My novel about Marie Antoinette, The Secret Diary of a Princess seems to have attracted a really nice faction of fans (hello!) and I get emails and comments pretty much every day asking if there will be a sequel. I’m not sure if there will be any more as I have so many other projects on the go but as today is the 242nd anniversary of their wedding day (what stone is that? Kryptonite?), I thought I’d let you see what happens next.
The novel ended with Marie Antoinette and the Dauphin poised to enter the chapel for their wedding. Some reviewers have complained about this as they thought it too abrupt, but I thought it was the perfect place to leave them – poised on the brink of history as it were. This should hopefully please those readers.
Wednesday 16th May 1770, Versailles.
It didn’t take us long to reach the royal chapel and there was a small awkward pause as my ladies hurried forward to tweak my full skirts and, clicking their tongues disapprovingly against their teeth, do their best to hide the wide expanse of lacing at my back, which reveals that my beautiful cloth of silver dress, made from measurements carefully sent from Vienna several months earlier, was now far too small for me.
They tried not to show how irritated they were but I could tell by the way that they sharply tugged and pulled the laces and briskly turned me this way and that, that they were annoyed with me for having had the temerity to grow and show them all up.
‘Good luck,’ Jeanne de Mailly whispered when the ladies in waiting finally melted away, their wide silk and brocade skirts rustling against the cold marble floor. ‘You look beautiful. Look straight ahead and ignore all the staring.’ She gave my hand a quick surreptitious squeeze. ‘You’ll be fine.’
I turned and smiled reassuringly at the Dauphin, who was standing mutely beside me in his diamond and sapphire spangled coat which I am told cost more than my entire wedding ensemble, his pale eyes wide with terror while a pulse beat time in the vein at his temple. Now that I had overcome my own fears, I wished that there was some way that I could bring the colour back into his pale cheeks and stop him trembling. ‘It will be over soon,’ is the lame best that I could manage as he hesitantly took my hand and we stepped forward together into the luminous white and gold light of the chapel.
Ever since I was a little girl I have dreamed of the perfect wedding, complete with a gorgeous dress, handsome prince and all of my family smiling fondly as they watched me sail gracefully up the long crimson carpeted aisle towards the altar. Mama would proudly wipe tears of joy from her eyes and my brother Joseph, tall and handsome in blue watered silk would be waiting to give me away to my new husband, who’d watch me lovingly as I made my way up the aisle. Even though I knew that it was all impossible, that such a wedding could never happen, I’ve still clung to that dream no matter what and in the end, the reality wasn’t all that bad in comparison.
True, my beautiful dress didn’t fit properly; my prince although fair, isn’t exactly handsome and my family were all thousands of miles away but nothing could have prepared me for the breathtaking spectacle of the columned gilt and white marble chapel at Versailles in all its wedding day splendour. The bright spring sunlight shone through the tall windows, sending bright shards of coloured light floating over the assembled congregation while overhead there soared a beautiful painted ceiling which depicts scantily clad angels cavorting against a pure azure blue sky.
Everywhere I looked there were flowers – huge fragrant armfuls of white and yellow lilies, roses and peonies were arranged in vast porcelain vases at the end of each pew and in between the windows while the most enormous displays of all were reserved for either side of the cloth of gold covered altar.
Everyone turned to stare at us as we went past and despite Jeanne’s advice to look straight ahead and pretend not to see them, I couldn’t help letting my eyes nervously slide from side to side, taking in their painted unsmiling faces, the dazzling jewels that glittered like cold fire in the sunlight, the heavily perfumed coloured silks and brocades worn by both men and women. ‘I have come to live among you,’ I wanted to say to them. ‘I want you all to love me.’
