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Marie Antoinette Queen of France 1755–1793

Marie Antoinette was born Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna on 2nd November 1755 – 16 October 1793. She was the last Queen of France before the French Revolution.

Marie Antoinette
..Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna..
2 November 1755 – 16 October 179

2 November 1755
Hofburg Palace
Vienna, Austria

16 October 1793 (aged 37)
Place de la Révolution

21 January 1815
Basilica of St Denis

Louis XVI of France

1 Marie Thérèse Charlotte
Madame Royale
19 December 1778 – 19 October 1851
Married her cousin Louis Antoine Duke
of Angoulême, the eldest son of the
future Charles X of France.
No children

2 Louis Joseph Xavier François
Dauphin de France
22 October 1781 – 4 June 1789

3 Louis XVII of France
(Nominally) King of France and Navarre
27 March 1785 – 8 June 1795
Died in childhood; no issue. He was never
officially king, nor did he rule. His
title was bestowed by his
royalist supporters

4 Sophie Hélène Béatrix
9 July 1786 – 19 June 1787

In addition to her biological children Marie
Antoinette also adopted four children
1 “Armand” Francois-Michel Gagné
A poor orphan adopted in 1776

2 Jean Amilcar
A Senegalese slave boy given to the queen as a present by Chevalier de Boufflers in 1787, but whom she instead had freed, baptized adopted and placed in a pension.

3 Ernestine Lambriquet
Daughter of two servants at the palace, who was raised as the playmate of her daughter and whom she adopted after the death of her mother in 1788

4 “Zoe” Jeanne Louise Victoire
born in 1787
Adopted in 1790 when her parents, an usher and his wife in service of the king died. She was chosen to be the playmate of the Dauphin.

Full name
German: Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna
French: Marie Antoinette Josèphe Jeanne


Francis I
Holy Roman Emperor

Maria Theresa of Austria

Handwriting and Signature

Maria Antonia Josepha Joanna was born in Vienna on 2 November 1755. She was the 15th child of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria and her husband Emperor Francis Stephen.

Her godparents were Joseph I and Mariana Victoria, King and Queen of Portugal


she was placed under the care of the governess of the imperial children, Countess von Brandeis

Maria Antonia was raised together with her three year older sister Maria Carolina with whom she had a lifelong close relationship


The relationship with her mother was one of “awe-inspired fear” mixed with love. Years later she commented: “I love the Empress but I’m frightened of her even at a distance when I’m writing to her I never feel completely at ease”.

Antonia, as she was called by her family was closer to her father, who was cheerful indulgent and good-natured. He transmitted to his daughter his passions for plants, flowers and gardens. Sadly, he died of a stroke when she was only nine years old.


The atmosphere at the Autrian court was very informal and etiquette was lax. Antonia and her younger siblings would often perform singing and dancing for the court and in the long Austrian winters would go sledging.

Despite the private tutoring she received the results of her schooling were less than satisfactory. At the age of ten she could not write correctly in German or in any language commonly used at court, such as French and Italian. conversations with her were stilted.


She developed into a good musician. She learned to play the harp, the harpsichord and the flute. She sang during the evening gatherings, as she had a beautiful voice. She also excelled at dancing, had “exquisite” poise and loved dolls.


She was a pretty, lively and graceful girl with a beautiful pink white complexion but her teeth were far from perfect. She had to wear a pelican, a form of braces created by the dentist Pierre Fauchard, for three months to fix them.

Her mother summoned parisian hairdresser Larsenneur to Austria to turn Maria Antonia’s unruly hair into a stylish, powdered do that disguised her high forehead.

Following the Seven Years’ War and the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756 Empress Maria Theresa decided to end hostilities with her longtime enemy, King Louis XV of France. This led them to seal their alliance with a marriage.

Maria Antonia formally renounced her rights to Habsburg domains on 19 April she was married by proxy to the Dauphin of France at the Augustinian Church in Vienna. On 14 May she met her husband at the edge of the forest of Compiègne. Upon her arrival in France she adopted the French version of her name: Marie Antoinette. A further ceremonial wedding took place on 16 May 1770 in the Palace of Versailles. She was 14 he was 16. The Dauphin was dressed in the gold and diamond-covered habit of the Order of the Holy Spirit. She wore an enormous white and silver dress decorated with white diamonds.

The dress was to small Miscalculating her measurements, the dressmakers had constructed the gown so that it did not fit the new dauphine. No matter how tightly they tried to cinch the body of the dress it didn’t properly cover the lacing and shift poking out from the back which meant there was a strange gap between the rows of diamonds.

The young couple then attended the ambassador’s reception before going to the Hall of Mirrors which was lit up for the occasion. The planned firework display was cancelled due to a storm. The day ende with a sumptuous feast served in the new Royal Opera House built by Gabriel. Lastly, the going to bed ceremony was held. They shared a bed but it took seven years for consummation of the marriage.

Wedding Invitation

The last thing her mother said to her before she left

The initial reaction to the marriage between Marie Antoinette and Louis-Auguste was mixed. On the one hand, the Dauphine was beautiful, personable and well-liked by the common people. Her first official appearance in Paris on 8 June 1773 was a resounding success. On the other hand those opposed to the alliance with Austria and others for personal reasons, had a difficult relationship with Marie Antoinette.

captivated the French public in her early years in the country. When the teenager made her initial appearance in the French capital a crowd of 50,000 Parisians grew so uncontrollable that at least 3 people were trampled to death in the crush.


Madame du Barry was Louis XV’s mistress and had considerable political influence over him. Marie Antoinette was persuaded by her husband’s aunts to refuse to acknowledge du Barry, which some saw as a political blunder that jeopardised Austria’s interests at the French court.

