In 1756, after three centuries of animosity, France and Austria became allies. To consolidate this diplomatic reconciliation, Louis XV and Empress Maria Theresa decided to marry their respective children. The project came to fruition approximately 12 years later with the marriage of the Duke of Berry, Dauphin of France, aged 15, to Marie-Antoinette, Archduchess of Austria, aged 14. The celebrations got underway on 16 and 17 May in Versailles.
A marriage between the two royal houses had been planned since the early 1760s, but only came about in 1770. On 19 April the wedding took place by proxy in Vienna, marrying the Dauphin and future Louis XVI, the grandson of Louis XV, to Marie-Antoinette, the youngest daughter of Maria-Theresa of Habsburg. On 16 May, the young Archduchess arrived at Versailles. She entered through the Palace gates around 10 am and was shown to the Queen’s State Apartments where she was to get ready for the official wedding in the Royal Chapel. At 1 pm she entered the King’s Cabinet. The Dauphin, dressed in the gold and diamond-covered habit of the Order of the Holy Spirit, took her hand.
The young couple crossed the crowded State Apartments followed by the King and the princes of the blood. Once in the chapel, they knelt before the altar, from where the Archbishop of Reims took over the ceremony, while the king and the royal family flanked them on their Prie-Dieus. Full of emotion, the Dauphin slipped the ring onto his wife’s delicate finger. After the ceremony the signing of the registers took place. In the early afternoon the Dauphine received her wedding gift in her apartment: a splendid carved cabinet containing an abundance of jewellery and precious objects.
Before drawing the curtains closed, Louis XV gave a few pieces of advice to his grandson. He needn’t have bothered, though. The marriage was not consummated until seven years later.
The young couple then attended the ambassador’s reception before going to the Hall of Mirrors which was lit up for the occasion and where the king’s Game was held. The planned firework display was cancelled due to a storm. The day ended with a sumptuous feast served in the new Royal Opera House built by Gabriel. Lastly, the going-to-bed ceremony was held: the newly-wed couple were led to the nuptial bedchamber, the one belonging to Marie-Antoinette. The bed was blessed by the Archbishop of Reims. The king gave the Dauphin his nightshirt, and the Duchess of Chartres gave the Dauphine hers. In the presence of the entire Court, the couple lay down to prove that they shared the same bed.
The celebrations continued until 30 May, when fireworks on Place de la Concorde killed 132 people. It was a grim omen of a reign that would prove tragic.