User:Papirini/Marie Antoinette

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Marie Antoinette, by Jean-Baptiste Andre Gautier d'Agoty. This particular painting was widely disseminated early on in the queen's reign, and many artists would copy it.

Maria Antonia Josefa Johanna von Habsburg-Lothringen (November 2 1755 - October 16 1793), known to history as Marie Antoinette (pronounced /mari? ?nt?wan?t?/), Became Queen of France and Navarre. She was married to Louis XVI of France at age 15, and was the mother of "lost Dauphin" Louis XVII. Marie Antoinette is perhaps best remembered for her legendary (and, some modern historians say, exaggerated) excesses, and for her death: she was executed by guillotine at the height of the French Revolution in 1793, for the crime of treason.

Childhood: 1755-1767[edit]

Marie Antoinette at the age of 12.

Born at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Maria Antonia was issue of Francis Stephen and Empress Maria Theresa; she was described as "a small, but completely healthy Archduchess."[1] Known at court as "Madame Antoine", a French variation of her name, she was the fifthteenth child, and the last daughter, born in the family.

By many accounts of her childhood, she had a somewhat complex childhood growing up. On the one hand, her parents had instituted many innovations in terms of court life which made Austria one of the more progressive courts in Europe. While certain court functions remained formal by necessity, the Emperor and Empress nevertheless presided over many basic changes in court life. This included allowing relaxations in who could come to court (a change which allowed people of merit as well as birth to rise rapidly in the imperial favor), a lax dress etiquette, and the abolition of certain court protocols, for example the ritual where dozens of courtiers could be in the Empress' bedchamber, watching when she gave birth; the Empress disliked the ritual and would eject courtiers from her rooms whenever she went into labor. [2]

The laxity of court life was compounded by the "private" life which was developed by the Habsburgs, which centered around certain castles (mainly Schönbrunn Palace) that were almost entirely off-limits to the rest of the court. In their "private" life, the family could dress in bourgeois attire with no reproach, played games with "normal" (non-royal) children, had their schooling, and were treated to gardens and menageries. Hence, the future Queen of France would be so smitten with memories of these castles that she attempted to "re-create" the idyll through her renovation of the Petit Trianon[3].

While she had an idyllic "private" life, her initial role in the political arena - and in her mother's main aim of alliance through marriage - was relatively miniscule. As there were so many other children who could be married off, Antoine was at turns neglected by her mother; as a result, Marie Antoinette later described her relationship with her mother as one of awe-inspired fear[4]. She also developed a mistrust of intelligent older women as a result of her mother's close relationship with Archduchess Maria Christina, who shared Maria Therea's birthday and was her favorite child[4]. The lack of supervision also resulted in a sub-par education in many areas, and she could barely read and write properly in her native German by the time she was twelve[5].

Marriage to Louis Auguste: 1767-1770[edit]

Thr events leading to her eventual betrothal to the Dauphin of France began in 1765, when Francis I died of a stroke in August of that year, leaving Maria Theresa to co-rule with her son and heir, Emperor Joseph[6]. By that time, marriage arrangements had been started, with Archduchess Maria Josepha to King Ferdinand of Naples, and Don Ferdinand of Parma was to tenatively marry one of the remaining eligible females. This was done to begin the cementing of various complex alliances that Maria Therea had entered into in the 1750's, climaxing with the Seven Years' War, which included Parma, Naples, Russia, and more importantly Austria's traditional enemy, France[7]. (Maria Christina, who had successfully lobbied with her mother for a love match, had married Prince Albert of Saxony by this time[8]; the eldest surviving Archduchess, Archduchess Maria Anna was crippled and considered unsuitable for marriage [9].)

Then, in 1767, a smallpox outbreak hit the family; Antoine was one of the few who were immune due to already having it at a young age. Emperor Joseph's wife, Josephe, died first; Maria Theresa herself caught it and nearly died. Then, Maria Josepha caught it from her sister-in-law's improperly-sealed tomb, dying quickly afterwards; Archduchess Maria Elizabeth, another older sister, caught it, and though she did not die her looks were destroyed and she was rendered inelligible for marriage. To compensate for the loss, Maria Theresa replaced Maria Josepha in the Naples marriage with another daughter, Maria Charlotte. Archduchess Maria Amalia, the eldest remaining candidate for marriage, was then married to Don Ferdinand of Parma [10].

This ultimately left twelve-year-old Antoine as the potential bride for the fourteen-year-old Dauphin of France, Louis Auguste. Working painstakingly to process the marriage between the respective governments of France and Austria, the dowry was set at 200,000 crowns; portraits and rings were eventually exchanged as was custom[11]. Finally, Antoine was married by proxy on April 19, 1770, in the Church of the Augustine Friars; her brother Ferdinand stood in as the bridegroom. She was also officially restyled as Marie Antoinette, Dauphine of France[12]. Before leaving Maria Theresa reminded her of her duty to her home country; that she shouldn't forget she was German (Austrian), and thus, had to promote the interests of Austrian even as she was to be the future Queen of France.

Marie Antoinette was officially handed over to her French bearers on May 7, 1770, on an island near Kehl. Chief among them were the Comte and Comtesse de Noailles, the latter who was appointed the Duphine's Mistress of the Household by Louis XV of France[13]. She would meet him, Louis Auguste and the royal aunts (known as Mesdames Tantes), one week later. Before reaching Versailles, she would also meet her future brothers-in-law, Louis Stanislas Xavier, Comte de Provence, and Charles Philippe, Comte d'Artois, who would come to play important roles during and after her life[14]. She would meet the rest of the family, including Madame Elisabeth, who would become a close companion later in life.

The ceremonial wedding of the Dauphin and Dauphine took place on May 16, 1770, in the palace of Versailles, after which was the ritual bedding[15]. It was assumed by custom that consumation of the marriage would take place on the wedding night. However, this did not occur, and the lack of consummation would plague the reputation of both the Dauphin and Dauphine for seven years.[16].

Life as dauphine: 1770-1774[edit]

The inital reaction concerning the marriage between Marie Antoinette and Louis Auguste was decidedly mixed. On the one hand, the Dauphine herself was popular among the people at large; her first official appearance in Paris on June 8, 1773 at Tuileries was considered by many royal watchers a resounding success, with a reported 50,000 people crying out to see her. A visit to the opera for a court performance was also reported a success, with the Dauphine herself leading the applause. She was also widely commemorated for her acts of charity; in one incident, she personally attended to a dying man and arranged for his family to recieve an income in his wake [16].

