Marie Antoinette Online Forum

Marie Antoinette's Expenditure
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Author:  Ludy [ Sat May 16, 2009 6:56 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Marie Antoinette's Expenditure

Therese wrote:
When Marie-Antoinette tried to dress simply she was criticized for not wearing clothes that befit her rank. Her expenses were nothing compared to others in the royal family, nothing compared to the mistresses Louis XV. I am telling you, we are dealing with another myth about the Queen.

Oh, I have no doubt that she spent far less than the Du Barry for instance. No wonder why the famous necklace was made for her. But people expected mistresses to spend a lot, and they were hated for that. And also, as far as the simple dresses are concerned, first of all, Bertière noticed that the Queen's expenditure did not decrease until she was in the Tuileries. Besides, these dresses looked simple but were far from being cheap : they were made of imported cloth, and not even from silk (which was produced in Lyon) so that she didn't even have the local production work. Then, even when she spent most of her time in Trianon, I suppose she still had to show up in Versailles, so her spendings on clothes did not boil down to the "à la gaulle" dresses. At last, I agree that this was an effort made towards simplicity, but once again, it was the "rousseauiste" fashion, and precisely, MA was blamed for abiding by the fashion. The role of a queen of France was to keep up the ceremonial of Versailles, to embody the symbolic side of monarchy. People did not really ask her to dress simply, hence, to me, the hypocrisy, but to dress as queens did (and the previous queens already wore very dear garnments). So to me, the actual problem was not really her spendings. That is why one may find all these reproaches exaggerated, for they were, in a way.

Author:  Ludy [ Sat May 16, 2009 7:08 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Marie Antoinette's Expenditure

baron de batz wrote:
So if you are appalled by MA's fashion sense and clothing expenditure, how must you feel about Joséphine de Beauharnais, Empress of France? Outraged? After all, converted aristocrat or not, she left our poor Queen way behind on the fashion expense front! And she had also a powerful husband to bail her out....but everyone forgets that. And what about the Court mistresses? Did they have more right to flaunt their dress sense? Both Mme du Barry and Mme de Pompadour spent fortunes...and they were not, officially at least, in representative rôles!

I am not appalled, personnally .... Why this remark ? :roll: But Joséphine was not a queen in the traditional meaning of the term. MA precisely is the last queen, because with her died this very conception of the role of a queen. Personnally I think that, precisely, the whole problem is that MA had to abide by a role which was increasingly outdated compared to the actual evolution of mentalities. But it was unreformable. She would have had to make the complete sacrifice of her privacy if she wanted to comply with her duties. It was impossible.

Author:  baron de batz [ Sat May 16, 2009 8:04 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Marie Antoinette's Expenditure

The proof that the rôle of Queen was not outdated is that it resurfaced under the First and Second Empire in the form of Joséphine de Beauharnais and Eugénie de Montijo, both of whom had a representative rôle similar in many ways to a Queen and fully accepted by the people of the time. MA was just at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Author:  jimcheval [ Sat May 16, 2009 9:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Marie Antoinette's Expenditure

But Ludy said, "the TRADITIONAL role of a queen", which, it seems to me, did indeed die in this period. Josephine was not born a princess and her marriage to Napoleon did not (as MA's did) represent any form of political alliance. Indeed, it became possible in the nineteenth century to "make'" royalty in a way that pretty much would have done in divine right had the principle still been respected at all - royalty in the past had been born, not made. As for England, at least one 18th century French writer said that the king was not really a king because his power was not absolute - the English royalty had already began to morph into a symbolic institution.

We still today have queens. But starting before the eighteenth century was over, the role began to take on a very different meaning.

We can only wish that the French royalty had had the opportunity to morph into less powerful, more symbolic monarchs. I suspect Louis XVI would have been very happy with that role and MA probably would have been at least comfortable in it (she certainly showed far less interest in government than someone like Pompadour, who left her mark on history in several regards). And France overall would probably have known far less bloodshed.

Otherwise, in regards to MA's expenses, let's not forget that some were due to gambling and also to her indulgence of the ghastly Polignacs, an indulgence which probably caused more resentment among the nobility than among the people:,M1 ... #PPA112,M1 ... #PPA217,M1

She also liked jewels, more than her station required:

Otherwise, I don't know enough about her overall expenses to make any decisive statement (the fact that others spent more is not necessarily to the point) but certainly not all of them were inevitable adjuncts to her role.

Author:  Therese [ Sat May 16, 2009 10:03 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Marie Antoinette's Expenditure

Jim, those are excellent links. Thank you. I do not think that anything of us are saying that Marie-Antoinette did not spend money, she did. And she had a serious gambling problem which she overcame eventually. More on this here: ... ction.html

And she was fond of jewelry, although she learned to temper herself in that regard, too, as is evident when she told M. Boehmer, "We need ships, not diamonds."

