The Biography of "Marie Antoinette": Death, Cake, and Facts. The Face of Royal Excess during the French Revolution.
Marie Antoinette's dramatic life story continues to arouse mixed emotions. To many people, she is still 'la Reine merchant, whose extravagance and frivolity helped to bring down the French monarchy; her indifference to popular suffering is epitomized by the (apocryphal) words: 'let them eat cake'.
Others are equally passionate in her defense: to them, she is a victim of misogyny.
In this biography, Antonia Fraser examines her influence over the king, Louis XVI, the accusations and sexual slurs made against her, her patronage of the arts which enhanced French cultural life, her imprisonment, the death threats made against her, and rumors of lesbian affairs.
Her trial (during which her young son was forced to testify to sexual abuse by his mother) and her eventual execution by guillotine in 1793.
In the article today, let's explore the life of Marie Antoinette, the woman who was the face of royal excess during the French Revolution.
Her hair was piled atop her head, often ornamented with jewels or trinkets. Her face was always made up, and she wore the finest gowns and jewelry. At only 19 years old, she was a Queen, and in the tumultuous times in which she lived, she soon became a symbol of all that was wrong with French royalty.
Marie Antoinette Biography
Marie Antoinette was the last queen of France before the French Revolution. She was born an Archduchess of Austria and was the penultimate child and youngest daughter of Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Francis I. ---Wikipedia
- Born: November 2, 1755, The Hofburg, Vienna, Austria
- Died: October 16, 1793, Place de la Concorde, Paris, France
- Children: Marie Thérèse of France, Louis XVII, MORE
- Spouse: Louis XVI (m. 1770–1793)
- Siblings: Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, MORE
- Parents: Maria Theresa, Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, Jean-Joseph de Barth.
Related Topics: Biography
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There are many books written by various writers with various titles on Marie Antoinette. You may check it out on Amazon.
Marie Antoinette: The Face of Royal Excess during the French Revolution
Marie Antoinette's short life. Born in 1755, this carefree, fun-loving daughter of Austrian empress Maria Theresa inherited neither of her righteous mother's political witness.
She was married off at 14 to the stolid, clumsy French Dauphin, who would not fully consummate their marriage for another seven years, at which point he was King Louis XVI and their marital difficulties were the subject of public ridicule.
She consoled herself retreating to the artificial village she constructed at Trianon, where she could be free of the court etiquette she hated and indulged in expensive amusements that only increased her unpopularity.
Her rare incursions into politics were just as ill-judged; She alienated the French nobility with attempts to further Austria's diplomatic goals, and from the first rumblings of revolution in 1788, she influenced Louis to take a hard line on royal power when compromise might have saved the monarchy and prevented their executions in 1793.
This romantic portrait of the queen who was reviled and eventually executed by the French revolutionaries transforms the woman who supposedly said "Let them eat cake" from a symbol of the cruelty of class politics into a quaint sovereign.
Early Life in Austria
Born into Royalty
Let’s explore the life of Marie Antoinette...the woman who was the face of royal excess during the French Revolution.
Though now inextricably linked with France, Antoinette wasn’t a native of the country. Descended from the Hapsburg line, she was born into royalty in Austria. Marie Antoinette entered the world in 1755.
She was the daughter of the Empress of Austria and the Holy Roman Emperor. Like many born into royalty, she had a lengthy name...Maria Antonia Josepha Joanna. Growing up, she was educated by private tutors.
Her education focused on morality and religion. That was typical at the time for an aristocratic female’s education. Though she had a private tutor that worked with her, Antoinette was no great shake at academics.
Early Years in France
In fact...she could barely read and write her native German...much less the French she also had to study.
As one of her tutors described… “she is rather lazy and extremely frivolous, she is hard to teach.”
Antoinette grew up during the seven years' War. She was only eight years old when it ended, but the outcome of the conflict quite seriously affected her future.
You see, as the Empress of Austria, Antoinette’s mother was a political leader. At the end of the seven years' War, it was in her best interest to keep an alliance between the French and the Austrians... and in the 18th Century, the best way to forge an alliance was through marriage.