Marie Antoinette, painted by Franz Xaver Wagenschön, shortly after her marriage in 1770

In the court, however, the match was not so popular, due to the long-standing tensions between Austria and France, which had only so recently been mollified. Many courtiers had promoted a match with various Saxon princesses; Mesdames Tantes called Marie Antoinette l'Autrichchienne (a pun on the words "ostrich", "Austrian" and "bitch") behind her back[17], while others accused her of trying to sway the king to Austia's thrall, destroying long-standing traditions (such as appointing people to posts due to friendship and not to peerage) and laughing at the influence of older women in court[18]. Many other courtiers, such as the Comtesse du Barry, had a more or less tenuous relationship with the Dauphine.

However, Marie Antoinette's relationship with the du Barry was one which was important to rectify, at least on the surface, as the du Barry was the mistress of Louis XV, and thus had some political power. She was instrumental in the ousting of Etienne-Francois, the Duc de Choiseul, who helped orchestrate the Austrian-Franco alliance (and ultimately Marie Antoinette's marriage); due to this, Mesdames Tantes' coaching, and the du Barry's perpetual occupation, the Dauphine refused to acknowledge the favorite, which was considered by some to be political suicide. It wasn't until New Year's Day 1772, and after months of continued pressure from her mother and Austrian minister Comte de Mercy d'Argenteau, that Marie Antoinette finally spoke to du Barry[19] .

Mare Antoinette also still had to contend with her mother, who wrote to her daughter regularly and who recieved secret reports from the Mercy d'Argenteau on her daughter's behavior[20] . The Dauphine was constantly criticized for her inavility to "inspire passion" in her husband, who rarely slept with her and had no interest to do so, and was told again to promote the interests of Austria and the House of Lorraine, which Marie Antoinette was a member of through her late father. The Empress also criticized the Dauphine's pasttime of horseback riding, though paradoxically the Empress's favorite portrait of her daughter was one of her in riding garb. The Empress would even go so far as to insult her daughter directly, telling her she was no longer pretty and had no talent, and was thus a failure, particularly after the marriages of the comte de Provence to Josephine of Savoy and the comte d'Artois to Marie Therese[21].

To make up for the lack of affection from her husband and the endless criticism of her mother, Marie Antoinette began to spend more on gambling, with cards and horse-betting, as well as trips to the city and new clothing, shoes, pomade and rouge[17]; the purchase of which, while extravagant (causing her to into debt) and somewhat neglectful of her royal duties (a portion of the Dauphine;s allowance was supposed to go to charities), was not as much as critics accused her of spending. She was also expected by tradition to spend money on her attire, so as to outshine other women in the court, being the leading example of fashion in Versailles (the previous queen, Maria Leszczyńska, having died several years prior to Antoinette's arrival).

Marie Antoinette also began to form deep friendships with various ladies in her retinue. Most noted were the sensitive and "pure" widow the Princesse de Lamballe, who she appointed as Superintendent of the Household, and the fun-loving Gabrielle, Comtesse de Polignac, who would eventually form the cornerstone of the Queen's Private Society (Societe Particuliere de la Reine)[18]. Polignac later became the Royal Governess, and was liked as a friend by Louis Auguste. The closeness of the Dauphine's friendships with these ladies, infouenced by various popular publications which promoted such friendships, would later cause accusations of lesbianism to be lodged against these women[19]. Others taken into her confidence at this time included the comte d'Artois; a younger sister of Louis Auguste, Madame Elisabeth; the comtesse de Provence; and Christoph Willibald Gluck, her former music teacher, who fell under her patronage upon his arrival in France and supported his new work[20].

It was a week after the premiere of Gluck's opera, Iphegenie en Aulide, which had secured the Dauphine's position as a patron of the arts, that Louis XV began to fall ill on April 27, 1774. After several days of sickness, he sent Comtesse du Barry to a castle in Ruel on May 4; on May 10, at 3 pm, the king died of smallpox aged sixty-four[21]

Coronation and reign: 1775-1793[edit]

Louis Auguste (re-styled Louis XVI was officially crowned on June 11, 1775 at Rheims Cathedral. Marie Antoinette was not crowned alongside him, instead merely accompanying him during the coronation[22].

Marie Antoinette in a court dress à la Polonaise of 1779 worn over extremely wide panniers. Portrait by Mme Vigée-Lebrun.

1775-1778: The Early Years[edit]

From the outset, despite how she was portrayed by contemporary libellistes, the new queen had very little political influence with her husband. Louis, who had been influenced as a child by anti-Austrian sentiments in the court, blocked many of her candidates, including the Duc de Choiseul[23], from taking important positions, aided and abetted by his two most important ministers, Chief Minister Jean-Frédéric Phélypeaux, Comte de Maurepas and Foreign Minister Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes. All three were anti-Austrian, and were wary of the potential repercussions of allowing the queen - and, through her, the Austrian empire - to have any say in French policy[24].

Marie Antoinette's situation became more precarious when, on August 6, 1775, her sister-in-law, Marie Thérèse, the wife of the Comte d'Artois, gave birth to a son, Louis Antoine, immediately titled the Duc d'Angoulême. He would be the heir to the French throne for seven years; this resulted in a plethora of graphic satirical pamphlets (the libelles) to be released, which mainly centered around the king's impotence and the queen's searching for sexual relief elsewhere, with men and women alike. Among the candidates were the Princesse de Lamballe and d'Artois, with whom the queen had a good rapport [25].

This caused the queen to plunge further into the costly diversions of buying her dresses from Rose Bertin and gambling, simply to enjoy herself. On one famed occasion, she played for three days straight with players from Paris, straight up until her 21st birthday. She also began to attract various male admirers whom she accepted into her inner circles, including the Baron de Besenval, the Duc de Choigny, and Count Valentin Esterhazy[26].