Marie Antoinette’s mother and the Austrian ambassador to France who sent the Empress secret reports on Marie Antoinette’s behavior, pressured Marie to speak to Madame du Barry, which she grudgingly agreed to do on New Year’s Day 1772. She merely commented to her “there are a lot of people at Versailles today” but it was enough for Madame du Barry who was satisfied and the crisis passed. Upon the death of Louis XV on 10 May 1774 the Dauphin ascended the throne as King Louis XVI of France and Navarre and Marie Antoinette became Queen of France and Navarre. At the outset, the new queen had limited political influence with her husband, who with the support of his two most important ministers, Chief Minister Maurepas and Foreign Minister Vergennes, blocked several of her candidates from positions. However the queen did play a decisive role in the disgrace and exile of the most powerful of Louis XV’s ministers, the Duke of Aiguillon.

On 24 May 1774, two weeks after the death of Louis XV, her husband gave her an estate, the Petit Trianon, and free rein to renovate it soon rumours circulated that she plastered the walls with gold and diamonds

The queen spent heavily on fashion luxuries and gambling, though the country was facing a grave financial crisis and the population was suffering

Rose Bertin created dresses for her, and hair styles such as poufs, up to three feet (90 cm) high, and the panache (a spray of feather plumes). She and her court also adopted the English fashion of dresses made of indienne (a material banned in France from 1686 until 1759), percale and muslin.

By the time of the Flour War of 1775, a series of riots against the high price of flour and bread her reputation among the general public was no better than that of the favorites of the previous kings. In fact, many in the country were beginning to blame her for the degrading economic situation, suggesting the country’s inability to pay off its debt was the result of her wasting the crown’s money.


Through correspondence, Marie Antoinette’s mother, Maria Theresa, expressed concern over her daughter’s spending habits, citing the civil unrest it was beginning to cause.

Versailles for all its decadence was a very dirty place, filled with animals and excrement. Instead of cleaning their shoes, the royals and aristocrats would throw them out every few days. This culture of waste and excess was something Marie Antoinette stepped into when she arrived in France. She didn’t create it and she didn’t take it to the extremes that others did. At least four members of the royal family spent more on clothing than her. Louis XVI’s brother the comte d’Artois ordered 365 pairs of shoes per year.

As early as 1774, Marie Antoinette began to befriend some of her male admirers, such as the baron de Besenval, the duc de Coigny and Count Valentin Esterházy.

She formed deep friendships with various ladies at court. Most noted was Marie-Louise princesse de Lamballe, related to the royal family through her marriage into the Penthièvre family. On 19 September 1774 she appointed her superintendent of her household, an appointment she soon transferred to her new favourite the duchesse de Polignac.


In 1774, she took under her patronage her former music teacher, the German opera composer Christoph Willibald Gluck who remained in France until 1779 Amidst the atmosphere of a wave of libelles (a political pamphlet or book which slanders a public figure), the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph came to France incognito, using the name Comte de Falkenstein, for a six-week visit during which he toured Paris extensively and was a guest at Versailles.

He met his sister and her husband on 18 April 1777 and spoke frankly to his brother-in-law curious as to why the royal marriage had not been consummated, arriving at the conclusion that no obstacle to the couple’s conjugal relations existed save the queen’s lack of interest and the king’s unwillingness to exert himself. In a letter to his brother Leopold, Joseph described them as “A COUPLE OF COMPLETE BLUNDERERS”

Suggestions that Louis suffered from phimosis (a condition in which the foreskin of the penis cannot be pulled back past the glans) which was relieved by circumcision have been discredited. Nevertheless, following Joseph’s intervention the marriage was finally consummated in August 1777


Eight months later, in April 1778, it was suspected that the queen was pregnant, which was officially announced on May 16. Marie Antoinette’s daughter, Marie-Thérèse Charlotte, Madame Royale, was born at Versailles on 19 December 1778.

Courtiers, and other spectators, were present at the birth.

In the middle of the queen’s pregnancy two events occurred which had profound impact on her later life: the return of her friend, the Swedish diplomat Count Axel von Fersen to Versailles for two years and her brother’s claim to the throne of Bavaria, contested by the Habsburg monarchy and Prussia.

Marie Antoinette pleaded with her husband for the French to intercede on behalf of Austria. The Peace of Teschen, signed on 13 May 1779, ended the brief conflict, with the queen imposing French mediation at her mother’s insistence and Austria’s gaining a territory of at least 100,000 inhabitants—a strong retreat from the early French position which was hostile towards Austria. This gave the impression partially justified, that the queen had sided with Austria against France

The queen began to institute changes in court customs. Some met with the disapproval of the older generation such as the abandonment of heavy make-up and the wide hooped panniers. The new fashion called for a simpler feminine look, typified first by the rustic robe à la polonaise style and later by the gaulle, a layered muslin dress Marie Antoinette wore in a Vigée Le Brun portrait.

(left)Marie Antoinette en chemise, portrait of the queen in a “muslin” dress. This controversial portrait was considered by her critics to show improperly informal attire for a queen whereas a similar portrait in the same year (right) did not create controversy (portraits by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun)

Marie Antoinette’s second pregnancy ended in a miscarriage early in July 1779, as confirmed by letters between the queen and her mother, although some historians believed that she may have experienced bleeding related to an irregular menstrual cycle, which she mistook for a lost pregnancy.


Louis Joseph Xavier Francois was born
at the Palace of Versailles on 22
October 1781

Her mother Maria Theresa fell ill on 24 November 1780, ostensibly of a chill. Her physician her condition serious. By 28 November, she asked for the last rites and the next day, at about nine o’clock in the evening she died.