Two years after the war ended, when Antoinette was but ten years old, her mother pegged the 11-year-old heir to the French crown as her best bet for a son-in-law.
The necessary arrangements were made, and at the age of only 14 years old Antoinette was married off to foreign royalty....Louis August de Bourbon.
Even Marie Antoinette’s entry into France as a teenager was a spectacular affair. Her caravan was made up of nearly 60 carriages accompanied by 117 footmen and 376 horses! The destination for this veritable parade was a royal retreat in the forest outside Paris.
But they had to make a stop as they approached the border with France...Antoinette had to be dressed to look the part of French royalty.
Her hair was powdered, her makeup was done up, and she put on a dress that matched the lavish expectations of the French court.
When they arrived, Antoinette showed herself to be just a teenager. She was impulsive and unable to control her excitement about being in a new place, about to meet her soon-to-be husband.
Rushing out of the carriage, she dashed up to the King of France...when she curtsied, he was charmed. But the king’s grandson, the future husband of Antoinette, did not share his betrothed’s extroverted personality.
The Royal Wedding Ceremony
He did not dash up to her upon her arrival...instead, he averted his eyes, gave her a quick, formal kiss on the cheek, and then stayed silent.
Meanwhile, Antoinette and the King chatted away merrily. Only days after Antoinette met Louis, the two were married.
The May 16, 1770 wedding ceremony was held in the chapel of the famed Palace of Versailles.
Antoinette’s dress was white and silver, an opulent gown decked out in diamonds. But there was a major problem with the gown...it wasn’t the right size.
For any bride, discovering at your wedding that your dress doesn’t fit well would be a nightmare. Imagine being the future queen, with all eyes of the court and country on you.
The Wedding Night
Antoinette didn’t fret, however...at least not publicly. She was expected to walk down the aisle and take the hand of Louis Bourbon in marriage.
So that’s what she did, with her shift showing through the back of her dress in between rows of sewn-on diamonds.
The ceremony itself was a long mass, and the groom had on a dour expression for the entire time.
Then, when it came time to seal the contract with the signatures of the bride and groom, Antoinette dripped ink on her signature, obscuring the name. Doing so was considered bad luck for the marriage.
And things didn’t get any better as the day went on. It was traditional in this era for newlyweds to be followed up to their bed chamber by a crowd.
In the case of Antoinette and Louis, the crowd included royal dignitaries and an archbishop. The bishop gave a blessing, the crowd dispersed, and the couple disappeared behind drawn curtains and undressed.
The Lack of Intimacy
But as it would seem the entirety of Europe knew by the next day...they didn’t consummate the marriage as was expected of newlyweds. And for the next seven years, they still didn’t consummate the marriage.
To this day, there’s never been a clear answer about why it took so long for the two to fulfill this marital obligation.
Historians have put forward theories … two of the most popular theories are that Louis had phimosis, a condition that meant sex was painful for him, or simply that the two teenagers were just young and confused.
It seemed the whole world knew about the lack of intimacy between the young royals, including Antoinette’s mother. Antoinette and her mother regularly corresponded via letter, and their discussions offer a glimpse into Antoinette’s early years in the French court. She was homesick…
“Madame, My very dear mother, I have not received one of your dear letters without having the tears come to my eyes.” And she disliked the French custom of royalty being attended to always…“
“I put on my rouge and wash my hands in front of the whole world,” she complained to her mother in a letter.
Her mother spent time in her letters admonishing her daughter for her frivolous behavior at court ...as well as for not performing her marital obligations.
In one letter, she told Antoinette that in order to be a good wife she needed to “lavish more caresses” on Louis.
Part of the problem might have been their different schedules and lifestyles. Though married, they lived two very different lives.
Antoinette was as outgoing and social as ever, but her husband remained quiet, avoiding the frivolities of court life that his wife so enjoyed.
The Differences in the Marriage
The differences grated on the marriage. Antoinette wrote to a friend, “My tastes are not the same as the King’s, who is only interested in hunting and his metal-working.”
He would often go to bed well before midnight, while she was just getting started with her parties late at night.
Then, she’d wake up the late morning after he’d already been up tending to his duties or studies from an early hour.