I am merely saying that her expenditures have been exaggerated. But why should I go over all this when it is written out here. ... ficit.html
Marie-Antoinette has become the symbol of extravagance and decadence of the ancien-régime. It is overlooked that from the moment of their succession in 1774, she joined her husband in desiring to cut back on the enormous expenses of the court. She refused to collect the customary droit de ceinture tax levied on behalf of the queen at the beginning of every reign. Moreover, her charities were quite extensive.

The Queen's spending on hairstyles and gowns was nothing compared to the extravagance of the mistresses Madame du Barry and Madame de Pompadour in the previous reign. Antonia Fraser in her biography of Marie-Antoinette says that when the eighteen year old queen adopted the elaborate poufs, it actually caused a lucrative trade in feathers to spring up in Paris. Patronizing French luxury goods was a duty of the crown. According to Lady Fraser:

...Paris was a city dependent on the financial support of the noble and rich to maintain its industries, which were in the main to do with luxury and semi-luxury goods. For foreigners, fashion was part of the point of being in Paris....As the Baronne d'Oberkirch remarked on her first visit to the French capital, the city would be sunk without its luxurious commerce....Against the spectacle of an exquisitely dressed Queen, her appearance a work of art in itself- French art- must be put in the balance of the dress bills that mounted, and the dress allowance that was never enough. (Fraser's The Journey, pp 148-149)

Within a very few years, as she matured, the Queen herself had introduced much simpler fashions and hairstyles. Her simple white dresses were not well-received, and were seen as an attempt to patronize the Flemish weavers of the Habsburg Empire over the French silk merchants. How ironic that Marie-Antoinette was given the nickname of Madame Déficit by her enemies in the 1780's at a time when she was trying to be cut expenses in her household and in her wardrobe, which included having old gowns refurbished so that they could be worn again.

There is no doubt that she went over her budget, especially as a young Queen, on clothes, jewelry, gambling and gardening. Nesta Webster, in Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette before the Revolution, breaks down the Queen's expenditures. It should be noted that in 1774 when Louis XVI became king, Marie-Antoinette was put on pretty much the same budget as the staid Queen Marie Leszcinska, who had died some years earlier. However, the livre had decreased in value, while costs had risen due to inflation. Interestingly, even Queen Marie had exceeded the limits of her privy purse and had to ask for extra money, three times. To quote Webster:

Under the old régime, the expenses of the Queens of France were paid out of at least three different funds. These were:-
1. The sum for the maintenance of the Queen's household, which for centuries had stood at 600,000 livres....This sum had long proved inadequate and had to be supplemented by what was called the dépenses extraordinaires, which by July 1774...had mounted up to two million livres....The Queen had no control over these dépenses extraordinaires, which led to great abuses.

2. The cassette de la Reine (or privy purse) for alms, presents, pensions, and other acts of generosity...but not for anything in the way of dress. For this, Marie Antoinette received the same as Marie Leszcinska, that is 96,000 livres a year, and out of it she continued to pay pensions accorded by the late Queen....

3. The Wardrobe, for which 120,000 livres was allowed yearly, a fund which was administered entirely by the dame d'autours (lady of the bedchamber).... (Webster's Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette before the Revolution, pp. 60-61)

Because Marie-Antoinette insisted upon paying, out of the cassette de la reine, the pensions of the old servants of the old queen (although Count Mercy begged her to drop them) she went over the budget of her privy purse. In addition, she paid pensions for her own retired servants. She refused to petition her husband for more money; it was Count Mercy, the Austrian ambassador, who intervened for her allowance to be increased. (see Webster, p 31)

The Queen's ladies were given commissions from various merchants for buying their wares for the royal wardrobe; likewise, the ladies were permitted to sell the gowns after the Queen was finished with them, and pocket the money. Such confusion and potential for abuse contributed to the Queen's expenses going beyond the budget, along with the high prices of her dressmaker, Rose Bertin. Caroline Weber in Queen of Fashion discusses how Marie-Antoinette used fashion as previously only royal mistresses had used it, as a means of strengthening her position in a hostile court, where she was a foreigner. Former queens had been less stylish; her clothes, therefore, caused quite a stir.

However, Marie-Antoinette's situation in those years before she became a mother was tenuous, especially from a political point of view. Her marriage was not consummated and the potential of an annulment was hanging over her. Louis XVI deliberately kept her out of political matters in the beginning of his reign, encouraging her to divert herself at Petit Trianon. (He thought that Madame Pompadour had ruined France and so was suspicious of women meddling in political affairs.)

As a fourteen year old bride, Marie-Antoinette was quick to notice that the person with the most influence over her husband's grandfather the King was not one of the pious aunts, neither had it been the late devout and dowdy Queen. It was Madame du Barry who ruled the roost, of whom the young Dauphine innocently exclaimed, "I want to be her rival!" It became important for Marie-Antoinette to give the impression that she was her husband's mistress as well as his wife, to appear to be the one who influenced his decisions, even though she did not, as the matter of Bavaria proved in 1778, and the American Revolution as well. Her brother frequently pressured her to use her role as consort for Austrian interests. Louis XVI, to Joseph's frustration, continued to do what he thought was best for France, not what was best for Austria. Placed in a very awkward situation, Marie-Antoinette used clothes to establish herself; her interest in fashion was not mere hedonism, not at all.

