Victoria Holt

The Queen’s Confession

The French Marriage

Bibliography Louis XVI meant to write his own memoirs; the manner in which his private papers were arranged pointed out this design. The Queen, also, had the same intention; she long preserved a large correspondence, and a great number of minute reports, made in the spirit and upon the event of the moment.

Madame Campan’s Memoirs

The only real happiness in this world comes through a happy marriage. I can say this from experience. And all depends on the woman, who should be wiling, gentle, and able to amuse.


It was said that I was born ‘with the vision of a throne and a French executioner’ over my cradle; but this was long after, and it is a habit to remember prophetic signs and symbols when time has shown the course of events. In fact my birth caused my mother little inconvenience, for it happened just as the Seven Years War was about to break out and she was more concerned with this threat than with her baby daughter. Almost as soon as I was born she was carrying on with state affairs, and I am sure scarcely gave me a thought. She was accustomed to bearing children; I was her fifteenth child.

She had wanted a boy, of course, although she had four, because rulers always want boys; and she had seven daughters left to her, three having died before I was born, either at birth or in infancy. I liked to hear how she had made a bet with the old Duke of Tarouka as to what my sex would be. She had wagered that the child would be a girl. So Tarouka had to pay up.

While she was awaiting my birth, my mother decided that my sponsors should be the King and Queen of Portugal. In later years this was considered to be another evil omen, for on the day I was born a terrific earthquake shattered Lisbon, wrecking the town and killing forty thousand people. Afterwards, long afterwards, it was said that all children born on that day were unlucky. But few princesses can have had a happier childhood than mine. During those long sunny days when my sister Caroline and I used to play together in the gardens of the Schonbrunn Palace, neither of us gave a thought to the future; it never seemed to occur to me that life could not go on in this way for ever. We were Archduchesses, our mother was the Empress of Austria, and it was the nature of custom and tradition that our childhoods should inevitably be cut short and that we, being girls, would be sent away from home to be wives to strangers. It was different for our brothers-Ferdinand, who came between Caroline and me, and Max, who was a year younger than I and the baby of the family.

They were safe. They would marry and bring their brides to Austria.

But we never discussed this during these summers at Schonbrunn and winters at the Hofburg in Vienna. We were two happy carefree children—our only anxieties being which of the bitches would have her litter first and what the little darlings would be like. We loved dogs, both of us.

There were lessons, but we knew how to manage our Aja, as we called her. To everyone else she was Countess von Brandeiss, outwardly stem and fond of ceremony, but she doted on us and we could always get what we wanted. I remember sitting in the schoolroom looking out on the gardens and thinking how lovely it was out there while I was trying to copy Aja’s writing. There were blots on the page and I could never keep the lines straight. She came to me and clicking her tongue said I would never learn and she would be sent away because of it. Then I put my arms about her neck and said I loved her—which was true—and that I should never allow her to be sent away—which was absurd, because if my mother said she was to go away she would go without delay. But she softened and drew me to her; then she made me sit beside her while she drew for me in fine pencil so that all I had to do to produce an excellent drawing was go over her pencil lines in ink. After that it became a habit; and she would even write out my exercises in pencil and I would go over them with my pen, so that in the end it seemed as though I had written a very fair essay.

I was called Maria Antonia—Antonia in the family; it was not until later, when it was decided that I should go to France, that my name was changed to Marie Antoinette and I had to learn to forget I was Austrian and become French.

Our mother was the centre of our lives although we did not see her very often; but she was always there, a presence, someone whose word and wish were law. We were all terrified of her.

How well I remember the cold of the Hofburg in winter, where all the windows had to be kept wide open because our mother believed that fresh air was good for everyone. The bitterly cold wind would whistle through the palace. I have never known anything so cold as those Viennese winters, and I used to pity her attendants, particularly the poor little hairdresser who had to get up at five in the morning to dress my mother’s hair and stand in that cold room near the open window. She was so proud when my mother had selected her to do her hair on account of her special talents, but I asked her—for I was always friendly with the attendants—if she did not sometimes wish she had not been so good, then she would not have been chosen.

“Oh, Madame Antonia,” she replied, ‘it’s glorious slavery. “

That was how everyone felt about my mother. We all had to obey her but it seemed right and natural that we should, and we should never have thought of doing anything else. We all knew that she was the supreme ruler because she was the daughter of our grandfather Charles VI who had had no son, and although our father was known as the Emperor, he was second to her.

Dear Father! How I loved him! He was lighthearted and careless, and I imagine I took after him. Perhaps that was why I was his favourite.

Mother had no favourites and we were such a large family that I scarcely knew some of my elder brothers and sisters. There had been sixteen of us, but five I never knew because they died before I was able to be aware of them. Mother was proud of us and used to bring foreign visitors to see us.

“My family is not small,” she would say, and her manner showed how pleased she was to have so many children.

Once a week the doctors used to examine us to see that we were in good health, and their reports were sent to our mother, who studied them carefully. When we were summoned to her presence we were all subdued and unlike our selves; she would question us and we had to have the right answers. It was easy for me being the youngest but one; but some of the elder ones were terrified even Joseph, my eldest brother, who was fourteen years older than I and seemed so important because he would one day be Emperor. Everyone saluted him wherever he went, and in fact, when he was not in my mother’s presence, he was treated as though he were already the Emperor. Once when he wanted to ride his sledge out of season his servants brought snow down from the mountains so that he could do so. He was very obstinate and inclined to be haughty and Ferdinand told me that our mother had reproved him because of his ‘wild desire to have his own way. “

I believe our father was in awe of her too. He took little part in affairs of state, but we saw a great deal of him. He was not always happy and once said rather sadly, and a little resentfully: “The Empress and the children are the Court. Here I am simply an individual.”

Long afterwards when I was lonely and in my prison, I thought of those early days and I understood my family much better than I had when I was surrounded by them. It was like standing back and looking at a painting. Every thing fell into focus and what I had been scarcely aware of at the time became very clear to me.

I saw my mother a good woman, eager to do the best for her children and her country, loving my father dearly, but determined not to give up one bit of her power to him. I saw her, not as the martinet, whom I had feared too much to love, but as the wise, shrewd mother, who was constantly concerned for me. How she must have suffered when I went to my new country I I was like a child walking a tightrope, not realising the danger I was in; but she, though miles away, was deeply aware.

Then my father. How could any man be expected to live contentedly under the domination of such a woman I I know now that the whisperings I heard meant that he was not faithful to her and that this was something which wounded her deeply. Yet, although she would have done a great deal for him, she would not give him what he wanted—a little of her power.

As for myself, I was feather-brained. I know I had the excuse of youth, but I was naturally like this. I was full of high spirits, very healthy, and loved being out of doors, playing . always playing. I could not sit still for five minutes at a time. I could never concentrate for a moment; my mind would fly off at a tangent; I just wanted to laugh and chatter and play all the time. Looking back I can see what great dramas were going on in our household—and there was I playing with my dogs, whispering my little-girl secrets with Caroline and not being aware of them.

I must have been seven when my brother Joseph married, for he was twenty-one. He did not want to get married, and said: I am more afraid of marriage than of battle. “

That surprised me, for I had not thought marriage was something to fear. But like everything else I heard, it went in at one ear and out of the other; I never concerned myself about anything or wondered very much. I was absorbed by what ribbons Aja would put out for me and whether I could change for Caroline’s if I did not like the colour.