Ahead, I could see the tall Duc de Chartres beside his pretty wife who hides a razor sharp tongue beneath a silly, frivolous exterior. Her flounced and lace trimmed dress of primrose yellow silk spangled with diamonds was the very height of fashion and as I drew nearer I saw that she had yellow roses and sapphire stars pinned into her powdered hair. Beside her stood the pretty Princesse de Lamballe, demure in cream satin and pearls and with pink peonies tucked into her cloud of fair hair, who smiled at me shyly and raised her hand in greeting as I drew level.
I longed to smile back, to throw my arms around her and weep with the relief of having someone on my side amongst this sea of unfriendly faces but instead I merely inclined my head and carried on, keeping my happiness to myself. I have a friend here, I thought. Only one but it’s a start.
We were in front of the altar now and the Archbishop of Rheims stepped forward in his opulent cloth of gold robes embroidered with roses, the lilies of France and suns to conduct the service. As he began to speak, I risked a quick look back over my shoulder to the crimson velvet hung balcony high above where the King, standing alone in magnificent solitude, watched the ceremony. I risked a small smile and in return was rewarded with the tiniest of winks and a proud nod. Two friends, I thought.
The Archbishop has the most unfortunate stammer and I longed to catch the Dauphin’s eye and share a smile as he struggled manfully with my name: Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna. He stared resolutely straight ahead though and although there is something about him, a shyness and earnestness of manner, that reminds me of my younger brothers, I do not feel like I have his measure quite enough yet to share anything so intimate as a joke.
Instead, I hopped from side to side, trying to ease the aching of my feet in their high heeled diamond studded shoes which pinched my toes and thought about my family far away in Vienna. On the day of my proxy wedding to the Dauphin, which took place back in April, I wondered about this boy now at my side and tried to imagine how he must be feeling, knowing that in Austria an unknown young girl was in the process of becoming his bride. Now, with him beside me, I thought about my family and hoped that they were wishing me well. They would be, of course. I could picture them easily, sitting around a table in Mama’s apartments in the Hofburg and toasting each other with wine as Joseph grinned and said: ‘At this very moment, our little Antonia is becoming Dauphine of France. Thank God that after all these years, it has finally all gone to plan. I might even get some sleep tonight.’
The Dauphin gave a discreet little cough beside me and with a start, I realised that we had reached a point in the ceremony where we were expected to kneel on the two red velvet cushions that had been placed in front of the altar. Two angel faced altar boys stepped forward in their snowy white robes and began to swing sweetly scented incense over our heads as the Archbishop, really getting into his stride now, raised his voice and began to intone in the most dramatic way.
Behind me I could hear the bored whispers, coughs and occasional muted giggles of the congregation and if I concentrated harder, I could even hear the swishing of the ladies’ silk dresses and creaking of their stays as they fidgeted impatiently, dropping their leather bound prayer books onto the marble floor and clicking the ivory and wooden sticks of their painted and gilded fans between their fingers.
After what seemed like forever we stood again and blushing and sweating nervously the Dauphin took my hand in his and pushed a ring which he almost dropped in his haste to get the task over and done with, onto my finger, while muttering: ‘Marie Antoinette, take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’
A dark haired page boy then stepped forward with a white satin cushion upon which rested a second ring which has been blessed by the Archbishop along with thirteen gold coins, which represented my purchase from my family. I picked it up and, looking him squarely in the eye, I put it onto the Dauphin’s outstretched finger, clearly saying: ‘Louis Auguste, take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity…’ I was determined not to show the slightest sign of fear in front of these people and I smiled to myself, imagining them all sitting up straight and looking around in consternation as my young voice soared clear and high above them.
The Mass and communion, which we took while standing beneath a silver spangled canopy held by four gentlemen of the court, followed shortly after that and then a great gasping sigh of relief rippled through the chapel as the choir began to sing and we turned to make our way back out again. As we slowly passed beneath the royal balcony, I looked up and smiled at the King then blushed when he bowed and kissed his bejewelled fingers to me.
‘That went well,’ the Dauphin remarked as we reached the doors and found ourselves in the cool marble vestibule again.
