Marie Antoinette

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Marie Antoinette
Queen consort of France and Navarre
Queen consort of the French
Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun - Marie-Antoinette dit « à la Rose » - Google Art Project.jpg
Marie Antoinette with the Rose
Portrait by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783.
Queen consort of France and Navarre
Tenure 10 May 1774 – 4 September 1791
Queen consort of the French
Tenure 4 September 1791 – 10 August 1792
Spouse Louis XVI of France
Issue Marie Thérèse of France
Louis Joseph, Dauphin of France
Louis XVII of France
Sophie Hélène Béatrice of France
Full name
Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna
House House of Habsburg-Lorraine
Father Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor
Mother Maria Theresa
Born (1755-11-02)2 November 1755
Hofburg Palace, Vienna, Austria, HRE
Died 16 October 1793 (aged 37)
Place de la Révolution, Paris, France
Burial 21 January 1815
Saint Denis Basilica, France
Religion Roman Catholic

Marie Antoinette (/məˈr æntwəˈnɛt/ or /æntwɑːˈnɛt/; French: [maʁi ɑ̃twanɛt]; baptised Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna;[1] 2 November 1755 – 16 October 1793), born an Archduchess of Austria, was Dauphine of France from 1770 to 1774 and Queen of France and Navarre from 1774 to 1792. She was the fifteenth and penultimate child of Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor and Empress Maria Theresa.

In April 1770, upon her marriage to Louis-Auguste, Dauphin of France, she became Dauphine of France. She assumed the title Queen of France and of Navarre when her husband ascended the throne as Louis XVI upon the death of his grandfather Louis XV on 10 May 1774. After eight years of marriage, she gave birth to a daughter, Marie-Thérèse Charlotte, the first of her four children.

Within the kingdom of France, a growing number of the population eventually came to dislike her, accusing L'Autrichienne, "the Austrian woman", (a nickname given her upon her arrival to France by Louis XV's daughters, Mesdames de France), of being profligate, promiscuous,[2] and of harbouring sympathies for France's enemies, particularly Austria, her country of origin.[3] The Diamond Necklace affair damaged her reputation further. She later became known as Madame Déficit because France's financial crisis was blamed on her lavish spending and her opposition to the social and financial reforms of Turgot and Necker.

During the French Revolution, after the government had placed the royal family under house arrest in the Tuileries Palace in October 1789, several events linked to Marie Antoinette, in particular the June 1791 attempt to flee, and her role in the French Revolutionary War, had disastrous effects on French popular opinion: over a year later, on 10 August 1792, the attack on the Tuileries forced the royal family to take refuge at the Assembly. On 13 August, the family was imprisoned in the Temple. On 21 September 1792, Louis XVI was deposed and the monarchy abolished. After a two-day trial begun on 14 October 1793, Marie Antoinette was convicted by the Revolutionary Tribunal of treason to the principles of the revolution, and executed by guillotine on Place de la Révolution on 16 October 1793.

Early life(1755-1770)[edit]

Archduchesses Maria Carolina (in blue dress) and Maria Antonia (in pink dress). Watercolor on ivory by Antonio Pencini, 1764. Vienna, Hofburg.
Maria Antonia aged 12 by Martin van Meytens, ca. 1767-1768.
Maria Antonia at the clavichord, by Franz Xaver Wagenschön (1768).

Maria Antonia was born on 2 November 1755 at the Hofburg Palace, in Vienna. She was the youngest daughter of Emperor Francis I and Empress Maria Theresa.[1][4] Her godparents were Joseph I and Mariana Victoria, King and Queen of Portugal; Archduke Joseph and Archduchess Maria Anna acted as proxies for their newborn sister.[5][5][6] Shortly after her birth, she was placed under the care of the Governess of the Imperial children, Countess von Brandeis.[7] Maria Antonia was raised with her three-year older sister Maria Carolina, with whom she had a lifelong close relationship.[8] As to her relationship with her mother, it was difficult but both the empress and her daughter loved each other.[9]

Maria Antonia spent her formative years between the Hofburg Palace and Schönnbrunn, the imperial summer residence in Vienna,[10] where on 13 October 1762 she met Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, then a child prodigy.[11][12][13][14]

In spite of the private tutoring she received, results of her schooling were less than satisfactory.[15] 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.[16] Conversations with her were stilted.[17][18]

Under the teaching of Christoph Willibald Gluck, Maria Antonia developed into a good musician. She learned to play the harp,[15] the harpsichord and the flute. During the family's gatherings in the evenings, she would sing, as she had a beautiful voice.[19] She also excelled at dancing,[20] had an "exquisite" poise,[20] and loved dolls.[20][20]

Marie Antoinette entering Strasbourg on 7 May 1770.

Marriage to Louis-Auguste de France (1770)[edit]

Marie Antoinette, at the age of thirteen; this miniature portrait was sent to the Dauphin, for him to see what his future bride looked like. Joseph Ducreux (1769).

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; their common desire to destroy the ambitions of Prussia and Great Britain helped to secure a definitive peace between them.

Louis Auguste as Dauphin of France, by Louis-Michel Van Loo (1769).

As was customary among royalty, the better way to seal an alliance was with a marriage: on 7 February 1770, Louis XV formally asked the hand of Maria Antonia for his eldest surviving grandson and heir Louis-Auguste, Duke of Berry and Dauphin of France.[21]

On 17 April Maria Antonia formally renounced to all her rights over the Habsburg domains, and on 19 April she was married by proxy to the Dauphin of France at the Augustinian Church in Vienna, with her brother Archduke Ferdinand representing the Dauphin in the ceremony.[22][23][24]

Profile medallion of Marie Antoinette as Dauphine of France in 1770, allegorical to her marriage.

On 7 May 1770, on the Île aux Épis, an island on the Rhine between Kehl and Strasbourg, Marie Antoinette was officially handed over to comtesse de Noailles, her lady in waiting until 1775, in charge of the proper court étiquette Marie-Antoinette was to follow.[25][26] On 14 May, at the edge of the forest of Compiègne, she met king Louis XV, her husband the Dauphin, the king's daughters, Mesdames de France, Adélaïde, Sophie, Victoire, the following day, her brothers-in-law, Louis Stanislas Xavier, comte de Provence; and Charles Philippe, comte d'Artois, at the Château de la Muette,[27][28] and on 16 May, her husband's younger sisters, Madame Clotilde and Madame Élisabeth, at Versailles.

The ceremonial wedding took place on 16 May 1770, in the Palace of Versailles, and, after the festivities, the day ended with the ritual bedding.[29][30] The lack of consummation of the marriage plagued the reputation of both Louis-Auguste and Marie Antoinette for the next seven years.[31][32]

The initial reaction to the marriage between Marie Antoinette and Louis-Auguste was mixed. On the one hand, the Dauphine herself was popular among the people. Her first official appearance in Paris on 8 June 1773 was a resounding success. She and the Dauphin had been acclaimed throughout the day with climax taking place at the Tuileries before their return to Versailles. With her fair skin, straw-blond hair, blue eyes, beautiful smile and majestic figure, people could not help but be charmed by the personality and beauty of the not yet 18-year-old princess. On the other hand, those opposed to the alliance with Austria, and others on personal grounds, such as the comtesse du Barry, had a tenuous relationship with the Dauphine.[33]

Relationship with Madame du Barry (1770-1774)[edit]

