Marie Antoinette

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Marie Antoinette of Austria
Queen consort of France and Navarre
Queen consort of the French
Marie Antoinette with the Rose
Portrait by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783.
Queen consort of France and Navarre
Tenure 10 May 1774 – 21 September 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 of Austria.

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[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]

Marriage to Louis-Auguste de France: 1770–1793[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.

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 19 April, she was married by proxy to the Dauphin of France in Vienna.[22][23][24]

Marie Antoinette entering Strasbourg on 7 May 1770.
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 of the Dauphine with Madame du Barry[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]

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

On 10 May 1774, Louis XV died. On May 12 the new king, Louis XVI, "under the influence of his pious aunts" and Marie Antoinette[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. The aunts themselves were later kept in a semi retreat by the queen, a situation they greatly resented and they were among the first at court to spread malevolent rumors about Marie Antoinette.[46]

Queenship: 1774–1792[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.

1774–1778: Early years[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 was crowned king Louis XVI of France at the cathedral of Reims. Following the custom, Marie Antoinette was not crowned alongside him.[47] 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. Louis blocked several of her candidates, including Choiseul,[48][49] 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.[50][51][52]

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 and, with time, part of the French opinion saw no major difference between her and the favorites 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. She also began to befriend a few male admirers, such as the baron de Besenval, the duc de Coigny, and the Count Valentin Esterházy.[53][54]

Marie Antoinette formed deep friendships with various ladies at court. Most noted was the duc de Penthièvre's daughter-in-law, the princesse de Lamballe, princesse du sang, and a cousin of the members of the royal family. On 19 September 1774, the new queen appointed her Superintendent of her Household,[55][56] a charge she gave later on to 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.[57][58]

She was given free rein to renovate the Petit Trianon, a gift to her by Louis XVI on 15 August 1774;[59] The Petit Trianon became associated with Marie Antoinette's perceived extravagance. With the "English garden", Marie Antoinette and her court adopted the English dress of indienne, of percale or muslin.[60] The tradition of costume at the court at Versailles was broken after more than ten years.[61] Rumors circulated that she plastered the walls with gold and diamonds.[62] Her lady-in-waiting Jeanne-Louise-Henriette Campan defended her reputation and simplicity.[63]

1778–1781: Motherhood and Foreign Policy[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.[64] In a letter to his brother Leopold, Joseph graphically described them as "a couple of complete blunderers."[65] Due to Joseph's intervention, the marriage was finally consummated in August 1777.[66] Eight months later, in April 1778, it was suspected that the queen was pregnant, which was officially announced the following May 16.[67] Marie Antoinette's daughter, Marie-Thérèse Charlotte, Madame Royale, was born at Versailles on 19 December 1778.[9][68][69] The child's paternity was contested in the libelles.[70]

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.[71] 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 .[72][73]

Meanwhile, the queen began to institute changes in the customs practiced at court. Some changes had been met with disapproval from the older generation. More importantly was the abandonment of heavy make-up and the popular wide-hooped panniers for a more simple feminine look, typified first by the rustic robe à la polonaise and later by the gaulle, a simple muslin dress she wore in a 1783 Vigée-Le Brun portrait.[74] She also began to participate in amateur plays and musicals, starting in 1780, in a theatre built for her.[75]

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, first, securing Austrian and Russian support for France which resulted in the establishment of a neutral league which stopped England's attack on international trade; second, sending part of her retinue[citation needed] to fight in America; third, supporting both Franklin and Jefferson in their social lives[citation needed] in Paris and Versailles during the time they were Ministers to France, and finally, 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.[76]

Finally, the queen played in 1783 a decisive role in the nomination of Charles Alexandre de Calonne, a close friend of the Polignacs, as Financial Minister, and the baron de Breteuil as the 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 a decree by the minister of war blocked the middle classes to achieve important positions in the armed forces posing the concept of equality one of the main grievances and causes of the French Revolution.[77][78]

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.

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, reassured her through his own letters that he had no intention of breaking the alliance.

Marie Antoinette's second pregnancy was confirmed in March 1781. On 22 October 1781, the queen gave birth to Louis Joseph Xavier François, who bore the title 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.[79][80]

With time, Marie Antoinette, especially after 1778, gained weight with a double chin, as was noticed and commented by both her brother Joseph ("she has the fine face of a good fat German"), the king of Sweden (who described her as "too fat") and observers at court, such as the count of Tilly; yet she retained a majestic presence and a great charisma which imposed itself on her court and visitors; "she dominated all other ladies of her court with her proud and regal carriage as a great oak rises above all the other trees of the forest", according to the comte d'Hézecques.[81][82][83][84][85][86]

1782–1785, Declining popularity: Friends, Fersen and support of Arts and Sciences[edit]

Queen Marie Antoinette in court dress, by Élizabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1783.
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).

