Thrale's meet King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette

  • Posted on: 20 September 2009
  • By: David Thrale

Louis XVI in 1779 by Antoine-François Callet

On 19 & 20 October 1775 the Thrale party were admitted to the Court of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. This is their account, starting with Hester Thrale’s account…

19 Octr 1775 The Morning was spent in Dressing, the Noon in going to Court, and the Evening was got rid of at the Play. We saw the young Princess Elizabeth dine first—her Attendant was only Madam de Guemené, who took her Plate from her to give it the page &c., but another Gentleman carved for Elizabeth is youngest Sister to the King, about twelve Years old or so, not handsome but passable, if She not so pinched in her Stays as makes her look pale & uneasy to herself. All Children through this Nation I perceive are thus squeezed and tortured during their early Years, and the Deformity they exhibit at maturity repays the stupid Parents for their Pains. The Princess herself suffers in Compliance to her Country's Taste.

The King & Queen dined together in another Room. They had a Damask Table Cloth neither course nor fine, without anything under, or any Napkin over. Their Dishes were Silver, not clean and bright like Silver in England—but they were Silver: their Plates, Knives, Forks & Spoons were gilt. They had the Pepper & Salt standing by them as it is the Custom here & their Dinner consisted of five Dishes at a Course. The Queen eat heartily of a Pye which the King helped her to, they did not speak at all to each other, as I remember, but both sometimes turned & talked to the Lord in waiting: The Queen is far the prettiest Woman at her own Court, & the King is well enough—like another Frenchman.

The Queen is far the prettiest Woman at her own Court, & the King is well enough—like another Frenchman.

Hester Lynch Thrale 19 October 1775.

Monsieur & Madame dine together in another another Room; it is a mighty silent ceremonious Business—this dining in publick. They likewise sat like two people stuffed wth straw; and only spoke to enquire after our Niggey, about whom the Queen had likewise before been very inquisitive. She would have our Names written down, & was indeed very [condescending but] troublesome with her Enquiries. [I got to another Corner of the room & heard a Gentleman say: That is the pretty English Woman I am sure by her blushing.] The Count & Countess D’Artois were the next Couple to be stared at, and at them also we stared our fill. The Countess is a little mean figure but has a pretty face enough & is the only one wife has brought a Child, so he will probably be Heir to France1. When we had looked at these great Folks till our Eyes aked, we returned to our Lodging, changed our Dress, and finished the Evening at the Theatre, where we had a Comedy incomparably performed: 'tis a new Piece, full of Repartee & Jokes new & old;—but the Action!—I am sorry to see the French beat us so in powers of Performance on a stage. I think however it is the only thing they excel us in & that must be my Comfort.

There were no Diamonds at all at Court but the Queen’s Earrings, & She had no other Jewels on her Head—a pair of Pearl with a picture on each were all that looked like Ornaments of expence—her Gown was Gawse adorned Flowers—& a sort of Tree in her Head, which is extravagantly high. The Women attendants eminently ugly; not a Face which did not disgust—and the Shape such as might be expected from the management of it during their Infancy—few Ladies here escape some kind of Deformity. The Court Dress is not like ours, but plaited with a particular Fold upon the Hoop, which is large & sloped, they all have their Trains borne, and those who have English Silks are accounted the best dress’d. No more time to write a Word this Night.

20 Octr 1775 begins. This Morning we drove into the Forest as they call it to see the Queen ride on Horseback. We were early enough to see her mount, which was not done as in England by a Man’s hand, but the right foot is fixed in the Stirrup first & then drawn out again when the Lady is on her Saddle. The Horse on which the Queen rode was neither handsome nor gentle, he was however confined with Martingales &c. & richly caparison’d with blue Velvet & Silver Embroidery : the Saddle was ill contrived—sloping off behind—& a Pommel so awkward that no Joyner could have executed it worse,—there was a Handle by the Side I saw. While we were examining the Furniture and Formation of the Horse, the Queen came to ride him, attended by the Duchess de Luignes2, who wore Boots & Breeches like a Man with a single Petticoat over them, her Hair tyed & her Hat cocked exactly like those of a Man, Her Majesty's Habit was Puce Colour as they call it her Hat filled with Feathers and her Figure perfectly pleasing. She offered her Arm to the King's Aunts who followed her to the Rendezvous in a Coach, as they were getting out, but they respectfully refus'd her Assistance. Our Conductor now told us that this was the Time to see the Apartments of the Palace as the Royal Family were gone out a' Hunting. We therefore drove to the Castle, and saw the Rooms, which exceeded in Richness and Splendour all we had yet seen, unless the Hotel de Bourbon because of its newness, & the cleanliness of its Furniture, might be put in Competition with it. In the great Gallery however which is adorn'd by Pictures of Primaticcio, & Sculptures of Cellini, & through which all the Family & their Attendants pass to & from Mass &c., there are Shops erected on each side for Trinkets, Millinery, Books & all manner of things—particularly Trusses for Deformity—which are indeed sufficiently wanted.
Marie Antoinette prisoner in the Temple Tower, attributed to Alexandre Kucharski, ca. 1792