She was given free reign to renovate the Petit Trianon, which was given to her as a gift by Louis XVI on August 27 1775; she concentrated mainly on horticulture, redesigning the garden in the English mode. Though the castle was built in Louis XV's reign, the Petit Trianon became associated with Marie Antoinette's percieved extravagance; rumors circulated that she plastered the walls with gold and diamonds[27].

The Petit Trianon

Though the queen was criticized for her expenditures, in truth, her spending amounted to little in comparison to the debt incurred by France during the Seven Years' War, still unpaid. It would be further exacerbated by Vergennes' prodding Louis XVI to get involved in Great Britain's war with its North American colonies, due to France's traditional hatred of England[28].

In the midst of preparations for sending aid to France, and in the atmosphere of first wave of libelles, Emperor Joseph came to call on his sister and brother-in-law on April 18, 1777, the subsequent six-week visit a part of the attempt to figure out why their marriage had not been consumated. It had been commonly believed that Louis XVI suffered from phimosis and needed corrective surgery; however, after talking to the king himself, Joseph was convinced that the king had "satisfactory" erections but that, upon introducing his "member", didn't stay inside long enough to ejaculate, having no clue as to what else he was supposed to do. As the emperor himself declared, if he had been given the chance to rectify the situation beforehand, Louis XVI "would have been whipped so that he ejaculated out of sheer rage like a donkey"[29]. .

It was due to Joseph's intervention that on August 30, 1777, that the marriage was officially consummated. Eight months later, in April, it was suspected that the queen was finally pregnant; this was confirmed on May 16, 1778[30].

1778-1781: Motherhood and Modes[edit]

In the middle of her pregnancy, two events which would mark the queen's later life occurred; the return of the Swedish ladykiller and the Queen's eventual reputed lover, Count Axel von Fersen to Versailles for the subsequent two years, and the disgrace of the Duc de Chartres in the wake of his questionable conduct during the Battle of Ouessant against the British. The emperor Joseph also began to make succesion claims for Bavaria through his late second wife, and Marie Antoinette's pleading for the French to help intercede on behalf of Austria was rebuffed by the king and his ministers. The Peace of Teschen, signed on May 13, 1779, would later end the brief conflict, but the incident once more showed the limited influence that the queen had in politics[31].

Marie Antoinette's daughter, Marie Thérèse Charlotte, known affectionately as "Madame Royale" (Madame Fille du Roi) was finally born at Versailles after a particularly difficult labor on December 19 1778, followed by an ordeal in the afterbirth where the Queen literally collapsed from suffocation and hemmoraging; the room was packed with courtiers watching the birth and the doctor aiding her supposedly caused the excessive bleeding by accident. The windows had to be torn out to revive her; just as it had been forbidden at the Austrian court, the queen banned most courtiers from entering her bedchamber for subsequent labors [32].

The baby's paternity was contested in the libelles and most notably by comte de Provence, who had always been open about his desire to become King through various means; however, it was never contested by the king himself, who was close to his daughter[33]. However, the pressure to have a male heir continued to be applied, and Antoinette wrote about her worrisome health, which might have contributed to a miscarriage in the summer of 1779[34].

Marie Antoinette in 1783, the famous "muslin" portrait. Portrait by Marie Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

Meanwhile, the queen began to institute changes in the modes of court, with the approval of the king. Some changes, such as the abolition of segregated dining spaces, had already been instituted for some time and had been met with disapproval from the older generation; more importantly was the abandonment of the wide-hooped panniers and heavy make-up for less make-up and plainer clothing, such as polonaises and, more famously, the muslin dresses which were captured by a 1783 Lebrun portrait of the queen. She also began to participate in amateur theatrics, starting in 1780, in a theatre built for her and other courtiers who wished to indulge in singing and acting[35].

In 1780, two candidates who had been supported by Marie Antoinette for positions, Charles, the marquis de Castries, and Louis Phillipe, comte de Segur, were appointed Minister of the Navy and the Minister of War, respectively. Though many believed it was entirely the support of the Queen that enabled them to secure their positions, in truth it was mostly due to the influence of Finance Minister Jacques Necker that got them the positions[36].

Later that year, Empress Maria Theresa's health began to give way due to dropsy and an unnamed respiratory problem; she died on November 29, 1780, aged sixty-three in Vienna; she was mourned throughout Europe. Though Marie Antoinette was worried that the death of her mother would jeopardize the Franco-Austrian alliance (as well as, ultimately, herself), Emperor Joseph reassured her through his own letters (as the empress had not stopped writing to Marie Antoinette until shortly before her death) that he had no intention of breaking the alliance.

Three months after the empress' death, it was rumored that Marie Antoinette was pregnant again, which was confirmed in March of 1781. Another royal visit from Joseph II in July, partially to reaffirm the Franc-Austrian alliance and also a means of seeing his sister again, was tainted with rumors that Marie Antoinette was siphoning treasury money off to him, which were false[37].

The queen would give birth to Louis Joseph Xavier Francois, titled the Duc de Brittainy, on October 22, 1781. The reaction to finally giving birth to an heir was best summed up by the words of Louis XVI himself, as he wrote them down in his hunting journal: "Madame, you have fulfilled our wishes and those of France, you are the mother of Dauphin"[38]. He would, according to courtiers, try to frame sentences to put in the phrase "my son the Dauphin" in the weeks to come[39]. It also helped that, three days before the birth, the fighting in the conflict in America had been concluded with the surrender of General Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown[40].

1782-1785: Declining Popularity[edit]

Despite the general celebration over the birth of the Dauphin, Marie Antoinette's political influence, such as it was, did not increase to the befit of Austria, as it had been hoped. Instead, after the death of the comte de Maurepas, the influence of Vergennes was strengthened, and she was again left out of political affairs. The same would happen during the so-called Scheldt Affair, when Joseph attempted to open up the Scheldt River for naval passage; a territory exchange as a pretext to claim Bavaria was again re-buffed as against French interests[41].

When accused of being a "dupe" by her brother for her supposed inactivity, Marie Antoinette responded that she had little power; the king rarely talked to her about policy, and his anti-Austian-tinted education as a child fortified his refusals in allowing his wife any participation in his cabals; as a result, she had to pretend he told her in order to get information from his ministers, and so that the public believed she had more power than she did. As she wrote,"Would it be wise of me to have scenes with his (Louis XVI's) ministers over matters on which it is practically certain the King would not support me?"[42].