Once Marie-Antoinette became the mother of a Dauphin, of course, her position changed dramatically, and her influence on the king became genuine. She no longer needed the flamboyance, and dressed with greater moderation. She had become, however, like the mistresses of old, a convenient scapegoat for all the problems of the nation. As the determined and energetic mother of the next king, she was perceived as a genuine threat to the adversaries of the crown. The pornographic pamphlets, the epithets such as Madame Déficit, were only the beginning of the attempts to weaken the esteem of the people for the Queen.

Caroline Weber discusses the Queen's attempts at frugality, here: ... #PPA182,M1 ... #PPA184,M1

Author:  Therese [ Sat May 16, 2009 10:06 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Marie Antoinette's Expenditure

As for Josephine, it is strange to me that the French people tolerated her extreme extravagance, and during a time of war. No, she was not a princess, but neither were the Polignacs royal, but Josephine outspent them all. This is because of Josephine herself, who was not a threat, whereas Marie-Antoinette and the Polignacs were seen as threats to the Revolution.

Author:  jimcheval [ Sun May 17, 2009 4:35 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Marie Antoinette's Expenditure

Therese wrote:
This is because of Josephine herself, who was not a threat, whereas Marie-Antoinette and the Polignacs were seen as threats to the Revolution.

More likely, I'd guess, it was because of her husband's popularity and weariness from the Revolution. Also, I don't know the period well, but my impression is that the French were ready for a little over-the-top magnificence at that point, and by then perhaps felt it reflected more on them as a nation than perceiving it as abuse by one class. Even today, Republican France is rather attached to the (very nouveau riche) magnificence Napoleon left.

Extravagance of expenditure probably looked a little less terrible after the expenditure of thousands of lives.

Author:  Therese [ Sun May 17, 2009 12:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Marie Antoinette's Expenditure

Yes, that's true, Jim, although thousands and thousands of lives were lost in the Napoleonic Wars, especially after the Russian campaign. :cry: Of course by that time, Josephine was divorced. She was still loved, however. When she died, there were boxes and boxes of gowns that she had ordered but never even worn. Marie-Louise, who was Marie-Antoinette's great niece, was not so popular, and was forced to flee with her son back to Austria. My point is that sometimes the popularity of a public figure does not have as much to do with their actual deeds as it does with other factors in the society. Josephine was not a threat to anyone (except to Napoleon's sisters, who hated her) but Marie-Antoinette, the daughter of the Caesars, was indeed a threat to the political agenda of those who wanted to take over the government. The pamphlets against the Queen were quite damaging to her reputation.

Author:  jimcheval [ Mon May 18, 2009 9:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Marie Antoinette's Expenditure

Yes, that's true, Jim, although thousands and thousands of lives were lost in the Napoleonic Wars, especially after the Russian campaign.

Ah, the grim accounting of death. The public will cheer the same number or curse it, depending on how much glory, chaos, etc. is at stake.

There's a wonderful French film on Napoleon in exile where at one point he abandons a rescue attempt, blithely leaving those who have come to rescue him to be slaughtered. Whether or not that really happened, both Napoleon's attitude and that of those who died for him seems to me accurate.

The Revolution's victims died somewhat less willingly...

Otherwise, to return to our tangent about 19th century queens, I've just started reading Jean Renoir's wonderful biography of his father (whom he always calls, simply, "Renoir"). The painter first lived in houses which once were actually in the Louvre courtyard, and he and his ruffian friends would cause chaos there until the guards complained and their parents boxed their ears. Whereupon

A window in the Tuileries Palace would open, and a dignified lady would lean out and make a sign to the young scamps to calm down. Immediately they would gather under the window like greedy sparrows. Then another lady would appear and throw sweets down to them. The Queen of France was trying to buy a moment's peace. After the bounty had been distributed, the lady-in-waiting would close the window. Queen Marie Amelie would return to her domestic duties and the young rascals to their games.

One of the family's friends, by the way, was a man who had been the assistant to the executioner (Sanson) of Paris:

He had seen the astonished head of his King roll into the sawdust-filled basket; he had seen Marie Antoinette, who looks so moving in the picture David drew of her...

Renoir himself seemed to have been firmly Republican. Ironically, in his first job, painting images on plates, his profiles of Marie-Antoinette were the best sellers:

"Marie Antoinette in profile!" Renoir's voice was scornful. "That nitwit who thought she was being so clever playing the shepherdess!"

He seems not to have been impressed, in later life, with the high sale of his youthful efforts:

"We owe that to the guillotine," Renoir said. "The bourgeoisie love martyrs-especially after a good meal, with plenty of wine and liqueurs!"

Still, it is rather a treat to think that one might one day come across a cheap image of Marie-Antoinette on a 19th century plate and have it turn out to be... a Renoir.

Author:  Therese [ Mon May 18, 2009 9:26 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Marie Antoinette's Expenditure

Now wouldn't that be something! :wink:

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