‘Did you notice the stammering?’ I said, laughing and turning to my ladies in waiting to share the joke. ‘Jose-pha-pha-pha.’
Everyone else laughed, pleased to lighten the mood and share the relief that the ceremony had gone without hitch but the Dauphin just looked at me reprovingly. ‘The Archbishop is a good man and you ought not to mock him,’ he said stiffly before going red and turning away as I stared at him in astonishment.
There was an awkward silence during which my ladies in waiting looked at us both open mouthed in mingled shock and amusement. I can just imagine the gossip that will flow like water in the salons of Versailles and Paris this evening. ‘Well,’ I said at last, with a forced jocularity. ‘I must say that I feel suitably reprimanded.’ I was seething inside though. Seething. If one of my brothers spoke to me like that, I would tip a drink over his head. Or pull his hair. I briefly considered pulling the Dauphin’s hair, which peeps dark blond and thick from beneath his powdered wig but then regretfully decided against it.
‘Your Highness?’ Jeanne was at my side, her pretty face carefully blank. ‘The King will be waiting upstairs for you to come and sign the register.’ The formality of her manner brought me to my senses and reminded me that we were being watched by thousands of people, all crammed into every nook and cranny of the palace’s public rooms in order to watch us pass by. If I wasn’t careful, reports of my row with the Dauphin would be landing on my mother’s desk within a matter of days and I’d have a delightfully reproving letter to look forward to. Never mind Paris, it is Vienna’s disapproval that I need to avoid at all costs.
‘Of course.’ I longed to stick my nose in the air and sweep straight past my new husband, leaving him all alone in the vestibule to reflect upon the error of his ways but instead I waited for him to give me his hand and then stiffly walked beside him back up the stairs to the reception rooms above while the crowd pressed close and followed behind. I unbent enough to whisper: ‘I don’t think I will ever be able to find my way around Versailles.’
Louis didn’t even look at me. ‘You’ll soon get to grips with it,’ he said without interest.
We retraced our steps through the magnificent series of reception rooms overlooking the gardens and then swept around to the magnificent, luminous Hall of Mirrors again, which was once again crammed with thousands of people, including most of the congregation at the wedding who must have gathered up their heavy skirts and sprinted ahead of us so that they could jostle their way into the best positions in front of the dozens of orange trees that stand between the tall windows, their sweet ripe scent filling the hall and almost masking the rather less pleasant odour of dozens of unwashed bodies crammed together in a small space on a warm spring day.
A pair of footmen in navy blue and red livery swung open the mirrored doors that lead to the King’s council room and the Dauphin took me inside. The entire royal family had gathered there to greet us and as we stepped into the room, they politely applauded us with every appearance of genuine pleasure in our union while King Louis himself stepped forward with open arms to welcome me. ‘You did very well, my dear,’ he murmured, kissing my cheeks, enveloping me with his rich scent of musk and amber then leading me to the large table in the centre of the room where the parish register book had been carefully placed with a large golden ink well and fresh white feather pen beside it.
The King signed first, his signature a tall and elegantly confident underlined ‘Louis’, before handing the pen to his grandson who produced a cramped and off kilter ‘Louis Auguste’. It’s my turn next and I dipped the pen into the ink then proceeded to carefully sign my name. All goes well through the unfamiliar loops and fuss of ‘Marie Antoinette’ but then disaster struck at the beginning of ‘Josephe’ when the pen blurted out an immense splodge of rose scented ink onto the otherwise pristine page.
My cheeks went hot with embarrassment as I heard the Duchesse de Chartres snigger behind me but then my husband whispered: ‘Don’t worry, just carry on’ and so I did, completing ‘Jeanne’ with a triumphant flourish and stepping aside with much relief as one by one the rest of the family – my new brothers and sisters in law, my husband’s trio of middle aged aunts and the Chartres couple stepped up to sign their names after mine.