Marie Antoinette's temperment was more suited to her children, whose education and upbringing she personally saw to. This was against the mode of Versailles, where the queen usually had little say over the "Children of France", as royal children were called, and they were instead handed over to various courtiers who fought over the privilege. In particular, after the Royal Governess at the time of the Dauphin's birth, the Princesse de Rohan-Guemene, went bankrupt and was forced to resign, and Marie Antoinette appointed the Dutchess de Polignac to replace her. This met with disapproval from the court, as the dutchess was considered to be of too "immodest" a birth to occupy the position; on the other hand, both the king and queen trusted her entirely, and the duchesse had children of her own to whom the queen had become attatched to[43].

In June 1783, Marie Antoinette was pregnant again; that same month, Count Fersen returned from America, in order to secure a military appointment, and he was accepted into her Private Society. He would leave in September to be Captain of the Bodyguard for Gustavus III, the Sedish king, who was conducting a tour of Europe. Marie Antoinette would suffer a misscarriage two months later, prompting more fears for her health[44].

During this first visit, and Fersen's return on June 7, 1784, the queen would be occupied with the creation of a "model village" of twelve cottages and a mill at the Petit Trianon (nine cottages of which still stand today); this caused another uproar, and the actual price of the hameau were once again inflated by her critics. In truth, it was copied from another, far grander "model village" from the Prince de Conde; the comtesse de Provence's version even included windmills and a marble dairyhouse[45]. She became an avid reader of historical novels, was also a witness to the launching of hot air balloons, and briefly had in her confidence various personages such as William Pitt and the Duke of Dorset[46].

One of the cottages built in Marie Antoinette's private village

Despite the many things which she did in her time, the primary concern at the time was the health of the Dauphin, which was beginning to fail. At the time Fersen returned to Versailles in 1784, the possibility of the Dauphin not lasting through his childhood was commonly accepted, and it was rumored that the king and queen were attempting to have another child as a result[47]. During this time, also, The Marriage of Figaro was premiered in Paris; after having banned it due to its portrayal of the nobility, it was ironically allowed because of its overwhelming popularity in secret readings with the nobility[48].

After Fersen's six week visit was over, the queen reported that she was pregnant in August; with the future enlargement of her family in mind, she attempted to buy some personal property, in the form of the castle of St. Cloud, so she could pass it on to her children without stipulation. This was a hugely unpopular acquisition, one which caused her unpopularity with certain factions of the nobility to start spilling out into the rest of France, as the idea of a French Queen owning her own house independent of the king was unheard of. The negotiations between ministers, most notably with the Baron de Breteuil working on behalf of the queen, did not help, as the price - 6 million livres - and the substantial extra cost on furnishings the castle ensured that there would be less money going towards repaying France's substantial debt[49].

On March 27, 1785, Marie Antoinette gave birth to a second son, Louis Charles, who was created the Duc de Normandie. He was noticibly stronger in constitution, even at birth, in comparison with the sickly Dauphin, and was affectionately nicknamed the queen's chou d'amour[50]. This naturally led to suspiscions of illegitimacy once more, and this time - due to the combination of years of continued publications of the libelles, court intrigues, the actions of Joseph II in the unresolved "Scheldt Affair", and the purchase of St. Cloud - the queen's enemies were beginning to shape popular opinion towards the queen, and the image of a licentious, spendthrift, empty-headed Habsburg queen who ruled France was emerging in the French psyche[51].

1785-1786: "The Diamond Necklace Affair"[edit]

Several months after the birth of Louis Joseph, the queen recieved a letter from famed jewellers Boehmer and Bassenge, regarding a certain necklace which, it was eventually learned, the queen had apparently purchased through the auspisces of Prince Louis, Cardinal de Rohan. Rohan, however, was a character toward which Marie Antoinette felt nothing but disdain towards, as he had flaunted libelles about her during his time as ambassador to Vienna; since his return to Paris in 1777 she had publicly snubbed him. Nor had she shown any interest towards the necklace itself, an ostentatious diamond-studded piece originally made with the Comtesse du Barry in mind, described by detractors as a "veritable yoke"; she had rejected the jewelers' offer to sell it to her on several occasions[52].

It turned out that the cardinal had bought the necklace for the queen, on the commission of Jeanne, Comtesse de Lamotte-Valois, a con woman who had also been passed over by the queen and who became Rohan's mistress in 1783. Using papers forged by Retaux de Vilette, another of her lovers, Lamotte Valois convinced the cardinal she was a close friend of the queen's and that she had been commissioned to help get the necklace through him. Desperate for recognition by the queen, Rohan met with Nicole d'Olivia, who was hired to impersonate the queen, in Versailes' Grove of Venus, and recieved an order to buy the necklace so as to rectify Rohan's position. After the cardinal purchased the necklace, it was given to a "valet", who was in fact Jeanne's husband, who pried the gems from the necklace and sold them to the London jewelers Grey and Jeffries, where they were subsequently sold[53].

Naturally, the payments for the necklace to Boehmer and Bassenge and Rohan (who apparently was to be paid back) were never brought forth; this, combined with the revealing to Madame Campan, the First Lady of the Queen's Bedchamber, that the Cardinal had bought the jewels and had used the forged signatures to do so, brought the arrest of the Cardinal, the comtesse, d'Olivia, Villette and several others thought to be remotely involved in the case. The case was brought to the Parlement de Paris, which caused the entire affair to explode and permanently damage Marie Antoinette's reputation. Jeanne de Lamotte's own brief was that the queen was actually sexually involved with the Cardinal, and that the incident in the Grove of Venus was a sexual tryst on top of a solicitation for the necklace. The Parlement, in its own turn, had its own problems with the king, which involved the despised lit de justice that hindered its own power[54].

Partially revenge against the king's power, partially a response to the queen's supposed life of sin and waste, vividly painted in the libelles, the Parlement aquitted the Cardinal de Rohan on May 31, 1786 as an unsuspecting victim, though he was stripped of his titles and banished from court. The Lamottes were handed life imprisonments and were to be branded as thieves (the comte de Lamotte was in London and hence was tried in absentia), while everyone else was handed reprimands and confiscated of property. Yet most of the blame fell upon the queen herself; despite having nothing to do with orchestrating the fraud that lead to the "Diamond Necklace Affair", to this day she is still portrayed by some quarters as being somewhat or completely to blame for what happened[54].

