Marie Antoinette: Life and Tragic Execution of the Queen of France
Marie Antoinette was born in Vienna, the capital of Austria. At the tender age of 15, she tied the knot with King Louis XVI of France. She was a symbol of the wealth and authority of the French Empire. However, she epitomized the type of establishment critics and opponents of the French aristocracy wanted to overthrow. In 1793 Marie was executed, by means of the guillotine, by the leaders of the French Revolution.
Early Life of Marie Antoinette
On November 2, 1755, Marie Antoinette was born to Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor and Maria Theresa, Holy Roman Empress and German Queen. She was the 15th and last child of aristocratic parents who together formed Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty.
Marie grew up in a happy environment at a time when court life was not wrought with stiff formalities. She was allowed to mingle with children from all walks of life, including the underprivileged commoners.
The young Marie Antoinette was well trained in the essentials of life in court, such as the correct deportment of a lady of her status, in appearance, dress, and poise.
Marriage to Louis XVI
For political, financial security and societal advantage, a marriage was arranged for her by her parents in 1770. At the tender age of 15, Marie tied the knot with Louis, the Dauphin of France (future King Louis XVI). Louis was 16 years of age. The marriage went as planned even though they had never met prior.
At their wedding ceremony at Versailles, the over 5,000 guests were said to have been struck by the beauty of the young bride and charmed by her deportment.
Being so young and inexperienced, Marie initially had difficulties living in the court of Versailles. In addition to this, she had very little knowledge of the French society. Her abrupt introduction into the French court meant that she had only a few friends. This made married life a bit difficult for the future queen.
All of these, coupled with the immaturity and apparent disinterest of her husband to spend time with her, let alone sleep with her, soured her time in Versailles. Rumors had it that Louis preferred outdoor activities and metal works to keeping company with his wife Marie.
As though this was not enough, Marie Antoinette was constantly renounced because of her foreign roots. Some of the many uncomplimentary nicknames that were given to her include “l’Autrichienne” (the “Austrian Woman”). Many of these remarks came from unfriendly and suspicious elements of the French court. She quickly became the target of malicious gossips in the French court and among the French society.
Children and Heirs
When finally at the age of 23, eight long years after her marriage to Louis XVI, their marriage was consummated. The royal couple first gave birth to a child called Marie Therese of France. Thérèse was born on December 19, 1778 at the royal Palace of Versailles.
In 1781, three years after her first child, Marie birthed a son by the name of Louis Joseph Xavier Francois. Louis’s royal title was Dauphin of France. Finally, an heir had been born much to the relief of the Royal parents. The couple went on to have two more children – Louis Charles (1781- 1789) and Sophie Helene (died less than a year after her birth).
Despite these achievements of providing two heirs and two princesses, Marie could still not escape the rumor mill that again asserted that her second son Louis Charles was an illegitimate son born out of her affair with the Count Axel Fersen. It was alleged that coupling happened when Fersen visited the Royal family 9 months prior to the birth of Louis Charles. Adding to this, Marie Antoinette’s purchase of Chateau de Saint-Cloud in those dire times of deep recession in France worsened her already tarnished reputation.
Extravagant Life at Versailles
With very few courtly obligations, Marie engaged in diverse activities. She socialized with high society and aristocrats in the environs of Versailles. Overindulgence became the norm with her, which was not well received by the French commoners.
As the French Queen, Marie became an automatic fashion icon and was very lavish in her taste in clothes. Thus set apart by society and yet fitting in nowhere, she fell into the expensive habit of gambling huge amounts of money.
Prior to her 21st birthday, it is rumored that Marie spent three whole days away from home. And during that time, the activity which was purported to have taken place was gambling with friends.
Maria Theresa, Marie Antoinette’s mother, on receipt of reports of her daughter’s excesses, wrote a letter of strong reprimand to her. Her mother advised her to make amends of those misguided mistakes.
While Marie enjoyed all of those luxuries with such carefree abandon, the reality of the suffering of ordinary French citizens under the strain of debt and near economic recession were totally lost to her. Deep poverty among the peasants was glaring and many struggled to put food on the table. The gap between monarchy and citizenry grew so wide that rumblings of discontent and calls for political reforms were escalating.
Read More: Major Causes of the French Revolution
Blinded to all of these, Marie had even more uncomplimentary nicknames added to her already long list. Names like ‘Madam Deficit’ because of her excessive expenditure. The French commoners gave her the name ‘Madam Veto’ because she lobbied support to shoot down the tax reforms which would have seen French nobility and clergy pay taxes. Those reforms were intended to relieve the tax burden on the poor French citizens.
Marie spent even more money redecorating the royal residence (the Palace of Versailles) and a manor house within the castle grounds called Petit Trianon. The gossip mill latched on those excesses to defame her even more. The general consensus was that Marie, along with her husband Louis XVI, had become far removed from the suffering of the citizens.
