It is impossible to think about the French Revolution of 1789 without being reminded of the famous Queen Marie Antoinette.
Most remember Marie Antoinette — formerly known by her Austrian name as Maria Antoina Josefa Johanna — by her towering, elaborate hairstyles and expensive tastes, as shown and perhaps over exaggerated in Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film.
She is also mistakenly known for coining the phrase “let them eat cake,” a misquote circulated by her political enemies and those who wanted to justify her infamous beheading in 1793.
While the criticism of the beautiful monarch was excessive, she certainly enjoyed the finer things in life. Marie Antoinette’s taste for the exquisite is made obvious by her morning routine.
A morning bath
Arriving at Versailles and wedding her husband Louis XVI at only fourteen, Marie Antoinette must have yearned for the comforts of home.
After all, her husband showed little interest in his new wife — it took the two seven long years to consummate the marriage — and her dealings with some key members of the court were less than cordial. For example, she began a public feud with the King’s (her husband’s grandfather) mistress when she first arrived at court.
Perhaps this is why her mornings always consisted of small luxuries.
At the beginning of her marriage, Marie Antoinette enjoyed sleeping late, rising between nine and ten in the morning.
However, as she grew older, the fashion-conscious royal preferred waking at around eight o’clock to select her preferred fabrics and garments for the day:
The first waiting woman presented a book, in which were pasted samples of gowns, full dress, undress, etc. ; there were ordinarily for each season twelve full toilets, twelve demi-toilets, twelve rich dresses with paniers. The queen marked with a pin the garments which she chose for the day, — a full dress, an undress for the afternoon, an evening dress for the play and for the supper. The book of patterns was immediately taken away, and the garments chosen were brought in, in a large taffeta.
After choosing the perfect outfit, Marie Antoinette needed to attend to the second most important part of her beauty regimen: her personal hygiene.
For Marie Antoinette in particular, baths happened everyday. According to her nineteenth-century biographer:
The queen took a bath nearly everyday; a large tub was rolled into her room and the bathers were admitted with all the accessories of a bath. The queen wrapped herself in a long robe of English flannel, buttoned to the bottom, and when she came out of the bath a sheet was held very high before her to screen her entirely from the view of her women.
Despite her bold fashion choices and the malicious rumours about her promiscuity, it seems Marie Antoinette was fairly modest in keeping her figure hidden from her servants at all times.
After her bath, she returned to her bed in a gown of taffeta, choosing either to read or embroider.
For breakfast, she would not eat anything terribly elaborate, but opted for chocolate or coffee — both of which were delicacies in poverty-stricken France. Perhaps she was saving her appetite for supper, which usually consisted of biscuits, bouillon and a chicken wing.
If she was tired, she would break her fast using a small plate balanced upon the bathtub.
As was custom for French royals of her time, Marie Antoinette was forced to dress before court notables and other acquaintances.
Each time they arrived, she would greet them with a slight inclination of her head, emphasizing her superior social and political standing. The guests would sit around the Queen on folding chairs brought out by servants.
When Marie Antoinette first arrived as a young princess, she wrote about her experience to her mother, Maria Theresa of Austria and Hungary, with a hint of resentment, further evidencing her private nature:
At twelve, what is called the Chamber is held, and there everyone who does not belong to the common people may enter. I put on my rouge and wash my hands before all the world; the men go out, and the women remain; and then I dress myself in their presence.
From Marie Antoinette’s description, it seems she was not used to such public attention from so many people in the early hours of the morning.
During this time, she would also have her hair publicly dressed, often accompanied by her husband’s brothers and other members of the royal family coming to visit.
Once a month, she was given a silver purse with monthly allowances to give to her charities or other ventures.
She went to church everyday
After dressing, Marie Antoinette and Louis would parade through the Salon de la Paix, a gilded salon overlooking her apartments and located in the Hall of Mirrors, with their attendants and other key members of the royal family.
She attended mass everyday “in the tribune facing the high altar, except on days of full service, when she hears it below on the carpet of velvet fringed with gold.”
Catholicism was an important part of eighteenth-century France and effectively wielding power meant monarchs needed to publicly profess the religion.
While it is difficult to know how ardent Marie Antoinette’s personal faith was, her biographer wrote she was always steadfast, despite her sometimes frivolous lifestyle.
Though Marie Antoinette’s life was far more privileged than any French inhabitant of her time, she was not as heartless or wasteful as she is often depicted.
Her morning routines would come to an abrupt end with the 1789 French Revolution, which resulted in the defeat of the French monarchy.