Marie Antoinette becomes Queen

marie antoinette queen kirsten dunst
The scene as portrayed in Marie Antoinette (2006)(Screenshot/Fair use)

At the end of April 1774, King Louis XV of France began to suffer from bouts of fever. He had been warned by his doctors “not to make love quite so often.”1 His beloved mistress, Madame du Barry, tried to comfort him.

The Duke of Croÿ wrote, “For eight days, the King often looked and felt very unwell.[…] On Thursday, the twenty-eighth, the fever was higher and accompanied by nausea. La Martinière, the First Surgeon, was called…. [and] told him since he was ill he must return to Versailles, making him get into a carriage at the end of the day, the King was wearing his robe with a coat over it.”2

He added, “The King was in a small camp bed in the middle of the room: he had just been changing his clothes, and his bed was being remade because he had been sweating a little… I heard him speak several times. His voice was hoarse, which I took as a sign that his fever was still high… People were told to leave because his room was becoming too warm; the doctors and the normal attendants alone added up to a large crowd. All the Royal Family came in and out often during the day…”3 He was soon diagnosed with smallpox.

Nevertheless, the Mesdames, his unmarried daughters who had never had smallpox, selflessly moved into their father’s room and took turns keeping him company. Madame du Barry, who had also never had smallpox, was also by the King’s side. However, she would not be allowed to stay. As the King realised the seriousness of his illness and the fact that he could not confess with his mistress by his side, he told her to leave. Madame du Berry fainted upon being told to leave but promptly did so after being revived.

Meanwhile, the King’s condition worsened, and the pain from the pustules became so unbearable that it made him faint. On 7 May, the King confessed, received absolution and was given the last rites. Later that day, his fever spiked, and that evening he lapsed into a delirium. The scabs and pustules turned black, and scabs formed on his eyelids, making him unable to see. The Duke of Croÿ wrote, “Far from fearing death, as people thought he would, he displayed a courage all the more heroic in that it was simple, quiet and modest, and the most Christian acceptance joined to the greatest tranquillity…”4

On 10 May, he remained conscious until noon before finally dying at 3.15 p.m. Courtiers immediately ran from the room to the new King and Queen. As King Louis XV’s eldest son had predeceased him, the new King and Queen were his grandson, now King Louis XVI, and his wife, Marie Antoinette.

They had been watching a burning candle that stood in the King’s window from across the courtyard. As it went out, the roar of the courtiers running towards them grew. When the courtiers reached them, they were kneeling on the floor with tears running down their cheeks, praying, “Protect us, O God, we are too young to reign!”5

The first to officially present herself to the new Queen was the Countess of Noailles, who had also been the first to greet her on French soil. The danger of smallpox still lingered in the air as the new King had never had smallpox either. Barely an hour after King Louis XV’s death, the royal party was set to leave for the Palace of Choisy. The Counts of Artois and Provence and their wives joined the new King and Queen in their carriage.

The body of the late King was hastily sealed in a coffin and driven to the Cathedral of St. Denis so that the infection could not spread. The speed at which this was done caused much merriment, and shouts of “Tally ho! Tally ho!” could be heard.6

The mood in the carriage began solemn, but when the Countess of Artois accidentally mispronounced a word, everyone was sent into a fit of laughter.7

  1. Louis the Beloved: the life of Louis XV by Olivier Bernier p.245
  2. Louis the Beloved: the life of Louis XV by Olivier Bernier p.246
  3. Louis the Beloved: the life of Louis XV by Olivier Bernier p.246
  4. Louis the Beloved: the life of Louis XV by Olivier Bernier p.249
  5. Louis the Beloved: the life of Louis XV by Olivier Bernier p.249
  6. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p.139
  7. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p.139

About Moniek Bloks 2728 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.


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