Accusations of Infidelity
Already a favorite for victimization and blame for royal excesses, she became even more slandered. She also lacked support from from her husband Louis XVI due to his habitual absence. These accusations and exaggerations grew to the point of her being accused of having extramarital affairs with court nobles.
Some members of the third estate (i.e. the commoners) started calling her “the Austrian Whore”. This accusation was probably untrue because, despite her excessive tastes and habits, Marie was not as promiscuous as people rumored her to be. The only man she was typically seen with was the Count Axel Fersen, a Swedish military attaché. Amidst all the accusations that got hurled at Marie, the king was purported to have turned a blind eye, preferring to remain oblivious and indifferent to the affairs of his home.
Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution
In 1789, the inevitable French Revolution took place. As usual, Marie Antoinette was once again the target of hatred. She received the most amount of unfounded slander. Some of those slurs came from her own family, including the king’s aristocrat cousin, Louis-Philippe-Joseph, duc d’Orleans.
The nation’s recession and the suffering of the masses were not the fault of the young Queen, but colonial wars such as the American Revolution. Many of those miscalculated foreign interventions sucked France further into bankruptcy. As a matter of fact, France’s economic and political woes started during the Seven Years’ War. King Louis XV’s (King Louis XVI’s father) hatred for Great Britain was so intense that never missed on the opportunity to get into war with arch rival, Great Britain. Beginning around the early 1770s, Louis XVI went on to finance the American colonist’s revolt against Great Britain’s George III.
Also, the Nobles and the Catholic Church did not have to pay taxes. Thus, the citizenry was overtaxed and poor. The situation caused resentment towards the French royal family, especially in the face of all the opulence and extravagance so blatantly displayed by Marie Antoinette.
All of these untold hardships, as opposed to the opulent displays, were somehow blamed on “Madam Veto”, Marie Antoinette. Clearly, she was unduly targeted by the revolutionists. It’s not as if she was the only wealthy person in France.
On October 5, 1789, a crowd of irate French women, demonstrating over the high cost of bread and other foodstuffs, marched to the Palace of Versailles and arrested the Royal family. Marie Antoinette and her family were imprisoned at the Tuileries.
In a bid to save herself and her family, Marie Antoinette arranged with her brother, the Holy Emperor for refuge in Austria. As her brother’s troops readied to march into France to put a stop to the revolution, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were arrested on their way out of France. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were returned to Paris to face the charge of treason.
Execution of Marie Antoinette
On October 16, 1793, just a few months after her husband suffered the same fate, Marie was publicly executed (beheaded) at the age of 37 years. She was gruesomely decapitated using a guillotine.
Famous Quotes by Marie Antoinette
Titles Marie Antoinette Held from Birth to Death
Marie Antoinette held various titles throughout her life:
|2 November 1755||19 April 1770||Her Royal Highness, Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria|
|19 April 1770||10 May 1774||Her Royal Highness, the Dauphin of France|
|10 May 1774||10 October 1791||Her Most Christian Majesty, the Queen of France and Navarre|
|1 October 1791||21 September 1792||Her Most Christian Majesty, the Queen of the French|
|21 September 1793||21 January 1793||Madame Capet|
|21 January 1793||16 October 1793||La Veuve (“The Widow”) Capet|
FAQs about Marie Antoinette
The questions and answers below offer a brief overview of the life story of Marie Antoinette.
Is it true she said “Let them eat cake”?
This famous quote is often attributed to her, but there’s no solid evidence she actually said it. It’s believed to be a misattribution, symbolizing the perceived insensitivity of the aristocracy to the suffering French populace.
Why is Marie Antoinette significant?
Her lavish lifestyle amidst France’s economic crisis and her perceived indifference towards commoners made her a target during the French Revolution. Her trial and execution symbolized the end of absolute monarchy in France.
How did Marie Antoinette die?
Antoinette was executed by guillotine on October 16, 1793, during the height of the French Revolution.
Did she have children?
Yes, she had four children with Louis XVI: Marie Thérèse, Louis Joseph, Louis Charles (who would be posthumously recognized by royalists as Louis XVII), and Sophie.
Was Marie Antoinette involved in politics?
While not a politician, she did wield significant influence behind the scenes, especially regarding France’s relations with her native Austria. Many revolutionaries viewed her as meddling in state affairs.
How is she perceived today?
Opinions vary. Some see her as a symbol of the excesses of the monarchy, while others view her as a scapegoat who was unfairly vilified. Recent biographies have aimed to provide a more nuanced understanding of her life.
What’s the Affair of the Diamond Necklace?
A significant scandal where Marie Antoinette was falsely accused of fraudulently trying to purchase an expensive diamond necklace. Though innocent, the affair tarnished her reputation further.
Where did she live?
She resided in the Palace of Versailles, and later in the Petit Trianon, a smaller château on the Versailles grounds, which became a symbol of her extravagance.
How did Marie Antoinette impact fashion?
Known for her extravagant style, she greatly influenced French fashion during her reign, popularizing certain hairstyles, dresses, and accessories.