Despite the general celebration over the birth of the Dauphin, Marie Antoinette's political influence, such as it was, did greatly benefit Austria.[87] 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.[88][89]

After the royal governess of the Dauphin's, the princesse de Guéméné, went bankrupt and resigned; Marie Antoinette appointed her favourite, the duchesse de Polignac, to the position.[90] 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.[91] 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 disapprobation of the king's subjects, in particular the Parisians, toward Marie Antoinette.[92] 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".[93]

An engraving of Marie Antoinette à la paysanne, or Marie Antoinette as a peasant; she often dressed as one with her friends at her Hameau, imitating the simple life.

In June 1783, it was announced that Marie Antoinette was again pregnant; however, on the night of 1-2 November, she suffered a miscarriage.

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.[94]

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.[95] Its creation, however, caused another uproar when its cost was known.[96][97]

Marie Antoinette liked reading historical novels, and her scientific interest was strong. 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.[98] She had 5000 books in her library, those on music, often dedicated to her, being the most read.[99][100] She was able to write in imperfect English to her friend, the Duchess of Devonshire.[101] An accomplished musician, the queen supported and sponsored the arts, in particular music.

By 1784, it had become obvious that the sickly Dauphin would not reach adulthood.[94]

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.[102]

In August 1784, it was announced that the queen was pregnant again.

On 24 October of that year, Louis XVI bought the Château de Saint-Cloud in the name of the queen, from the duc d'Orléans. This was an unpopular acquisition, particularly with some factions of the nobility who already disliked her, but also with a growing percentage of the population who disapproved that a Queen of France might own her own residence, independently of the king. Despite having the baron de Breteuil working on her behalf, the purchase did not help improve the public's image of the queen as frivolous. 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.[103][104]

On 27 March 1785, Marie Antoinette gave birth to a second son, Louis Charles, who bore the title of Duke of Normandy.[105] The fact that the birth occurred exactly nine months following Fersen's visit did not escape the attention of many, and though there is much doubt and historical speculation about the parentage of this child, public opinion towards her decreased noticeably.[106] It is the belief of most of Marie-Antoinette's biographers, and of the young prince, that he was the biological son of Louis XVI and not Axel von Fersen's.[107] Courtiers at Versailles noted in their diaries at the time that the date of the child's conception in fact corresponded perfectly with a period when the king and queen had spent a lot of time together, but these details were ignored amid attacks on the queen's character.[108] These suspicions of illegitimacy, along with the continued publication of the libelles, a never-ending cavalcade of court intrigues, the actions of Joseph II in the Kettle War, and her purchase of Saint-Cloud 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.[109]

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.

1786–1789: Prelude to the Revolution: high spending, scandals and the failure of reforms[edit]

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.

Continuing deterioration of the French financial situation, despite cutbacks to the royal retinue, ultimately forced the king, the queen and their Minister of Finance, Calonne, to call the Assembly of Notables, after a hiatus of 160 years. The assembly was held to attempt passing some 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, at which Marie Antoinette was not present. Later, this absence resulted in accusations that the queen was trying to undermine the purpose of the assembly.[110][111]

However, the Assembly was a failure, as it did not pass any reforms and instead fell into a pattern of defying the king. The king, on the urging of the queen, dismissed Calonne on 8 April 1787; Vergennes died on 13 February.[112]

During this time, the queen began to abandon her more carefree activities to become increasingiy involved in politics, and mostly with the interests of Austria and her children.[113] This was for a variety of reasons. First, her children were Enfants de France, and thus their future as leaders of France needed to be assured. Second, by concentrating on her children, the queen sought to improve the dissolute image she had acquired from the "Diamond Necklace Affair", in which she had been accused of participating in a crime to defraud the crown jewelers of the cost of a very expensive diamond necklace, and this incident in which she insisted on the arrest and trial of the cardinal de Rohan destroyed her reputation specially when she imprisoned and exiled the cardinal in spite of the parliament decision to exonerate him. Third, the king had begun to withdraw from a decision-making role in government due to the onset of an acute case of depression. As a result, Marie Antoinette finally emerged as a politically viable entity. In her new capacity as a politician with a very high degree of power, the queen tried to help the situation brewing between the assembly and the king.[112]

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 dislike the duchesse's huge expenditures and their impact on the finances of the Crown. The duchesse left for England in May, leaving her children behind in Versailles. Also in May, 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 and orders, to replace Calonne first as the Finance Minister and then as Prime Minister. He began to institute more cutbacks at court and to restore the absolute power of the king and queen who were weakened by parliaments .[114]