Amidst all of the attention focused on the trial, the queen turned thirty on November 2, 1785; she began to abandon some of the more frivolous clothing that she had favored in her youth for more dignified clothing. She was also starting to gain weight; it would turn out that she was pregnant once more, which she feared would affect her health, as she had only given birth several months prior. Ultimately, the stress of the "Diamond Necklace Affair" would cause her to go into labor; Sophie Hélène Béatrix was born on July 9, 1786, several weeks premature. As the queen had feared, her health was affected by the pregnancy, and she began to complain of shortness of breath soon afterwards[55].

1786-June 1789: Real Political Influence[edit]

The htgufwbefy hfu of the financial situation in France, though cutbacks in the royal retinue had been made, ultimately forced the king, in collaboration with his current Minister of Finance, Charles Alexandre Calonne, to call the Assembly of Notables, after an absence of 160 years, to try and pass some of the reforms needed to alleviate the situation when the Parlements refused to cooperate. The first meeting of the Assembly took place on February 22, 1787, at which Marie Antoinette was not present and was afterwards accused of trying to undermind the process[56].

However, the Assembly was a failure with or without the queen, as they did not pass any reforms and instead fell into a pattern of defying the king, demanding other reforms and for the acquicence of the Parlements. As a result, the king to dismiss Calonne on April 8, 1787; Vergennes died on February 13 and the king, once more ignoring the queen's pro-Austrian candidate (which she had half-heartedly endorsed) appointing a childhood friend, the Comte de Montmorin, to replace him as Foreign Minister[57].

During this time, even as her candidate was rejected, the queen began to abandon her more carefree activities to become more involved in politics than ever before, and mostly against the interests of Austria. This was for a variety of reasons; her children were the Children of France, and thus their futures needed to be assured, the after effects of the "Diamond Necklace Affair" which in a way this was the queen's way of fighting the image presented, and the king's own condition, which was largely affected by a major depression, the symptoms of which were passed off as drunkeness by the libelles. As a result, she finally became a politically viable entity, though she herself was not gifted as such. Nevertheless, she did her best to help the situation brewing between the Assembly and the king[58].

The change in interests also signalled the beginning of the end of the influence of the Polignacs, as Marie Antoinette began to dislike the Duchesse's expenditures which were all at the queen's expense and to her discredit. The Duchesse left for England in May, leaving her children behind in Versailles. Also, on May 1, Etienne de Lomenie de Brienne, Archbishop of Toulouse and one of the queen's political allies, was appointed by the king as Financial Minister, and began instituting more cutbacks at court[59].

The clear preference shown to the minister by the queen, who would, like Calonne, fail to rectify the finances, hurt the queen even more. The Assembly of Notables was then dissolved on May 25 because of their inability to get things done. The lack of solutions, as a result, would cause the blame of the entire situation - which was really a result of successive wars, a too-large royal family who were given astronomical allowances (as every individual royal had their own household, and some, for example the Comte de Provence and Mesdames Tantes, spent far more frivolously than the queen ever had), and the unwillingness of ministers and other non-royal nobles to help defray the costs - to fall on the queen. She would earn her famous nickname of "Madame Deficit" in the summer of 1787 as a result of her percieved destroying of the French government[60].

The queen attempted to fight back with her own propaganda that portrayed her as the mother of the Children of France, most notably with the portrait of her and her children done by Vigée-Lebrun, which was to premiere at the Royal Académie Salon de Paris in August 1787. It was eventually dropped, however, due to the death of Sophie, the youngest child, due to convulsions from her baby teeth coming in, and also due to the unpopularity of the queen. Also around this time, Jeanne de Lamotte escaped from the prison she had been sentenced to and landed in London, where she published more about her "affair" with the queen[61].

Marie Antoinette and her children, 1786-1787. Sophie Hélène Béatrix, originally in the cradle, was painted out after her death. By Marie Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

The political situation in 1787 began to worsen when Parlement was exiled and culminated on November 11, when the king used a lit de justice to try and force legislation through. He was unexpectedly challenged by the Louis Philippe Joseph, Duc de Chartres, now the Duc d'Orléans, who publicly protested the move, and was subsequently exiled. The May Edicts issued on May 8, 1788, also a lit de justice, were also opposed by the public. Finally, on July 8 and August 8, the king announced a preliminary hearing, and then his official intentions, respectively, to bring back the Estates General, an elected government body that had not been convened since 1614[62].

The queen was not directly involved with the exile of Parlement, the May Edicts or with the announcement regarding the Estates General. Her primary concern of late 1787 and 1788 was the betterment of Louis Joseph, who suffered from tuberculosis, which in his case twisted and curved his spinal column severely. He was sent to the castle at Meudon in hopes that he would be able to recover; unfortunately, the move did little to alleviate the Dauphin's condition, which gradually continued to deteriorate[63]. She was, however, present with Madame Royalle, when Tippu Sahib of Mysore visited Versailles for help against the British; more importantly she was the reason for the recall of Jacques Necker as Finance Minister on August 26, a popular move, even though she herself was worried that the recall would again go against her if Necker was unsuccessful[63].

Her prediction began to come true when the bread prices began to rise due to the severe 1788-1789 winter. The Dauphin's condition worsened even more, riots broke out in Paris in April, and on March 26, Louis XVI himself almost died from a fall off the roof. "Come, Léonard, dress my hair, I must go like an actress, exhibit myself to a public that may hiss me" was her line to her hairdresser when she was preparing for the Mass celebrating the return of the Estates General on May 4, 1789 in which the Duc d'Orleans, flaunting that he had given money and bread to the people during the winter, was popularly acclaimed by the crowd. The Estates General convened the next day[64].

During the month of May, as the Estates General began to fissure between the more radical Third Estate comprised of the bourgeois and radical nobility) and the nobility of the Second Estate, while the king's brothers began to become more hardline and the queen's influence once more gave way to nothing. Instead, she turned to the care of the dying Dauphin, who finally passed at Meudon, with the queen at his side, on June 4, aged seven. His death, which would have normally been nationally mourned, was virtually ignored the French people, who were instead preparing for the next meeting of the Estates General and the solution to the bread prices. As the Third Estate declared itself a National Assembly and took the Tennis Court Oath, and others listened to rumors that their queen wished to bathe in their blood, as she went into mourning[65].

