the feet of the surging crowd. The houses on one side of the river were transformed to look like the Habsburg palace at Schönbrunn. The day after the festivities, Louis de Rohan addressed Marie Antoinette in Strasbourg Cathedral. His speech was unmemorable diplomatese about a new golden age and flourishing peace (the future queen welled up during it, though homesickness or the sting of a passing bank of incense may have been the cause). There was consternation when Marie Antoinette left the church the moment Louis finished, leaving no opportunity for him and the other canons to accompany her. It was unclear what lay behind the hurried exit: innocent confusion, a deliberate snub to the insincerity of an anti-Choiseulist, or the first instance of Marie Antoinette’s bridling at protocol? For the rest of the visit, the dauphine found Louis’s attempts at ingratiation too cloying. She later wrote to her mother that Rohan’s way of living ‘more resembled that of a soldierthan a coadjutor’.
Choiseul did not see out the year by the king’s side. He was dismissed on Christmas Eve when Louis XV refused to support him in declaring war with Britain over the Falklands. The new foreign minister, the duc d’Aiguillon, appointed Louis de Rohan as ambassador to Vienna. This was the most prestigious ambassadorial appointment, with the onerous responsibility of maintaining good relations with France’s chief ally. Louis had no diplomatic experience, was a noted anglophile and belonged to a family that had intrigued against Austrian interests for the last fifteen years. The comte de Mercy-Argenteau, the Austrian ambassador to Versailles, called the appointment‘as odd as it is improper’. But d’Aiguillon selected Louis precisely because he was so inappropriate: the foreign minister, more devoted to advancing his own cause than his country’s, wished to loosen his dependency on the Rohan, who had helped him to power. How better than by priming one of their sprigs – who was being groomed by his family for high office – to fail?
Louis himself expressed no enthusiasm for the position. Vienna was a shabby replacement for Paris; and he regarded a mere ambassadorship as demeaning. Eventually, he was reconciled to the job by an ample allowance and a promise to pay off his debts. It was agreed, too, that he would succeed the decrepit cardinal de La Roche-Aymon as grand almoner (the head of the French Church and the Chapel Royal – one of the great offices of state).
Anyone looking on as Rohan entered Vienna on 10 January 1772 might have wondered what business the Queen of Sheba had in town. Rohan had brought with him two state coaches and fifty horses, marshalled by a chief equerry, a sub-equerry and two grooms. Seven pages, drawn from the Breton and Alsatian nobility, followed with their tutors. There were two gentlemen of the bedchamber, a major-domo, a steward, a bursar and a chamberlain in scarlet uniforms squirted with gold braid; two postilions rode on his coach, four heralds in liveries embroidered with gold and sequinned with silver trumpeted his arrival, six valets de chambre and twelve footmen waited upon him, two Switzers – who stood like heavily armed tropical fish in their particoloured uniforms – guarded him, and a ten-piece orchestra was on permanent stand-by for emergency musical entertainment. Though the embassy in Vienna was fully staffed, Rohanwas accompanied by four further ambassadorial assistants, who would also be credentialled at Court, as well as his secretary Georgel andfour undersecretaries.
Vienna was a tangled city seeped of colour – tall, white-stuccoed buildings cast their shadows across the narrow streets. Because of the paucity of space – on average eighty people lived in each house – the wealthy compensated for what they lacked in frontage with their interiors. ‘Nothing can be more surprising’, wrote Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, ‘than the apartments. They are commonly a suite of