A second visit from Joseph II, which took place in July 1781 to reaffirm the Franco-Austrian alliance and also to see his sister, was tainted with rumours that Marie Antoinette was sending money to him from the French treasury

Despite the general celebration over the birth of the Dauphin, Marie Antoinette’s political influence, such as it was, did greatly benefit Austria.

During the Kettle War, in which her brother attempted to open the Scheldt River for naval passage Marie Antoinette succeeded in obliging Vergennes to pay a huge financial compensation to Austria. Finally, the queen was able to obtain her brother’s support against Great Britain in the American Revolution and she neutralized French hostility to his alliance with Russia.


In 1782, after the governess of the Enfants de France, the princesse de Guéméné, went bankrupt and resigned, Marie Antoinette appointed her favourite, the duchesse de Polignac, to the position. This decision met with disapproval from the court as the duchess was considered to be of too modest a birth to occupy such an exalted position.

On the other hand, both the king and the queen trusted Mme de Polignac completely gave her a thirteen-room apartment in Versailles and paid her well. The entire Polignac family benefited greatly from royal favour in titles and positions, but its sudden wealth and lavish life style outraged most aristocratic families, who resented the Polignacs’ dominance at court.

In June 1783, Marie Antoinette’s new pregnancy was announced however on the night of 1–2 November her 28th birthday, she suffered a miscarriage.

Count Axel von Fersen, after his return from America in June 1783, was accepted into the queen’s private society. There were and still are claims that the two were romantically involved.


Around this time, pamphlets describing farcical sexual deviance including the Queen and her friends in the court were growing in popularity around the country. The Portefeuille d’un talon rouge was one of the earliest, including the Queen and a variety of other nobles in a political statement decrying the immoral practices of the court.

It was publicly suggested that her supposed behavior was learned at the court of the rival nation, particularly lesbianism which was known as the “German vice”


In 1783 the queen was busy with the creation of her “hamlet”, Hameau de la Reine a rustic retreat built by her favoured architect, Richard Mique, according to the designs of the painter Hubert Robert. Its creation, however, caused another uproar when its cost became widely known.

The Hameau de la Reine was idyllic and often described as a fairy tale hamlet. The Hameau was composed of several structures: the Queen’s House the Mill, the Boudoir, the Tower, two Dairies, the Guard’s House, the Grange, the Kitchen, the Dovecote and the Farmhouses. About half the structures were for the Queen’s use or comfort, like the Tower, the Boudoir and the Kitchen, with its twenty-two burner stove.

The rest of the structures were devoted to the utilitarian aspect of the Hameau. Chickens and pigeons were raised in the Dovecote, the Grange housed feed for the livestock, the Farm was a real working farm. The Queen’s farm raised rabbits, pigs, cows, and a goat, and grew alfalfa, barley, buckwheat, flax and turnips, among other crops.

The Hameau has long been at the heart of criticism of Marie-Antoinette much of which was fabricated in the service of an increasingly revolutionary agenda. For instance, we will never know if she dressed up as a shepherdess or a milkmaid and “played pretend”.

Around this time she accumulated a library of 5000 books. Those on music, often dedicated to her, were the most read, though she also liked to read history. She sponsored the arts in particular music, and also supported some scientific endeavours, encouraging and witnessing the first launch of a Montgolfière, a hot air balloon.


On 27 April 1784, Beaumarchais’s play The Marriage of Figaro premiered in Paris. Initially banned by the king due to its negative portrayal of the nobility, the play was finally allowed to be publicly performed because of the queen’s support and its overwhelming popularity at court, where secret readings of it had been given by Marie Antoinette. The play was a disaster for the image of the monarchy and aristocracy. It inspired Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, which premiered in Vienna on 1 May 1786

On 24 October 1784, putting the baron de Breteuil in charge of its acquisition, Louis XVI bought the Château de Saint-Cloud from the duc d’Orléans in the name of his wife. This was unpopular particularly with those factions of the nobility who disliked the queen but also with a growing percentage of the population, who disapproved of a Queen of France independently owning a private residence.


The purchase of Saint-Cloud thus damaged the public’s image of the queen even further The château’s high price, almost 6 million livres, plus the substantial extra cost of redecorating, ensured that that much less money was going towards repaying France’s substantial debt.

On 27 March 1785, Marie Antoinette gave birth to a second son, Louis Charles, who bore the title of Duke of Normandy. The fact that the birth occurred exactly nine months after Fersen’s return did not escape the attention of many, leading to doubt as to the parentage of the child and to a noticeable decline of the queen’s reputation in public opinion.

Courtiers at Versailles noted in their diaries that the date of the child’s conception in fact corresponded perfectly with a period when the king and the queen had spent much time together but details were ignored amid attacks on the queen’s character


A second daughter, her last child, Marie Sophie Hélène Béatrix, Madame Sophie, was born on 9 July 1786 and lived only eleven months until 19 June 1787. She was named after her great-aunt Sophie of France, Madame Sophie, Louis XV’s fifth daughter, who had died four years earlier.

The Affair of the Diamond Necklace was an incident in 1785. The reputation of the Queen, already tarnished by gossip, was ruined by the implication that she participated in a crime to defraud the crown jewelers of the cost of a very expensive diamond necklace.

In 1772, Louis XV of France decided to make Madame du Barry, with whom he was infatuated, a special gift at the estimated cost of 2,000,000 livres (approximately £14 million in 2017). He requested that Parisian jewelers Boehmer and Bassenge create a diamond necklace that would surpass all others in grandeur. It would take the jewelers several years and a great deal of money to amass an appropriate set of diamonds. In the meantime, Louis XV died of smallpox, and du Barry was banished from court. The necklace consisted of many large diamonds arranged in an elaborate design of festoons, pendants and tassels. The jewelers hoped it would be a product that the new Queen Marie Antoinette, would buy and indeed in 1778 the new king, Louis XVI, offered it to his wife, but she refused it with the statement that the money would be better spent equipping a man-of-war. After having vainly tried to place the necklace outside France, the jewelers again attempted to sell it to Marie after the birth of Louis Joseph, Dauphin of France, in 1781. The Queen again refused.