July 1789-1792: The French Revolution[edit]

The situation began to escalate violently in July as the National Assembly began to demand more rights and Louis XVI began to lean back towards the nobility's demands to suppress the Third Estate. Then, on July 11, Necker was dismissed. Paris was besieged by riots at the news, which culminated in the famous storming of the Bastille on July 14[66].

In the weeks that followed, many of the influential conservative aristocrats, including the Comte d'Artois and the Duchesse de Polignac (who had briefly returned to France several months prior), fled France. Marie Antoinette, who was probably most in danger and plagued with threats of immurement and the exclusion of her as the Queen Regent should her husband die, stayed behind in order to help the king promote stability, even as his power was gradually taken away by the National Assembly, who now ruled Paris, and were conscripting men to serve in the National Guard[67].

Prise de la Bastille, by Jean-Pierre-Louis-Laurent Houel, depicting the storming of the Bastille.

By the end of August, the Declaration of the Rights of Man (La Déclaration des droits de l'Homme et du citoyen) was adapted, which officially created the beginning of a constitutional monarchy in France[68]. Despite this, the king was still required to perform court ceremonies, even as the situation in Paris started to worsen due to the bread shortage in September. In October, a dinner conducted for the royal bodyguards was turned into an orgy by revolutionary newspapers, and on October 5, on the beliefs that the king and queen were withholding bread, a bevy of market-women made their way to Versailles to demand their voices be heard. The next day, they stormed the castle, killing several bodyguards in lieu of meeting the king, threatening Marie Antoinette's life in the process[69].

The riot prompted the royal family - who also consisted of the comte and comtesse de Provence and the king's sister Madame Elisabeth - to move to Paris under guard of the National Guard; they stayed at the Tuileries under a lax house arrest[70]. After this 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 anyways and she fear the repercussions of further involvement[71].

Despite the situation, Marie Antoinette was still required to perform charitable functions and certain religious ceremonies, which she did, though outside of this most of her time was dedicated to her children once more[72]. She was also (wrongully credited with having the Marquis de Lafayette as yet another lover in the libelles[73]. Meanwhile, she was not privy to the creation of the French Constitution, which was further weakening the king's authority, creating a constitutional monarchy. She nevertheless hoped for a future where her son would be able to rule, convinced that the violence would soon pass[74].

She was, however, subjected to several different confidences that involved her fleeing France on her own, which she rejected because she wished to stay with the king. Other attempts to rescue the king in the early days of their residence in the Tuileries were ultimately rejected by the king through his indecsiciveness. The king's indecisiveness also played a role in the great escape attempted in 1791 with the help of Count Fersen, after general consensus decided that escape was probably best for the sake of Louis Chalres, the Dauphin since the death of his brother. The queen rejected only leaving with her son, and wished for the rest of the family to acconpany her; the king ended up blundering on the subject of accompaniment, the date of departure, and also the route of the escape. The escape ultimately occurred on June 21, 1791, and was a failure; the entire family was captured twenty-four hours at Varennes-et-Argonne and taken back to Paris within the week[75].

The result was a decline in popularity for both the king and queen, which correlated with the rise of the Jacobin party in French politics, who called for the end to all monarchy in France[76]. Though the Constitution was accepted on September 14, Marie Antoinette hoped through the end of 1791 that the Constitution would prove unworkable and, also, that perhaps her brother, Leopold (who had succeeded Emperor Joseph upon his death from tuberculosis on February 20, 1790) would send an armed congress to liberate them, as opposed to the king's brothers, who she felt would cause trouble. However, she was unaware that Leopold was more interested in taking advantage of France's state of chaos for his own person gain rather than help her or her family[77].

The Conciergerie Prison where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned before her death

The result of Leopold's aggressive tendancies - and that of his son Francis II, who succeeded him in March - was that war was declared between France and Austria on April 20, 1792. This caused the queen to be viewed as an enemy, even though she was personally against Austrian claims on French lands. The situation became compounded in the summer when French armies were continually defeated and the king vetoed several measures that would have resticted his power even further, which caused Marie Antoinette to recieve the nickname "Madame Veto"[78]. On June 20, a mob broke into the Tuileries and demanded the king wear the tricolor to show his loyalty to France[79]. On July 31, the king's unpopularity wasso great that the National Assembly officially suspended his power with the words, "Louis XVI is no longer the King of the French"[80].

The vulnerability of the abolished king was exposed on August 10, when a clash between Swiss Guards and republican forces forced the royal family to take refuge with the Assembly; several hundred died in the standoff[81]. The royal family was moved to the tower of the Marais Temple on August 13, which was considerably harsher than their previous conditions[82]. A week later, many of the family's attendants were taken in for interrogation by the Paris Commune; the Princesse de Lamballe was among them, and was found guilty and executed on September 2, her head affixed on a pike that was paraded around the city (Marie Antoinette did not see the head, but fainted upon learning what had happened)[83]. Then, on September 21, the monarchy was officially ended, and the National Convention was installed as the legal authority of France, and the royal family was re-styled as the non-royal "Capets"; preparations for trying the king also went underway[84].

Charged with undermining the republic, Louis was separated from his family and tried in December. He was found guilty by the Convention, lead by the Jacobins who rejected the idea of keeping him as a hostage. Howeverm the sentence would not come until a mont later, when he was condemned to execution by the guillotine[85].

1793: "Widow Capet" and death[edit]

Louis was executed on January 21, 1793, aged thirty-eight[86]. The result was that Antoinette Capet, as the former queen was called after the abolition of the monarchy, plunged into deep mourning; she refused to eat or take any exercise. Nor did she proclaim her son as Louis XVII, unlike the Comte de Provence, who in exile proclaimed himself regent for the boy. Her health repidly depleted in the months afterwards; by this time she suffered from tuberculosis and possibly uterine cancer, which caused her to hemmorage frequently[87].

