The marriage of Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI famously remained unconsummated for seven years.
The traditional bedding ceremony had taken place following the wedding. The nuptial bed was blessed by the Archbishop of Rheims as King Louis XV handed his grandson his nightgown. Marie Antoinette received hers from the Duchess of Chartres. Both now took their place in the bed, and everyone who had the Rights of Entry to the chamber bowed or curtseyed and withdrew.1 The next morning, Marie Antoinette’s husband wrote in his diary, “Rien”(Nothing).2 Nothing had happened, and nothing would happen for several years.
There are several theories for this. One was that Louis suffered from phimosis, a tight foreskin, which would have made erections painful. This was resolved in 1777 with surgery. However, there were several medical examinations ordered by Louis’s grandfather which revealed nothing abnormal. The second theory seemed to combine Marie Antoinette’s supposed coldness towards her husband to Louis’s lack of knowledge. This theory gained the most traction and led to the arrival of an unusual marriage counsellor on 18 April 1777 – Marie Antoinette’s brother Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor.
Joseph later wrote to his younger brother Leopold, “Here is the mystery of the conjugal bed. There are strong erections… he introduces his penis, leaves it there for maybe two minutes without agitating it, takes it out, still hard, without ever ejaculating, and says goodnight. This is incomprehensible since he has spontaneous emissions alone… He says frankly that he is satisfied and that he only does it out of duty and takes no pleasure in it. Ah! If I could have been present just once, I could have sorted it out. He should be whipped like a donkey to make him ejaculate out of anger!”3
In any case, the situation probably wasn’t helped by the immense pressure to produce an heir. Nevertheless, less than six months after Joseph’s visit, Marie Antoinette wrote to him, “I had great hopes, my dear brother, of telling you this time that I was pregnant. My hopes have once again receded, but I have great confidence that it will not be long since the King is living with me in the fullest sense, especially since our return from Fontainebleau when he has hunted less.”4 Their daughter Marie Thérèse was born in December 1778.