A confidence trickster who called herself Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy, also known as Jeanne de la Motte, conceived a plan to use the necklace to gain wealth and possibly power and royal patronage. A descendant of an illegitimate son of Henry II of France, Jeanne had married an officer of the gendarmes, Nicholas de la Motte, the soi-disant “comte de la Motte”, and was living on a small pension granted to her by the King.


In March 1785, Jeanne became the mistress of the Cardinal de Rohan, a former French ambassador Vienna. Jeanne de la Motte persuaded Rohan that she had been received by the Queen and enjoyed her favour. On hearing of this, Rohan resolved to use Jeanne to regain the Queen’s goodwill.

Thus began an alleged correspondence between Rohan and the Queen. Jeanne de la Motte returned the replies to Rohan’s notes, which she said came from the Queen. The Cardinal, convinced that Marie Antoinette was in love with him begged Jeanne to arrange a secret interview with the Queen and the meeting took place in August 1784. In the garden of Versailles the Cardinal met with a woman he believed to be the Queen but was a prostitute who Jeanne had hired because of her resemblance to the Queen. Jeanne told the Cardinal that Marie the necklace but, not wishing to purchase such an expensive item publicly the Queen wanted the Cardinal to act as a secret intermediary. A little while later, Rohan negotiated the purchase of the necklace for 2,000,000 livres, to be paid in installments. He took the necklace to Jeanne’s house, where a man Rohan believed to be a valet of the Queen, came to fetch it. Jeanne de la Motte’s husband took the necklace to London, where it was broken up to sell the large individual diamonds separately.

Boehmer complained to the Queen, who told him that she had neither ordered nor received the necklace. Hee produced a letter signed “Marie Antoinette de France”. The King became furious that Rohan, could have let himself be fooled, since royalty do not use surnames. Rohan was arrested and taken to the Bastille Jeanne was arrested three days later, giving her a chance to destroy her papers.


Marie Antoinette said…

The Cardinal de Rohan was deprived of his office as grand almoner and exiled to his abbey of Chaise Dieu. Pope Pius VI was incensed, since he believed that the cardinal should be tried by his natural judge (i.e., himself). However, his notes remained unanswered.

Jeanne de la Motte was condemned to be whipped branded with a V (for voleuse, “thief”) on each shoulder, and sent to life imprisonment in the prostitutes’ prison at the Salpêtrière. In June of the following year, she escaped from prison disguised as a boy.

Marie Antoinette, who had insisted on the aarrest of the Cardinal, was dealt a heavy personal blow, as was the monarchy, and despite the fact that the guilty parties were tried and convicted, the affair proved to be extremely damaging to her reputation, which never recovered from it


Suffering from an acute case of depression the king began to seek the advice of his wife In her new role and with increasing political power, the queen tried to improve the awkward situation brewing between the assembly and the king. This change of the queen’s position signalled the end of the Polignacs’ influence and their impact on the finances of the Crown. Continuing deterioration of the financial situation despite cutbacks to the royal retinue and court expenses ultimately forced the king, the queen and the Minister of FinanceCalonne at the urging of Vergennes, to call a session of the Assembly of Notables after a hiatus of 160 years.

Marie Antoinette did not attend the meeting and her absence resulted in accusations that the queen was trying to undermine its purpose. The Assembly was a failure. It did not pass any reforms and instead fell into a pattern of defying the king. France’s financial problems were the result of a combination of factors: several expensive wars a large royal family whose expenditures were paid for by the state and an unwillingness on the part of most members of the privileged classes, aristocracy and clergy, to help defray the costs of the government out of their own pockets by relinquishing some of their financial privileges.


Historians believe America may not have won the war without French help but France’s involvement was costly both for the purse and for the king.


As a result of the public perception that she alone had ruined the national finances, Marie was given the nickname of “Madame Déficit”. While the sole fault for the financial crisis did not lie with her, she was the biggest obstacle to any major reform effort.

She had played a decisive role in the disgrace of the reformer ministers of finance, Turgot (in 1776), and Jacques Necker (first dismissal in 1781). If the secret expenses of the queen were taken into account, court expenses were much higher than the official estimate of 7% of the state budget.

The queen attempted to fight back with propaganda portraying her as a caring mother, most notably in the painting by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun exhibited at the Royal Académie Salon de Paris in August 1787, showing her with her children. Around the same time, Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy escaped from prison to London where she published damaging slander concerning her supposed amorous affair with the queen.


From late 1787 up to his death in June 1789, Marie’s primary concern was the continued deterioration of the health of the Dauphin, who suffered from tuberculosis she was directly involved in the exile of the Parlement, the May Edicts, and the announcement regarding the Estates General. She did participate in the King Council, the first queen to do this in over 175 years (since Marie de’ Medici had been named Chef du Conseil du Roi, between 1614 and 1617), and she was making the major decisions behind the scene and in the Royal Council.

Marie Antoinette was instrumental in the reinstatement of Jacques Necker as Finance Minister on 26 August, a popular move even though she herself was worried that it would go against her if Necker proved unsuccessful in reforming the country’s finances. She accepted Necker’s proposition to double the representation of the Third Estate (tiers état) in an attempt to check the power of the aristocracy.

The death of the Dauphin on 4 June, which deeply affected his parents, was virtually ignored by the French people, who were instead preparing for the next meeting of the Estates General and hoping for a resolution to the bread crisis.