Brienne, though, was not able to improve the financial situation. Since he was the queen's ally and creature, 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 fairly blamed on the queen.[115] The financial problems resulted from a combination of several factors: too many expensive wars; a too-large royal family headed by the queen whose large frivolous expenditures far exceeded the resources of the state; and an unwillingness on the part of many of the aristocrats and Marie Antoinette who were in charge to help defray the costs of the government out of their own pockets with higher taxes. Marie Antoinette earned the nickname of "Madame Déficit" in the summer of 1787 as a result of the public perception that she had singlehandedly ruined the national finances.[116] 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 played a decisive role in the disgrace, exile and partial imprisonment of the Reformer Ministers of Finance, Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot, Baron de Laune and Necker. She spent a lot of money on her favorites and on herself, more than any other person in France. Finally the expense of the court was much higher than the official estimate of 7% of the state budget, if the secret expenses of the queen were taken into account.[117] The queen attempted to fight back with propaganda portraying her as a caring mother, most notably the premier at Royal Académie Salon de Paris in August 1787 of a portrait of her and her children by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun.[118][119] Around the same time, Jeanne de Lamotte-Valois escaped from prison in France and fled to London, where she published more damaging lies concerning her supposed "affair" with the Queen.[120]

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

The political situation in 1787 began to worsen when on Marie Antoinette's urging, the Parlement was exiled, and further deteriorated when the King tried to use a lit de justice to force through legislation on 11 November. The new duc d'Orléans publicly protested the king's actions, and was subsequently exiled.[121] The May Edicts issued on 8 May 1788 were also opposed by the public and parliaments. Finally, on 8 July and 8 August, the King announced his intention to bring back the Estates General, the traditional elected legislature of the country, which had not been convened since 1614.[122]

Marie Antoinette was directly involved with the exile of the Parlement, the May Edicts or with the announcement regarding the Estates General, she did participate in the King Council, the first queen to do this in the last hundred years, and she was making the major decisions behind the scene and in Council . Her primary concern in late 1787 and 1788 was the improved health of the Dauphin, who suffered from tuberculosis and his condition continued to deteriorate.[123]

The queen 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 lower and middle classes (the tiers etat) in an attempt to check the power of the aristocracy[124][125]

Miniature of Marie Antoinette by Francois Dumont, 1792.

The queen prepared for the Mass celebrating the return of the Estates General on 4 May 1789. She knew that her rival, the duc d'Orléans, who had given money and bread to the people during the winter, would be popularly acclaimed by the crowd much to her detriment.[126] The Estates General convened the next day.[127] During the month of May, the Estates General began to fracture between the democratic Third Estate (consisting of the bourgeoisie and radical nobility), and the royalist nobility of the Second Estate.

The death of the Dauphin on 4 June, which deeply affected his mother was virtually ignored by the French people,[128] 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 others listened to rumors that the queen wished to bathe in their blood, Marie Antoinette went into mourning for her eldest son.[129] Marie Antoinette's role was decisive in urging the king to remain firm and to not concede to popular demands for reforms. In addition, the queen was ready to use force to crush the revolution.[130][131]

July 1789–1791: The French Revolution before Varennes[edit]

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

The situation began to escalate violently in June as the National Assembly began to demand more rights, and Louis XVI began to push back with efforts to suppress the Third Estate. However, the king's ineffectiveness and the queen's unpopularity undermined the monarchy as an institution, and so these attempts failed. Then, on 11 July, on Marie Antoinette's urging and orders, Necker was dismissed to be replaced by Breteuil, the queen's choice to crush the Revolution with mercenary Germanic troops under the command of one of her favorites Besenval.[132][133][134] At the news, Paris was besieged by riots which culminated in the storming of the Bastille on 14 July.[135][136]

In the days and weeks that followed, many of the most conservative, reactionary royalists, including the comte d'Artois and the duchesse de Polignac, fled France for fear of assassination. Marie Antoinette, whose life was the most in danger, stayed behind in order to help the king promote stability, even as his power was gradually being taken away by the National Constituent Assembly, which was now ruling Paris and conscripting men to serve in the Garde Nationale.[137][138]

Representation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789, who includes the "Eye of providence" symbol (eye in triangle), by Jean-Jacques-François Le Barbier, 1789.