After this we accepted everyone’s congratulations again and I found myself wondering more and more about the tall unhappy looking boy who stood so silently at my side, not saying a word and clearly wishing that he could be somewhere else. But where?
The sunshine didn’t last forever and shortly after I had returned to my apartments for a brief rest and another abortive attempt to tighten the lacing on my gown as I held onto my bedposts and the maids tugged with all their might behind me, the heavens opened and rain began to first splatter and then slam alarmingly against the thin window panes in my bedchamber. ‘It’s not a proper wedding without a bit of rain!’ Jeanne announced gaily as I pouted with disappointment.
‘But what about the fireworks?’ I said. The King had arranged for an enormous firework display over the gardens that evening and I absolutely couldn’t wait to see it. All of our weddings and celebrations at home in Vienna are marked by fireworks and I felt like it would make me feel closer to home.
‘I am sure that the rain will have gone long before they are due to start,’ Marie-Paule de Chaulnes murmured in her comforting way. Although it is her custom to only ever wear white, in tribute to her status as a virginal wife, she had donned a gown of the palest rose pink with matching roses at her bosom and in her soft fair hair in honour of my day.
The evening celebrations began at the stroke of six with card games in the candlelit Hall of Mirrors, watched closely by a curious throng of several thousand onlookers who passed slowly by behind a temporary gilt barrier and were moved brusquely along by the King’s formidable Swiss Guards should any of them linger over long. Before she left Austria to be married to the Duke of Parma, my sister Maria Amalia and brother Joseph spent a great deal of time teaching me how to play cards and gamble properly as such occupations are central to the life of Versailles where everyone is expected to take part and vast sums are won and lost every night. At the King’s table, however, it is not the done thing to make extravagant bets and Madame de Mailly warned me in a whisper that as a result play can be rather dull indeed.
So dull in fact that I almost fell asleep several times and had to be nudged awake by the Duc de Chartres who sat beside me and took a great interest in helping me with my hands of cards, often at a cost to himself. ‘Bet now,’ he whispered behind his hand upon which an enormous ruby glowed in the candlelight. ‘Hah, look at Madame Adélaïde squirm. She’s cheating as usual but no one is allowed to say anything.’
On the other side of the green velvet covered table, the Dauphin was frowning down at his cards and looking rather miserable. ‘Games of chance are not Louis Auguste’s strong suit,’ the Duc whispered to me with a wicked gleam in his dark blue eyes. ‘Unlike myself he is always far too afraid to gamble even when the odds are in his favour.’
It was still light outside and as we played I could hear music, shouts and laughter drifting up through the open windows from the gardens outside where several thousand people seemed to be having an enormous open air party with stalls of cakes and wine, dancing and even puppet theatres erected between the flowers on the parterre. How odd it seemed that I was stuck indoors playing boring card games in prim silence while outside people were celebrating my wedding day.
‘If the rain holds off, we should still be able to have the firework display,’ the King said to me when we finally got up from the table to make our way to the formal banquet. ‘We haven’t had a really splendid round of fireworks for many years now so I’m looking forward to it.’
‘When we were small, we used to go up on to the palace roof to watch fireworks,’ the Duc de Chartres murmured to me as I handed my small pale blue velvet bag of winnings to Jeanne de Mailly for safe keeping. ‘Perhaps I could take you up there sometime, your Highness? The views across the gardens and park are really quite stunning.’
I looked at him, feeling a little cornered, but could see nothing but an innocent wish to please me in his expression. ‘Thank you, Monsieur le Duc, that is most kind,’ I said, with absolutely no intention of ever taking him up on his offer. If anyone is going to take me up on to the roof and show me the sights of Versailles, it will be my new husband, that painfully taciturn boy who blushed and sighed miserably as he offered me his arm to lead me down the gallery.
‘I hear that you do not enjoy games of chance?’ I said to Louis as we made our way down the marble staircase.