Eventually, Antoinette’s brother was sent to France to talk to Louis. It’s not clear what Antoinette’s brother said to Louis, but after their chat, the couple was finally able to consummate their marriage.
By the time their marriage was consummated, Louis’ father had died and the two had been king and queen for three years. She was 21 years old.
Opulent Lifestyle as Queen
As Queen Antoinette's tastes remained lavish, much to her mother's dismay. In an almost portentous letter, her mother wrote, You lead a dissipated life. I hope I shall not live to see the disaster that is likely to ensue.
Her hair itself was a mark of her opulence, with wigs and ornamentation piled feet atop her head.
Her hair was so extravagantly done that she could even hide tiny vases of water in it to keep the ornamental flowers fresh.
Leonard outing her hairdresser became a cultural icon in his own right. The women of the court and of high society in Paris began emulating Antoinette's hairstyles, with morning women even going so far as to ornament their towers of hair with urns.
Her jewelry was also flashy. Two of her diamond bracelets were worth as much as an entire mansion in Paris. Just getting dressed in the morning was literally a production.
One of Antoinette's maids would hold up a book of fabric samples for her to help her decide what to wear.
Then she'd put on layers of undergarments, including a frame for under her skirt to emphasize her hips. Of course, it, of course, then layers of fabric, and then her dress.
Again, her mother did predictably not approve. As you know, I've always been of the opinion that fashions should be followed in moderation but should never be taken to extremes.
A beautiful young woman, a graceful queen, has no need for such madness. On the contrary, in theory, the simplicity of dress is more fitting and more worthy of a queen.
I love my little queen and watch everything you do and feel I must not hesitate to draw your attention to this little frivol.
The Peasant’s Plight
The royal couple was living well, and showing it off. But the people of France weren’t sharing in the opulence, and not all of the French population was impressed with their new queen’s luxurious style.
In the late 1770s, the harvest in France wasn’t going well. Grain was at a premium, prices were skyrocketing, and farmers and peasants were hurting. There were literal riots in the streets over bread.
It is during these riots that Antoinette was supposed to have said “Let them eat cake.” But she never actually did… that phrase was attributed to her much later, in 1843.
Antoinette may have never uttered that famously callous phrase, but she certainly wasn’t sympathetic to the plight of the peasants.
In fact, even as her subjects were suffering she continued spending even more. She gambled, and she spent money to construct her own private retreat at Versailles. The building, known as the Trianon, already existed.
The Lavish Trianon
Antoinette, though, needed to make it her own. She installed artificial rivers, a rotunda, and a series of what appeared to be rustic cottages. Once inside, it became clear they were anything but… they were furnished in the typically comfortable style of the wealthy, complete with pool tables.
Silk hangings and other ornate wall decors, fine china, and luxury furniture brought the cost of the retreat to an astounding two million francs.
Beyond the cost of the decor and the property, Trianon caused other problems for Antoinette among her subjects. People wondered why a Queen would need such a retreat, and so they jumped to conclusions and began spreading rumors and gossip.
The Queen was hosting men, they said. Obscene gatherings had to be happening at the Trianon...why else would she need a lavish getaway for just herself and her friends?
The Rumors of Affair
One rumor persisted...that of Antoinette’s affair with Swedish diplomat Axel de Fersen. In 2016, a team of researchers announced that a decoded letter showed Antoinette and de Fersen’s relationship went beyond just discussing matters of state.
Among the decoded passages is this: “I will end [this letter] but not without telling you, my dear and gentle friend, that I love you madly and that there is never a moment in which I do not adore you.”
The two had first been introduced in 1774 and saw each other more and more as Fersen attended more events at the French court.
He left Europe for a time to fight in the American Revolution, but that didn’t dim the feelings between him and Antoinette.
Another letter that survived the centuries has Fersen telling his sister that he could never marry because his one true love was already taken.
The French Revolution
The queen was giving the people of France a lot to talk about. Discussions of Antoinette as a traitor to her husband, and about her frivolity with money were spread in pamphlets distributed throughout France.
Drawings of Antoinette accompanied acerbic words, showing her in her extravagant dress and driving ire toward her and the rest of the royal family.