Portrait of Marie Antoinette in hunting attire (a favorite of her mother), by Joseph Krantzinger (1771), Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Her relationship with Madame du Barry was politically important to improve, at least on the surface, because Madame du Barry was Louis XV's mistress, with considerable political influence over the king. In fact, the favorite had been instrumental in ousting the duc de Choiseul, who had helped orchestrate the Franco-Austrian alliance and Marie Antoinette's marriage.[34] After months of continued pressure from her mother and the comte de Mercy-Argenteau, the Austrian ambassador to France, who was sending Maria-Theresa secret reports on Marie-Antoinette's behavior,[35][36] the Dauphine grudgingly agreed to speak to Madame du Barry on New Year's Day 1772 in order to stop any French protest about the partition of Poland. Although the limit of the conversation was Marie Antoinette's banal comment to the royal mistress: "There are a lot of people at Versailles today", Mademe du Barry was satisfied by her victory, and the crisis, for the most part, dissipated.[37] Afterwards, Marie Antoinette never addressed a word to the comtesse. Madame Du Barry, who dominated court life, had much influence on the king who, in spite of Marie-Antoinette's strong objection, exiled in 1770 one of her ladies-in-waiting, the duchesse de Gramont, sister of Choiseul. Mercy and the dauphin occasionally visited Madame du Barry in order to please the king. In 1772, the Dauphine, whose influence on the king was non-existent, could not make her planned entrance in Paris because of a conflict of étiquette between Mesdames aunts and the comtesse de Noailles.[38] Although she, the Dauphin and his brothers had been allowed to attend incognito the previous carnival ball at the Opera, it was only after their official entrance in the capital on 8 June 1773 that the young couple had more freedom to visit Paris.[39][40]

On 10 May 1774, Louis XV died. On May 12, his successor Louis XVI, "under the influence of his pious aunts", and to the satisfaction of his wife[41][42][43] exiled Madame du Barry to the abbaye de Pont-aux-Dames, in Meaux by lettre de cachet.[44][45] Over the next two years, du Barry was allowed greater freedom but she was never allowed to return to the royal court.

Queen of France (1774-1791)[edit]

Royal Monogram as Queen of France.
Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, en grand habit de cour, by Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty, 1775.
Portrait by Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty, 1775. Musée Antoine Lécuyer.

Early years (1774-1778)[edit]

Archduke Maximilian Francis of Austria visited Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI on 7 February 1775 at the Château de la Muette.

On 11 June 1775, Louis XVI's coronation took place at the cathedral of Reims. Following the custom, Marie Antoinette was not crowned alongside him.[46] Had she been crowned Queen of France, the ceremony would have taken place at the Basilica of Saint Denis.

At the outset, the new queen had limited political influence with her husband, who blocked several of her candidates, including Choiseul,[47][48] from taking important positions, with the support of his two most important ministers, Chief Minister Maurepas and Foreign Minister Vergennes. However, the queen played a decisive role in the disgrace and exile of the most powerful of Louis XV ministers, the Duke of Aiguillon.[49][50][51]

Opening the door to criticism in a time when the country was facing a grave financial crisis, and the population suffering from difficult economical conditions, as illustrated in the Flour War, a series of riots against the high price of flour and bread, which took place between April and May 1775, the queen went into the costly diversions of buying her dresses from Rose Bertin and gambling, with the result that (with the help of the libelles) her image began to tarnish in the eyes of both the middle and lower classes: with time, part of public opinion saw no major difference between her and the favourites of the previous kings.

For formal occasions, she adopted hair styles, the pouf and the panache (bundle of feathers) created by Rose Bertin, and the wearing of high heels which added at least a foot to her height. She became a fashion model to the ladies at court and in Parisian high society.

Marie Antoinette was given free rein to renovate the Petit Trianon, a gift to her by Louis XVI on 15 August 1774;[52] With the "English garden", she and her court adopted the English dress of indienne, of percale or muslin.[53] The Petit Trianon became associated with the young queen's perceived extravagance, and soon rumours circulated that she plastered the walls with gold and diamonds.[54] In her memoirs, Jeanne-Louise-Henriette Campan, her lady-in-waiting, defended Marie Antoinette's reputation and her taste for simplicity.[55]

As early as 1774, Marie Antoinette began to befriend a few male admirers, such as the baron de Besenval, the duc de Coigny, and the Count Valentin Esterházy.,[56][57] and 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,[58][59] a charge she soon gave to her new favourite, the duchesse de Polignac.

In 1774, she took under her patronage her former music teacher, the German composer of operas Christoph Willibald Gluck, who remained in France until 1779.[60][61]

Motherhood, changes at court, intervention in politics (1778-1781)[edit]

Marie Antoinette in a court dress worn over extremely wide panniers showing her majestic presence, by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1778).

Amidst the atmosphere of a wave of libelles, the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph came to France incognito, under the name comte de Falkenstein, for a six-week visit during which he toured Paris extensively and was a simple guest at Versailles. He met his sister and her husband on 18 April 1777 at the château de la Muette, 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 that arena.[62] In a letter to his brother Leopold, Joseph graphically described them as "a couple of complete blunderers."[63] Due to Joseph's intervention, the marriage was finally consummated in August 1777.[64] Eight months later, in April 1778, it was suspected that the queen was pregnant, which was officially announced the following May 16.[65] Marie Antoinette's daughter, Marie-Thérèse Charlotte, Madame Royale, was born at Versailles on 19 December 1778.[9][66][67] The child's paternity was contested in the libelles.[68]

In the middle of the queen's pregnancy, two events occurred which had a profound impact on her later life: the return of Count Axel von Fersen to Versailles for two years, and her brother's claims on the throne of Bavaria.[69] Marie Antoinette pleaded with her husband for the French to help intercede on behalf of Austria. The Peace of Teschen, signed on 13 May 1779, ended the brief conflict, with the queen imposing French mediation on the demand of her mother, 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 with the impression, partially justified, that the queen sided with Austria against France .[70][71]

Meanwhile, the queen began to institute changes in the customs practiced at court. Some changes were met with disapproval from the older generation, such as the abandonment of heavy make-up and the popular wide-hooped panniers. The new fashion called for a more simple feminine look, typified first by the rustic robe à la polonaise and later by the gaulle, a simple muslin dress Marie Antoinette wore in a 1783 Vigée-Le Brun portrait.[72] She also began to participate in amateur plays and musicals, starting in 1780, in a theatre built for her by Mique at the Petit Trianon.[73]

Repayment of the French debt remained a difficult problem, further exacerbated by Vergennes and also Marie Antoinette's prodding[citation needed] Louis XVI to involve France in Great Britain's war with its North American colonies: the queen played a very important role in supporting the American Revolution by securing Austrian and Russian support for France which resulted in the establishment of a neutral league which stopped England's attack, and by weighing in decisively for the nomination of Philippe Henri, marquis de Ségur, as Minister of War and Charles Eugène Gabriel de La Croix, marquis de Castries, Secretary of the Navy in 1780, who helped George Washington in defeating the British in the American Revolutionary War, which ended in 1783.[74]

In 1783, the queen played a decisive role in the nomination of Charles Alexandre de Calonne, a close friend of the Polignacs, as Controller-General of Finances, and of the baron de Breteuil as the Minister for the Maison du Roi (Minister of the Royal Household), making him perhaps the strongest and most conservative minister of the reign. The result of these two nominations was that Marie Antoinette's influence became paramount in government and the new ministers rejected any major change to the structure of the old regime. More than that, the decree by de Ségur, the minister of war, requiring four quarterings of nobility as a condition for the appointment of officers, blocked the access of commoners to important positions in the armed forces, posing the concept of equality one of the main grievances and causes of the French Revolution.[75][76]

Empress Maria Theresa died on 29 November 1780 in Vienna. Marie Antoinette feared that the death of her mother would jeopardise the Franco-Austrian alliance (as well as, ultimately, herself), but her brother, Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, wrote to her that he had no intention of breaking the alliance.

Marie Antoinette's second pregnancy was confirmed in March 1781. On 22 October 1781, she gave birth to Louis Joseph Xavier François, Dauphin of France.

A second visit from Joseph II, which had taken place in July 1781, to reaffirm the Franco-Austrian alliance and also to see his sister again, was tainted with rumours that Marie Antoinette was siphoning treasury money to him.[77][78]

Declining popularity (1782-1785)[edit]

Marie Antoinette en chemise, portrait of the queen in a "muslin" dress, by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1783). This controversial portrait was viewed by her critics to be improper for a queen.
Le Hameau de la Reine, avec, à gauche, la tour de Marlborough, au centre l’étang et au fond à droite la Maison de la Reine
Le hameau de la reine by the artificial lake in the gardens of the Petit Trianon.