He looked startled. ‘Did Philippe tell you that?’ he asked after a moment’s pause with a look over his shoulder at the Chartres couple who followed close behind us. I could hear the Duchesse shrieking with laughter at one of her husband’s whispered jokes and felt uneasy as I suspected that they were making fun of my ill fitting dress.
‘Yes.’ I nodded, wishing that I could hear what they were saying behind me.
Louis shrugged. ‘You shouldn’t believe anything that my cousin tells you,’ he said, leading me through a mirror lined vestibule and then down a series of galleries to a sweeping white marble staircase that rises up from a black and white tiled floor. Despite the immense bouquets of roses and lilies that had been arranged in front of the windows, there was still a subtle underlying aroma of fresh paint and I looked enquiringly at my new husband.
‘My grandfather ordered that the opera house be completed for the wedding. It’s taken a team of men several months of work to finish it in time,’ he said, leading me up the stairs. It is the most animated that I had ever seen him. He even smiled at one point – or perhaps it was just a trick of the light. ‘There were carpenters, stonemasons and painters everywhere.’
‘What do you think?’ the King turned and smiled proudly at me as we followed him into the marble walled foyer with tall high windows that spilled moonlight onto the polished parquet floor and beautiful crystal chandeliers twinkling overhead. ‘I believe that this is my finest addition to Versailles. I like to imagine my grandfather, the Sun King Louis looking down from Heaven with approval for what I have done here. It is finer by far than the theatre that he installed.’
I looked around myself with true pleasure. ‘It is very lovely,’ I murmured, which makes him smile even more.
‘Oh dear,’ the Duchesse de Chartres said, pointing up to the window with a little moue of disappointment, ‘the rain is coming back.’
‘Perhaps it will go away again,’ the King said hopefully but as we enter the opera house, it began to lash heavily against the windows making them rattle alarmingly. From outside we could hear shrieks of dismay from the thousands of merry makers in the gardens as they ran for cover while thunder rumbled ominously overhead and for a brief moment I found myself wishing that I was with them, running free as a bird through the rain instead of cooped up inside in a too tight dress with a grumpy husband and everyone staring at me.
‘Well, that’s the fireworks cancelled then,’ the Comte d’Artois muttered furiously behind me. ‘That was going to be the high point of the day. There’s nothing to look forward to now.’
If my first glimpse of the chapel was breathtaking then the first time I stepped into the Versailles opera house left me speechless. The smell of fresh paint was even more overpowering now and my mother, who likes the things around her to be old, tarnished and comfortable, would certainly sniff disparagingly at how gleaming new it all is with bright untarnished gilt decorations, shining salmon pink and jade green marble walls and brand new gold tassels on the swagged pale blue stage hangings. I don’t care, though; I think it is beautiful.
Although it is usually designed to be used as a theatre, much of the floor had been raised to the same level as the stage and an enormous table laid out for a splendid banquet had been placed in the centre of it – here we were to sit and dine in state while the rest of the court either milled around lower down in the pit or had staked claim to the mirrored balconies that line the walls. ‘Ingenious is it not?’ the Duc de Chartres leaned in so close to me that I can smell the cloves and wine upon his breath and a furtive scent of something else underneath that made me quickly take a step away from him. ‘It took three hundred soldiers all working together to raise the floor.’
‘How astonishing,’ I said, not knowing what else to say. I sat down on the King’s left hand and smiled across at the Dauphin, who was sitting opposite me then looked down the rose and peony covered table to where the Princesse de Lamballe was sitting opposite her elderly father-in-law, the Duc de Penthièvre, who is the Duchesse de Chartres’ father. She was fussing with her napkin and listening intently to a rambling monologue by the dark eyed, intense Comtesse de la Marche, who is the Italian daughter-in-law of the Prince de Conti.