As the king and queen were acting as if nothing was different about life, the people of France were getting angrier and angrier.
In 1789, King Louis sent troops to Versailles and Paris, and French citizens were starting to worry it might be a move to dissolve the National Assembly.
In response, 900 Frenchmen descended upon Paris and stormed the Bastille prison.
They stole weapons and ammunition, but the event was much more than just a stockpiling of weapons … it was a symbol of the people being ready to take on the powerful forces of the monarchy.
The Bastille was a fortress, but it was also the prison where political enemies were kept.
It was a symbol of the monarchy’s power, and taking it over the people showed just how weak the monarchy could be.
The storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, is widely considered to be the start of the French Revolution. And things were moving fast.
By October, the crowds of revolutionaries had grown to thousands. Ten thousand French commoners gathered outside Versailles, calling for the King and Queen to be dragged to Paris.
Among them were thousands of women who had marched miles from Paris...along the way they were joined by men with guns.
When they showed up outside the royal residence, Louis didn’t know what to do. His first instinct was to escape, so he ordered his carriages prepared. But they were no match for the angry crowds.
The Dangerous Situation in the Palace
The carriages were ruined, and Louis and his family remained trapped in the palace. They weren’t much safer inside, though.
Some of the crowds tried to get at Antoinette, and they nearly succeeded. Two guards were killed as the crowd forced their way toward her quarters.
The Royal Family's Plan to Escape
Throughout the crisis, Antoinette was meeting with ambassadors and writes letters to other European officials, calling on them to help out the French monarchy. Louis, meanwhile, seemed at a loss for how to help.
Then, in 1891, aided by the help of her lover de Fersen - not Louis - Antoinette put together a plan to get the royal family out of France and away from the danger of ever-growing anger from the public.
The Failed Escape and Capture
The plan was to escape to the Netherlands, where they could plot a counter-revolution. Antoinette proved herself able to make decisions and plan, but when it came time to escape her desire for luxury got in the way again.
A French general had told the royals that their journey would be much safer if they made it in two, small, inconspicuous carriages.
Instead, Antoinette demanded they use larger carriages that could be outfitted with a full silver dinner service and a wine chest. Also joining the royal family in their luxurious carriage was de Fersen.
The plan called for him to leave the royal family a short way into the journey, then meet back up with them at their destination.
The Captivity of the Royal Family
Shortly after de Fersen’s departure from the group they ran into trouble. A peasant recognized the king and was able to muster up a crowd to attack the carriage.
They were dragged into a house and held captive. Eventually, they were allowed to return to Paris but were still held captive in a palace.
The Difficulties and Decline of the Royal Family
The French Assembly allowed Louis to serve as King, but he didn’t really have any power. And Antoinette, well, she wasn’t much in favor of the Assembly at all.
She was actively working against them, writing to officials throughout Europe about how terrible she thought the new constitution was.
She was also pretty clear in how she felt about the members of the Assembly themselves, describing them as “A heap of blackguards, madmen, and beasts.”
During this time, Louis also declared war on Austria. Things were falling apart all around Antoinette. And they were about to get worse. In 1792, the French royal family was forced into the medieval Temple Tower fortress.
The Imprisonment in the Temple Tower Fortress
The Tower was a far cry from the luxurious life the royal family had been accustomed to. They were kept in small, dirty cells, and were constantly watched by guards.
Antoinette and Louis were allowed to see each other, but their children were kept in separate cells.
The family was eventually separated even further, with Louis being moved to a different cell and Antoinette and her children being moved to yet another.
The conditions were harsh, and the family was often denied basic necessities like food and water.
The Execution of Louis and Antoinette's Fate
In 1793, Louis was put on trial and found guilty of treason. He was sentenced to death and was executed by guillotine on January 21st of that year. Antoinette was also put on trial and found guilty of treason.
She was sentenced to death and was executed by guillotine on October 16th, 1793.
The fall of the French monarchy and the execution of Louis and Antoinette marked the end of an era in French history and the beginning of a new one.
The Legacy of Louis and Antoinette
The reign of Louis and Antoinette was marked by extravagance, excess, and growing discontent among the French people. Their failure to address the needs and concerns of their subjects ultimately led to their downfall.
