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Failure as Wife and Mother

With these new ideas about motherhood and her status as Queen, Marie Antoinette had immense pressure on her to produce an heir and raise him well. Even producing the heir was problematic in the early years of her marriage. The marriage of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI remained unconsummated for seven years, which was dangerous for the validity of the marriage and the alliance it created, as well as making it impossible for the queen to produce an heir. The unconsummated state of their marriage was also public knowledge in the court, which exposed the queen to harsh criticism and gossip. Severe pain prevented Louis XVI from completing any sexual act, and although his physicians recommended a small operation that would fix it, he hesitated to have it done (Lever 92). It did not help that Marie Antoinette was uninterested in her husband as a lover and made no secret of it, even stating that she wished he would take a mistress to gain some experience, which he never did (Lever 113).

After years without a pregnancy, criticisms from the populace, as well as from her mother in Vienna, put intense pressure on Marie Antoinette to conceive a child. If she had no children, the throne would pass to a child of Louis XVI’s brothers, but if they had no children either, the line could die out (Lever 64). If this line died out, the King of Spain would have had an opportunity to assert his claim to the French throne, although it was questionably legitimate (Lever 64). So, all over Europe, Marie Antoinette’s marriage, and her role as a wife, was under scrutiny.

On August 6, 1775 the wife of the Comte d’Artois, the King’s brother, gave birth to a baby boy before Marie Antoinette had any children. The child became third in line to the throne, and if she had no children, he was the most likely heir (Lever 93). The French people were becoming impatient for news of a new Dauphin, and they made their impatience known to the queen. On the day the child of the Comte d’Artois was born, fishwives from Paris, who had attended the birth, reportedly harassed the queen as she returned to her rooms, blaming her for failing to please her husband and produce an heir.