Despite her condition, the debate as to her fate was the central question of the National Convention after Louis's death. There were those who had been adovcating for her death for some time, while some had the idea of exchanging her for French prisoners of war or for a ransom from the Holy Roman Emperor; Thomas Paine advocated exile to America[88]. 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 out of power and arrested[89]. Other calls were made to "retrain" the Dauphin, to make him more pliant to revolutionary ideas; this was carried out when Louis Charles was separated from Antoinette on July 3, and given to the care of a cobbler[89]. On August 1, she herself was taken out of the Tower and entered into the Conciergerie as Prisoner No. 280[90]. Despite various attempts to get her out, such as the Carnation Plot in September, Capet refused to when she plots to free her were brought to her attention[91].

Marie Antoinette on her way to the guillotine, by Jacques-Louis David, 1793

She was finally tried by revolutionary tribunal on October 14. Unlike the king, who had been given time to prepare an offense, the queen's trial was far more of a sham, given the time she was given (less than one day) and the Jacobin's misogynistic view of women in general. Among the things she was accused of (most, if not all, the accusations were untrue and probably lifted from rumors began by libelles) included orchestrating orgies in Versailles, sending millions of livres of treasury money to Austria, plotting to kill the Duc d'Orleans, declaring her son to be the new King of France and orchestrating the massacre of the Swiss Guards in 1792.

The most serious charge, however, was that she sexually abused her son and masturbated him. This was according to Louis Charles, who, through his coaching by Hebert and his guardian, accused his mother. The accusation caused Antoinette to protest so emotionally that the females present in the courtroom - the market women who had stormed the palace for her entrails in 1789 - ironically also began to support her[92]. However, in reality the outcome of the trial had already been decided by the Committee of Public Safety around the time the Carnation Plot was uncovered, and she was declared guilty in the early morning of October 16, after two days of proceedings[93]. She was executed later that day, at 12:15 pm, two and a half weeks before her thirty-ninth birthday[94]. Though initially buried in an unmarked grave in the rue d'Anjou, her body was recovered in 1815 and re-buried at St. Denis Cathedral[95].


  • Her Royal Highness Archduchess Maria Antonia Josefa Johanna von Habsburg-Lothringen
  • Her Royal Highness Marie Antoinette le Dauphine de France
  • Her Majesty Marie Antoinette d'Autriche et Lorraine, Reine de France et Navarre
  • Ci-devant Marie Antoinettem Reine de France
  • Antoinette Capet


The view on Marie Antoinette's role in French history has varied widely throughout the years. Even during her life, she was both a popular icon of goodness and a symbol of everything wrong with the French monarchy, the latter being a view that has persisted to this day far stronger than the former.

Some contemporary sources, such as Mary Wollstonecraft[96] and Thomas Jefferson[97], place the blame of the French Revolution and the subsequent Reign of Terror squarely on Marie Antoinette's shoulders; others, such as those who knew her (Madame Campan and the Royal Governess Duchess de Tourzel among them) focus more on her sweet character and considerable courage in the face of misunderstanding and adversityref name=antonia98>Fraser, Antonia (2001). Marie Antoinette. Anchor. pp. 129, 291. </ref>. Immediately after her death, the picture painted by the libelles of the queen was general held as the "correct" view of Marie Antoinette for many years, as the news of her execution was recieved with joy by the French populace, and the libelles themselves did not stop circulating even after her death[98].

However, she was also considered to be a martyr by royalists both in and out of France, so much so that the Tower was demolished by Napoleon in order to get rid of all symbols of the oppression of the royal family[99]. The view of the queen as a martyr was a generally held view in the post-Napoleonic era and through the eighteenth century, though publications were still written (such as by the Gancourt brothers in the 1850's) portraying the queen as a frivolous spendthrift who single-handedly ruined France[100]; this view is not widely accepted as accurate by most modern historians, though it is important to note that even the less biased contemporary sources were quick to point out that the queen did have faults which contributed to her condition.

The end of the nineteenth century brought about some more changes in how the queen was viewed, particularly in light of the (heavily censored) publication of Count Axel Fersen's Journal intime by one of his descendants; theories about a torrid decades-long love affair between queen and count has become an area of debate since then. In particular, the popular theory is that Louis Charles, the second Dauphin (who would ultimately die at the age of 10 from maltreatment) was actually Fersen's child, and that the king was aware of it. Those who argue in favor of this theory point to the words of insiders who knew of the queen's alleged affair and the words of Fersen himself regarding the child's death, which indicate it to be a possibility[101]. Others argue that the queen had a liason, but that it produced no child; others do not believe that an affair took place at all[102]

The twentieth century brought about the recovery of some items that belonged to the queen, thought lost forever, as well as a wave of new biographies, which began to show the queen in a somewhat more sympathetic light; even those that were critical of the queen were more balanced than their eighteenth and nineteenth century predeccessors. Public perception was also aided in the twentieth century with the advent of movies based upon biographies of the queen, the most famous of them including the Oscar-nominated 1938 Norma Shearer feature based upon the 1932 book Marie Antoinette by Stefan Zweig and the 2006 Kirsten Dunst feature based upon the 2001 book Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Lady Antonia Fraser. The latter author's book is considered, by some modern historians, as the most thorough and balanced biography of the queen, though it naturally builds upon earlier biographies, first hand accounts, and even the infamous libelles which destroyed the queen's reputation.

In fiction[edit]

Marie Antoinette in The Rose of Versailles

The most famous historical fiction which features Marie Antoinette is the Alexandre Dumas novel Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge (The Knight of the Red House,) which centers around the Carnation Plot. It is actually the first of a series of six books written by Dumas with Marie Antoinette featured, called the "Marie Antoinette novels", in which the queen is shown in a sympathetic light, particularly during the "Diamond Necklace Affair".

Some of the more famous historical novels that have portrayed Marie Antoinette in more recent years includes Carrolly Erickson's 2005 novel The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette, as well as Elena Maria Vidal's 1998 book Trianon. A 2000 book in the young adult Royal Diaries series is about Marie Antoinette's journey to France as a teenager.

Marie Antoinette is also a central figure in the 1970's Japanese manga The Rose of Versailles/Lady Oscar by Riyoko Ikeda; she is a friend of the main character, Oscar François de Jarjayes. It also became an anime series in 1979.