However, their legacy lives on. The French Revolution and the execution of Louis and Antoinette had a profound impact on French and European history.
It marked the end of the Ancien Régime and the beginning of a new era of democracy and republicanism.
Today, the memory of Louis and Antoinette continues to fascinate people around the world. Their story has been the subject of countless books, films, and television shows.
And while their reign may have been marked by excess and extravagance, their tragic end serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of ignoring the needs and concerns of the people.
In the end, Louis and Antoinette's legacy is one of both tragedy and transformation. Their story serves as a reminder of the power of the people, and the need for leaders to listen to the voices of those they govern.
The Royal Family's Life in Prison
As they were held prisoner, the millennium-old monarchy of France was dissolved and the new French Republic took its place.
As all this was going on outside, the royal family tried to live a somewhat normal life in prison.
Louis and Marie tutored their children, played chess, and played instruments. But they were also still trying to bring the monarchy back to power.
The Discovery of Hidden Letters and Louis' Execution
It was this effort that ultimately undid her and Louis. The couple had hidden the letters they received from foreign powers in a box inside the prison. When the correspondence was discovered, Louis was dragged on trial.
He was ultimately sentenced to death, with the revolutionary leader Robespierre proclaiming “Louis must die, so that the country may live.”
Antoinette and their children were able to spend a few final hours with him before he met his fate at the guillotine with 20,000 Frenchmen looking on.
Antoinette's Imprisonment and Trial
Months later, Antoinette herself would be the one on the platform. After Louis’ execution, she was brought to a new prison - a prison with the dire nickname of “death’s antechamber.”
Here, a sympathetic military officer attempted to help her escape. When his efforts were uncovered, Antoinette was put on trial right away to avoid any danger of her escaping.
She was charged with treason and theft, and it was left up to an all-male jury to decide her fate. It only took two days for them to decide she was guilty and should be sentenced to death.
The Final Hours and Execution of Marie Antoinette
The 37-year-old queen made one final trip through the streets of Paris. Her hair shorn in preparation for execution, she sat stoically in her carriage on the ride to the guillotine platform where she would meet her fate.
When she arrived at the platform, the priest told her to have courage. Her response? “Courage! I have shown it for years; think you I shall lose it at the moment when my sufferings are to end?” From the moment she was born, Marie Antoinette was destined to play a role on the world stage.
Her mother set her up for a powerful marriage, a marriage that thrust her into the midst of the French Revolution and made her the ultimate representation of the excesses of royalty. She was only alive for 37 years, but in that time she certainly left her mark on the world.
Conclusion: Biography of Marie-Antoinette
With regard to the French Revolution, I have always believed that it was necessary and necessary. Because royal power is not supervised and restricted, it will inevitably affect civil rights, which constitutes extreme corruption.
However, the abolition of royal power in this radical way is not necessarily scientific. Since 1993, it has fallen into a state of anarchism.
Robespierre, who was once hailed as an incorruptible person, was eventually sent to the guillotine because of totalitarianism.
However, whether the person who sent him to trial was really that innocent is not necessarily the case. The rise of Napoleon is certainly an opportunity given by the times, but also his own ability.
Whenever I watch the literature and drama related to the French Revolution, I always think that this way of adding fire to the fire is too radical, and its disadvantages are also obvious.
However, it is difficult to answer the question of how to implement the method of boiling frogs in warm water, and what kind of program there should be. Even if the reforms of Peter I of Russia were successful, they were not thorough.
It is also reasonable for Marie Antoinette to be at a loss for the revolution and her role in the environment she grew up in. As for whether future generations should sympathize with her, it is a matter of opinion.
10 Things You May Not Know About Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette is one of the biggest icons of the 18th century. She is the ultimate Universal Queen.
No matter who you are, where you live, or what generation you belong to, you know Marie-Antoinette! Some love her, some hate her. One way or the other, she clearly fascinates!
Next month on October 16th will be the 230th anniversary of her death. Celebrate 268 years of Marie Antoinette's born and 10 truths that are stranger than the alternative facts told about her!
Check out 10 surprising facts about the former queen of France.
