Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Guest Post: Feuding with Marie Antoinette by Meghan Masterson, Author of The Wardrobe Mistress

Please join me in welcoming author Meghan Masterson to Let Them Read Books! I had the pleasure of meeting Meghan at the Historical Novel Society conference in Oregon in June, and her debut novel, The Wardrobe Mistress, was high on my new-release radar. I'm thrilled to have her here today with a guest post about two of Marie Antoinette's famous feuds! Read on, and check back next week for my review of The Wardrobe Mistress!

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THE WARDROBE MISTRESS is Meghan Masterson's fascinating and visceral debut, an inside look at Marie Antoinette's luxurious life in Versailles remarkably juxtaposed against life in third estate as the French Revolution gains strength. A propulsive exploration of love, loyalty, danger, and intrigue...not to be missed.

It's Giselle Aubry's first time at court in Versailles. At sixteen, she is one of Marie Antoinette's newest under-tirewomen, and in awe of the glamorous queen and her opulent palace life. A budding designer, it's a dream come true to work with the beautiful fabrics and jewels in the queen's wardrobe. But every few weeks she returns home to visit her family in Paris, where rumors of revolution are growing stronger.

From her position working in the royal household, Giselle is poised to see both sides of the revolutionary tensions erupting throughout Paris. When her uncle, a retired member of the secret du roi, a spy ring that worked for the old King, Louis XV, suggests that she casually report the queen’s actions back to him as a game, she leaps at the chance. Spying seems like an adventure and an exciting way to privately support the revolution taking the countryside by storm. She also enjoys using her insight from Versailles in lively debates with Léon Gauvain, the handsome and idealistic revolutionary who courts her.

But as the uprising continues to gain momentum, and Giselle grows closer to the queen, becoming one of the few trusted servants, she finds herself dangerously torn. Violence is escalating; she must choose where her loyalty truly lies, or risk losing everything...maybe even her head.

Feuding with Marie Antoinette
by Meghan Masterson

Upon her marriage to the future Louis XVI in 1770, Marie Antoinette came to Versailles at the tender age of fifteen. In spite of her youth, she was determined to fulfill her rank as dauphine and future queen. Unfortunately, in one case, this meant starting a feud. She had a couple of feuds through her lifetime, being stubborn enough to stand by her principles and sensitive enough to hold a grudge. Let’s examine two of them and determine if they were justified or not.

Feud #1: Madame du Barry

From the start, there was tension between Marie Antoinette and Madame du Barry, mistress to the reigning King Louis XV. (Louis was grandfather to the future Louis XVI, whom Marie Antoinette married. There are too many Louis’ in history.)

As the king’s mistress, Jeanne du Barry may have been the most powerful woman at court, but she rose to that position out of a scandalous past, having apparently been a shop-girl before working in a brothel, and then marrying a nobleman and catching the king’s licentious eye. Due to this, she had enemies at court, notably the proud sisters of the king.

As soon as Marie Antoinette arrived, the in-law aunts made no delay in telling the young dauphine all
about du Barry’s scandals. Imitating them, the Marie Antoinette adopted a cold attitude toward the king’s mistress. The king’s sisters probably enjoyed this, for the disapproval of the future queen was humiliating for Madame du Barry, their enemy. It’s sometimes thought that the king’s sisters also hoped that Marie Antoinette would, in turn, fall into the king’s disfavour by ignoring his mistress. They weren’t always kind behind her back, and may have been among the first to use the slur l’Autrichienne in reference to the dauphine. It’s definitely possible to make some comparisons between the cliques of courtiers at Versailles and the drama and jealousy of a high school.

In return for the snub, Madame du Barry poked fun at Marie Antoinette, but the two of them never actually spoke. Eventually, du Barry grew desperate enough for the attention of the future queen to complain to Louis XV. Getting word of this via the Austrian ambassador, Marie Antoinette’s mother, Empress Maria Theresa, scolded her daughter for letting the feud build to the embarrassing level of requiring the king’s involvement. Marie Antoinette resisted for a while, but eventually made an extremely innocuous remark to Madame du Barry. “There are many people at Versailles today,” she said, and everyone was reasonably satisfied.

Verdict: Feud not entirely justified. However, Marie Antoinette was young and a bit naïve and thought the king’s sisters were giving her good advice, which they were not.

Feud #2: Cardinal de Rohan

The Cardinal of Rohan (another Louis, so I’ll continue referring to him as the cardinal, although he didn’t become a cardinal until 1778 and the feud began a few years earlier) was loathed by Marie Antoinette. This feud was far bitterer than the one she had with Madame du Barry, and she never forgave him.

The cardinal was sent to Vienna as an ambassador in 1771, about a year after Marie Antoinette’s arrival in France. While there, he spread unflattering stories about the young dauphine in her native city. One of these had to do with a scandal that rose out of Marie Antoinette’s impetuous decision to stay up all night to watch the sun rise from the gardens behind the palace, with a group of her friends. Though this event was innocent enough, considering the decision must have been made after the party had already lasted most of the night, gossip later described the event as a crazy outdoor orgy, with people grouping off in the bushes. A scandalous pamphlet was even printed about it, which the cardinal apparently helped circulate in Vienna.

He also mocked Empress Maria Theresa over her role in the Polish partition of 1772, when Austria, Russia, and Prussia divided up the nation amongst themselves after the death of Poland’s ruler. In a letter to the Duc d’Aiguillon (one of Madame du Barry’s close companions, just to add to the sting) he described her weeping over the woes of Poland, while simultaneously wielding a sword to divide that unfortunate country. Since it’s said that d’Aiguillon read the letter out loud to much laughter in Madame du Barry’s rooms, we might assume that this was either the first joke he ever heard, or the cardinal found a wittier way to express it than has been left to us now!

It’s unlikely that Marie Antoinette would have forgiven the slight against herself, but she certainly wouldn’t forget the insult to her mother. She didn’t speak to the cardinal for years after this, and the only thing that brought him back into her sphere was the ‘Diamond Necklace Affair’, in which he was culpable for the disappearance of a priceless diamond necklace. (I’ve written a short story on this matter, called The Diamond Deception, if anyone is curious to learn more).

Once, the cardinal managed to sneak into one of her outdoor parties at Petit Trianon, and when Marie Antoinette found out, she fired the porter who had allowed him into the exclusive event. She really didn’t like the cardinal. Her parties were quite fabulous, with blue taffeta tents equipped with Venetian blinds for privacy. It’s hard to blame the cardinal for wanting to be part of them, but the queen would never forgive such a trespass upon her privacy. She valued it greatly, and her rooms at Trianon had mirrors to shutter the windows at night so any peeping spies would see only their reflections. Clever!

Verdict: Feud deserved. Chances of the cardinal and Marie Antoinette ever getting along were so slim as to be impossible.

The Wardrobe Mistress, a novel of one of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe women who casually spies on the queen during the French Revolution and finds herself torn between her loyalty to the queen and her sympathy for the revolution, publishes on August 15th with St. Martin’s Griffin.

About the Author:

Meghan Masterson graduated from the University of Calgary and has worked several unrelated jobs while writing on the side. As a child, she gave her parents a flowery story about horses every year for Christmas. She is drawn to strong historical figures and situations which present unexpected opportunities for her characters. Meghan loves reading at all hours, cooking, and going for walks with her dog. She and her husband live in Calgary. Visit her at


  1. This sounds like a great book - going on my wish list

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I'm enjoying the book so far. Hope you enjoy it too!


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