Despite the general celebration over the birth of the Dauphin, Marie Antoinette's political influence, such as it was, did greatly benefit Austria.[79] During the Kettle War, in which her brother Joseph 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.[80][81]

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.[82] 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 thirteen-room apartment in Versailles and paid her well.[83] The entire Polignac family benefited greatly from the royal favour in titles and positions, but its sudden wealth and lavish lifestyle outraged most aristocratic families who resented the Polignacs' dominance at court, and also fueled the increasing popular disapprobation toward Marie Antoinette, mostly in Paris.[84] Mercy wrote to the Empress:"It is almost unexampled that in so short a time, the royal favour should have brought such overwhelming advantages to a family".[85]

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.

Marie Antoinette with her two eldest children, Marie-Thérèse Charlotte and the Dauphin Louis Joseph, in the Petit Trianon's gardens, by Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller (1785).
Hans Axel von Fersen

After his return from America in June 1783, Fersen was accepted into the queen's private society. Because of their obvious strong attraction to each other, it has been (and still is) strongly debated whether the two were romantically involved; but, since most of the correspondence between the two has been either lost or destroyed, there is no conclusive evidence that they were.[86]

In 1783, the queen was busy with the creation of her hameau, built by her favoured architect, Richard Mique, according to the designs of the painter Hubert Robert.[87] Its creation, however, caused another uproar when its cost was known.[88][89]

Marie Antoinette liked reading history books. She supported scientific endeavours, encouraging and witnessing the first launch of a hot air balloon (Montgolfière), technology that would render a major future service to humanity.[90] There were 5000 books in her library, those on music, often dedicated to her, being the most read.[91][92] She was able to write in imperfect English to her friend, the Duchess of Devonshire.[93] An accomplished musician, the queen sponsored the arts, in particular music.

By 1784, it had become obvious that the sickly Dauphin would not reach adulthood.[86]

On 27 April 1784, Beaumarchais's play The Marriage of Figaro premiered in Paris. After initially having been banned by the king due to its negative portrayal of the nobility, the play was ironically 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 did inspire Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, which premiered in Vienna on 1 May 1786.[94]

In August 1784, the queen's fourth pregnancy was announced.

On 24 October of that year, putting 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 some factions of the nobility who disliked the queen, but also with a growing percentage of the population who disapproved of a Queen of France owning her private residence independently of the king; thus, the purchase of Saint-Cloud contributed to damage the image of the queen even further in the public opinion. The château's expensive price, almost 6\10million livres, plus the substantial extra cost of redecorating it, ensured that there was much less money going towards repaying France's substantial debt.[95][96]

Prelude to the Revolution: Scandals and the failure of Reforms (1786-1789)[edit]

On 27 March 1785, Marie Antoinette gave birth to a second son, Louis Charles, who bore the title of Duke of Normandy.[97] 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.[98] However, the majority of Marie-Antoinette's and Louis XVII's biographers believe that the young prince was the biological son of Louis XVI, even Stefan Zweig and Antonia Fraser, who believe that Fersen and Marie Antoinette were romantically involved.[99][100][101][102][103][104][105][106] 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 a lot of time together, but these details were ignored amid attacks on the queen's character.[107] These suspicions of illegitimacy, along with the continued publication of the libelles, and never-ending cavalcades of court intrigues, the actions of Joseph II in the Kettle War, the purchase of Saint-Cloud and the Diamond Necklace scandal combined to turn popular opinion sharply against the queen, and the image of a licentious, spendthrift, empty-headed foreign queen was quickly taking root in the French psyche.[108]

A second daughter, Marie Sophie Hélène Béatrice, Madame Sophie, was born on 9 July 1786. She died on 19 June 1787, before reaching her first year, and was Marie Antoinette's last child.

The diamond necklace scandal[edit]

Copy of the diamond necklace, Le Collier de la Reine, Château de Breteuil, France

Marie-Antoinette began to abandon her more carefree activities to become increasingly involved in politics in her role as "Queen of France".[109] By showing to the public her attention to the education and care of her children, the queen sought to improve the dissolute image she had acquired in 1785 from the "Diamond Necklace Affair", in which public opinion had falsely accused her of criminal participation in defrauding the jewelers Boehmer and Bassenge of the cost of a very expensive diamond necklace they had created originally for Madame du Barry. The main actors of the scandal were the Cardinal de Rohan, prince de Rohan-Guéméné, Great Almoner of France, and Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy, comtesse de La Motte, a descendant of an illegitimate child of Henry II of France of the House of Valois. Marie Antoinette had a profound dislike for Rohan since the time he had been the French ambassador to Vienna when she was a child. In spite of his high clerical position at the Court, she never addressed a word to him. Others involved were Nicole le Guay d'Oliva, a prostitute who happened to be a lookalike of Marie Antoinette, Rétaux de Villette, a forger, Alessandro Cagliostro, an Italian adventurer, and the comte de La Motte, Jeanne de Valois' husband. Mme de La Motte tricked Rohan into buying the necklace as a gift to Marie-Antoinette, in order for him to get into the favors of the queen. When the affair was discovered, those involved (except de La Motte and Réaux de Villette who managed to flee) were arrested, tried, convicted and either imprisoned or exiled. The only one imprisoned was Mme de La Motte, who was given a life sentence to Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, which also served as a prison for women. Judged by the Parlement, Rohan was found innocent of any wrongdoing (which he was), and allowed to leave the Bastille. Marie Antoinette, who had insisted on the arrest of the Cardinal was dealt a heavy personal blow, as was the monarchy, and in spite of the fact that the guilty ones were tried and convicted, the affair proved to be extremely damaging to her reputation, which never recovered from it.

Failure of political and financial reforms[edit]

As the king had begun to withdraw from a decision-making role in government due to the onset of an acute case of depression, he turned more and more to his wife for advice. As a result, Marie Antoinette emerged as a politically viable entity. In her new capacity as a politician with an increasing degree of power, she tried to help the situation brewing between the assembly and the king.[110] This change in the queen's political role signalled the beginning of the end of the influence of the duchesse de Polignac, as Marie Antoinette began to question the Polignacs' huge expenditures and their impact on the finances of the Crown.

Continuing deterioration of the French financial situation, despite cutbacks to the royal retinue and court expenses, ultimately forced the king, the queen and their Minister of Finance, Calonne, at the urging of Vergennes, to call the Assembly of Notables, after a hiatus of 160 years. The assembly was held to attempt passing necessary reforms required to alleviate the financial situation, on which the Parlements refused to cooperate. The first meeting of the assembly took place on 22 February 1787, (nine days after the death of Vergennes on 13 February). Marie Antoinette did not attend the meetings of the assembly and this absence resulted in accusations that the queen was trying to undermine its purpose.[111][112] The Assembly was a failure: it did not pass any reforms and, instead, fell into the pattern of defying the king. On the urging of the queen, Louis XVI dismissed Calonne on 8 April 1787.[110]

On 1 May 1787, Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne, the archbishop of Toulouse and one of the queen's political allies, was appointed by the king, on Marie Antoinette's urging, to replace Calonne, first as the Controller-General of Finances and then as Prime Minister. He began to institute more cutbacks at court, while trying to restore the royal absolute power weakened by parliaments.[113] Brienne, though, was not able to improve the financial situation, and since he was the queen's ally, this failure adversely affected her political position. The continued poor financial climate of the country resulted in the 25 May dissolution of the Assembly of Notables because of its inability to get things done.

This lack of solutions was blamed on the queen.[114] The financial problems resulted from a combination of several factors: too many expensive wars; a too-large royal family whose large frivolous expenditures far exceeded the resources of 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. As a result of the public perception that she had single-handedly ruined the national finances, Marie Antoinette was given the nickname of "Madame Déficit" in the summer of 1787.[115] While sole fault for the financial crisis did not lie with the queen, Marie Antoinette 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, the expense of the court was much higher than the official estimate of 7% of the state budget.[116]

This State Portrait by Vigée-Lebrun (1787) of Marie Antoinette and her three surviving children Marie Thérèse, Louis Charles (on her lap), and Louis Joseph, was meant to help her reputation by depicting her as a mother and in simple, yet stately attire.

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.[117][118] Around the same time, Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy escaped from prison and fled to London, where she published damaging slander concerning her supposed amorous affair with the queen.[119]

Another state portrait of Marie Antoinette, by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1788).