Her role was decisive in urging the king to remain firm and not concede to popular demands for reforms. In addition, she showed her determination to use force to crush the forthcoming revolution.


The situation escalated on 20 June as the Third Estate, which had been joined by several members of the clergy and radical nobility, found the door to its appointed meeting place closed by order of the king. It thus met at the tennis court in Versailles and took the Tennis Court Oath (vowing “not to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the kingdom is established”. It was a pivotal event in the early days of the French Revolution.)

On 15 July Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette was named commander-in-chief of the newly formed Garde nationale.

In the days following the storming of the Bastille for fear of assassination, and ordered by the king the emigration of members of the high aristocracy began on 17 July with the departure of the comte d’Artois, the Condés, cousins of the king and the unpopular Polignacs. Marie Antoinette, whose life was as much in danger remained with the king, whose power was gradually being taken away by the National Constituent Assembly.

The abolition of feudal privileges by the National Constituent Assembly on 4 August 1789 and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (La Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen), drafted by La Fayette with the help of Thomas Jefferson and adopted on 26 August, paved the way to a Constitutional Monarchy (4 September 1791 – 21 September 1792).

Despite these dramatic changes, life at court continued, while the situation in Paris was becoming critical because of bread shortages in September. On 5 October, a crowd from Paris descended upon Versailles and forced the royal family to move to the Tuileries Palace where they lived under a form of house arrest under the watch of La Fayette’s Garde nationale

Marie Antoinette continued to perform charitable functions and attend religious ceremonies, but dedicated most of her time to her children. She also played an important political, albeit not public role between 1789 and 1791 when she had a complex set of relationships with several key actors of the early period of the French Revolution.

La Fayette, one of the former military leaders in the American War of Independence (1775–83), served as the warden of the royal family in his position as commander-in-chief of the Garde nationale. Despite his dislike of the queen—he detested her as much as she detested him and at one time had even threatened to send her to a convent he was persuaded by the mayor of Paris, Jean Sylvain Bailly, to work collaborate with her and allowed her to see Fersen a number of times.

His relationship with the king was more cordial. As a liberal aristocrat he did not want the fall of the monarchy but rather the establishment of a liberal one, similar to that of the United Kingdom, based on cooperation between the king and the people, as was to be defined in the Constitution of 1791.

Despite her attempts to remain out of the public eye, Marie Antoinette was falsely accused in the libelles of having an affair with La Fayette, whom she loathed and as was published in “Le Godmiché Royal” (“The Royal Dildo”), and of having a sexual relationship with the English Baroness ‘Lady Sophie Farrell’ of Bournemouth a well-known lesbian of the time. Publication of such calumnies continued to the end climaxing at her trial with an accusation of incest with her son. There is no evidence to support the accusations.


A significant achievement of Marie Antoinette in that period was the establishment of an alliance with Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau, the most important lawmaker in the assembly. Like La Fayette Mirabeau was a liberal aristocrat. He had joined the Third Estate and was not against the monarchy, but wanted to reconcile it with the Revolution. He also wanted to be a minister and was not immune to corruption.

On the advice of Mercy, Marie Antoinette opened secret negotiations with him at château of Saint-Cloud on 3 July 1790, where the royal family was allowed to spend the summer. At the meeting Mirabeau was much impressed by the queen, and remarked in a letter to his friend that she was the only man the king had by him. An agreement was reached Marie promised to pay him 6000 livres per month and one million if he succeeded in his mission to restore the king’s authority.

The only time the royal couple returned to Paris in that period was on 14 July to attend the Fête de la Fédération, an official ceremony held at the Champ de Mars in commemoration of the fall of the Bastille one year earlier. At least 300,000 persons participated from all over France, including 18,000 national guards. The king was greeted at the event with loud cheers of “Long live the king!”.

Mirabeau sincerely wanted to reconcile the queen with the people, and she was happy to see him restoring much of the king’s powers such as his authority over foreign policy, and the right to declare war. Over the objections of La Fayette and his allies the king was given a suspensive veto allowing him to veto any laws for a period of four years.

With time, Mirabeau would support the queen even more going as far as to suggest that Louis XVI “adjourn” to Rouen or Compiègne. However this leverage with the Assembly ended with the death of Mirabeau in April 1791 despite the attempt of several moderate leaders of the Revolution to contact the queen to establish some basis of cooperation with her.


In March 1791 Pope Pius VI had condemned the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, reluctantly signed by Louis XVI, which reduced the number of bishops from 132 to 93, imposed the election of bishops and all members of the clergy by departmental or district assemblies of electors, and reduced the Pope’s authority over the Church.

Religion played an important role in the life of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI both raised in the Roman Catholic faith. The queen’s political ideas and her belief in the absolute power of monarchs were based on France’s long established tradition of the divine right of kings.


On 18 April, as the royal family prepared to leave for Saint-Cloud to attend Easter mass celebrated by a refractory priest, a crowd, soon joined by the Garde nationale (disobeying La Fayette’s orders) prevented their departure from Paris, prompting Marie Antoinette to declare to La Fayette that she and her family were no longer free.

There had been several plots designed to help the royal family escape, which the queen had rejected because she would not leave the king, or which had ceased to be viable because of the king’s indecision. Once Louis finally did commit to a plan, its poor execution was the cause of its failure.

In an elaborate attempt known as the Flight to Varennes to reach the royalist stronghold of Montmédy, some members of the royal family were to pose as the servants of an imaginary “Mme de Korff” a wealthy Russian baroness a role played by Louise-Élisabeth de Croÿ de Tourzel governess of the royal children.