Never did I see so glittering a Spectacle! as no corner of the Theatre was left empty, and no one admitted who was not gayly & splendidly dress'd. Among the women however none tower'd so high in Diamonds & plumage as the Russian Ambassadress, whose Companion was as handsome as her Principal was magnificent.

The Dogs & Horses of the King was our next Exhibition, the Staghounds are beautiful indeed & chiefly of English Breeds; the Horses, (except half a Dozen kept a L'Anglois, as the Groom called it,) had no Stalls to stand in, & but 3 foot & a half Space—they were a wretched Collection indeed—of ugly, blind & lame—add to this that they are all Stone Horses, & vicious of Course. So much for the Kennel & Stable.

20 Octr 1775 continued. The Evening was filled up by dressing & continued going to the Play—not the little Theatre belonging to the Town but the fine Playhouse erected in the Castle for the Entertainment of the King, Queen, &c., who must not go to any other—except incog : None but people of the highest Quality, and those who belong to the Court of course, could be admitted into this honourable Groupe: we therefore had applied some Days ago to the English Ambassador3 that we might be placed there under his Protection. Johnson and Baretti thinking themselves not brilliant men enough to shine at such a Shew remained at the Lodging—and we were stuck in a Side Box over against Monsieur and Madame, neither of whom—for I watched them—ever uttered a Single Word during the whole Representation which lasted four long hours. The Queen had no mind to dress after her Morning's ride they told us—so sat upstairs incog : just opposite to us & over the heads of the Brother & Sister. Never did I see so glittering a Spectacle! as no corner of the Theatre was left empty, and no one admitted who was not gayly & splendidly dress'd. Among the women however none tower'd so high in Diamonds & plumage as the Russian Ambassadress 4, whose Companion was as handsome as her Principal was magnificent. Nine ambassadors were present besides the Pope's Nuncio, & nothing vexed me but the want of Light to see the Pomp I was surrounded with. Sixteen Candles were all we had to shew ourselves off to one another with, but the Stage was sufficiently illuminated. The piece was Musical & very tender, I well acted of Course, & the principal performer was a Man who had retired on the fortune he had made by Acting, & now only returned to the Stage to amuse the Queen for the few Nights She passes at Fontainebleau. The Crowd was extreme tonight, the heat & Stench excessive, yet Queeney bears it all. We go to Paris again tomorrow.

Letter to Mr Levet

In a letter to Mr Levet, Henry Thrale said that "the Queen was so impressed by Miss5 that she sent one of the Gentlemen to enquire who she was". Hester said "They sat like two people stuffed with straw, and only spoke to enquire after our Niggey". The next day after seeing the Royal kennels and stables and Queen Marie Antoinette riding in the forest, Henry Thrale wrote "The dogs were no good at all, the horses not much commended, the stables cool, the kennel filthy." Later at Versailles Mrs Thrale noticed in Queen Marie Antoinette's royal apartments that the close stool was placed uncurtained by the Queen's bed.

  • 1. The Comte D'Artois afterwards became Charles X of France.
  • 2. Guyonne-Elisabeth-Josèphe de Montmorency-Laval, duchesse de Luynes
  • 3. David Murray 1727-1796, 2nd Earl of Mansfield, 6th Viscount Stormont.
  • 4. Wife of Prince Ivan Sergyeivich Bariatinski.
  • 5. Hester Maria Thrale.