Marie Antoinette’s Childhood

Marie Antoinette was born Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna on November 2, 1755. She was the 15th child (and the 10th daughter) of Empress Maria-Theresa of Austria and Francois I, Holy Roman Emperor.

The Hofburg Palace, Vienna

She was born at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. Marie Antoinette was raised with her elder sister, Maria Carolina. The two sisters were very close and even shared a governess.

In 1768, Maria Carolina was sent to Naples to marry Ferdinand IV. Marie Antoinette, at this point, was left alone with her governess. This was typical of the Hapsburg family. Because there were so many children who could be married off, Marie Antoinette was often neglected by her mother.

Maria Theresa, Empress of Austria

Marie Antoinette later described her relationship with her mother as one of “awe-inspired fear.”

Despite a lack of an early relationships with her mother, Marie Antoinette’s family was fairly close knit. Her mother and father were far more relaxed in private, wearing simpler clothing and having family meals together. Marie Antoinette spent much of her childhood playing at the Schonbrunn Palace, the family’s favorite home. She was extremely talented in dance and music, talents which her she gladly cultivated. She and her youngest siblings often performed for the court.

Francois I

In 1765, tragedy struck Marie Antoinette’s idyllic childhood. Her father, Francois I, died of a stroke on August 18th. Later that year, tragedy hit the family again. Marie Antoinette’s sister, Maria Josehpina, caught smallpox and quickly died. Her sister Maria Elizabeth also caught the disease, but survived. She had been considered a potential wife for the Dauphin Louis of France, however, she was badly scarred from smallpox and considered unfit for marriage. This left Marie Antoinette as the only eligible bride for the Dauphin.

Marriage negotiations began when Marie Antoinette was twelve.

A young Marie Antoinette showing her talent at the clavichord.

She did not participate in the marriage negotiations, as they were handled by her mother, Maria Therese, and her eldest brother, the now Emperor Joseph II. Before Marie Antoinette was allowed to leave for France, a French doctor was called to perform sevearl painful oral surgeries, without anesthesia, to make Marie Antoinette’s smile “very beautiful and straight.” After much debate, Marie Antoinette’s dowry was set at 200,000 crowns. She was married by proxy on April 19th, 1770  in Vienna with her brother Ferdinand standing in as the bridegroom. She was then officially renamed Marie Antoinette. She then set out for France, never to return to her homeland. The trip from Vienna to France took several weeks. On May 7, 1770, she was officially handed over to the French, with Comtess de Noailles acting as her Mistress of the Household. One week later, Marie Antoinette met Louis, Dauphin of France.

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