And how do I know who these people are? Because of my lively new brother-in-law, the twelve year old Comte d’Artois who looks like an angel with high cheekbones, soft pouting lips and pale blue eyes but has the most wicked sense of humour ever. He whispered to me constantly through dinner, telling me about everyone there and relaying the most shocking scandals, most of which cannot possibly be true.
‘I see that you have made friends with Chartres,’ he whispered at one point and not very discreetly either so that I blushed red with embarrassment and looked down the table to be sure that no one had overheard. ‘Be careful around him.’
‘Why?’ I sipped at my wine. ‘He seems very friendly.’ I didn’t mention how uneasy he makes me feel or his offer to take me up on to the palace roof.
Artois raised a dark eyebrow. ‘He seems friendly,’ he said with a meaningful look. ‘He’s always been very adept at pushing himself in where he isn’t wanted. Aunt Adélaïde says that he would like to be King one day but of course all of us are in the way so he can’t be.’ He lowered his voice even more. ‘He was mad as fire when it was announced that you were coming to marry Louis,’ he said. ‘He’s terrified that you’ll have lots of babies and put him even further away from the throne.’
I blushed at the mention of babies and hastily looked across the table at the Dauphin, but he was busy cramming roast chicken into his mouth and hadn’t heard anything. ‘Isn’t he rich enough already?’ I asked, remembering what Jeanne told me about the Duchesse de Chartres’ enormous six million livre dowry. ‘Isn’t it better to be rich and a private person?’ I looked around the hundreds of people who had crammed themselves inside the beautiful opera house just to watch us eat. I am sure that if they were allowed, they’d all be lining up to watch us use the chaise percée afterwards as well. I can’t imagine actually wanting all this fuss and nonsense.
Artois stared at me as if I had completely taken leave of my senses and jumped onto the table to do a striptease in between all of the candelabras. ‘Are you really an Empress’ daughter?’ he asked at last, laughing. ‘Or is it like one of those fairy tales where a maid swaps places with the princess and teaches everyone a lesson in humility?’
I laughed too and gave an apologetic shrug. ‘I am sorry,’ I said, looking mournfully down at an aspic covered crayfish on my plate and pushing it away with my gold fork. ‘It’s just that I hate eating in public. Don’t you?’
‘Not really,’ he said with a yawn. ‘Of course, it is difficult to care as little as my brother,’ he added with a pointed look across the table to where the Dauphin was allowing a long suffering footman to help him to more roasted chicken and rich creamy caper sauce from the magnificent profusion of dishes in the centre of the table. Artois turned to grin at me. ‘He’s always had a good appetite,’ he said, patting his stomach. ‘It’s the Bourbon way. We all love our food.’ He nodded across the table to his other brother, the Comte de Provence and sister Clotilde, who were eating even more greedily than their elder brother. ‘Personally, I’d prefer not to be fat so I try to restrain myself a little.’ He sipped at his wine. ‘It’s more elegant, don’t you think?’
I smiled and nodded, my attention now caught by Madame Adélaïde, who had paused, fork in hand to glare from beneath her thick dark eyebrows up at one of the balconies. ‘Such impudence,’ she muttered furiously to one of her sallow faced sisters, who was shrinking anxiously into her chair. ‘This would never have happened if our sainted maman was still alive.’
I followed her gaze up to the balconies, which were stuffed full of gorgeously dressed courtiers, many of whom were leaning perilously over the edges of their boxes with their opera glasses and, astonishingly, telescopes trained upon us. It didn’t take me long to see who had provoked Adélaïde’s annoyance – in the very central box, directly opposite the stage there sat beautiful Madame du Barry in solitary splendour and dressed as if for battle in glittering cloth of gold with diamonds blazing at her ears, throat and wrists and even spangling the tall white and yellow feathers that she wore tucked into her curled and powdered hair.
