Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Birth of the Dauphin

Anonymous painter of the French school, 1781
Pictured from left to right in the above painting are the Duke of Berry, the Duke of Angouleme, the Duke of Chartres, the Countess of Artois, the Count of Provence, Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette with the Dauphin and Marie-Therese, the Countess of Provence, the Count of Artois and Madame Elisabeth (the King's sister).

On October 22nd, 1781, Marie-Antoinette finally gave birth to the long-awaited Dauphin, Louis Joseph Xavier Francois. The Queen went into labour in the morning, and was delivered at a quarter past one. In the words of the King himself he said to his wife "Madame, you have fulfilled our wishes and those of France, you are the mother of a Dauphin."

To say that they were the wishes of the entire country may seem like an exaggeration, but if so it wasn't much of one, because the announcement of the Dauphin's arrival was greeted with tremendous joy and enthusiasm from palace to city and Duke to commoner (with perhaps the exception of the Comte de Provence who suddenly found himself ousted from his position as heir presumptive). People greeted each other in the street with exultation, and every guild in Paris prepared to send delegations to Versailles to offer their congratulations the proud parents.

Sadly though, the Dauphin would die on June 4th of 1789, just a few short months before the Revolution began. It has, in fact, been suggested that the death of the seven year old heir, though succeeded by his younger brother, was one of the last catalysts for the events that would tear France apart. If his birth was met with such hope, it is perhaps not surprising that his demise would help plunge the country into desperate anger.

For a time though, there was only celebration. As the child was borne away from the royal apartments in the arms of the Royal Governess, the Princess de Guemene, they were followed by a crowd of laughing, clapping courtiers, and great acclamation. Two months later, when the Marquis de LaFayette returned from America, the festivities were still in full swing.

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