The political situation in 1787 began to worsen when on Marie Antoinette's urging, on 15 August the Parlement was exiled in Troyes. It further deteriorated when Louis XVI tried to use a lit de justice on 11 November to impose legislation. The new duc d'Orléans publicly protested the king's actions, and was subsequently exiled to his estate at Villers-Cotterêts.[120] The May Edicts issued on 8 May 1788 were also opposed by the public and parliaments. Finally, on 8 August, Louis XVI announced his intention to bring back the Estates General, the traditional elected legislature of the country, which had not been convened since 1614.[121]

While from late 1787 up to his death in June 1789, Marie-Antoinette's primary concern was the continued deterioration of the health of the Dauphin, who suffered from tuberculosis,[122] she was directly involved with 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 King Council.

Marie Antoinette was instrumental in the recall of Jacques Necker as Finance Minister on 26 August, a popular move, even though she herself was worried that the recall would again go against her if Necker proved unsuccessful in reforming the country's finances. Marie Antoinette accepted the proposition of Necker to double the representation of the Tiers État in an attempt to check the power of the aristocracy[123][124]

On the eve of the opening of the Estates General, the queen attended the mass celebrating its return. From time of its very opening on 5 May 1789, the fracture between the democratic Third Estate (consisting of bourgeois and radical aristocrats), and the conservative nobility of the Second Estate widened, and Marie Antoinette knew that her rival, the duc d'Orléans, who had given money and bread to the people during the winter, would be acclaimed by the crowd, much to her detriment.[125]

The death of the Dauphin on 4 June, which deeply affected his parents, was virtually ignored by the French people,[126] who were instead preparing for the next meeting of the Estates General and hoping for a resolution to the bread crisis. As the Third Estate declared itself a National Assembly and took the Tennis Court Oath, and as people either spread or believed rumors that the queen wished to bathe in their blood, Marie Antoinette went into mourning for her eldest son.[127] Her role was decisive in urging the king to remain firm and to not concede to popular demands for reforms. In addition, she was showing her determination to use force to crush the forthcoming revolution.[128][129]

The French Revolution before Varennes (1789-1791)[edit]

Storming of the Bastille and arrest of the Governor Bernard-René de Launay, 14 July 1789. Museum of the History of France, Versailles.

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 not to separate before it had given a constitution to the nation.

On 11 July, on Marie Antoinette's urging, Necker was dismissed to be replaced by Breteuil, the queen's choice to crush the Revolution with mercenary Swiss troops under the command of one of her favorites, Pierre Victor, baron de Besenval de Brünstatt.[130][131][132] At the news, Paris was besieged by riots which culminated in the storming of the Bastille on 14 July,[133][134] and on 15 July La Fayette was named commander-in-chief of the newly-formed Garde nationale.[135][136]

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, with the departure of the comte d'Artois, the Condés, cousins of the king,[137] and the unpopular Polignacs on 17 July. Marie Antoinette, whose life was as much in danger, remained by the king whose power was gradually being taken away by the National Constituent Assembly.[135][138][139]

Representation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789, which includes the "Eye of Providence" symbol (eye in triangle), by Jean-Jacques-François Le Barbier, 1789. Musée Carnavalet, Paris

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, led the way to the Constitutional Monarchy (4 September 1791 – 21 September 1792).[140][141] In spite of these dramatic changes, life at court continued, while the situation in Paris was becoming critical because of bread shortage in September. On 5 October, a crowd from Paris descended upon Versailles and forced the royal family, to move to the Tuileries Palace in Paris, where they lived under a form of house arrest under the watch of La Fayette's Garde nationale, while the comte de Provence and his wife were allowed to live in the Luxembourg Palace[142][143]

Despite the situation, Marie Antoinette continued performing charitable functions, attending religious ceremonies, but mostly dedicated her time to her children.[144] In spite of her status as an effective state prisoner, she played an important political, albeit not public, role in the period extending between 1789 and 1791. During this period, Marie Antoinette had a complex set of relationships with several key actors of the early period of the French Revolution. One of the most important was Necker, the "Prime Minister of Finances" (Premier ministre des finances).[145] In spite of her dislike of him, the queen played a decisive role in his return to office; however, she blamed him for his supporting the Revolution, and did not regret his resignation in 1790.[146][147]

Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, one of the former military leaders in the American War of Independence (1775-1783), served as the warden of the royal family in his position as commander-in-chief of the Garde nationale. In spite of his dislike of the queen - he detested her as much as she detested him and, at one time, had even threatened sending her to a convent - he was persuaded by the mayor of Paris, Jean Sylvain Bailly, to work in collaboration with her, and he did so, at times in her favor, He even boasted that he allowed the queen to see Fersen a number of times albeit under a strong supervision. His relation with the king was more cordial: being a liberal aristocrat, he did not want the fall of the monarchy but the establishment of a liberal one, similar to that of the United Kingdom, based on a collaboration between the king and the people. He even went as far as exiling the Duke of Orléans, who was accused by the queen of fomenting trouble. The queen did not have any direct political power during that period because those of the king were suspended until the Constitution was adopted, and she strongly resented her status as a de facto prisoner, and longed for the day when she would recover her freedom and power.[148]

Marie Antoinette at the Tuileries Palace in 1790. Pastel by Alexandre Kucharski. (Private collection)

Despite her attempts to remain out of the public eye, Marie Antoinette was falsely accused in the libelles of conducting an affair with La Fayette, whom she loathed.[149] This was not the only accusation thrown at Marie Antoinette: in pamphlets such as those published in "Le Godmiché Royal" (translated, "The Royal Dildo"), it was suggested that she routinely engaged in deviant sexual acts, with the English Baroness 'Lady Sophie Farrell' of Bournemouth, a well-known lesbian of the time.[150] Publication of such calumnies continued to the end, climaxing at her trial with that of incest with her son.[151][152] There is no shred of evidence to support the accusations of her sexual depravity: Marie Antoinette was simply an easy target for gossip, which escalated to calumny.

A significant achievement for 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 tiers état, and was not against the monarchy, but wanted to reconcile the monarchy 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 and both agreed to meet in secret at the château of Saint Cloud in the summer of 1790. At the meeting, Mirabeau was much impressed by the queen, and remarked in a letter to the comte de La Marck that she was the only man the king had by him: La reine est le seul homme que le roi ait auprès de lui.[153] A deal was reached turning Mirabeau into one of her political allies. Marie Antoinette also accepted to pay him 6000 livres per month and one million if he succeeded in his mission to restore the king's authority.[154]

The summer of 1790 brought to Marie Antoinette and her family a limited amount of relief, as they were allowed to spend it at Saint Cloud, with much greater personal freedom and without the radical elements who watched their every move in Paris. The stay at Saint Cloud thus made her meeting with Mirabeau possible.[155][156]

The only time the royal couple returned to Paris in that period was on 14 July, to attend the Fête de la Fédération, the official ceremony commemorating the fall of the Bastille one year earlier, which was held at the Champ de Mars. At least 300,000 persons participated from all over France including 18,000 national guards, with Talleyrand, bishop of Autun, celebrating a mass at the autel de la patrie ("altar of the fatherland"). At the event, the king was greeted with loud cheers of "Long Live The King ", especially when he took the oath to protect the Nation and to enforce the laws voted by the Constitutional Assembly. There were even cheers to the queen, particularly when she presented the Dauphin to the public. Afterwards, Mirabeau advised Marie Antoinette to travel inside France to profit from show of popularity during the commemoration, but she was already thinking of leaving France and turning to foreign powers to help her crush the Revolution.[157][158]

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 agree with her escape plans, but perhaps not to the extent of requesting the help of foreign powers.[159][160] However, this leverage with the Assembly ended with the death of Mirabeau in April 1791, in spite of the attempt of several moderate leaders of the Revolution to contact the queen in order to establish some kind 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 finally reduced the Pope's authority over the Church. Marie Antoinette and her husband were raised in the Catholic faith and religion played a decisive role in their life. The queen's political ideas and her belief in the absolute power of monarchs were based on France's monarchy long established on the divine right of kings. On 18 April, aware that the queen was against the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, and that the royal family wanted to spend Easter in Saint Cloud where a refractory priest would celebrate mass, a crowd, soon joined by the Garde nationale (disobeying La Fayette's orders), kept the royal family from leaving Paris. As the royal family was forced to return to the Tuileries Palace, Marie Antoinette complained in a loud voice that she and her family were no longer free. This incident fortified her in her determination to leave Paris; however, both for affective and political reasons, not alone, but with her family, and even the king, who had been hesitant, accepted his wife's decision to flee with the help of foreign powers and counter revolutionary forces.[161][162][163] Fersen and Breteuil (who represented her in the courts of Europe) were put in charge of the escape plan, while she continued her negotiations with some moderate leaders of the French Revolution.[164][165]

Flight to Varennes and return to Paris (21–25 June 1791)[edit]

Arrest of the royal family at the house of the registrar of passports, at Varennes, night of 21–22 June 1791, by Thomas Falcon Marshall (1854).