The escape was largely planned by the queen’s favourite, the Swedish Count Axel von Fersen and the Baron de Breteuil, who had garnered support from Swedish King Gustavus III. Fersen had urged the use of two light carriages that could have made the 200-mile journey to Montmédy relatively quickly. This would have involved the splitting up of the royal family, however, thus Louis and Marie-Antoinette decided on the use of a heavy and conspicuous coach drawn by six horses.

Due to the cumulative effect of slow progression time miscalculations, lack of secrecy, and the need to repair broken coach traces, the royal family was thwarted in its escape attempt after leaving Paris. Louis himself chatted with peasants while horses were being changed at Fromentieres and Marie gave silver dishes to a helpful local official at Chaintrix.

At Chalons townspeople reportedly greeted and applauded the royal party. Finally, Jean Baptiste Drouet, the postmaster of Sainte Menehould, recognized the king from his portrait printed on an assignat in his possession


Seven detachments of cavalry posted along the intended route had been withdrawn or neutralized by suspicious crowds before the large and slow moving vehicle being used by the royal party had reached them. The king and his family were eventually arrested in the town of Varennes, 50 km (31 miles) from their ultimate destination, the heavily fortified royalist citadel of Montmédy.

Upon learning of the capture of the royal family, the National Constituent Assembly sent three representatives, Antoine Barnave, Jérôme Pétion de Villeneuve and Charles César de Fay de La Tour-Maubourg to Varennes to escort Marie Antoinette and her family back to Paris.

On the way to the capital they were jeered and insulted by the people as never before. The prestige of the French monarchy had never been at such a low level. During the trip, Barnave the representative of the moderate party in the Assembly protected Marie from the crowds and even Pétion took pity on the royal family. Brought safely back to Paris, they were met with total silence by the crowd. Thanks to Barnave, the royal couple was not brought to trial and was publicly exonerated of any crime in relation with the attempted escape.

Marie Antoinette’s first Lady of the Bedchamber Mme Campan wrote about what happened to the queen’s hair on the night of 21–22 June, “…in a single night, it had turned white as that of a seventy year old woman.” This is now known as Marie Antoinette syndrome. Triggers activating the autoimmune mechanisms have been postulated, including sorrow and fear, but also fits of rage, extreme amounts of stress, unwelcome, unexpected news.


After their return from Varennes the queen, her family and entourage were held under tight surveillance by the Garde nationale in the Tuileries, where the royal couple was guarded night and day. Four guards accompanied the queen wherever she went, and her bedroom door had to be left open at night. Her health also began to deteriorate, thus further reducing her physical activities.

On 17 July 1791, with the support of Barnave and his friends La Fayette’s Garde nationale opened fire on the crowd which had assembled on the Champ de Mars to sign a petition demanding the deposition of the king. The estimated number of those killed varies between 12 and 50. On 8 October, he resigned as commander of the Garde nationale.


Among the French, the reputation of Lafayette never recovered from this episode. The people no longer supported him after he and his men shot into the crowd, causing the massacre. His influence in Paris diminished accordingly.


Marie Antoinette was not considered sincere in her cooperation with the moderate leaders of the French Revolution, which ultimately ended any chance to establish a moderate government. Moreover, the view that the unpopular queen was controlling the king further degraded the royal couple’s standing with the people


She continued to hope that the military coalition of European kingdoms would succeed in crushing the Revolution. She counted most on the support of her Austrian family. After the death of her brother Joseph in 1790 his successor Leopold was willing to support her to a limited degree. Upon Leopold’s death in 1792, his son, Francis, a conservative ruler, was ready to support the cause of the French royal couple more vigorously because he feared the consequences of the French Revolution and its ideas for the monarchies of Europe.

On 20 June 1792, “a mob of terrifying aspect” broke into the Tuileries, made the king wear the bonnet rouge (red Phrygian cap) to show his loyalty to the Republic, insulted Marie Antoinette, accusing her of betraying France, and threatened her life.


The Brunswick Manifesto (Threatened that if the French royal family were harmed, then French civilians would be harmed.), issued on 25 July 1792, triggered the events of 10 August when the approach of an armed mob on its way to the Tuileries Palace forced the royal family to seek refuge at the Legislative Assembly. Ninety minutes later, the palace was invaded by the mob, who massacred the Swiss Guards.


On 13 August the royal family was imprisoned in the tower of the Temple in the Marais under conditions considerably harsher than those of their previous confinement in the Tuileries.

A week later, several of the royal family’s attendants, among them the princesse de Lamballe, were taken for interrogation by the Paris Commune. Transferred to the La Force prison, after a rapid judgment, Marie Louise de Lamballe was savagely killed on 3 September. Her head was affixed on a pike and paraded through the city to the Temple for the queen to see. Marie fainted upon learning of it.

On 21 September 1792, the fall of the monarchy was officially declared and the National Convention became the governing body of the French Republic. The royal family name was downgraded to the non-royal “Capets”. Preparations began for the trial of the king in a court of law.

On 11 December, among crowded and silent streets, the deposed king was brought from the Temple to stand before the Convention and hear his indictment an accusation of high treason and crimes against the State. On 15 January, by a majority of one vote of Philippe Égalité, he was condemned to death


On Monday, 21 January 1793, Louis XVI was beheaded by guillotine on the Place de la Révolution. He said a short speech in which he pardoned “those who are the cause of my death” He declared himself innocent of the crimes of which he was accused. He wanted to say more, but Antoine Joseph Santerre, a general halted the speech by ordering a drum roll. The former king was then beheaded but the blade did not sever his neck entirely the first time.


The original Scottish Maiden, which we would call a “guillotine.” Introduced in 1564—during the reign of Mary Queen of Scots this beheading device was last used in 1718. Its blade was weighted with 75 pounds of lead. The victim would lie on their back face up.