By the end of August, 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, was adopted, which officially began a constitutional monarchy in France.[139][140] Despite this, the king was still required to perform certain court ceremonies, even as the situation in Paris worsened due to a bread shortage in September. On 5 October, a mob from Paris descended upon Versailles and forced the royal family, along with the comte de Provence, his wife and Madame Elisabeth, to move to Paris under the watchful eye of the Garde Nationale. The king and queen were installed in the Tuileries Palace under strong surveillance.[141] During this house arrest, Marie Antoinette conveyed to her friends that she did not intend to involve herself any further in French politics, as everything, whether or not she was involved, would inevitably be attributed to her anyway and she feared the repercussions of further involvement.[142]

Despite the situation, Marie Antoinette was still required to perform charitable functions and to attend certain religious ceremonies, which she did. Most of her time, however, was dedicated to her children.[143] In spite of her status as an effective state prisoner, Marie Antoinette played a very important political role in the period extending between 1789 and 1791. That role was not public because there was a political and public rejection of the queen who tried to crush the revolution in July 1789. During this period, Marie Antoinette had a complex set of relationships with several key leaders of the early period of the French Revolution. One of the most important politicians of that period was Necker the prime minister who was in charge of financial policy, the queen hated Necker in spite that she played a decisive role in his return to power. Marie Antoinette blamed Necker for the role he played in supporting the Revolution and she was very happy when he was obliged to resign in 1790.[144]

Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette the leader of the National Guard (and military leader in the American Revolution) hated the queen and served as her jailer and even considered sending her to a convent. However, he was persuaded by the mayor of Paris, Jean Sylvain Bailly, to try to work with her. La Fayette's relation with the King was acceptable and being a liberal aristocrat he did not want the destruction of the monarchy but instead the installation of a liberal system of government. At times La Fayette worked in the queen's favor. La Fayette sent the Duke of Orleans, who was accused by the queen of fomenting trouble, into exile for a period of time. La Fayette even boasted, as the queen's jailer, that he allowed Marie Antoinette to see Axel de Fersen, albeit under strong surveillance. The queen who did not have any direct political power during that period because the king's powers were suspended until the constitution was adopted. Marie Antoinette strongly resented her status as an effective prisoner who needed the approval of her guards for any physical or public activity and suffered a lot during these "sad years" as she described them in her letters, while never losing hope that one day she'd recover her liberty and absolute power.[145]

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. While Mirabeau was elected on the lower-class list, he was not fundamentally against the monarchy and dreamed of reconciling the monarchy with the revolution. Mirabeau wanted also to be a minister and he was not immune to corruption. On the advice of Count Mercy, Marie Antoinette opened secret negotiations with Mirabeau and they agreed to meet in secret in the castle of Saint Cloud in the summer of 1790. At the meeting, Mirabeau was much impressed by the queen, saying that she was the only man in her husband's court. A deal was reached turning Mirabeau into one of her political allies. Marie Antoinette also accepted to pay Mirabeau 6000 livres per month and many millions if he succeeded in his mission to restore the king's authority.

The summer of 1790 brought to Marie Antoinette and her family a limited amount of relief, as they were allowed to spend it in the castle of Saint Cloud, which belonged to the queen. While her situation as a prisoner did not change, she had much greater personal freedom than in Paris, since she was free from the radical elements who surrounded her and followed all her movements in the capital. During this time, she met Mirabeau in secret, an event which could not have happened in Paris.

The only time the royal couple returned to Paris in that period was in 14 July 1790 for the official celebration of the Fall of the Bastille, "The Fete de la Federation". The Abbe Talleyrand said a commemorative Mass in Paris and at least 300,000 persons participated from all over France including 18,000 National Guards. At the event, the king was greeted with numerous cries of "Long Live The King ", especially when he took the oath to protect the Nation and to apply the laws voted by the Constitutional Assembly. There were even some cheers to the queen, particularly when she presented her son to the Public. Mirabeau advised Marie Antoinette to leave Paris and to travel inside France to profit from the commemoration of the 14 of July, but the queen was already thinking of leaving France and turning for Foreign Powers to help her crush the Revolution.[146]

Mirabeau sincerely wanted to reconcile the queen with the people, but the Queen was still attempting to restore as much of the king's authority as possible and to liberate herself from her captivity. Marie Antoinette was happy to see Mirabeau restoring much of the King's powers in the assembly. The king's authority over foreign policy was restored and the right to propose the declaration of war was also given to the king. 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 demanding the help of foreign powers.[147] However, this leverage with the Assembly ended with the death of Mirabeau in April 1791, though many moderate leaders of the French Revolution tried to contact the queen and to establish some kind of cooperation with her.

