Maria Theresa was a busy body and a force of nature. That’s a fact. That’s also a power combination. She was the type of woman who’d give birth — and go back to work signing papers. She’s the type of woman who’d use her family to help secure her influence in her empire. And as they’d marry she’d gain another set of eyes in kingdoms she might not have others.She knew her hold on her children. Marie Antoinette loved her mother — but feared her.
It’s not hard to see why — the empress wasn’t easy to please and could cut to the jugular. Even praise had its pitfalls. In remarking on her daughter’s good nature, she warned: “Do not lose it by neglecting that which gave it to you: you owe it neither to your beauty (which is in fact not great), nor to your talents or culture (you know very well you have neither); it is your kind heart, your frankness, your amiability, all exerted by your good judgement.”
Reassurances came barbed with digs and disappointments. As Maria Theresa once wrote, “With God’s help… there is nothing we cannot hope for; all will go well; I only fear your laziness and dissipation.”
This guilt-inducing honesty had to have been hard to take. We forget that Marie Antoinette wasn’t always a larger-than-life-figure — she was a daughter, trying hard to please a mom who was very different than she was, a mom who hadn’t really prepared her for the role she would try to train her for in letters, in a sort of catch up. As letter after letter expressed the mother’s dismay and humiliation, criticizing her daughter’s laziness and frivolity, Marie Antoinette still wrote back, still dutifully retold her day-to-day, still started her letters, “Madame my very dear mother.”
Complicating all this was a universal truth of all mothers: They aren’t always right. They’re emotional and imperfect. The empress, for one, would contradict herself, sometimes from paragraph to paragraph. Sometimes she even forgot the advice she’d given letters earlier and then suggest the exact opposite tips — while taking the opportunity to admonish Marie Antoinette for ignoring her orders.
She was a unique lady, that empress.
Still, she was often right, as frustrating as this might have been for Marie Antoinette. For Mother’s Day, I’ve compiled some of the top wisdom that works even for those of us not in line for the French throne. Believe in these words, ones that more often than not, were given with good intention. As Maria Theresa said herself, explained, they are “the advice of a mother who knows the world, loves her children passionately, and wants to spend her dreary life being useful to them.”
“Do not take on any recommendation; listen to no one if you want to have peace.”
“Answer everyone pleasantly, with grace and dignity: You can if you want to.”
“At your age the world forgives many frivolities and childish acts; but as time passes they will bore everyone and you yourself will suffer from the most. ”
On being yourself
“Do not copy originals.”
On family feuds
“Remain kind: that is the only way to preserve peace at home.”
“A Sovereign cannot follow her inclinations; most of the time you must act against them.”
On talking ill of family
“About your family, you will speak truthfully and tactfully: Even though I am seldom wholly pleased with them, you may find that others are worse.”
On good judgement
“Your happiness can vanish all too fast, and you may be plunged, by your own doing, into the greatest calamities.”
On appreciating your blessings
“The joy everywhere is incredible; it shows how loved you are, what happiness! Keep this as the most precious thing possible.”
On avoiding responsibility
“I see you striding with a nonchalant charm toward ruin.”
On lasting change
“If we want to do good, we must do it together: otherwise we can achieve nothing solid.”
What do you think? What advice from royal moms do you like best? Share in the comments.