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Birth of Madame Royale

Finally, despite the complications with her marriage, Marie Antoinette became pregnant with her first child in April of 1778 (Lever 114). Marie Antoinette demonstrated her devotion to her child before she was even born. She kept track of how her waist was growing and inquired around about the best ways to raise her child, “something not a single queen of France had ever done” (Lever 116). Typically, royal children would be handed over to governesses and subgovernesses who would raise them until the King assigned a tutor for them, leaving a minimal role for the mother (Lever 116). While most previous queens saw their duty as completed when they gave birth to the heir, Marie Antoinette demonstrated how she saw her role going far beyond that. She even considered breast-feeding the child herself, rather than letting a wet nurse handle it (Lever 116).

Marie Antoinette’s child, a daughter named Marie Therese, was born in December 1778. While the country may have been disappointed that the child was not the Dauphin they had hoped for, Marie Antoinette, while sad she could not give the country a Dauphin, was nonetheless pleased that this child could be her own (Lever 119-120). Madame Campan recalls the first thing the Queen said to her daughter as:

“Poor little one, you were not wished for, but you are not on that account less dear to me. A son would have been rather the property of the State. You shall be mine; you shall have my undivided care, shall share all my happiness, and console me in all my troubles” (Campan).

Marie Antoinette saw her new daughter as a companion outside the influence of the Court and someone she could confide in and care for. The Queen’s own mother, Maria Theresa of Austria, “who inspired awe by her great qualities,” taught her daughters to fear and respect her and Madam Campan notes that Marie Antoinette did not want the same relationship with her own children (Campan). Ignoring the protests of her mother, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI agreed that their daughter, Marie Therese, would receive a simpler education than previous princesses of France. They wanted less servants attending her and minimal exposure to the public eye (Lever 121).  This shift is one effect of the emphasis on family in the eighteenth century. While previously, the royal children were public figures along with their parents, the shift towards domesticity and the nuclear family also brought an emphasis on privacy where the children’s public exposure was limited and the role of servants in their upbringing decreased.