There are several populary cited antecotes from Marie Antoinette's life:

  • Seven-year-old Mozart declared he would marry Archduchess Antoine upon seeing her during his performances Laxenburg Palace and Schönbrunn. There is little evidence that he ever said it, though it would have been in character for him; instead, it's documented that he leaped on Empress Maria Theresa's lap and demanded a kiss, which was given[103].
  • The quote qu’ils mangent de la brioche ("Let them eat cake"). There are variety of versions in terms of the circumstances in the popular culture (ranging from peasants coming to her gate begging for food, to her driving through Paris and seeing the condition of the peasants), where she said this in response to the peasants. However, the quote actually comes from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who comments that a "certain princess" said it, the supposed princess referred to being Louis XIV's queen, Maria Theresa of Spain. Her quote was S'il ait aucun pain, donnez-leur la croûte au loin du pâté, which roughly translates to "If there be no bread, give them the crust off of the pâté". Though the claim to the Spanish princess is also backed up by the comte de Provence, it is unknown if she, or any other French queen, actually ever said it[104].
  • Marie Antoinette poisoning her first son; in some versions, it was so her son with Fersen, Louis Charles, could eventually succeed the throne. This is unlikely due to the queen's attitude towards her children, though the paternity of Louis Charles has been disputed due to Fersen's closeness to the queen, as attested by his Journal intime and others close to the queen, and a sexual liason at the time of the child's conception has been shown as possible. However, it should be noted that the king himself never publicly disputed Louis Charles' paternity[105].
Maria Theresa of Spain: Actually said "Let them eat cake"?
  • Marie Antoinette personally instigated the "Diamond Necklace Affair", as she wished to oust the Cardinal de Rohan from court. This is also untrue, as she had already successfully managed to shut him out of most court affairs (the Cardinal himself had purchased the necklace in a desperate act to gain the queen's favor) with the king's cooperation (since the king also disliked Rohan personally), and hence had no reason to want to "destroy" the cardinal[105].
  • The queen pretended to be a milkmaid on her farm, and personally milked the cows. Most of the produce and dairy products at the hameau was produced at another farm. And while the queen played peasant parts on stage, she was never known to personally have milked a cow[106].
  • Marie Antoinette hated the Cardinal de Rohan because he raped her as a child when he was ambassador to Austria. The prince was not sent to Vienna until 1772, two years after the queen left[107].
  • Marie Antoinette proclaimed her son king when Louis XVI was executed. There is no evidence that the queen, deeply in mourning, actually did this, though many of the emigrated aristocrats did, including the comte de Provence, who also proclaimed himself regent for the boy[107].
  • The queen was a drinker, much like her husband. While the king drank (though not as much as the libelles made him out to be), the queen herself only rarely, if ever, drank, prefering to drink specially-ordered water from Ville d'Avray[108].
  • The queen's breasts were used as casts for Sevrés cups made for the hameau to imitate Helen of Troy. This has never been verified by any reliable source[109].
  • The queen stomped on the tricolor crockade in response to the Revolution. There is again little evidence that the queen had done this, though it is true that she was suspicious of the Revolution[110].
  • Among the people who were charged by the libelles (wrongfully) of a sexual relation with the queen includes the princesse de Lamballe, the duchesse de Polignac, the comte d'Artois, the maquis de Lafayette and the Baron de Luzon; ironically enough the one man who most likely had an affair with the queen (Fersen) was never targeted.


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  109. ^ Fraser, Antonia (2001). Marie Antoinette. Anchor. p. 196. 
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Further reading[edit]

  • Cronin, Vincent, Louis and Antoinette (1974) ISBN: 0-8095-9216-9
  • Fraser, Lady Antonia, Marie Antoinette, The Journey (2001). Anchor. ISBN: 0-7538-1305-X
  • Herman, Eleanor, Sex With The Queen. (2006) Morrow. ISBN: 0-0608-4673-9
  • Lasky, KathrynThe Royal Diaries- Marie Antoinette, Princess of Versailles: Austria-France, 1769. (2000) Scholastic. ISBN: 0-4390-7666-8
  • Loomis, Stanley, The Fatal Friendship. (1972) Gyldendal. ISBN: 0-931933-33-1
  • Nasalund, Sera Jeter Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette. (2006) Morrow. ISBN: 0-0608-2539-1
  • Thomas, Chantal The Wicked Queen: The Origins of the Myth of Marie-Antoinette. (1999) trans. by Julie Rose. Zone Books. 0-9422-9939-6
  • Weber, Caroline Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution. (2006) Henry Holt and Co. ISBN: 0-8050-7949-1

See also[edit]

Louis XVI of France

Louis XVII of France

Axel von Fersen, Jr.

The French Revolution

List of missquoted quotations

Movies about Marie Antoinette

The Rose of Versaiiles

External links[edit]

Marie Antoinette Online - A site with a sympathetic bend, and contains a great deal of information.

Marie Antoinette - Marie Antoinette's official Versailles profile

Marie Antoinette (2006) - Officla movie site for the Sofia Coppola picture.

[[Category:French queen consorts]]
[[Category:French socialites|Antoinette Marie]]
[[Category:House of Habsburg-Lorraine]]
[[Category:House of Bourbon]]
[[Category:Archduchesses of Austria]]
[[Category:Non-ruling Austrian royalty]]
[[Category:Natives of Vienna]]
[[Category:People executed by guillotine during the French Revolution]]
[[Category:Executed royalty]]
[[Category:1755 births|Marie Antoinette]]
[[Category:1793 deaths|Marie Antoinette]]

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[[ar:ماري أنطوانيت]]
[[ca:Maria Antonieta d'Àustria]]
[[cs:Marie Antoinetta]]
[[de:Marie Antoinette]]
[[el:Μαρία Αντουανέτα]]
[[es:María Antonieta]]
[[fr:Marie-Antoinette d'Autriche]]
[[ga:Marie-Antoinette na hOstaire]]
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[[id:Marie Antoinette]]
[[it:Maria Antonietta di Asburgo-Lorena]]
[[he:מארי אנטואנט]]
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[[hu:Marie Antoinette]]
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[[pl:Maria Antonina Austriaczka]]
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[[sk:Mária Antoinetta]]
[[sr:Марија Антоанета]]
[[sv:Marie Antoinette]]
[[th:มารี อองตัวเนต]]