The queen, now called “Widow Capet” plunged into deep mourning. She still hoped her son Louis XVII, whom the exiled comte de Provence Louis XVI’s brother had recognised as Louis XVI’s successor, would one day rule France.

Marie told Madame Campan…

Throughout her imprisonment and up to her execution she could count on the sympathy of conservative factions and social religious groups which had turned against the Revolution, and also on wealthy individuals ready to bribe republican officials in order to facilitate her escape however, all plots failed.

Prisoners in the tower of the Temple Marie, her children and Élisabeth were insulted some of the guards going as far as blowing smoke in the ex-queen’s face.

Strict security measures were taken to assure that Marie Antoinette was not able to communicate with the outside world. Despite these measures several of her guards were open to bribery and a line of communication was kept with the outside world.


After Louis’ execution her fate became a central question of the National Convention. While some advocated her death, others proposed exchanging her for French prisoners of war or for a ransom from the Holy Roman Emperor. Thomas Paine advocated exile to America.

In April 1793, during the Reign of Terror a Committee of Public Safety dominated by Robespierre was formed, and men such as Jacques Hébert began to call for Marie Antoinette’s trial. By the end of May the Girondins had been chased from power.

Calls were also made to “retrain” the eight year old Louis XVII, to make him pliant to revolutionary ideas. To carry this out, Louis Charles was separated from his mother on 3 July after a heartwrenching struggle during which his mother fought in vain to retain her son, who was handed over to Antoine Simon, a cobbler and representative of the Paris Commune.

Marie Therese, wrote in her memoires, about the “monster Simon”, as did Alcide Beauchesne. The foreign secretaries of England and Spain also heard accounts from their spies that the boy was raped by prostitutes in order to infect him with venereal diseases to supply the Commune with manufactured “evidence” against the Queen.

On 6 October Jacques Hébert and others visited the eight year old Louis and secured his signature to charges of sexual molestation against his mother and his aunt.

Until her removal from the Temple Marie Antoinette spent hours trying to catch a glimpse of her son, who within weeks, had been made to turn against her accusing his mother of wrongdoing.


On the night of 1 August, at 1:00 in the morning, Marie Antoinette was transferred from the Temple to an isolated cell in the Conciergerie as ‘Prisoner n° 280’. Leaving the tower she bumped her head against the lintel of a door, which prompted one of her guards to ask her if she was hurt to which she answered, “No! Nothing now can hurt me.”

A reconstitution of Marie Antoinette’s cell in the Conciergerie where she was allowed no privacy.

This was the most difficult period of her captivity. She was under constant surveillance. The “Carnation Plot” (Le complot de l’œillet), an attempt to help her escape at the end of August, was foiled due to the inability to corrupt all the guards.


She was attended by Rosalie Lamorlière who took care of her as much as she could. At least once she received a visit by a Catholic priest.

Marie was tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal on 14 October 1793. Some believe the outcome of the trial had been decided in advance by the Committee of Public Safety around the time the Carnation Plot was uncovered.

She and her lawyers were given less than one day to prepare her defense. Among the accusations, many previously published in the libelles, were orchestrating orgies in Versailles, sending millions of livres to Austria, planning the massacre of the National Guards in 1792, declaring her son to be the new king of France and incest, a charge made by her son Louis Charles, pressured into doing so by those who controlled him.


This accusation of abuse drew an emotional response from Marie, who refused to respond to this charge instead appealing to all mothers present their reaction comforted her, since these women were not otherwise sympathetic to her.


According to people who saw her…

Early on 16 October, she was declared guilty of the three main charges against her: depletion of the national treasury conspiracy against the internal and external security of the State and high treason because of her intelligence activities in the interest of the enemy the latter charge alone was enough to condemn her to death. At worst, she and her lawyers had expected life imprisonment.

In the hours left to her, she composed a letter to her sister in law Madame Élisabeth affirming her clear conscience her Catholic faith and her love and concern for her children. The letter did not reach Élisabeth.


Preparing for her execution, she had to change clothes in front of her guards. She put on a plain white dress, white being the color worn by widowed queens of France. Her hair was shorn, her hands bound painfully behind her back and she was put on a rope leash.

Unlike her husband who had been taken to his execution in a carriage, she had to sit in an open cart (charrette) for the hour it took to convey her from the Conciergerie via the rue Saint Honoré thoroughfare to reach the guillotine erected in the Place de la Révolution, (the present day Place de la Concorde).

She maintained her composure despite the insults of the jeering crowd. A constitutional priest was assigned to her to hear her final confession. He sat by her in the cart, but she ignored him all the way to the scaffold.


Marie Antoinette was guillotined at 12:15 p.m. on 16 October 1793. Her last words were “Pardon me sir I meant not to do it”, to Henri Sanson the executioner whose foot she had accidentally stepped on after climbing the scaffold.


Her head was one of those that Marie Tussaud was employed to make death masks of. Her body was thrown into an unmarked grave in the Madeleine cemetery located close by in rue d’Anjou. Because its capacity was exhausted the cemetery was closed the following year on 25 March 1794.

Perhaps Charles Dickens put it best
when he began his Tale of Two Cities..

Both Marie Antoinette’s and Louis XVI’s bodies were exhumed on 18 January 1815 during the Bourbon Restoration, when the comte de Provence ascended the newly reestablished throne as Louis XVIII, King of France and of Navarre.

Christian burial of the royal remains took place three days later on 21 January, in the necropolis of French kings at the Basilica of St Denis.

Marie’s son Louis Charles died one year after her On 31 March 1795 from “Scrofula” Tuberculosis.

Her daughter Marie Thérèse married her first cousin Louis Antoine, Duke of Angoulême. They moved to Great Britain and settled at Hartwell House Buckinghamshire, then 21 Regent Terrace in Edinburgh. Marie-Thérèse died of pneumonia on 19 October 1851.

