Having learned of his sister Marie-Antoinette’s profligate spending and careworn marriage, Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II decided to strike out for Versailles. Besides his brotherly concerns, he also came as a knowledgeable sovereign curious to discover the kingdom of France.
First visit by Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, 1777 19 April – 30 May 1777
The Emperor had wanted to go to France for a long time. He was eager to meet his brother-in-law Louis XVI and have the French king's support of his claim to Bavaria confirmed. He also wanted to discover Paris and Versailles. In 1777 Mercy-Argenteau, the ambassador of Austria in Paris, reported to him the increasingly serious situation concerning Marie-Antoinette. The young queen of France was far from behaving like a responsible monarch.
Seven years after their wedding, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette still had not consummated their marriage. The queen had abandoned the marriage bed because the king, who suffered from phimosis, could not 'honour' her.
Seven years after their wedding, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette had still not consummated their marriage. The queen had abandoned the marriage bed because the king, who suffered from phimosis, could not 'honour' her, and she drowned her boredom in entertainment and games. Joseph II, as a kindly older brother and encouraged by his worried mother Empress Maria Theresa, intended to rectify the situation.
The Emperor went to Versailles the day following his arrival in Paris. To preserve his freedom of movement and avoid the constraints of protocol, he had decided to travel incognito under the false name of the Count of Falkenstein, and stayed in the Hotel du Juste in town. Marie-Antoinette was delighted to see her older brother, whom she had not seen for seven years, and poured out her confessions on her private life with Louis XVI. The Emperor listened, offering her words of affection and reassurance. However, his brotherly love did not prevent him from carefully observing his sister’s behaviour, and nothing escaped his notice. Joseph II also gradually won the confidence of Louis XVI, despite an initially cold and distant reception, and the young king in turn later confided in him.
While Versailles had been a place of confessions, Paris was one of discoveries. The emperor wanted to see and learn about everything, and his simplicity made him extremely popular in the capital. In Versailles, however, the atmosphere was less pleasant, and on 9 May Joseph II finally lectured his sister. The tone later became more affable, and the emperor left Versailles on the 30th. He presented Marie-Antoinette with his Reflections on her responsibilities as a wife and queen, instructing her to change her attitude towards the king, to whom he had recommended a small surgical operation. His visit had the desired effect: the marriage was consummated on 18 August 1777, and a child was born the following year in December 1778: Madame Royale. The Emperor came once again to Versailles during the summer of 1781, when Marie-Antoinette organized a lavish celebration for him in the Petit Trianon.
Reign of Louis XVI