There had been several plots designed to help members of the royal family escape, which the queen had rejected because she would not leave without the king, or which had frittered away because of the king's indecision. Once Louis XVI finally did commit to a plan, his indecision played an important role in its poor execution and ultimate failure. In an elaborate attempt, known as the Flight to Varennes, to escape from Paris to the royalist stronghold of Montmédy, planned by Fersen and the baron de Breteuil, some members of the royal family were to pose as the servants of (the imaginary) Mme de Korff, a wealthy Russian baroness, in the role held by Louise-Élisabeth de Croÿ de Tourzel, governess of the royal children. Initially, the queen rejected the plan because it required her to leave with only her son. The king wasted time deciding upon which persons attached to the royal family should be included in the venture, what the departure date should be, and the exact path of the route to be used.

Return of the royal family to Paris, 25 June 1791, after the flight to Varennes. Colored engraving, Carnavalet Museum, Paris.

After many delays, the escape ultimately occurred on 21 June 1791, but the entire family was arrested twenty-four hours later at Varennes and taken back to Paris within a week. The escape attempt destroyed much of the remaining support of the population for the king[166][167]

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 it back to Paris. Marie Antoinette and her family were jeered and insulted by the people as never before, they were pushed and spat upon. The prestige of the French monarchy had never been at such a low level. Barnave, the representative of the moderate party in the Assembly, protected Marie Antoinette from the crowds. Even Pétion took pity on the royal family, which was brought safely back to Paris where it met a welcome of total silence from the crowd. In addition, thanks to Barnave, the royal couple was not brought to trial and was publicly exonerated of any crime in relation with the attempted escape.[168][169]

Radicalization of the Revolution after Varennes (1791-1792)[edit]

Using her connection with Barnave, Marie Antoinette played an indirect role in the establishment of the Constitution of 1791. In its details, the Constitution[170] was a compromise between the ideas of the Ancien Régime and the ideals of the French Revolution. It was not directed against the king but certainly against the old nobility. This constitution called for the establishment of a constitutional monarchy where the king was given important but not full powers - substantial powers according to the articles of the Constitution. Executive power was under the control of the king, who was also the head the army, in charge of foreign policy and chose ministers. While the king could not declare war, the new Legislative Assembly, which replaced the previous Constituent Assembly on 1 October, could go to war only if requested to do so by the king. The king was also considered to have immunity for actions he might take as a monarch, but this did not extend to other members of his family. An English visitor in the Tuileries gardens would witness two soldiers observing and guarding the queen keeping their hats on in her presence while singing disgusting songs, on the grounds that there was no mention of her in the Constitution. Finally, the king was given the right to veto any law for four years.[171][172] The king, who was considered the head of state, was given a budget of 25 millions livres every year in order to allow him to pay the functions of his court.

Marie-Antoinette, c.1792. Unfinished pastel portrait by Alexandre Kucharski, Musée de l'Histoire de France, Versailles. A blow, from a pike, by a revolutionary is visible on the lower part of the work.

As her letters show, the queen was incompletely sincere in this cooperation with the moderate leaders of the French Revolution, which ultimately ended any chance to establish a moderate government in France.,[173] as it led to a further decline in the popularity of both the king and queen. The view that the unpopular queen was controlling the king further degraded their standing with the people. The Jacobin party successfully exploited the failed escape to advance its radical agenda. Its members called for the end to any type of monarchy in France.[174]

The constitution called for a moderate system of government. Barnave, who believed in the sincerity of the queen, took great political risks in the hope of producing a stable social and political structure. Barnave established a system of voting that was based on the middle-class vote. In addition, the civil constitution of the clergy, which greatly displeased Marie Antoinette because it created a national church outside the influence of the Papacy, was not considered a constitutional act. Barnave was able to secure a moderate majority that was ready to work with the queen in spite of her unpopularity. This situation lasted a few months until the spring of 1792.[175][176]

After the return from Varennes, and until the storming of the Tuileries on 10 August 1792, the queen, her family and entourage were under tight surveillance, escorted by guards whenever they moved within the Tuileries. During these months, the queen and her husband were guarded night and day. Four guards accompanied her wherever she went, and her bedroom door had to be left open at night. After Varennes, her hair had turned partially white, and her health began to deteriorate. She was often losing blood and developed problems in one of her legs, necessitating assistance when walking, thus further reducing her activities.[177][178]

Miniature of Marie Antoinette by François Dumont, 1792.

In February 1792, Fersen was able to see the queen a final time in spite of the strong measures of restriction around the prisoner queen.[179]

Barnave advised the queen to recall the Austrian ambassador Count Mercy, who had played such a huge part in her life, in addition to the princesse de Lamballe. Mercy, who had been appointed to a high diplomatic position, refused to return. The princesse de Lamballe returned from England and shared her friend's misfortune when the royal family was imprisoned in the Temple.

Marie Antoinette hoped that the armies sent by the rulers of Europe would be able to crush the Revolution even if the cost was the blood of her own people. The queen particularly counted on the support of her Austrian family. After her brother Joseph who was attached to her died in 1790, Léopold her brother who was cool towards Marie Antoinette was ready to support the queen but to only a limited degree. Her nephew Francis, who succeeded his father Leopold in 1792, was a very conservative ruler who was ready to support Marie Antoinette because he hated and feared the French Revolution. When the queen asked him to declare war on France, he accepted out of monarchical solidarity and because he wanted to establish Austrian influence over Western Europe. To be fair to Marie Antoinette, she was not the only person who wanted war, as many radical leaders of the French Revolution also wanted war for their own reasons. The Jacobin party itself was split into two factions; the radicals under the leadership of Robespierre did not want to participate in the war, fearing a union of the Monarchies against them. The Moderate Jacobins or Girondins, as they were called under the leadership of Madame Roland and Brissot, were for the war because they wanted to spread the ideals of the French Revolution all over Europe and they also believed that a war would unite the French People against their internal and external enemies. While the role of Madame Roland was the most important as de facto-leader of the Girondins, Brissot, the leader of the foreign comity in the National Assembly, played a key role in the drafting of the war resolution. Yet according to the simple facts and description of events, the most important actor remained the queen because according to the constitution, only the king could propose to the Assembly to declare war. The facts speak for themselves: not only did the queen push Austria to declare war as we know from her letters, she also pushed her husband to propose the declaration of war to the National Assembly.[180][181]

However, as the result of Leopold's aggressive tendencies, and those of his son Francis II on the queen's behalf, who succeeded him in March, it was that France declared war on Austria on 20 April 1792. This caused the queen to be viewed as an enemy, even though she was personally against Austrian claims on French lands. That summer, the situation was compounded by multiple defeats of French armies by the Austrians, in part because Marie Antoinette betrayed her country's military secrets[182] to the foreign powers. In addition, the king on the orders of the queen vetoed several measures that would have restricted his power even further. During this time, due to his political activities, Louis received the nickname "Monsieur Veto" and the name "Madame Veto" was likewise subsequently bequeathed on Marie Antoinette.[183][184] These names were then prominently featured in different contexts, including La Carmagnole.