When told that starving French peasants lacked bread to eat the queen is alleged to have callously declared “Let them eat cake!” There is no evidence, however, that Marie Antoinette ever uttered that famous quip. The phrase used to encapsulate the out of touch and indifferent royals first appeared years before Marie Antoinette ever arrived in France in philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s description of Marie-Therese, the Spanish princess who married King Louis XIV in 1660.

Entrance ticket to the Tuileries in the Queen’s apartments. Engraving bearing the signature in ink of the Commander of the Queen’s Guard.

The plain ivory handle, the seal inscribed “QUEEN FURNISHED GUARD” and the initials “MA” surmounted by a royal crown

Marie Antoinette’s belongings

Marie Antoinette In film
Madame Du Barry 1934 Anita Louise
Marie Antoinette 1938 Norma Shearer
Marie-Antoinette reine de France 1956 Michèle Morgan

The Story of Mankind 1957 Marie Wilson
La Révolution française 1987 Jane Seymour
L’autrichienne 1989 Ute Lemper

The Affair of the Necklace 2001 Joely Richardson
Marie Antoinette 2006 Kirsten Dunst
Marie-Antoinette, la véritable histoire 2006 Karine Vanasse

Farewell, My Queen 2012 Diane Kruger
Mr. Peabody and Sherman 2014 Lauri Fraser
Marie Antoinette, the Love of a King 1922 Diana Karenne

Black Magic 1949 Nancy Guild
Cagliostro 1929 Suzanne Bianchetti
Lady Oscar 1979 Christine Böhm
The Queen’s Necklace 1946 Marion Dorian

Beaumarchais 1996 Judith Godrèche
Liberté, égalité, choucroute 1985 Ursula Andress
Captain of the Guard 1930 Evelyn Hall

Le Collier de la Reine 1929 Diana Karenne
Mystery of the Wax Museum 1933 Fay Wray
La Marseillaise 1938 Lise Delamare

Scaramouche 1952 Nina Foch
Madame du Barry 1954 Isabelle Pia
Si Versailles M’Etait Conté 1954 Lana Marconi

La Fayette 1961 Liselotte Pulver
Start the Revolution Without Me 1970 Billie Whitelaw
Marie Antoinette 1975 Geneviève Casile

L’Eté de la Révolution 1989 Brigitte Fossey
Jefferson in Paris 1995 Charlotte de Turckheim
Ridicule 1996 Mirabelle Kirkland
The Man Who Did Not Want to Be King 2011 Raphaëlle Agogué

Marie Antoinette In television
Let Them Eat Cake, Elizabeth Berrington
CBBC’s Horrible Histories, Alice Lowe
CBBC’s Horrible Histories, Jessica Ransom

Meeting of Minds, Jayne Meadows
La Comtesse de Charny, Isabelle Guiard
The Days That Made History, Estelle Skornik

Marie Antoinette in books
Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman
A 1932 biography by Austrian writer Stefan Zweig.

Marie Antoinette: The Journey
by Antonia Fraser. It is the basis for
the 2006 Sofia Coppola film Marie Antoinette

The Queen’s Necklace
A novel by Alexandre Dumas that was published in 1849
Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey
The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette by Carolly Erickson

To the Scaffold by Carolly Erickson
Marie Antoinette by Hilaire Belloc
The Private Life of Marie Antoinette by Madame Campan

Marie Antoinette by Joan Haslip
Queen of Fashion by Caroline Weber
The Wardrobe Mistress by Meghan Masterson

Marie Antoinette by Évelyne Lever, Catherine Temerson
Marie Antoinette’s Head by Will Bashor
Marie Antoinette by Desmond Seward

The Private Realm of Marie Antoinette by Marie-France Boyer
Marie-Antoinette by Ian Dunlop
Marie Antoinette by Bernardine Kielty

Marie-Thérèse, Child of Terror by Susan Nagel
Marie Antoinette: An Intimate History by Melanie Clegg
A Scented Palace by Elisabeth de Feydeau

Marie Antoinette’s Darkest Days by Will Bashor
The Wicked Queen by Chantal Thomas, Julie Rose
How to Ruin a Queen by Jonathan Beckman

and many many more….

Marie Antoinette In music
Jucifer’s 2008 album L’Autrichienne is a
concept album about the life of Marie
Antoinette, leading up to her death

Queen referred to her in “Killer Queen”
from their 1974 album Sheer Heart Attack

Richard Adler and Jerry Ross included a
mention of her as one of the devil’s own
in their song “Those Were the Good Old
Days” from the musical comedy
Damn Yankees.

Darryl Way and Sonja Kristina Lockwood wrote
a song titled “Marie Antoinette” for their
prog rock band Curved Air

Michael Kunze and Sylvester Levay wrote
a musical play called Marie Antoinette

The portrait of Marie Antoinette entitled
Marie Antoinette à la Rose features as the
front cover of the US alternative rock
group Hole’s 2010 album
Nobody’s Daughter.

Madonna dressed as Marie Antoinette for
her performance of “Vogue” at the 1990 MTV
Music Video Awards

In 2012, Marina and the Diamonds mentioned
Marie Antoinette as an inspiration for her
album Electra Heart.

In video games
.In the PC game Treasure in the Royal Tower
Marie Antoinette is mentioned
throughout the game
.One of the boss songs in the arcade game
Beatmania IIDX 16: Empress is called
“Marie Antoinette”
.In the recent multiplatform game Assassin’s
Creed Unity, she is one of several
historical figures present in the game

Marie Antoinette
Queen of France


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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Amy-p

    Certainly the age of decadence.

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