Infamous Last Queen of Franceby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
The name of Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI, is notoriously connected to starving peasants, outrageous scandals, numerous lovers, and the guillotined queen of France. However, she is probably most famous for supposedly saying, “Let them eat cake!” even though there is no evidence she actually said the phrase. In the context of the French law that ordered bakers to sell fancy breads at the same price of regular bread on the occasion that they ran out of the common staple, the phrase would have been a call to enforce the law. Nevertheless, Marie was rumored to have a flippant attitude toward the suffering French peasantry and she paid for her frivolity with her life.
Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna was born November 2, 1755, in Vienna, Austria. She was the youngest daughter of Maria Theresa, archduchess of Austria, and the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I. She led a happy childhood in the royal household of Hapsburg. Unfortunately, her father died when she was only ten years old. Her childhood ended abruptly when her mother arranged a French marriage for Marie. At age 14, Marie sailed to France to marry Louis, dauphin of France, to seal an alliance between Austria and France. Their marriage was not consummated for seven years, because of Louis’ medical condition. However, it was Marie, not Louis, who suffered all the embarrassment of not bearing children.
Entering the brilliant French court, Marie Antoinette was immature and unprepared to take up her role as dauphine. First of all, she was unappreciated because she was a “foreign woman”. Also, she failed to discharge her royal duties, frivolously wasting her time on cards and gambling. Eventually becoming rebellious, she even disrupted royal ceremonies. Also, she refused to make friends with important courtiers. Instead, Marie went on outings with only a few friends, not honoring the custom of being surrounded with attendants. Thus, Marie began her life at the French court acting like a spoiled little Austrian child, not gaining the love of the French people even from the very start.
In 1774, the old king, Louis XV died. Thus, four years after their marriage, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were crowned Queen and King of France on May 10, 1774. Neither was ready for the huge responsibility, being only 19 and 20 respectively. In fact, the young couple exclaimed, “Protect us, Lord, for we reign too young.”
Fortunately, Marie gained some favor with the people in 1778 because she had her first daughter, named Marie Therese Charlotte. Her popularity grew more two years later with the birth of a son, heir to the throne, named Louis Charles. Unfortunately, he died eight years later. Another daughter died in infancy. Finally, the future Louis XVII was born in 1785. It was rumored for over 200 years that he survived the French Revolution after being smuggled to England. However, DNA tests confirmed that ten year old Louis-Charles perished in jail of tuberculosis.
Although she was known as “the Austrian whore”, no evidence has substantially shown Marie’s unfaithfulness. Rumors told shocking stories of a myriad of lovers, both male and female. Certainly however, rumors of her infidelity were fueled by courtiers who disliked her.
Secondly, her nickname, “Madame Deficit”, described Marie’s spending habits quite well. She spent enormous amounts of money on clothing, jewels, chateaux, and any kind of whim. At certain times, she would help the poor with huge amounts of money, but only sporadically, according to impulse. However, the biggest money scandal which surrounded her was aptly named the Diamond Necklace Affair. This scandal gave the revolutionaries just one more reason to hate her. Supposedly, a cardinal desiring to gain Marie’s favor received a message that the queen wished him to buy a certain expensive necklace containing 647 diamonds, and costing the equivalent of $100,000,000. So the compliant cardinal obtained the necklace, and brought it to the faux queen, who was actually an accomplice of a woman named Jean de La Motte. The unsuspecting cardinal gave the necklace to the “queen”, and happily received a rose in return. Jean de La Motte took the necklace to her husband in England, who sold the necklace in pieces. When the cardinal failed to pay for his costly purchase, the jewelers took their claim to Antoinette herself. News leaked out as the appalled queen demanded that the cardinal stand trial. Although Jean de La Motte was publicly flogged, branded and imprisoned, the cardinal was acquitted of his part in the Diamond Necklace Affair. Then the rumor mills set to work! At the end of the matter, Rumor informed everyone that Marie Antoinette had stolen the diamonds, and then had an affair with Madame La Motte.
The beginning of the end started on July 14, 1789, when a mob stormed the Bastille. Then the Revolution forced the royal family to move from the sumptuous palace of Versailles to the dank, dark Tuileries Palace in Paris. Prisoners for two years, Marie and Louis, along with their three children, attempted to escape in 1791 with the aide of Marie’s Swedish lover, Axel Ferson. However, the attempt was unsuccessful when someone recognized the King because of his picture on their coins! Now confined to the Temple, the royal husband and wife awaited their trials. After a short trial, Louis XVI was guillotined on January 21, 1793. Deprived of her children, Marie was subjected to horrific living conditions of the rat infested, filthy Temple dungeons. Found guilty of high treason and illicit sexual practices, Marie Antoinette was guillotined on October 16, 1793.
Marie Antoinette was basically disliked because of her reputation for overspending, her supposed infidelity to the King, and her foreign origins. Because of her actions during the early years of her reign, Marie Antoinette gained the hatred of her subjects. However, contrary to popular opinion, Marie Antoinette did not single handedly cause the French Revolution. Instead, certain people used her frivolous reputation as a political handle to incite the Parisian mobs.