1. Marie Antoinette was born an Austrian princess, born in Vienna, Austria in 1755.
Archduchess Marie Antoinette was the 15th and last child of Holy Roman Emperor Francis the First and the powerful Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa.
2. She was only 14 years old when she married the future Louis 16 to seal the newfound alliance between long-time enemies Austria and France that had been forged by the Seven Years' War.
The Austrian monarchs offered the hand of their youngest daughter to the heir apparent to the French throne, Dauphin Louis Auguste.
On May 7, 1770, the 14-year-old royal bride was delivered to the French on an island in the middle of the Rhine River, and a grand procession escorted the archduchess to the Palace of Versailles.
The day after Marie Antoinette met the 15-year-old future king of France, the two were wed in a lavish palace ceremony.
3. It took seven years for the future king and queen to consummate their marriage.
Politics literally made strange bedfellows in the case of Marie-Antoinette and Louis Auguste.
Just hours after they first met, the young teenagers were escorted to the bridal chamber on their wedding night by the groom's grandfather, King Louis XV.
After the king blessed their bed, gave both a kiss, and left the room to allow them to start work on producing a royal heir, nothing happened between the two relative strangers that night.
Apparently, nothing happened for the next seven years either. The Dauphin suffered from a painful medical condition that rendered him impotent, and the palace gossip soon circulated around Europe.
Finally, in 1777, Maria Theresa dispatched one of her sons, Emperor Joseph II, to Versailles to intervene, and the problem was rectified either because the now King Louis XVI underwent surgery to correct the problem or because, in the words of the emperor, the couple had been "complete blunderers." Within a year, Marie Antoinette bore the first of the couple's four children.
4. Marie Antoinette was a teen idol.
Unlike during her years as queen, 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 30 people were trampled to death in the crash.
5. Her towering buffon hairdo once sported a battleship replica.
As Will Bashor details in his new book Marie Antoinette's Head, royal hairdresser Leonard Autie became one of the queen's closest confidants as he concocted her gravity-defying hairdos which rose nearly four feet high.
Auntie accessorized the queen's fantastical poofs with feathers, trinkets, and on one occasion even an enormous model of the French warship La Belle Poule to commemorate its sinking of a British frigate.
6. A fairytale village was built for her at Versailles while peasants starved in villages throughout France.
Marie Antoinette commissioned the construction of the Petit Hameau, a utopian hamlet with lakes, gardens, cottages, watermills, and a farmhouse on the palace grounds.
The queen and her ladies-in-waiting dressed up as peasants and pretended to be milkmaids and shepherdesses in their picturesque rural retreat.
Marie Antoinette's elaborate spending on frivolities such as the Petit Hameau infuriated revolutionaries and earned her the moniker "Madame Deficit."
7. Marie Antoinette never said, "Oh, let them eat cake!" When told that starving French peasants lacked any bread to eat, the queen is alleged to have callously declared "Oh, 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.
The remark was also ascribed to two aunts of Louis XVI before it was apocryphally tied to Marie-Antoinette.
8. The trumped-up charges against Marie Antoinette included incest.
Nine months after the execution of the former King Louis XVI, a revolutionary tribunal tried the former queen on trumped-up crimes against the French Republic that included high treason, sexual promiscuity, and incestuous relations with her son Louis Charles, who was forced to testify that his mother had molested him.
After a two-day show trial, an all-male jury found the former queen guilty on all charges and unanimously condemned her to death.
9. She was buried in an unmarked grave and then exhumed.
Following the execution of Marie-Antoinette, her body was placed in a coffin and dumped into a common grave behind the church of Madeleine.
In 1815, after the Bourbon Restoration returned King Louis XVIII to the throne following the exile of Napoleon, he ordered the bodies of his older brother Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette exhumed and given a proper burial alongside other French royals inside the Basilica Cathedral of Saint-Denis.
10. A U.S. city is named in her honor.
A group of American Revolution veterans founded the first permanent settlement of the Northwest Territory in 1788 at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio Rivers.
They wanted to honor France, which had been instrumental in assisting the patriots against the British.
They named their new community Marietta, Ohio after the French queen and even sent her a letter offering the monarch a public square in the town.