‘Oh dear,’ I murmured, blushing as I remembered what Madame de Chartres told me of Du Barry’s rather less than impressive origins – that she is the illegitimate daughter of a seamstress and a monk and walked the streets before catching the King’s eye. It seems incredible that such a woman should end up here at Versailles, looking down at us all from her opera box like some sort of painted deity. As I stared at her, she gave a pouty little smile and lifted one sparkling hand in languid greeting.
‘Did you say something, my dear?’ the King looked up with concern from the pile of oysters that he was working his way through with immense enjoyment. ‘I hope that you are not becoming tired?’
I smiled and shook my head, pulling my gaze away from Madame du Barry. ‘Oh no,’ I said, hiding a yawn behind my hand. ‘I am not at all tired.’
He looked across at his grandson, the Dauphin, who sat on his other side and was busily stuffing roasted turbot into his mouth and eyeing up the elaborate cakes, puddings and sticky sugared fruits that had just been placed on the table by the liveried footmen who lined the back of the stage, waiting to anticipate our every wish. ‘My dear boy,’ he murmured. ‘Is it really wise to eat so much tonight?’
The Dauphin stopped eating and looked first at me and then at his grandfather. ‘Why not?’ he said tonelessly. ‘I always sleep better after a good meal.’
He spoke into a lull in the general conversation and everyone at the table turned to stare both at him and, more pityingly, me. I looked down at my plate, feeling my cheeks go red hot with shame as I heard the Duchesse de Chartres snigger and whisper ‘It looks like more than one firework display has been cancelled tonight,’ to the elderly Duc de Bourbon next to her, who started to laugh then cough into his napkin.
‘My dear,’ the King put his hand on mine and I looked up to see that his grey eyes were full of concern. He looked as though he wanted to say more but really, what can one say?
When the banquet finally came to an end, the King rose heavily from his chair, nodding grandly to the assembled company then with enormous dignity that couldn’t quite mask the fact that he had drunk rather too much of his own fine beaujolais and champagne left the stage, while we all scrambled into place to hastily follow him. The Dauphin, clearly unwilling to leave the food, wiped his mouth and greasy fingers with a fine linen napkin before throwing it aside and offering me his hand.
‘It’s been a long day,’ I said to him as we retraced our steps out of the opera house and back through the palace to my apartments on the ground floor. Our route was lined with courtiers, who smirked impudently at me as I went past. Everyone knew what was going to happen once the Dauphin and I were left alone.
Louis snorted and raised one shoulder as if in half agreement. ‘We have a week of this to look forward to,’ he grumbled. ‘Parties, the opera, a ball…’
‘Oh I love parties!’ I enthused, feeling frustrated by his dour manner and wanting to needle him a little. ‘And balls.’
‘I hate parties,’ he said, still not looking at me. ‘I’d rather be left alone.’ To do what?
The King had originally planned that we make our way in great and dramatic state across the moonlit courtyard from one wing of the palace to the other with running page boys carrying flaming torches to light our way, but the heavy rain and occasional rumblings of thunder put a stop to that. Instead we walked at a swift trot through endless candlelit, crowded rooms and up and down two sweeping marble staircases to get to my apartments on the ground floor of the opposite side of the palace.
Once we arrived there, I was ushered inside and led to a tall screen painted with climbing roses, peacock feathers and my personal cypher MA which had been placed at the side of the bed. After my heavy dinner, unusual amounts of wine and exhausting walk through the palace, I was longing to just tumble into bed and sleep it all off but unfortunately, this was not to be permitted as there was another public ceremony, the coucher, to endure first.
‘Your Highness must be publicly prepared for bed,’ Madame de Noailles whispered, ushering me over to the screen while the Dauphin was taken off to a matching screen on the other side of the bed by his grandfather, who with great ceremony handed him a white linen nightshirt.
I looked nervously around the great crowd of people who had followed us into the room and crammed themselves into the very corners just to watch us be put to bed together. My brother Joseph had warned me about this so I knew what to expect but even so I was unnerved by the sight of them all goggling at me as, with a saucy wink, the Duchesse de Chartres handed me my lace trimmed nightdress and I blushingly stepped behind the screen with my ladies in waiting to be stripped of my heavy wedding dress and changed into it.
