The first wedding day of Marie Antoinette, 19th April 1770

19 April 2011

It is done. I am married, I am Madame la Dauphine and I don’t feel any different.

After a leisurely lily and rose scented bath, my maids and ladies in waiting dressed me in my gorgeous cloth of silver and lace wedding dress and slipped beautiful diamond heeled shoes on to my feet before the most fashionable hairdresser in all Vienna stepped forward to attach thick hair pieces and tease and powder and pomade my fair hair into a formal style which was then decorated with diamond hearts and orange blossom.

‘A little rouge?’ Clementina skipped forward with a tiny porcelain pot of rouge, sent all the way from Paris by Madame la Duchesse de Choiseul as a wedding present. It smelt faintly of roses and violets.

I stared at myself in the mirror on my dressing table, unable to ignore how tired and pale my face looked despite the rouge and how frightened my eyes were as I took in my magnificent dress and looked shyly down to touch the ornate necklace of pearls and diamonds that had been lent by my mother for the occasion. ‘This necklace has been worn by every Imperial bride for generations,’ she had whispered as she opened their blue velvet box and fastened them around my neck. ‘I think that it brings us luck. I was wearing it when I married your father.’ She gazed away into the distance and I knew that she was thinking about Papa and how much she had loved him, loved him still in fact and how much she missed him. He should be here with us now.

‘Oh, Mama,’ I whispered, tears rising in my eyes. ‘I wish that Papa was here to see this.’ I took her hand in mine, something that I had never before been brave enough to do and to my surprise she curled her plump fingers around mine and squeezed. Perhaps, sometimes, Mama is as frightened as everyone else? Perhaps. It seems impossible, I know.

‘He would have been so proud,’ she said, nodding and smiling through the tears that streamed down her cheeks. ‘France was always so special to him.’

‘I know, I know,’ I soothed, resting my head lightly against her black taffeta shoulder, breathing in her familiar scent of lavender and rosemary, the scent that had once been Papa’s and which she had enveloped herself with ever since his passing. I tried to imagine myself loving the Dauphin so much that I mourned him as intensely as Mama had mourned my father but I could not. I do not think that I will ever love any man so much. ‘He is watching us from Heaven.’

As I looked at myself in the pearls and diamonds of an Imperial bride I found it hard to believe that this was finally and absolutely it, that we had come at last to the moment of truth. At any point up to now the intricate negotiations between France and Austria could have fallen apart but now, finally, it was too late for that and whatever happened from this moment on was down to me alone.

‘You look beautiful,’ my ladies in waiting all chorused, smiling encouragingly at me, their eyes anxiously searching mine for signs of panic or dread. I knew that they had had their orders, just as I had had mine. Their objective was to get me to the altar at any cost, while mine was simply to make one foot step in front of the other and smile as though I was going willingly to my own true love.

There was a knock on the door and Mama entered, flanked with liveried footmen and looking supremely magnificent in her black silk gown, the diamonds and jet on her stomacher glimmering in the light from the candles that stood on my dressing table. Even today she was wearing mourning, her only concession to the happy occasion being a little rouge on her lips, a pair of red silk shoes concealed beneath her voluminous skirts and a scattering of diamond pins in her pale hair. ‘Come, Antonia,’ she said holding out her hand and smiling as she deliberately used my Austrian name for the final time. ‘Come. It is time.’

We went on foot from the Hofburg to the austere, white fronted Augustinerkirche, the church of Saint Augustine where Imperial weddings have been held for centuries. My sisters and brothers had been married there as were our parents and grandparents before them. I myself had been baptized there but of course have no recognition at all of this important occasion.

A huge crowd of courtiers and ordinary Viennese people lined the purple carpeted route between the palace and the church, which had been covered with a long canopy of white silk embroidered with the Imperial insignia. I felt faint and rather sick as my mother took my hand and led me out into the waning sunlight and cool breezes of Spring while behind me the Countess Trautmannsdorf heroically carried my heavy silver and lace train. I bit my lip and concentrated on placing one foot before the other, hardly noticing the stares and applause of the crowd that watched us pass or the whispers and giggles of my sisters behind us.

‘What a lovely day,’ Mama whispered, trying to put me at my ease. ‘The perfect day for a wedding.’

‘Yes.’ I nodded and, reminded of my duty, tried to smile and nod at the gathered people, very much aware that reports of my behaviour and appearance would be winging their way across Europe as soon as I had set foot within the church and there was nothing more to see outside.

‘Courage, courage, my darling girl,’ Mama murmured, squeezing my fingers. ‘Not long now.’

I smiled and nodded to either side of me, relieved to note that we were almost at the church door and that this particular ordeal was nearly at an end. And it was at this point that I saw him standing at the back of the crowd but tall enough to tower over everyone standing in front of him.

Karl. His gaze was fixed upon me and I blushed as our eyes met for a moment before I looked quickly away. He looked so handsome that for a brief impure moment I wished that it was he who would be kneeling beside me as I took my vows.

‘And here we are.’ We were in front of the doors, which swung upon to invite us into the gloomy, pungent, incense scented depths of the church, its velvety darkness broken only by the bright facets of light that fell like shattered rainbows from the tall windows on to the stone floor and rows of wooden pews below. I took a deep breath and stepped inside as a swell of organ music started up before the choir began to sing.

‘Remember, one foot in front of the other,’ my mother admonished with a smile as we began our slow walk up the aisle towards the altar, where my brother Ferdinand waited for us dressed in the full robes and furbelows of the Imperial orders. He looked magnificent and also extremely young. I suppose that we both did.

Again, I ignored the stares and concentrated on the huge gold embellished cross that stood on the gold and crimson embroidered altar cloth. The organ master was clearly enjoying himself and the music soared and peaked around us as we walked, miraculously creating an atmosphere of sanctity and also joy. I wished suddenly that I had asked for Wolferl Mozart to play at my wedding but he was doubtless far away as usual, maybe even in France. One day I will get him to play for me. Perhaps I will even commission a piece for myself.

We reached the altar and my mother gracefully gave my hand to my brother before kissing me on both cheeks and then turning away to step up on to the dais where Joseph was already sitting and take her place on an ornate throne at his side. I met Joseph’s eye for an instant and he winked and smiled encouragingly, knowing more than most just how hard this was going to be. I could see Durfort, magnificently dressed as ever in ice blue satin and gold lace, standing just behind Ferdinand, his dark eyes were fixed in a show of reverence upon the altar cross but I knew that he was as intensely aware of me as I was of him and that as soon as my back was turned he would be staring like everyone else and making mental notes of all the catty things he could report back to his friends in France.

‘Ready?’ Ferdinand whispered, holding my hand almost gingerly and at arm’s length. He looked extremely young and shy.

I smiled and nodded, trying not to think about how truly bizarre this actually was. ‘Ready.’

And with that we knelt together before God and I was married by proxy to Monsieur le Dauphin de France, a boy that I had never even seen. I knelt as Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna, Erzherzogin von Österreich, Prinzessin von Ungarn and arose to the blowing of trumpets and sounds of triumphant salvoes being fired outside with his consecrated gold ring upon my finger as Marie Antoinette Josephe Jeanne, Dauphine de France, Duchesse de Berri.

((Excerpt from The Secret Diary of a Princess, which is available now for Kindle from Amazon US and Amazon UK.))

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