Just before Mirabeau's death, the Pope condemned the civil constitution of the clergy in March 1791, which reduced the number of bishops from 132 to 93, imposed the election of bishops and monks by the French people, and finally reduced the Pope's authority over the Church. Marie Antoinette was raised in the Catholic Faith and while she was not pious as her husband, religion played a decisive role in her life especially after her pregnancies. The queen's political ideas and her belief in the absolute power of monarchs were based on the simple assumption that queens and kings were the representatives of God on earth and that their subjects should obey them in an absolute way. When the people in Paris felt that the queen was against the new religious laws, Marie Antoinette was publicly insulted and she was not allowed to leave Paris. This incident fortified the queen's determination to leave Paris.[148]

Marie Antoinette a prisoner in the difficult years of the Tuileries Palace, painted around 1791, by Alexandre Kucharsky.

Despite her attempts to remain out of the public eye, she was falsely accused in the libelles of conducting an affair with the commander of the Garde Nationale, the marquis de La Fayette, whom in reality she loathed for his liberal tendencies and his role in the royal family's forced departure from Versailles.[149] This was not the only accusation Marie Antoinette faced from such "libelles." In such pamphlets as "Le Godmiché Royal" (translated, "The Royal Dildo"), it was suggested that she routinely engaged in deviant sexual acts of various sorts, most famously with the English Baroness 'Lady Sophie Farrell' of Bournemouth, a renowned lesbian of the time.[150] From acting as a tribade (in her case, in the lesbian sense), to sleeping with her son, Marie Antoinette was constantly an object of rumor and false accusations of committing sexual acts with partners other than the King. Later, allegations of this sort (from incest to orgiastic excesses) were used to justify her execution.[151][152] Ultimately, none of the charges of sexual depravity has any credible evidentiary support; Marie Antoinette was simply an easy target for rumor and criticism.

Marie Antoinette at that period of time had in general very good relations with her husband, who was passing through a depressive phase and who was letting her make all the major political and personnel decisions affecting their lives. Marie Antoinette's priority in the spring of 1791 was to escape her captivity but with her family; she refused to be separated from her children and especially from her husband. Even Fersen could not convince her to leave without the king; the queen wanted the king to come with her both because she loved the king, the father of her children, and because she was aware that without the king, she would lose all her political powers. Marie Antoinette asked and ordered Fersen and Breteuil (who represented her in the courts of Europe) to prepare an escape plan while she continued her negotiations with some moderate leaders of the French Revolution.[153]

1791–1792: The Radicalization of the Revolution after Varennes[edit]

The arrest and restraint of Marie Antoinette and her family at Varennes and the pushing on her to return to Paris, by Thomas Falcon Marshall, 1854.

During this time, there were many plots designed to help members of the royal family escape. The queen rejected several because she would not leave without the king. Other opportunities to rescue the family were ultimately frittered away by the indecisive king. Once the king finally did commit to a plan, his indecision played an important role in its poor execution and ultimate failure. In an elaborate attempt to escape from Paris to the royalist stronghold of Montmédy planned by Count Axel von Fersen and the baron de Breteuil, some members of the royal family were to pose as the servants of a wealthy Russian baroness. Initially, the queen rejected the plan because it required her to leave with only her son, as she wished the rest of the royal family to accompany her. The king wasted time deciding upon which members of the family should be included in the venture, what the departure date should be, and the exact path of the route to be used. After many delays, the escape ultimately occurred on 21 June 1791, but the entire family was captured 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 populace for the King[154]

When the queen was captured with her family, the assembly sent three representatives to escort the royal family back to Paris. Marie Antoinette was humiliated by the people as never before; she was beaten and pushed by the crowds; people spat on her and her hands were put forcefully behind her back under the excuse of escorting her. Antoine Barnave, the representative of the moderate party in the constitutional assembly, protected the Queen from the crowds at the peril of his own life. Even Jérôme Pétion de Villeneuve, the representative of the Girondin radical republican party of Madame Roland, took pity on the royal family. Marie Antoinette was brought safely to Paris; in addition, thanks to Barnave, she was not brought to trial and publicly exonerated of any crimes in relation with her attempt of escape.

Marie Antoinette and her family prisoners and humiliated inside Paris on 25 June 1791.

