Marie Antoinette meets Madame du Barry for the first time

15 May 2011

15th of May, 1770, La Muette.

There was a private dinner party tonight in the beautiful pale green and gold dining room in La Muette. It was for the royal family only and after being met at the door by the King himself who took me gracefully by the hand and led me, blushing and self conscious into the room, I was finally introduced to the Dauphin’s two younger brothers the Comte de Provence, a sly looking fat youth only a few weeks younger than myself with sleepy brown eyes and the youngest of the trio, the Comte d’Artois, who is the best looking of the princes with a distinctly Italianate look about him and full, sensual lips.

The Comte de Provence almost made me laugh behind my fan when he gave me a quick look up and down rather as all the ladies do. ‘I am very pleased to meet you at last,’ he intoned with a heavy courtesy in German. ‘I have been studying your language with my tutor,’ he said when I looked surprised and perhaps I imagined it but did I detect a hint of triumph in the look that he shot towards the Dauphin? ‘I thought it would be nice for someone to greet you in your own tongue.’ No, I didn’t imagine it at all, he was definitely trying to get one over his elder brother.

I turned to the Comte d’Artois, whose dark eyes met mine admiringly. ‘I do hope that when it is time for me to marry they find a princess as pretty as you,’ he said with a charming smile as he raised my hand to his lips with a practised grace. It is hard to believe that he is only twelve years old as he seems far older both in appearance and manners.

With an air of regret the King passed my hand to the Dauphin, who without looking at me stiffly walked to the table, which was lit by dozens of candelabra and covered with luscious blooming pink, peach and yellow Peonies, gleaming silverware, fine crystal glasses and a beautiful Sèvres dinner service.

‘How pretty everything looks,’ I remarked to my husband in a pleasant manner.

He gave a tiny shrug. ‘I suppose that it is.’ He stared down miserably at his plate and played nervously with the silver fork that lay beside it.

I watched him for a moment in silence, trying desperately to think of something, anything that I could say that would at least make him look at me or show some enthusiasm. ‘Do you enjoy hunting?’ was all that I could think of and inwardly I kicked myself.

‘Yes, I do.’ The Dauphin still didn’t look at me and there was another long pause as he played with his fork and tried to think of something else to say. ‘Do you hunt?’

I shook my head. ‘No, alas.’ I caught the eye of the Princesse de Lamballe, who was sitting near the end of the table, next to her sister-in-law, the Duchesse de Chartres and we shared a shy smile. It made me feel so much better to have a friend amongst the guests, especially when I allowed my gaze to wander about the table and realized that everyone present was staring at me with the same expressions of mixed curiosity and hostility.

Everyone that is except the extremely pretty blonde with melting blue eyes and a charming smile who sat at the far end of the table and whose long lashed eyes regarded me with a disconcerting degree of frank amusement. She was beautifully dressed in a lace edged gown of shimmering pale gold silk that gleamed in the candlelight and revealed rather more of her opulent bosom than was perhaps strictly necessary and the more I looked at her, the more I began to feel that my own carefully chosen gown of pale pink satin trimmed with pink ribbons, diamonds and exquisite lace was hopelessly and embarrassingly gauche.

I stared back at her in envious resentment then quickly turned away with a blush when she caught my eye, winked and sardonically raised her wine glass to me in a silent toast.

I leaned towards the Dauphin, who was enthusiastically chewing on a chicken leg and not paying the slightest bit of attention to any of the conversations about the table or any of the other guests. ‘Who is that pretty lady at the end of the table?’ I whispered, making sure that I did not allow my eyes to slide again in her direction.

He looked up at me then with a startled expression. ‘What?’ His mouth hung slightly open as he frowned and peered past me, his eyes screwed up as he tried to see past the rich gleam of the candles and silverware. ‘What lady?’ I felt myself go crimson lest she overhear him and began to wish that I had not asked.

His cousin, Madame de Chartres who was sitting on his other side came to my rescue and leaned languidly across him with a smile to whisper: ‘That, my dear one, is Madame la Comtesse du Barry.’

The name was not familiar to me and I did not remember my Abbé ever mentioning anyone of this name to me. ‘Who is she? What is her position at court?’

Madame de Chartres began to laugh while the Dauphin frowned down at his plate, looking as though he wished he could be anywhere else. I had already noticed that his ears went quite pink when he felt embarrassed and now they were glowing scarlet beneath his white, powdered wig.

‘Her position at court?’ The Duchesse hid a smile behind her diamond encrusted fan. ‘Well, let me see, Madame la Comtesse’s position is to… amuse his Majesty.’ She spoke in an exaggerated whisper and I was mortified when a muted ripple of laughter swept down the table.

I did not immediately understand her. Why would I? ‘Then I would like to be her rival,’ I said rather stiffly with an affectionate look at King Louis, who was pretending not to listen to our conversation. ‘I too would like to amuse his Majesty.’  I met his eyes and he smiled and like Madame du Barry raised his glass to me.

The Dauphin looked up then, finally, from his meal and fixed his eyes upon me for a moment as though he had only just realized that I was there and was seeing me for the very first time. He looked as though he would have liked to have said something but after a few seconds he looked away again and the moment had gone.

I glanced down the table at Madame du Barry and saw that she was still staring at me, only this time with a hint of defiance. I do not think that we are going to become friends.

Silly, gossipy Madame de Chartres filled in the gaps after dinner as we walked arm in arm to the lovely yellow and gold salon, where there was to be a recital by some of the stars of the Paris Opéra.

‘How pretty we look together,’ she said, posing in front of one of the enormous gilt framed mirrors that lined the gallery. ‘It is so nice to have another young person to talk to.’ I looked at our reflections and had to agree that we looked charming together in our frothy pastel dresses, our eyes starry and cheeks delicately flushed thanks to a little too much wine and our powdered and scented hair tumbling in ringlets about our shoulders.

‘Who is Madame du Barry?’ I asked in a whisper, looking around carefully to ensure that the lady was not in earshot. ‘She is very pretty but, I think, not one of us.’

‘Not one of us?’ the Duchesse trilled with laughter. ‘No, no, most assuredly not!’ She leaned closer so that I was overpowered by her heavy violet and rose scent and whispered in my ear. ‘I do not know all the details but what I do know is all perfectly shocking, my dear! Apparently Madame la Comtesse is the illegitimate daughter of a common seamstress and a monk!’ She drew back to observe my reaction and then, clearly satisfied with what she saw, carried on. ‘I have also heard that she plied her trade on the streets before she found a wealthy protector and that she was passed from man to man until she caught His Majesty’s eye and found herself at Versailles.’

I could not hide my shock. In all my pampered, sheltered life no one, not even Amalia who could be counted on to divulge pretty much anything no matter how shocking, had ever spoken to me about such matters and yet here was the pretty Duchesse de Chartres, a girl not much older than myself, talking about it as though it was just a matter of course.

‘Now, now, do not look so scandalized!’ Madame de Chartres said with a giggle. ‘You will have to get used to such things if you are going to live amongst us all at Versailles! The whole palace is a hotbed of gossip and intrigue.’ She gave me a pitying look and I could tell that she found me rather disappointing, all things considered. ‘You aren’t excessively devout are you?’

‘I don’t know. No, I don’t think so.’ I blushed, crossing my fingers behind my back and feeling like I was betraying Mama with every word that dropped from my lips. However, Mama was hundreds of miles away in Vienna and I was here, in Paris and all alone.

The Duchesse gave me a quick shrewd look then shrugged her glittering shoulders and carried on. ‘We were all terribly shocked when we found out that Madame la Comtesse du Barry had been invited to the dinner party tonight. It was supposed to be for family only and she may well be the King’s mistress but that certainly doesn’t make her one of us, does it?’ She pulled an exquisite painted porcelain snuff box from her bosom and flicked it open before offering it to me. ‘Do you?’ She smiled at my disgusted expression. ‘Ah, no, you do not.’ She tapped some out on to her wrist and sniffed deeply. ‘I could not believe my ears when I heard that the King had invited that woman here but what can we do? He is the master here and we have no option but to do as he says or find ourselves shipped off to the provinces, there to kick our poor heels amidst the cows and rustics.’ She shook her pretty feather covered head dolefully . ‘No, no, that would not do at all and so, my dear one, we endure and so must you.’

Oh really?

Excerpt taken from my novel The Secret Diary of a Princess, which is available for Kindle from Amazon UK for a mere £2.30 and Amazon US for $3.69.

This book is scrumptious from beginning to end. I loved reading every page of it. Melanie has a gift for description – you can feel, smell, taste, see and hear it all as if you were there in the midst of it all. Antonia is so endearing, mischievous and lovable … a girl I would have loved to have been friends with. The diary-style of the book was fantastic; reading all her innermost thoughts as if you were her closest friend in the world. From Vienna to Versailles I traveled with Antonia; felt her happiness and her sorrows as if they were my own. One of those books that you just want to hug once you are finished. And I didn’t want it to end. (Melanie! Write more! *grins*) A definite “must-read“.’ – review by a person that I have never met!