Events leading to the abolition of the monarchy on 10 August 1792 - Temple[edit]

Plate with the beginning of the text of the song La Carmagnole : Madame Veto...

However, as the result of Leopold's aggressive tendencies, and those of his son Francis II Up until the suspension of the king on 10 August 1792 and his own fall from grace, Barnave remained the most important advisor and supporter of the queen inside France. Marie Antoinette was willing to work with him as long as he was ready to follow her demands, which Barnave did to a large extent. On 17 July 1791, with the support of Barnave and his friends, Lafayette's Garde nationale opened fire on the people who had assembled on the Champ de Mars to sign a petition demanding the deposition of the king. The estimated number of killed varies between a dozen to fifty. La Fayette's reputation never recovered from the event and, on 8 October, he resigned as Commander of the Garde nationale. Always refusing his help, Marie Antoinette played a decisive role in defeating him in his aims to become the mayor of Paris in November 1791.[185]

Barnave and the moderates made up about 260 lawmakers in the new Legislative Assembly; the radicals numbered around 136, and the rest (around 350). At first, the majority was with Barnave, but the queen's policy led to the radicalization of the assembly and the moderates lost control of the legislative process. The moderate government collapsed in April 1792 and a radical ministry headed by the Girondins was formed. To make matters worse, the assembly passed a series of laws concerning the Church, the aristocracy and the formation of new national guard units, which were vetoed by the king. The radical Girondin government, which was formed in April 1792, controlled the legislative assembly with 330 members, while Barnave's section was not supported by more than 120 members. The two strongest members of that government were Jean Marie Roland, who was minister of interior, and General Dumouriez, the minister of foreign affairs. Dumouriez sympathised with the royal couple and wanted to save them; however, he was rebuffed by the queen, who wanted to crush the Revolution with the support of foreign powers.[186][187]

Marie Antoinette's actions in refusing to collaborate with the Girondins, in power between April and June 1792, led the Girondins to denounce the treason of the Austrian comity, a direct allusion to the queen. After Madame Roland sent a letter to the king denouncing the queen's role in these matters, Louis XVI sacked[citation needed] the government on the order of Marie Antoinette, losing his majority in the Assembly. Dumouriez resigned and refused a post in any new government. At this point, the tide within the population and political parties against the royal authority intensified, while Marie Antoinette pushed the king to veto the new laws voted by the Legislative Assembly in 1792.[188] In August 1791, the Declaration of Pillnitz threatened to invade France. This led in turn to a French declaration of war in April 1792, which led to the French Revolutionary Wars and to the events of August 1792, which ended the monarchy.[189]

Marie Antoinette with her children and Madame Élisabeth, facing the mob that had broken into the Tuileries Palace on 20 June 1792.

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. In consequence, the queen asked Fersen to push the foreign powers to activate their invasion of France, and to issue a manifesto in which the foreign powers threatened to destroy Paris if anything happened to the royal family. The Brunswick Manifesto issued on 25 July 1792 triggered the events of 10 August [190] 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. An hour and a half later, the palace was invaded by the mob, who massacred the Swiss Guards.[191][192] On 13 August, the royal family was imprisoned in the tower of the Temple in the Marais under conditions considerably harsher than their previous confinement in the Tuileries.[193]

Marie Antoinette prisoner in the Temple Tower, attributed to Alexandre Kucharski, ca. 1792. (Private collection)

A week later, several of the royal family's attendants, among them the princesse de Lamballe, were taken in 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 marched through the city to the Temple for the queen to see. Marie Antoinette did not see this but fainted upon learning of it.[194][195]

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 was re-styled as the non-royal "Capets". Preparations began for the trial of the king in a court of law.[196]

Louis XVI's trial and execution[edit]

"Day of 21 January 1793 the death of Louis Capet on the Place de la Révolution"—French engraving, by Helman, Duclos, Monnet - (Département des Estampes, Bibliothèque nationale de France)

Charged with undermining the First French Republic, Louis XVI was separated from his family and tried in December. He was found guilty by the Convention led by the Jacobins who rejected the idea of keeping him as a hostage. On 15 January 1793, by vote with a majority of one voice, that of Philippe Égalité, he was condemned to death by guillotine and was executed on 21 January 1793.[197][198]

Marie Antoinette in the Temple[edit]

The queen, now called "Widow Capet", plunged into deep mourning and refused to eat. She still hoped her son, Louis XVII, whom comte de Provence, in exile, had recognised as the new king of France, would one day rule France. The royalists, including those preparing the insurrection in Vendée, and the refractory clergy, supported Marie Antoinette, who wished to use this support to recover her freedom thanks to the help of a civil war inside France and the pressure of foreign armies and powers. Throughout her imprisonment and up to her execution, Marie-Antoinette could count on the sympathy of conservative factions and social-religious groups which were turning against the Revolution, and on wealthy individuals ready to corrupt republican officials in order to facilitate her escape;[199] however, all plots and activities failed. Marie Antoinette, her children and Elisabeth were imprisoned in the tower of the Temple, insulted, some of the guards going as far as smoking in the face of the queen. Strict security measures were taken to assure that the ex-queen was not able to communicate with the outside world; but, in spite of these measures, which kept Marie Antoinette always under the supervision of her jailors, many of the guardians were opened to corruption and a line of communication was kept with the outer world.

After Louis' execution, Marie Antoinette's fate became a central question of the National Convention. While some continually advocated for 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.[200] Starting in April, however, during the Reign of Terror, a Committee of Public Safety dominated by Robespierre was formed, and men such as Jacques Hébert were beginning to call for Antoinette's trial; by the end of May, the Girondins had been chased from power.[201] Calls were also made to "retrain" the Dauphin, to make him more pliant to revolutionary ideas. To carry this out, the eight-year-old Louis Charles was separated from his mother on 3 July after a struggle of many hours when Marie Antoinette tried to retain her son in vain; and given to the care of a cobbler named Antoine Simon. The queen spent hours trying to catch a glimpse of her son through the barred windows but the boy had completely turned against his family, accusing them of many wrongdoings.[202]

Marie Antoinette's cell in the Conciergerie where no privacy was allowed to her. (Photo: André Lage Freitas)


On 1 August, following various plots for her escape, Marie Antoinette was taken restrained with her hands behind her back out of the tower under a lot of insults, she was pushed and her head was injured. The queen was moved to an isolated underground cell in the Conciergerie as 'Prisoner No. 280'. This period of time was the most difficult period of her captivity. She was under constant surveillance, with no privacy. An attempt to escape was foiled due to the inability to corrupt all the guards.[203] In her cell, she was attended by Rosalie Lamorlière, who cared for her as much as and as well as she could. At least once, she received the visit of a Catholic priest.[204][205]

Trial and execution (14–16 October 1793)[edit]

Marie Antoinette au Tribunal révolutionnaire, engraving by Alphonse François, from a painting by Paul Delaroche (1857). (United States Library of Congress)
Marie Antoinette on her way to the guillotine. Pen and ink by Jacques-Louis David, 16 October 1793. (Département des Estampes, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris)
Marie Antoinette's execution on 16 October 1793: Sanson, the executioner, showing Marie Antoinette's head to the people. (Anonymous, 1793. Musée Carnavalet, Paris)

Marie Antoinette was tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal on 14 October. Some historians 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.[206] She was given less than one day to prepare her defence. Among the accusations, many previously published in the libelles, were orchestrating orgies in Versailles, sending millions of livres of treasury money to Austria, plotting to kill the Duke of Orléans, orchestrating the massacre of the Swiss Guards in 1792, declaring her son to be the new king of France, and—by her son Louis Charles himself (pushed by radical elements who controlled him)—of having sexually abused him. This last accusation drew an emotional response from Marie Antoinette, who refused to respond to this charge and, instead, calling on all mothers present in the room: their reaction brought her comfort since the women in the audience were not sympathetic to her.[207][208]

Early on 16 October;, Marie Antoinette was declared guilty of treason and condemned to death, while she had expected life imprisonment.[209] In the few hours left to her, she composed a letter to her sister-in-law Madame Élisabeth, affirming her clear conscience, her Catholic faith and her feelings for her children. The letter did not reach Élisabeth.[210] She then had to undress 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 leashed with a rope. Unlike her husband, who had been taken to his place of execution in a carriage, she had to sit in an open cart. In the hour-long trip from the Conciergerie via the rue Saint-Honoré thoroughfare to the guillotine erected Place de la Révolution, she maintained her composure, in spite of the insults of the jeering crowd calling her Autrichienne (Autrichienne referring to her Austrian ethnicity, while chienne in French is a female dog: bitch). Some in the crowd remained silent.[211][212] For her final confession, a priest was assigned to her, not a Roman catholic priest, but a prêtre assermenté of the new republican constitutional Church. He sat by her in the cart, and she ignored him all the way to the scaffold.[213][214]

Funerary monument to King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette in the Basilica of St Denis. Sculptures by Edme Gaulle and Pierre Petitot. (1830)

Marie Antoinette was guillotined at 12:15 p.m. on 16 October 1793, at the Place de la Révolution (present-day Place de la Concorde).[215][216] 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 body was thrown into an unmarked grave in the Madeleine cemetery, (which was closed the following year).[citation needed], rue d'Anjou.