Using her connection with the moderate leader Barnave, Marie Antoinette played a leading but indirect role in the establishment of the French Constitution of 1791. In its details, the constitution of 1791 was a compromise between the ideas of the Old Regime 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. The king was given 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.[155] 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 by Alexandre Kucharski, 1791. This painting was made at the Tuileries Palace; it was left unfinished. 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.,[156] 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.[157]

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.[158]

During these years at the Tuileries, the queen was a prisoner guarded night and day by many soldiers who never left her for a moment, not even in her bedroom and kept her a lot of times under great restrain stopping her completely from any physical activity or movement. Many of these jailers were radicals who openly disrespected her, smoking in her face, denying her any privacy and maximally restricting her movements. Marie Antoinette was never allowed to visit her palace of Saint Cloud and was required to seek her guards' permission to see her children or husband, who sometimes refused her request. If permission was granted to leave her rooms, she was escorted by soldiers who surrounded her on all sides, restraining her completely and who were present in all her meetings. This occurred despite the fact that she and her husband were still legally ruling sovereigns. However, over the course of her strict captivity, in poor spirits and with restrictions on her social life, the health of Marie Antoinette began to deteriorate rapidly. The hair of the Queen turned at least partially white,she began to lose a lot of blood but she remained a very big charismatic woman who was able to charm even some of her enemies. She developed problems in at least one of her legs, necessitating assistance when walking and further reducing her activities.[159]

In February 1792, Ferson was able to see the queen a final time in spite of the strong measures of restriction around the prisoner queen. Beyond doubt, Fersen bribed some of the guards, but was not able to pass more than a short period of time in the palace where the queen was effectively imprisoned. Marie Antoinette would acknowledge that the security measures were so strong that it was impossible to escape with barred windows in her rooms and an escort of soldiers following her day and night dictating her every move.

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 Princess de Lamballe. Count Mercy, who was appointed in a high position in the Austrian Empire, refused to return for a variety of reasons. This saddened the queen greatly, leaving the impression that she was left to her demise, especially that Mercy was a paternal figure for her sent by her mother to take care of her since her coming to France. She was more lucky with the Princess de Lamballe, who returned and filled a great void in the affective and social life of the captive Queen. As for her social life, it was difficult for the queen, effectively a prisoner guarded night and day, to have an effective social life. Wherever Marie Antoinette went, there was a soldier before her and one after her; it was in the night that she was the more controlled, as she was obliged to keep the door of her bedroom open so that she can be seen by her guards, who did not always respect her and invaded frequently her privacy.[160]

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.[161]

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 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[162] 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.[163] These names were then prominently featured in different contexts, including La Carmagnole.

1792–1793: Royal Deposition, "Widow Capet", trial, and execution[edit]

Up until the deposition of the royal family in August 1792 and his own fall from grace, Barnave remained the most important advisor and supporter of the queen inside France. Marie Antoinette was ready to work with Barnave as long as he was ready to follow her orders, which Barnave did to a large extent and over a long period of time. Goaded by the queen, Barnave convinced Lafayette to use force against the radical elements of the French Revolution. As a result, tens of thousands of political opponents of Marie Antoinette were either killed, exiled or sent to prison. Rather than cooperating with Lafayette, Marie Antoinette refused to be helped by him and played a decisive role in defeating him in his aims to become the mayor of Paris in October 1791.[164]

Barnave and the moderates made up about 260 lawmakers in the new Legislative Assembly; the radicals numbered around 136, and the rest (around 350) were in the middle. 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. Worse than that, 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 on the orders of the queen. The radical Girondin government who was formed in April 1792 controlled the legislative assembly with 330 members, while Marie Antoinette and Barnave were not supported by more than 120 members.The two strongest members of that government were Jean Marie Roland, the husband of Madame Roland, who was minister of interior, and General Dumouriez, the minister of foreign affairs. Dumouriez sympathized with the royal couple and wanted to save them. However, he was rebuffed by the queen, who wanted to crush the Revolution by counting on the support of foreign powers.[165]

Marie Antoinette's actions in refusing to collaborate with the Girondin radical ministry who were 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, the King sacked 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, most of the French people and political parties turned against the royal authority. Marie Antoinette even collaborated with Madame du Barry using the Duke of Brissac, the leader of the constitutional guard and the lover of Madame du Barry, as an intermediate to fund and prepare a counterrevolution in the War in the Vendee. This counterrevolution would interrupt in 1793, causing hundred of thousands of deaths and bring the Revolution to a quick end in 1799. In addition, Marie Antoinette pushed the king to refuse the new laws voted by the Legislative Assembly in 1792.[166] and continued her plots with the foreign powers by pushing them to issue the Declaration of Pillnitz in August 1791, which threatened invasion of France. This led in turn to a French declaration of war in April 1792 and the French Revolutionary War and the popular revolution of August 1792 which ended the monarchy.[167]

Marie Antoinette with her children and Madame Élisabeth, when the mob broke into the Tuileries Palace on 20 June 1792.

