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All Posts, P&S History

Marie Antoinette: Dauphins and Dentistry

We have an exciting guest post from Pen and Sword author and historian of Georgian royalty, Catherine Curzon. We hope you enjoy!

Marie Antoinette is an icon of tragic glamour, clad in silks and strutting in her stuff in towering wigs. But the road to the Bourbon throne was far from easy. If dental surgery brings you out in a cold sweat, you have been warned.

Before there was Marie Antoinette there was Maria Antonia, the unassuming daughter of Maria Theresa, the ambitious Holy Roman Empress. Maria Theresa was set on a wedding between her daughter and Louis, the Dauphin of France. Uniting the Bourbon court and the Holy Roman Empire would be a power move, but when the French envoy, the duc de Choiseul, met the young would-be bride, he wasn’t impressed. Her hair was untidy, her manners were girlish and her clothes were creased. If the 13 year old Maria Antonia was to make the grade, she needed a makeover.

Maria Theresa filled her palace with the most glittering representative of French fashion and between them, they turned the little girl into a young woman. Laced into whalebone stays and layers of silk and foundation garments, soon the slouching teenager was held in the dignified posture expected of a dauphine With her wardrobe sorted, it was time to call in the dentists.

Maria Antonia’s teeth were crooked and for the Bourbon court, that would never do. Society dentist Pierre Laveran was summoned to the rescue, wielding Fauchard’s Bandeau. This dental device took its name from its pioneering inventor, Pierre Fauchard, and was a sort of brace in the shape of a horseshoe. It was fitted into the patient’s mouth, fastened to the teeth by tightly tied strands of gold and, over time, it served to reshape the dental arch and straighten out crooked teeth. Maria Antonia suffered through months of  unanaesthetised dental work as the Bandeau was systematically tightened. On and on it went until, to her immense relief, Laveran declared himself satisfied. Maria Antonia now had teeth fit for France.

The finishing touch came courtesy of Sieur Larsenneur, the famed hairdresser who had created Madame de Pompadour’s signature look. He tamed Maria Antonia’s strawberry blonde curls and put the crowning glory on the future queen of France. Marie Antoinette had arrived.

On 14th May 1770, 14 year old Maria Antonia met Louis, her bridegroom, for the very first time. As was tradition, threw herself at his feet in a forest glade near Compiegne before travelling on to Versailles. Two days later the youngsters were married in what was intended to be the wedding of the century. A crowd of 5,000 crammed into the Hall of Mirrors as a storm raged outside. If that wasn’t a bad enough omen, there was worse to come. As Marie Antoinette signed the marriage register, a blot of ink dripped onto the page and obscured her name.

Still, the wedding was hailed as a great success and after a day of celebration, the couple were escorted in time-honoured tradition to the marital bed. They were exhausted and fell asleep at once. Heirs and spares would have to wait.

You can view all of Catherine’s Pen and Sword titles here.