Both Marie Antoinette's and Louis XVI's bodies were exhumed on 18 January 1815, during the Bourbon Restoration, when the comte de Provence had ascended the newly reestablished throne as Louis XVIII, King of France. 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.[217]


Long after her death, Marie Antoinette remains a major historical figure linked with conservatism, the Catholic Church, wealth, and fashion. She has been the subject of a quantity of books, films and other forms of media. Politically engaged authors have deemed her the quintessential representative of class conflict, western aristocracy and absolutism. Some of her contemporaries, such as Jefferson, attributed to her the start of the French Revolution.[218] For others, Marie Antoinette was a victim of her family ambition and the general situation in France. However, even her critics have recognized her qualities as a mother and her courage in dying.

In popular culture[edit]

The phrase "Let them eat cake" is often attributed to Marie Antoinette, but there is no evidence she ever uttered it, and it is now generally regarded as a "journalistic cliché".[219] It may have been a rumor started by angry French peasants as a form of libel. This phrase originally appeared in Book VI of the first part (finished in 1767, published in 1782) of Rousseau's putative autobiographical work, Les Confessions: "Enfin je me rappelai le pis-aller d'une grande princesse à qui l'on disait que les paysans n'avaient pas de pain, et qui répondit: Qu'ils mangent de la brioche" ("Finally I recalled the stopgap solution of a great princess who was told that the peasants had no bread, and who responded: 'Let them eat brioche'"). Apart from the fact that Rousseau ascribes these words to an unknown princess, vaguely referred to as a "great princess", some think that he invented it altogether as Confessions was largely inaccurate.[220]

In America, expressions of gratitude to France for its help in the American Revolution included the naming of the city of Marietta, Ohio, founded in 1788. The Ohio Company of Associates chose the name Marietta after an affectionate nickname for Marie Antoinette.[221]

Marie Antoinette is referred to in the lyrics of the song "Killer Queen" by the rock band Queen.

Titles from birth to death[edit]

  • 2 November 1755 – 19 April 1770: Her Royal Highness Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria, Princess of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia
  • 19 April 1770 – 10 May 1774: Her Royal Highness The Dauphine of France, Archduchess of Austria, Princess of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia
  • 10 May 1774 – 14 September 1791: Her Most Christian Majesty The Queen of France and Navarre
  • 14 September 1791 – 21 September 1792: Her Majesty The Queen of the French