On 20 June, "a mob of terrifying aspect" broke in to the Tuileries, made the King wear the bonnet rouge (red Phrygian cap) to show his loyalty to France, insulted Marie Antoinette, accused her of betraying France and threatened her life. In consequence, the queen ordered Fersen first to push foreign powers to activate their invasion of France and second to issue a manifesto in which the foreign powers threatened to destroy Paris if anything happened to the queen and her family. This manifesto triggered the events of 10 August [168] when an armed mob, on the verge of forcing its way into the Tuileries Palace, forced the King and 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.[169] 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.[170]

A week later, many 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, the princesse de Lamballe was a victim of the September Massacres, killed on 3 September. Her head was affixed on a pike and marched through the city; Marie Antoinette did not see this but fainted upon learning of it.[171]

Marie Antoinette as a "sad prisoner" in the Temple Tower, attributed to Alexandre Kucharsky, ca. 1792.

On 21 September, the fall of the monarchy was officially declared, and the National Convention became the legal authority of France. The royal family was re-styled as the non-royal "Capets". Preparations began for the trial of the king in a court of law.[172]

Charged with undermining the First French Republic, Louis 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. A month later, he was condemned to death by guillotine and executed on 21 January 1793.[173]

"Day of 21 January 1793 the death of Louis Capet on the Place de la Révolution"—French engraving.

The queen, now called the "Widow Capet", plunged into deep mourning and refused to eat or do any exercise. She proclaimed her son as Louis XVII hoping to rule France in his name as Regent; the comte de Provence, in exile, recognised his nephew as the new King of France. The royalists, especially those preparing the insurrection in Vendee and the clergy, supported Marie Antoinette, who wished to used this support in order to free herself from prison and subsequently crush the revolution, counting on a civil war inside France and the pressure of foreign armies and powers to achieve this. The queen could count on the sympathy of many conservative factions and social-religious groups who were turning against the Revolution, and on many wealthy figures who were ready to corrupt republican officials in order to facilitate the escape of the queen, which was a necessary step in order to form a new legal political entity.[174] While all this plots and activity failed in their attempts to change the fate of the prisoner queen and her family nevertheless they formed a network of royal activists strong enough to corrupt republican officials, to launch the war in Vendee in the name of the son of Marie Antoinette Louis seventeen and to defend the Catholic Religion by giving a true and strong popular base for the royalists and other conservatives whose activity in the long run will undermine the Revolution and oblige Napoleon to restore the Roman Catholic Church in France and Europe.[175] Marie Antoinette was treated badly by her jailors who smoked in her face and insulted her. She was imprisoned in a dark cell with few luxuries except her books and high heels. The queen had little social contact with no privacy, she was allowed to see her family on a very limited basis. Her health deteriorated through inactivity and forced restraint, she found difficulty in walking and developed tuberculosis and possibly uterine cancer, and she suffered frequent hemorrhages.[176] Marie Antoinette wanted to escape at all cost, the toulan plot which consisted in the queen putting the cloth of one of her guards because of her very big size failed due to the massive presence of guards, to the great desperation and sadness of the queen as we know from her letters.[177]

"Marie Antoinette au Tribunal Révolutionnaire", by Alphonse François.

After Louis' death, 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.[178] Starting in April, however, a Committee of Public Safety 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 and arrested.[179] Other calls were 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 Antoinette on 3 July and given to the care of a cobbler named Antoine Simon.[180] 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, Marie Antoinette was always attended by guards who restrained her, did not allow her any privacy and treated her very badly; an attempt to escape was foiled due to the inability to corrupt all the guards, to fear and also to the large numbers of iron doors which totally cut the unground cell where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned from the rest of the prison.[181] There she was attended by Rosalie Lamorlière and at at least once received a Catholic priest.[182][183]

Marie Antoinette's Cell in the Conciergerie where no privacy was allowed to her.

She was finally 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.[184] 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 sexually abusing him which draw an emotional response from Marie Antoinette strongly rebuking that charge and calling on all mothers to support her which brought her a lot of comfort from some of her enemies even on a temporary basis. .[185][186] She refused to respond to this charge.

Funerary monument to King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, sculptures by Edme Gaulle and Pierre Petitot in the Basilica of St Denis.

