On Monday 8th February 1779 a hundred couples were married simultaneously in a single splendid ceremony at Notre-Dame. I first came across a reference to this event in a copy of the early 20th-century guide book by E.V. Lucas, A Wanderer in Paris. "Some very ugly events are in store for us;" we are told in the section on Notre-Dame, "let something pretty intervene". The original source is an even more mawkish French work by a certain Pauline de Grandpré. She paints a beautiful, romantic vision: a hundred brides and grooms, married at the behest of a beneficent royalty, in bright, candle-lit, flower strewn cathedral.
Somehow this is a past that never quite was.... I decided to investigate.
|19th-century visions of the Royal Family. |
Imaginary scene by Charles Louis Lucien Muller (1857)
"The Queen was persuaded by the love for her show by the citizens, to reply with an act of benevolence which would particularly extend to the people".
Marie-Antoinette refused the celebrations offered to her by the municipality of Paris and asked instead that the money be employed to provide dowries for a hundred deserving poor girls, who would be married en masse on the day of the Royal thanksgiving service in Notre-Dame. Additional allowances were be paid when a first child was born, with a higher rate available for mothers who breastfed. As a further celebration of family life, an elderly couple would be chosen to renew their marriage vows in front of their "children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren".