Monday, 29 April 2019

A Hundred Marriages at Notre-Dame

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) 
On 19th December 1778, after nine years of marriage, Queen Marie-Antoinette was safely delivered of a daughter Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte de France, later Duchess of Angoulême.  Relief was universal, since the birth of a dauphin now seemed assured. There were outpourings of official rejoicing. Marie-Antoinette herself decided the moment was right for a populist gesture:

"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".

It is hard to gauge what the municipal corporation might have thought about  this charitable effusion of Rousseauist sentiment.   No doubt the requirements were both expensive and troublesome to arrange.  The brunt of the organisation fell on the church. A 1923 article  in the Revue des études historiques, by Gabriel Vauthier, publishes a copy of the rather terse circular, dated 14th January 1779, from Archbishop Christophe de Beaumont to each of the curés of  Paris's forty-three parishes:

It is the Queen's intention to endow with a dowry, one hundred girls to be chosen from the different parishes of Paris.  Each one will be furnished with the sum of five-hundred livres, as well as outfits and robes, to be delivered to her on the occasion of her marriage.  In addition,  Her Majesty wishes to pay ten livres per month for a year during the time that the baby is being nursed.  If the mother feeds her own baby, she will be payed fifteen livres a month and given a layette.

You should, Monsieur,  without delay, find the means to fulfil the charitable wishes of the Queen and bring about their speedy execution.  You must choose from among your parishioners,  individuals who are poor and of good moral character, worthy to be recipients of Her Majesty's kindness.  You must make your choice within eight to ten days.  The marriages will follow the ordinary order of precedence for the parishes of Paris.  Kindly come to the Archbishop's palace next Monday at five in the evening. You can inform me of the results of your research so far, and, if there are any difficulties, we will resolve them.

The Archives National preserves further documents  which relate specificifally to the marriages arranged in the parish of St-Germain-l'Auxerrois: we even have the names and professions of the selected couples:

Paul Briquet, haberdasher, and Rosalie Macnamara, "fille ouvrière pour les tailleurs".
 Pierre Demalet, clerk, and Marie-Françoise, a dressmaker;
Gorgon Berge, servant to a dealer in muslins, and Marie-Marguerite Chocque; 
Jean-Joseph Royot, tailor, and Victoire-Madeleine Lécuyer.

On  Sunday 7th February  the curé Remy-Chapeau assembled his couples together to issue  them with the necessary certificats de catholicité.  The witnesses who were present were senior officials from the Châtelet,  all four avocats of the Parlement and conseillers du roi.  For the ceremony itself the lieutenant civil and the procureur du roi would also be present.

On the eve of the ceremony, the wedding clothes, rings and special commemorative medallions were delivered into the care of the curés.  Next day, at six o'clock in the morning, the prospective brides and grooms were required to assemble in their wedding clothes to be taken to Notre-Dame. At St-Germain-l'Auxerrois, all four couples, together with their parents, were obliged to pile into a single carriage.  From the pont Rouge, they made their way on foot to the Archbishop's palace where everyone gathered in the grande salle.

At eight o'clock the couples were ushered into the Cathedral.  They were placed into two lines, according to the order of parishes laid down in the Almanach royal.  At their head was the elderly married couple who, according to the queen's wishes, were to renew their marriage vows on the the occasion of their golden wedding.

The brides and grooms all held in their hands their rings and commemorative medallions, which were given a general blessing by the Archbishop. He personally pronounced the nuptial blessing for the old couple and also for one of the new marriages.  The curés from the different parishes simultaneously officiated for the rest.  Finally a member of the Chapter said Mass; this was a fairly cursory affair, without offerings and hand-held candles.  Following the custom of the time, a white veil ("le poêle") was passed over the two lines of newly-weds:  swathes of white taffeta were unrolled and held over them by the guards on duty in the cathedral.  After this, the couples were ushered out and taken to a room in the Archbishop's palace to be served a wedding breakfast. The acts of marriage had all been signed the previous day but the four commissioners now also signed for each parish.

Te Deum in Notre-Dame, in the presence of Marie-Antoinette, for the birth of the Dauphin in 1781 (Getty Images)
It should be noted that at this point, contrary to the imaginings of Pauline de Grandpré, the royal party had not yet even arrived.  The newly-weds were therefore led back into the nave with their respective curés to be seen by the King and Queen as they entered and left the church. The high galleries of the cathedral were filled with spectators who had bagged their seats earlier that morning. This done, the couples were loaded into carriages and driven home.

The registers of the Bureau de la Ville give a long account of the Royal visit, some of which is reproduced by Gabriel Vauthier.

Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, accompanied by the whole royal family, had spent Sunday 7th at the Château de la Muette. On the 8th they were received on the quai, at the end of the Tuileries gardens, by the duc de Brissac, governor of Paris, M. de Caumartin, prévôt des marchands and the entire municipal corporation.  A magnificent cortege with twenty-eight carriages took them to Notre-Dame where they arrived at half-past eleven.

The King and Queen greeted by the Archbishop of Paris.  Waddesdon collection.
The occasion depicted in this print is not known.

Their Majesties descended from the carriage and were received at the door of the church by the Archbishop in his pontifical habit and accompanied by the Chapter. After the Archbishop had given them his compliments and presented them with holy water, he led them into the choir where they said prayers, and then heard Mass in the chapel of the Virgin, whilst a motet was sung by the Notre-Dame choir.  The town's canons, situated on the Port au Blé  fired a salute as Their Majesties entered the church;  400 birds were let loose by the official bird handlers - an ancient custom on such occasions, which symbolises the liberation of prisoners
[On 1st February an order had gone out to the birdcatchers of  Paris, the Communauté des Maîtres Oiseleurs, to provide the necessary birds.  There was some debate over whether prisoners should actually be liberated; 130 detainees were eventually released from the  For-l'Évêque, thereby saving the considerable expense of their incarceration.]

After the Mass, their Majesties were led back into the main church by the Archbishop and the Chapter.  Placed in two line in the nave were the 200 newly weds whose marriages had been celebrated that morning in Notre-Dame by each curé. Their Majesties regarded them with benevolence and satisfaction.

From Notre-Dame the sovereigns went on to further devotions at Sainte-Geneviève then returned to La  Muette for dinner. The Journal de Paris effuses over the various formal speeches and the appreciative reception from the people of Paris, who had been allowed to approach.  In reality, for the royal family, the clergy and the various officials, it was all probably a bit of an ordeal.  As to the newly-weds, we have no way of knowing their thoughts -  it would be fascinating to know what became of them in subsequent years.  I am probably just a Revolutionary at heart, but there is something slightly unsavoury about this whole episode - the whims of a Queen, the obsequious officialdom, the manipulation of ordinary people; somehow, turning the cathedral into a wine store at least seems more honest.


Gabriel Vauthier, "Cent mariages célébrés  à Notre-Dame de Paris en 1779  Revue des études historiques, 1923, vol.89, p.349-352


An early 20th-century vision: 
Some very ugly events are in store for us; let something pretty intervene.  On February 9th, 1779 (in the narrative of Louise (sic) de Grandpré, to whom the study of Notre-Dame has been a veritable passion), a large crowd pressed towards the cathedral ; the ground was strewed with fresh grass and flowers and leaves ; the pillars were decorated with many coloured banners. In the choir the vestments of the saints were displayed: the burning tapers lit up the interior with a dazzling brightness : the organ filled the church with joyful harmony, and the bells rang out with all their might. The whole court was present, the King himself assisting at the ceremony, and the galleries were full to overflowing of ladies of distinction in the gayest of dresses.

Then slowly, through the door of St. Anne, entered a hundred young girls dressed in white, covered with long veils and with orange blossom on their heads. These were the hundred poor girls whom Louis XVI had dowered in memory of the birth of Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte of France, afterwards Duchess of  Angoulême, and it was his wish to assist personally at their wedding and to seal their marriage licences with his sword, which was ornamented on the handle or pommel with the "fleur de lys".

Through the door of the Virgin entered at the same time one hundred young men, having each a sprig of orange blossom in his button-hole. The two rows advanced together with measured steps, preceded by two Swiss, who struck the pavement heavily with their halberds. They advanced as far as the chancel rails, where each young man gave his hand to a young girl, his fiancée, and marched slowly before the King, bowing to him and receiving a bow in return. They were then married by the Archbishop in person.

A very charming incident, don't you think ? Such a royal gift, adds Louise de Grandpré, would be very welcome to-day, when there are so many girls unmarried  for the want of a dot.
Wanderer in Paris 20th ed., 1923, p.30-31.

The Official view - From the Journal de Paris
Our August Queen refused herself all the festivities with which the nation desired to express its joy. Part of the money put aside for these empty displays was employed, at their Majesties' order, to fund a hundred marriages between poor and virtuous young women and honest artisans who, having by their industry avoided indigence, still could not, without incurring debt, afford to set up home.  All the appropriate precautions were taken to avoid abuse and to prepare the future happiness of these new families.  M.the Archbishop instructed the forty-three Curés of Paris.  The number of marriages was set for each parish, with MM.the Curés asked to decide without recourse to recommendations or motives of mere favour.  The Queen had the five hundred livres entrusted to the Curés for the dowry of each of the young women. This money was to be used only to set up in a trade, buy a mastership, or for some other means of subsistence.  Preference was to be given to couples who had known each other for a long time, and perhaps were only waiting for favourable circumstances to get married.The Brides and Grooms are to have complete outfits;  and the Queen will give a payment for the time the first-born child of the marriages is nursed;  the mothers who breastfeed themselves will receive a layette, and a payment which is a third greater[10 livres per month was the flat rate, 15 livres for nursing mothers]

All the couples will receive a Nuptial Blessing from the Archbishop or from their Curés, tomorrow, Monday, the day which their Majesties have chosen for their service of thanksgivingin the Cathedral Church of Notre-Dame.  Each Curé will be at the head of the Marriages from his Parish, and the hundred couples will be reassembled to allow their Majesties to enjoy the spectacle of their beneficience; also so that the newly-weds can join their goodwishes to those of the whole of France. 

The Queen has added to the touching spectacle...that of two old people married for fifty years, who will be given the same benefits as the young couples, and who, following ancient usage, will receive a second nuptial blessing;  their  children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, will be present at ceremony.  Such flattering attention played to a long life, passed peacefully and honestly, will inspire all sensitive souls and provide the newly weds with a most eloquent lesson.
Journal de Paris, No.38 7th February, p.150-1;

Their Majesties came the day before yesterday, as announced in No.38 of our journal; they were accompanied by Monsieur and Madame, Mgr le Comte and Madame la Comtesse d'Artois, Madame Élisabeth, Madame Adélaïde, Madame Victoire and Madame Sophie. They were received on their arrival by the Governor, the Corporation of Paris and all theofficials who assist at ceremonies of this sort.  The Cortege was composed of twenty-eight carriages, detachments of Gardes-du-Corps, Gendarmes, Light-Cavalry and officers of the Falconry.  They arrived at the Church of Notre-Dame, where they had been preceded by all the Princes and Princesses of the Blood.  The hundred marriages had been celebrated in the morning, and the newly-weds, lined up in the nave, had the privilege of showing by their looks their gratitude towards their Majesties.  Mass was heard by the whole Court in the Chapel of the Virgin, under the eyes of a crowd of onlookers who had positioned themselves since morning in the high galleries.  On leaving Notre-Dame, their Majesties went to Sainte-Geneviève, where they were received in ordinary form.  They were addressed en route by M. Duval, the Rector of the University, with all the members of his Tribunal and their Adjoints, in ceremonial dress, at the gate of the Collège Louis-le-grand...  The sight of these venerable elders to presented their respectful homage to their Sovereigns, and of that immense crowd who cried Vive le Roi, formed a touching spectacle...They left Sainte-Geneviève at two o'clock when they returned to the place Louis XV to board their ordinary coaches to go and dine at La Muette.

Never had the people crowded more to enjoy the presence of their Sovereigns or to have the joy of seeing them.  The precautions that had wisely been put in place, meant there was no incident, despite the fact that the people were allowed to approach and enjoy a good view.

The orange-sellers on the Pont-Neuf...had the honour of presenting Their Majesties with a basket of oranges and one of flowers. We thought it would give pleasures to our Readers to transcribe their compliment[......]
The hundred Brides, their Grooms and their parents had a meal at the Archbishop's palace.
Journal de Paris, No.41, 10th February 1779,  p.162

Bachaumont cynically summaries the Journal de Paris :
Their Majesties were harangued en route by the Governor and municipal corporation, by M. Duval, the Rector of the University, by the Lieutenant Civil, by the abbé de sainte-Genevieve, and finally on the Pont-Neuf by the orange sellers who had the honour of presenting them with baskets of fruit and flowers.
Nothing could be more beautiful than the sight of the immense crowd which lined the thoroughfares, the quais and the roads.  M. le comte d'Artois complained on his arrival at La Muette that he had cricked his neck through looking.
 Mémoires secrets, vol 7, p.297-8):

1 comment:

  1. Totally far from the "Let them eat cake!" material-girl princess of popular culture. If only the people knew then that they were taken advantage of by the agitators who erroneously claimed to be their representatives fighting against the corrupt aristos, clergy, king and the Austrian "she-devil" queen of France. How things could've been different - and better. And overall, with the cries of "Liberty! Liberty!" from the shrieking Parisian san-culottes, the French had actually ended up with less freedoms (privileges) than they had before 1789. The "Reign of Terror" and all the state-sponsored domestic and international evil and terrorism are testaments to how "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity!" was just a grand excuse for the sordid ulterior motives of the radical leaders of the French Revolution and their backers.


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