WITH MARIE ANTOINETTE...
Waking up in her sumptuous bed, Marie would first be presented with a large book - the gazette des atours - which was filled with a multitude of fabric swatches, each one from a dress in her wardrobe. She would have to choose three each day, by sticking pins into three of the lavish swatches...
The first: a formal silk or velvet court gown for the Mass of the day.
The second: a more informal cotton, muslin or lawn gown for the afternoon's proceedings.
The third: an elaborate evening gown for any concerts, balls and dinners.
The dresses would be brought down to her later, in large baskets covered with green taffeta.
PETIT DÉJEUNER - BREAKFAST
Marie would either eat breakfast in bed, or at a small table set near her couch. Breakfast would normally consist of a simple coffee or hot chocolate, with kipfel - a kind of Austrian bread.
At the same time as having her breakfast, or just proceeding it, Marie would receive people into her room, including her physician, secretary and other important persons.
BAIN DE MODESTIE - THE BATH
Sometimes Marie would have her breakfast in the bath, as she bathed quite often. A large slipper bathtub was then rolled into the dove grey bathroom, with its sloping tiled floors, and Marie would don a flannel chemise buttoned from head to toe to keep her body concealed from her ladies in waiting who bathed her.
In the bath would be placed a fragrant muslin pad filled with sweet almonds, pine nuts, linseed, lily bulbs and marshmellow roots. Marie also loved to douse herself in eau de fleur d'orange - orange blossom water.
A towel was then wrapped around the Queen, and she would change into a long chemise as her bed was being warmed. Then she could await the day's Lever ceremony while reading in bed or working on a tapestry.
LEVER | CHAMBRE - THE MORNING DRESSING
While the ladies that would dress Marie were arriving, a small escritoire à toilette was wheeled out into the middle of her bedroom, its graceful baroque roll-top lid concealing a mirror and small, silk lined drawers filled with:
powders, paints, rouges, pomades, pin cushions and wig powders stashed in wooden boxes.
Using these, Marie would create a fashionably milky white complexion, with rosy cheeks, adding a dash of pomade to her lips and eyelashes to enhance them.
Then came the dressing. This was one of the most important rituals of the day, not for the queen, but for her attendants - as only the highest members of her household, or of the court, had the right to grandes entrées, to watch the spectacle. And only the most titled of those were permitted to help dress the queen. It was truly an honour to help the Queen dress each day, and the proceedings could be interrupted as each princess entered the bedroom...
The dame d’honneur handed Marie Antoinette her chemise, while the dame d’atours would help her into her dress and put on any jewellery. If a princess of the royal family was present, the dame d’honneur would hand the chemise to her instead. Then that princess would give the chemise to Marie Antoinette. If a princess du sang was present, the dame d’honneur would hand the chemise to the dame d’atours, who would then hand it to that princess, who would then hand it to Marie Antoinette.
Marie Antoinette's wardrobe was housed in three separate rooms, dedicated solely for that purpose.
Etiquette decreed that she must not wear a dress more than once, and that she must change her dress three times a day. It was also politesse that moved her to order eighteen pairs of pastel-coloured, violet-scented gloves, and four new pairs of shoes each week.
Marie's taste and style was her own, though. Always impeccable, and ever fashionable, she ordered many of her gowns from her favoured designer: Rose Bertin. Two times a week, Rose would visit Versailles with new swatches and designs to show the Queen; designs with romantic names such as 'Heart's Agitation' and 'Stifled Sighs'. Rose could also fulfill Marie's desires for decorated hats, perfumed fans, hair feathers, and the like.
ROSE BERTIN CATALOGUE:
Decorated silk hat: 60 Livres.
Plain straw hat: 20-40 Livres.
Court Gown: 1,900-2,800 Livres.
Leaving her apartments, Marie would be trailed by an large entourage on her way to mass, including members of her own household, the princesses of the court, their attendants, and the courtiers who attended her Chambre ceremony that morning. The walk to mass was often a time of great gossip, which sometimes continued during the solemn ceremony of the mass, held in the chapel of Versailles.
DINING - THE MIDDAY MEAL
We cannot ignore the hint of humour in Marie's description of the midday meal, which was a grand spectacle: the King and herself placed at the table for all to see, the public peeping through the ranks of Swiss Guards to get a peek, and those most noble persons of the court having the privilege to sit behind the royal couple. All watching.
The dishes would be served in a formal fashion, with many courses laid onto the table - pheasant and other fowl, fish, beef and other red meats; all laid onto the table in strict symmetrical patterns of diamonds or squares, with the larger dishes forming the points and smaller ones filling in the pattern. Servers would offer up glasses of drink on silver platters, and drinks would not be placed back onto the table, but onto the silver platter. Marie would not eat much during these lavish banquets, and would prefer to eat a more sensible meal of boiled chicken and vegetables later in her own apartments.
After the midday meal, Marie would often change into her less formal dress, picked that morning from the gazette des atours. She would then pursue any variety of cultured activities - from working on her tapestries and needle-work, to reading in the library, to walking about the grounds.
Card games were a big attraction at the palace, and gambling at them was one of Marie's favourite pastimes. Many courtiers would get dressed just for the occasion, Marie would don her evening dress, and the games would begin at nine or so. Again, the public were allowed to watch, and even bet on the players, but the highest tables - in the King's and Queens apartments, were closed to only a small entourage.
When she was only eighteen, Marie, while attending the wedding reception of the Comte d'Artois, won a staggering amount of 1,200 louis, (each louis was worth around 24 livres). She seemed embarrassed, and the next day she gave 50 louis to each parish of Versailles, and then gave the remaining amount to her servants and the poor.
RETIRING FOR THE EVENING
- DINNER -
Etiquette required that if the king was not eating with the Queen, she would be attended by women only. The last meal of the day was usually a light one, with the midday meal being more alike to our 'dinner.' Instead, Marie's supper consisted of white meat, broth, and a few biscuits dipped in water.
- THE EVENING UNDRESSING -
Getting ready for bed, Marie would undress while her maids readied a nightgown and cap brought to her in a basket. She would settle into bed and wait with the Femme de Chambre for the King to arrive and to be put to bed also. Then her maids would retire.
SOURCES AND FURTHER READING:
Marie Antoinette's letter to Empress Maria Theresa, c. 12 July 1770. The Life of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, Charles Duke Yonge, 1876.
Memoirs of Madame Campan on Marie Antoinette and her court, transl. G. K. Fortescue, 1909.
The Private Life of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France and Navarre, transl. R. W. Phipps, 1889.
A Banquet for Louis XIV: recreated at the Palace of Versailles, www.telegraph.com, 2010.
Marie Antoinette's Beauty Secrets, madameguillotine.org.uk, 2011.