‘They can’t see any of me, can they?’ I whispered anxiously to Jeanne, folding my arms in front of myself protectively as one of my ladies deftly undid my laces while another helped me step out of my enormous panniered silver skirts. Oh the relief to be finally free of them at last.
Jeanne’s eyes danced with laughter. ‘Not one little iota can be seen, Your Highness,’ she said, gently prising my arms away from my chest so that I could be eased out of my corset. ‘Only Monsieur le Dauphin will be permitted to lay eyes on you tonight.’
‘I don’t think he wants to,’ I whispered a little glumly as a maid quickly unpinned my hair and then brushed out the light coating of powder so that it fell heavy and warm around my shoulders.
Jeanne shook her head warningly and placed one finger lightly on her lips before producing a bottle of musky rose scent and dabbing it behind my ears, on my wrists and between my breasts.
I stepped out from behind the screen and stood awkwardly for a moment beside the great canopied bed with its elaborately swagged and tasseled raspberry pink silk curtains, waiting for the Archbishop of Rheims to finish the traditional blessing with holy water, while on the other side, the Dauphin also stood, looking awkward and pale legged in his white nightshirt. I wondered if I should smile and nod to him, so that he knew I felt peculiar and scared too, but as he was clearly so resolutely determined not to look at me, I instead turned my gaze towards the King, who was looking at the bed with an expression of great sadness.
As soon as the blessing was finished, I immediately pulled back the heavy embroidered silk coverlet and fine lace edged sheets and hopped into the bed. ‘Madame la Dauphine is very keen,’ I heard someone whisper with a titter. ‘I thought that Austrians were supposed to be a cold blooded race?’
‘Go on,’ the King urged the Dauphin, who was still standing beside the bed and looking down at the coverlet with an indecisive frown between his eyes. ‘In you get, my boy.’
Louis gave a shrug then clambered heavily in beside me, taking great care that no part of him, not even his nightshirt should come into contact with me. I can’t tell you how flattering this was.
The heavy curtains around the bed were slowly closed, plunging the Dauphin and I into gloom and hiding us from view. I listened to him breathing and considered reaching out to take his hand, but before I could do so, the curtains were once again opened, revealing us to the immense crowd of courtiers who smiled, nodded and applauded as though we have done something very clever indeed.
‘Regard,’ the King said to the courtiers with a proud flourish before turning back to his grandson and I. ‘We shall leave you both alone now,’ he said and again there was that slight sad smile before he turned on his high red heel and left the room with the bowing, smirking mob of courtiers in his wake. The Duc de Chartres lingers for a moment as everyone else streams past him and he gives me a sad smile before turning and joining the throng.
The door closed behind them with a click and in the distance I could hear the chatter, laughter and occasional hallooing hunting calls of the court as they noisily made their way up the stairs and back to the main apartments to continue the evening’s revelries.
The Dauphin made an exasperated noise then jumped from the bed again. For a terrible moment, I thought he was going to storm out but instead, to my relief, he merely went around the room pinching each of the candle flames between his thumb and forefinger. ‘Clearly they’d like us to burn to death,’ he muttered as he went about his work.
‘Perhaps your grandfather thought that we might like to see each other?’ I said timidly.
Louis looked at me then. ‘Why would we want to do that?’ he said before pinching out the last candle and plunging us into darkness.
I snuggled down into the bed and listened as he padded across the floor in his bare feet then climbed fumblingly back into the bed again before easing himself against the pillows with a sigh. Surely any minute now I would feel his hands upon me and his breath warm on the side of my neck? Perhaps he would even attempt a light kiss? Some nuzzling maybe? Or maybe something a bit more passionate?
I heard snoring from his side of the bed.