On the third day, she was declared guilty of treason and condemned to death to her great surprise and sadeness, though she had expected life imprisonment.[187] In her cell 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.[188] She was then forced to undress before her guards, clothed in a plain white dress and her hair shorn. Her hands bound painfully behind her back and leashed with a rope (as shown in the last drawing of her from life, by the painter Jacques-Louis David), she was driven through Paris to the place of execution in an open cart through the crowds, some jeering calling her Autri- chienne (Because she was Austrian and meaning chienne or dog in the French Language) and some remained silent, while she largely maintained her composure despite her deep sadness and pains.[189][190] For her final confession she was given a priest recognized not by Rome but by the local constitutional church in France with the result that Marie Antoinette refused to confess or talk to him although he was with her the whole time until her execution which deprived her from spiritual consolation at the last moment of her life; in this and other matters, she was treated more harshly than the king had been.[191][192]

Marie Antoinette on her way to the guillotine. (Pen and ink by Jacques-Louis David, 16 October 1793)
Marie Antoinette's execution with her head shown to the people.

She was guillotined at 12:15 p.m. on 16 October 1793, at the Place de la Révolution (present-day Place de la Concorde).[193][194] 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, rue d'Anjou (which was closed the following year).[citation needed]

Her sister-in-law Élisabeth was executed in 1794 and her son died in prison in 1795. Her daughter returned to Austria in a prisoner exchange, married and died childless in 1851.[195]

Both Marie Antoinette's body and that of Louis XVI were exhumed on 18 January 1815, during the Bourbon Restoration, when the comte de Provence had become king Louis XVIII. 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.[196]

After death and legacy[edit]

Long after her death, Marie Antoinette remains a major historical figure linked with conservative and the Catholic Church positions; and a major cultural icon associated with high glamour, wealth and a certain style of life based on luxury and celebrity appealing today to the social and cultural elites; frequently referenced in popular culture,[197] being the subject of several books, films and other forms of media. Most academics and scholars, have deemed her the quintessential representative of class conflict, western aristocracy and absolutism government in addition to being frivolous, superficial; and have attributed the start of the French Revolution to her in addition to the beginning of the French Revolutionary Wars of 1792 which ended with the Congress of Vienna with their millions of victims and the introduction of nationalistic and modern ideas.[198][199][200][201][202] On the other hand, Marie Antoinette supported the American Revolution in 1776 and the American Revolutionary War, and helped inspire a conservative reaction in France after 1791, which saw its greatest manifestation in the War in the Vendée which led, several years after the death of the queen, to the end of the Revolution and to the return of conservative and religious ideas in France and in Europe.[203] That tendency saw its first manifestation in the writing of Edmund Burke, the most important theorist of modern conservative thought, who criticized the Revolution as early as 1790 and defended Marie Antoinette in his various books. For some, Marie Antoinette was a victim of her family ambition and the general situation in France, in addition, even some of her critics recognize her qualities as a mother, her courage in dying, even her charisma. She also patronized the arts, sciences and fashion.

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".[204] 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.[205]

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.[206]

Marie Antoinette is referenced 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 and Bohemia
  • 19 April 1770 – 10 May 1774: Her Royal Highness The Dauphine of France, Archduchess of Austria, Princess of Hungary and Bohemia
  • 10 May 1774 – 1 October 1791: Her Most Christian Majesty The Queen of France and Navarre
  • 1 October 1791 – 21 September 1792: Her Most Christian Majesty The Queen of the French


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
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  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
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  37. ^ Lever 2006
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  46. ^ Lever, Marie Antoinette 1991, pp. 132-133
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  107. ^ Stefan Zweig and Antonia Fraser, who believe Fersen and the queen were romantically involved with one another, argue that there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Louis XVI was not the child's father - see Stefan Zweig, Marie Antoinette: The portrait of an average woman (New York, 1933), pp. 143, 244-7, and Fraser, pp. 267-9. This is also the view taken in biographies like Ian Dunlop, Marie-Antoinette: A Portrait (London, 1993), Évelyne Lever, Marie-Antoinette : la dernière reine (Paris, 2000), Simone Bertière, Marie-Antoinette: l'insoumise (Paris, 2003), and Jonathan Beckman, How to ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette, the Stolen Diamonds and the Scandal that shook the French throne (London, 2014), all of which argue that the Queen was not romantically or sexually involved with von Fersen. Beckman argues that 'there was speculation that he [Fersen] had an affair with the queen. To keep such a liaison hidden for years would have required a talent for logistics and discretion well beyond Marie Antoinette.' Munro Price, The Fall of the French Monarchy: Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and the baron de Breteuil (London, 2002) argues that it is impossible to know one way or the other how the queen and von Fersen felt about one another, but that if they ever did consummate their union, it took place after the birth of all four of her children and quite possibly only in the final few weeks of her freedom. The prince's biographer, Deborah Cadbury, in The Lost King of France: The tragic story of Marie-Antoinette's Favourite Son (London, 2003), pp. 22-4 also argues strongly that Louis XVI was the younger son's biological father.
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  198. ^ 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. 
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]