In 18th century Paris, nine out of every ten newborn babies born were sent away from their family after birth. Some returned, many did not. They were subject to the age-old tradition of wet nursing in France, where babies were not breastfed by their own mother but were given to a wet nurse, another woman …
When Marie-Antoinette arrived in France she was initially adored for her youth, her beauty, her vitality, her generous nature. The old king Louis XV was especially enamoured with his grandson’s new bride. But the palace of Versailles, steeped in courtly rituals and traditions, was not for the faint-hearted. Would she be strong enough to survive life at the palace?
On 2 November 1755, a tiny but healthy baby girl entered the world. Not an ordinary world, hers was the sprawling royal Hofburg complex in Vienna where kings and queens had been born since the 13th century. Nor was she an ordinary baby girl; she was Marie-Antoinette, Archduchess of Austria, who would be crowned Queen of France whilst still a teenager. She was born into privilege and wealth but would end her days in a dank prison on the Seine river; her life would be horrendously cut short by a revolutionary government thirsting for revenge. Here is the first of a series of articles on the life of Marie-Antoinette – daughter, wife, queen, mother, a fashion icon and a hated symbol of a repressive regime.