See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Lever 2006, p. 1
  2. ^ C. f. "It is both impolitic and immoral for palaces to belong to a Queen of France" (part of a speech by a councilor in the Parlement de Paris, early 1785, after Louis XVI bought the Château de Saint-Cloud for the personal use of Marie Antoinette), quoted in Castelot 1957, p. 233
  3. ^ C.f. the following quote: "She (Marie Antoinette) thus obtained promises from Louis XVI which were in contradiction with the Council's (of Louis XVI's ministers) decisions", quoted in Castelot 1957, p. 186
  4. ^ Fraser 2002, p. 5
  5. ^ a b Fraser 2002, pp. 5–6
  6. ^ Michel de Decker: Marie-Antoinette, les dangereuses liaisons de la reine, France Loisirs, 2005, p. 12.
  7. ^ Marie Célestine Amélie de Ségur d'Armaillé: Marie-Thérèse et Marie-Antoinette, Didier, 1870, p. 47.
  8. ^ Lever 2006, p. 10
  9. ^ a b Fraser 2001, pp. 22–23,166–170
  10. ^ Michel de Decker: Marie-Antoinette, les dangereuses liaisons de la reine, France Loisirs, 2005, p. 14.
  11. ^ Philippe Delorme: Marie-Antoinette. Épouse de Louis XVI, mère de Louis XVII, Pygmalion Éditions, 1999, p. 13.
  12. ^ Michel de Decker: Marie-Antoinette, les dangereuses liaisons de la reine, France Loisirs, 2005, p. 15.
  13. ^ Marie Célestine Amélie de Ségur d'Armaillé: Marie-Thérèse et Marie-Antoinette, Didier, 1870, p. 34.
  14. ^ Évelyne Lever: C'était Marie-Antoinette, Fayard, 2006, p. 14.
  15. ^ a b Cronin 1989, p. 45
  16. ^ France Loisirs, Michel de Decker, 2005, p.16
  17. ^ Fraser 2002, pp. 32–33
  18. ^ France Loisirs, Michel de Decker, 2005, p.17
  19. ^ Cronin 1989, p. 46
  20. ^ a b c d Weber 2007[page needed]
  21. ^ France Loisirs, Michel de Decker, 2005, p. 20.
  22. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 51–53
  23. ^ Pierre Nolhac La Dauphine Marie Antoinette,1929, pp. 46–48
  24. ^ France Loisirs, Michel de Decker, 2005, p. 21.
  25. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 58–62
  26. ^ Edmond and Jules de Goncourt Histoire de Marie Antoinette preface Robert Kopp, 1990, pp. 30–36
  27. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 64–69
  28. ^ Nolhac 1929, pp. 50–55
  29. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 70–71
  30. ^ Nolhac 1929, pp. 55–61
  31. ^ Fraser 2001, p. 157
  32. ^ Alfred et Geffroy D'Arneth & Correspondance Secrete entre Marie-Therese et le Comte de Mercy-Argenteau,vol 3 1874, pp. 80–90,110–115
  33. ^ Cronin 1974, pp. 61–63
  34. ^ Cronin 1974, p. 61
  35. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 80–81
  36. ^ ALfred and Geffroy d'Arneth 1874, pp. 65–75
  37. ^ Lever 2006
  38. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 104
  39. ^ Lever, Evelyne, Marie-Antoinette, Fayard, Paris, 1991, p. 95.
  40. ^ Castelot 1957, pp. 70–85,100–105
  41. ^ Fraser, Marie Antoinette, 2001, p. 124.
  42. ^ Jackes Levron & Madame du Barry 1973, pp. 75–85
  43. ^ Evelyne Lever & Marie Antoinette 1991, pp. 124
  44. ^ Goncourt, Edmond de, La Du Barry, Ed. G. Charpentier, Paris, 1880, pp. 195-196
  45. ^ Lever, Evelyne, Louis XV, Fayard, Paris, 1985, p. 96
  46. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 132–137
  47. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 136–137
  48. ^ Arneth and Geffroy ii & 1874 pp475-480
  49. ^ Castelot, André, Marie-Antoinette, Librairie académique Perrin, Paris, 1962, pp. 107-108
  50. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 124–127
  51. ^ Lever Marie Antoinette 1991, pp. 125
  52. ^ Cronin 1974, p. 215
  53. ^ Fashion, the mirror of history, page 190, Michael Batterberry, Ariane Ruskin Batterberry, Greenwich House, 1977. ISBN 978-0-517-38881-5
  54. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 150–151
  55. ^ A History of the Gardens of Versailles, page 218, Michel Baridon, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-8122-4078-8
  56. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 140–145
  57. ^ Arneth and Geffroy i 1874, pp. 400–410
  58. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 129–131
  59. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 131–132; Bonnet 1981
  60. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 111–113
  61. ^ Howard Patricia, Gluck 1995, pp. 105–115,240–245
  62. ^ Lever, Evelyne, Louis XVI, Fayard, Paris, 1985, pp. 289-291
  63. ^ Cronin 1974, pp. 158–159
  64. ^ Cronin 1974, p. 159
  65. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 160–161
  66. ^ Cronin 1974, p. 161
  67. ^ Hibbert 2002, p. 23
  68. ^ Fraser 2001, p. 169
  69. ^ Cronin 1974, pp. 162–164
  70. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 158–171
  71. ^ Arneth and Geoffroy,iii 1874, pp. 168–170,180–182,210–212
  72. ^ Cronin 1974, pp. 127–128
  73. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 174–179
  74. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 152,171,194–195
  75. ^ Fraser & 2001 pp218-220
  76. ^ Price Munro & Preserving the Monarchy: The Comte de Vergennes,1774-1787 1995, pp. 30–35,145–150
  77. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 184–187
  78. ^ Price 1995, pp. 55–60
  79. ^ Fraser, pp.232-6
  80. ^ Lettres de Marie Antoinette, Le Marquis de Beaucourt & 1895 Vol ii, pp. 42–44
  81. ^ Lever, Marie Antoinette 1991, pp. 350–353
  82. ^ Cronin 1974, p. 193
  83. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 198–201
  84. ^ Munro Price & The Road to Versailles 2003, pp. 14–15,72
  85. ^ Zweig Stephan & Marie Antoinette 1938, pp. 121
  86. ^ a b Fraser 2001, p. 202
  87. ^ Lever 2006, p. 158
  88. ^ Fraser, pp=206-208
  89. ^ Gutwirth,Madelyn, The Twilight of the Goddesses: women and representation in the French revolutionary era 1992, pp. 103,178–185,400–405
  90. ^ Cronin 1974, pp. 204–205
  91. ^ Fraser 2001, p. 208
  92. ^ Bombelles, Marquis de & Journal, vol I 1977, pp. 258–265
  93. ^ Cronin 1974, pp. 133–134
  94. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 214–215
  95. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 216–220
  96. ^ Lever, Marie Antoinette 1991, pp. 358–360
  97. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 224–225
  98. ^ Lever 2006, p. 189
  99. ^ Stefan Zweig, Marie Antoinette: The portrait of an average woman, New York, 1933, pp. 143, 244-247
  100. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 267–269
  101. ^ Ian Dunlop, Marie-Antoinette: A Portrait, London, 1993
  102. ^ Évelyne Lever, Marie-Antoinette : la dernière reine, Fayard, Paris, 2000
  103. ^ Simone Bertière, Marie-Antoinette: l'insoumise, Le Livre de Poche, Paris, 2003
  104. ^ Jonathan Beckman, How to ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette, the Stolen Diamonds and the Scandal that shook the French throne, London, 2014
  105. ^ Munro Price, The Fall of the French Monarchy: Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and the baron de Breteuil, London, 2002
  106. ^ Deborah Cadbury, The Lost King of France: The tragic story of Marie-Antoinette's Favourite Son, London, 2003, pp. 22-24
  107. ^ Cadbury, p. 23
  108. ^ Fraser 2001, p. 226
  109. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 248–252
  110. ^ a b Fraser 2001, pp. 248–250
  111. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 246–248
  112. ^ Lever, Marie Antoinette 1991, pp. 419–420
  113. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 250–260
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  115. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 254–255
  116. ^ Fraser & 2001 pp254-260
  117. ^ Facos, p. 12.
  118. ^ Schama, p. 221.
  119. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 255–258
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  123. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 263–265
  124. ^ Lever, Marie Antoinette 2001, pp. 448–453
  125. ^ A diary of the French Revolution 1789-93 & Morris Gouverneur 1939, pp. 66,67
  126. ^ Template:Louis Nicolardot
  127. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 274–278
  128. ^ Fraser & 2001 pp279-282
  129. ^ Lever,Marie Antoinette 1991, pp. 462–467
  130. ^ iFraser & 2001 pp280-285
  131. ^ Letters vol 2, pp. 130–140
  132. ^ Morris 1939, pp. 130–135
  133. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 282–284
  134. ^ Lever, Marie Antoinette 1991, pp. 474–478
  135. ^ a b Fraser 2001, pp. 284–289
  136. ^ Despaches of Earl Grower & Oscar Browning Cambridge 1885, pp. 70–75,245–250
  137. ^ Journal d'émigration du prince de Condé. 1789-1795, publié par le comte de Ribes, Bibliothèque nationale de France. [1]
  138. ^ Castelot, Charles X, Librairie Académique Perrin, Paris, 1988, pp. 78-79.
  139. ^ Despaches of Earl Grower & Oscar Browning Cambridge,1885, pp. 70–75,245–250
  140. ^ Fraser 2001, p. 289
  141. ^ Lever, Marie Antoinette 1991, pp. =484–485
  142. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 298–304
  143. ^ Lever, Marie Antoinette 1991, pp. 490–505
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  145. ^ Discours prononcé par M. Necker, Premier Ministre des Finances, à l'Assemblée Nationale, le 24. Septembre 1789.[2]
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  150. ^ "Project MUSE — Early American Literature — Charles Brockden Brown's Ormond and Lesbian Possibility in the Early Republic" (PDF). Retrieved 1 August 2010. 
  151. ^ Bonnie Zimmerman (2000). Lesbian histories and cultures: an encyclopedia (Volume 1). Taylor & Francis. pp. 776–777. ISBN 9780815319207. Retrieved February 29, 2012. 
  152. ^ Dena Goodman (2003). Marie-Antoinette: writings on the body of a queen. Psychology Press. pp. 144–145. ISBN 9780415933957. Retrieved February 19, 2012. 
  153. ^ Mémoires de Mirabeau, tome VII, p. 342.
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  171. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 355–356
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  174. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 350–352
  175. ^ Fraser & 2001 pp357-358
  176. ^ Castelot, Marie Antoinette 1962, pp. 408,409
  177. ^ Lettres de Marie Antoinette vol 2 1895, pp. 364–378
  178. ^ Lever, Marie Antoinette 1991, pp. 576–580
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  182. ^ 2001 pp365-368
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  187. ^ Lever, Marie Antoinette 1991, pp. 591,592
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  192. ^ Castelot, Marie Antoinette 1962, pp. 428–435
  193. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 382–386
  194. ^ Fraser 2001, p. 389
  195. ^ Castelot, Marie Antoinette 1962, pp. 442–446
  196. ^ Fraser 2001, p. 392
  197. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 395–399
  198. ^ Castelot, Marie Antoinette 1962, pp. 447–453
  199. ^ Castelot, Marie Antoinette 1962, pp. 453–457
  200. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 398, 408
  201. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 411–412
  202. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 412–414
  203. ^ Furneaux 19711, pp. 139–142
  204. ^ G. Lenotre: The Last Days of Marie Antoinette, 1907.
  205. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 416–420
  206. ^ Castelot, Marie Antoinette 1962, pp. 496–500
  207. ^ Castelot 1957, pp. 380–385
  208. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 429–435
  209. ^ Furneaus 1971, pp. 150–154
  210. ^ "Last Letter of Marie-Antoinette", Tea at Trianon, 26 May 2007 
  211. ^ Furneaus 1971, pp. =155–156
  212. ^ Castelot 1957, pp. 395–405,435–445
  213. ^ Castelot 1957, pp. 550–558
  214. ^ Lever & Marie Antoinette 1991, pp. 660
  215. ^ Fraser 2001, p. 440
  216. ^ The Times 23 October 1793, The Times.
  217. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. 411, 447
  218. ^ Jefferson, Thomas. Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson. Courier Dover Publications. Retrieved March 29, 2013. I have ever believed that had there been no queen, there would have been no revolution. 
  219. ^ Fraser 2001, pp. xviii, 160; Lever 2006, pp. 63–5; Lanser 2003, pp. 273–290
  220. ^ Johnson 1990, p. 17
  221. ^ Sturtevant, pp. 14, 72.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]