that our sisters will get all the best princes and we will be left with the boring electors and dukes.’
‘That would not be so very bad,’ I pointed out, still thinking of my imaginary castle and vast brood of children. ‘At least then we might be able to stay near Vienna and Mama and Papa.’
Carolina laughed. ‘Do you not want to travel, Antonia?’ she asked, flinging herself back on to the narrow strip of grass beneath the trees and squinting up at the sky with one hand thrown over her eyes. It was starting to get dark and I was beginning to shiver a little. ‘Imagine. There is a whole world out there and we are stuck here in Vienna waiting for our princes to come along and set us free.’ She sighed. ‘One day I will travel and see the world.’
‘We could run away and become explorers,’ I said with a giggle. ‘Mama would be furious at first but we would soon cheer her up again when we sent her back lots of gold and jewels and precious things.’ I finished my last cake and dusted sugar from my fingertips. ‘We could become pirates!’
‘Pirates!’ Carolina sat up and grinned. She had grass in her long blonde hair, which she had carelessly tied back with a black velvet ribbon and I leaned over to pluck it off. ‘Oh, how much fun that would be!’
‘It would be fun but frightening at the same time,’ I said, standing up and shaking the grass out of my blue silk skirts. One of the dogs had left a large and rather ugly paw print on my pearl embroidered bodice and I wet my finger to rub it off, hoping that Mama would not notice the telltale damp patch.
‘Just like all of the best things in life,’ Carolina said with a smirk. ‘I like to be scared sometimes, don’t you?’
I shook my head. ‘No. No I do not.’ I remembered the time our brother Leopold put a sheet over his head and hid behind a statue in one of the dozens of long and gloomy corridors of the Hofburg. I had cried for a long time when he jumped out on me but Carolina had merely laughed and then asked him to do it again.
‘There you are!’ Our little brother Max, who is the youngest of us all and the pampered pet of the court, who have nicknamed him ‘Fat Max’ in tribute to his plump sturdiness (I am being charitable here), appeared beside us, with a trio of Mama’s fat, spoiled little pugs at his heels. ‘They are about to start the firework display and Mama is wondering where you are!’ He hopped from foot to foot with excitement as he absolutely loves fireworks. ‘Come on! They can’t start without you!’
We ran back to everyone else, where they had assembled on the stone terrace and steps leading down to the gardens and Mama said that as it was my party then I should be the one to give the signal for the fireworks to begin; it was quite dark by that point and so I do not think that she saw the stain on my bodice, or if she did then she pretended not to. Watched by everyone, I danced forward and lit the fuse of the very first rocket, before springing back as it streaked up into the sky, trailing glittering sparks behind it. With a great crackling and fizzing which set all of the palace dogs barking noisily, the other fireworks followed and I forgot everything as I linked arms with Carolina and we stared up into the wide, navy blue sky, now lit up with flashes of blue, green, yellow and pink. It was all so very beautiful and I thought that perhaps I must be the luckiest girl on earth.’
It’s available now from Lulu for £10.13 ($16.16) for a proper book (so you can admire the beautious hot pink spine and lovely back cover art) or just £4.76 ($7.46) for a downloaded copy.