Marie Antoinette

Posted By on November 2, 2009

On this day in history in 1755 another tragic queen, with many similarities to Anne Boleyn, was born. I know that she was not a Tudor and was not even an English Queen, but she too is a fascinating character whose life was cut short by a sham trial and charges that were completely unfounded.

Marie Antoinette by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

Marie Antoinette by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

Here are some facts about this tragic Queen of France:-

  • Marie Antoinette was born on the 2nd Nov 1755, in Vienna, as Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna von Habsburg-Lothringen.
  • Her titles included Archduchess of Austria, the Dauphine of France and then Queen of France and Navarre.
  • She was the 15th child of Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, and Empress Maria Theresa, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia.
  • Marie Antoinette was just 14 when she married Louis Auguste, the Dauphin of France in 1770.
  • She was known for her beauty and had blonde hair, fair skin and blue eyes.
  • Marie Antoinette’s marriage to the Dauphine was not actually consummated until August 1777 and it is said that this is because Louis had phimosis, a deformity of the male genitalia that prevents completion of the sexual act. This was later corrected by surgery and the marriage was consummated.
  • Her father-in-law’s mistress, Madame du Barry, was jealous of Marie Antoinette and did what she could to ruin her reputation. Marie Antoinette went from being called the “L’Autrichienne”, the Austrian woman, to being called “L’Autruchienne”, a play on the words “autruche” meaning ostrich and “chienne” meaning bitch.

  • It is said that her husband’s lack of affection combined with her mother’s constant criticism led to Marie Antoinette spending lavishly on clothes and gambling.
  • Marie Antoinette became Queen in 1774 when King Louis XV died of small pox and her husband became King Louis XVI of France.
  • The couple had 4 children.
  • Her close friendships with women like Yolande de Polastron and the princesse de Lamballe led to allegations of lesbianism and she was also accused of sleeping with her brother-in-law, the comte d’Artois.
  • Marie Antoinette by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

    Marie Antoinette by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

    The paternity of the royal couple’s first child, Marie-Therese-Charlotte, was contested by the political pamphlet the Libelles and by the comte de Provence, but not by Louis himself who doted on his daughter.

  • Marie Antoinette redesigned and renovated the Petit Trianon, a small chateau in the grounds of the Palace of Versailles.
  • The couple’s first son, the Dauphin Louis Joseph Xavier Francois was born in 1778 but died of tuberculosis at the age of 9 and his younger brother, Louis Charles, became the Dauphin.
  • Her spending habits, her purchase of the Chateau de Saint-Cloud in 1784, her Austrian heritage and the actions of her brother Joseph II in the Kettle War made her increasingly unpopular and she was seen as an empty-headed, licentious spendthrift and foreigner.
  • During the 1788 and 1789 Bread Crisis it was rumoured that Marie Antoinette wanted to bathe in the blood of her people.
  • Another nickname for Marie Antoinette was “Madame Veto” because of her husband’s vetoing of measures to restrict the power of the monarchy.
  • The French Revolution led to the family being put under house arrest and then imprisoned in the tower of the Temple at Marais.
  • Marie Antoinette’s good friend and royal attendant, the princesse de Lamballe, was raped and killed in the September Massacres of 1792 and her head was put on a pike and paraded around Paris.
  • The Royal family became known as “Capets” when the rule of the monarchy ended.
  • Marie Antoinette’s husband, King Louis XVI, was executed by guillotine on 21st January 1793 after being charged with undermining the First French Republic.
  • Another nickname, “The Widow Capet”, was given to Marie Antoinette on the death of her husband.
  • On 3rd July 1793, the Dauphin was taken from his mother and given to a cobbler to bring up in the hope of “retraining” him.
  • The Execution of Marie Antoinette

    The Execution of Marie Antoinette

    On 14th October 1793 Marie Antoinette was tried for treason – It was a sham trial given that she was not given any notice of it or time to prepare and the charges were based on rumour.

  • Marie Antoinette was charged of organising and taking part in orgies at Versailles, sexually abusing her son and committing incest with him, plotting to kill the duc d’Orleans, stealing money from the treasury to send to Austria and orchestrating the massacre of the Swiss Guards in 1792.
  • On 16th October, Marie Antoinette was found guilty and executed by guillotine on the same day at 12.15pm at the Place de la Revolution, now the Place de la Concorde.
  • Marie Antoinette’s final words were “Pardon me, Sir, I meant not to do it” when she accidentally stepped on the executioner’s foot.
  • She was buried in an unmarked grave in the Madeleine Cemetery in the Rue d’Anjou.
  • On 18th Jan 1815, her body was exhumed along with her husband’s during the Bourbon Restoration, when the comte de Provence became Louis XVIII. Their bodies were given a proper Christian burial on 21st jan in the necropolis of French kings at the Basilica of St Denis.
  • There is no evidence that Marie Antoinette ever said “Let them eat cake”.

An unpopular woman surrounded by scandal and rumour, a sham trial, allegations of incest and adultery, a woman with sex appeal…sound familiar?

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25 thoughts on “Marie Antoinette”

  1. Kelly says:

    You said theres no evidence of her ever saying “let them eat cake”. I was told that her words were more “let them eat brioche”….is that right or still untrue?

  2. Claire says:

    Hi Kelly,
    Wikipedia says that “Let them eat cake” “is the traditional but inaccurate translation of the French phrase “qu’ils mangent de la brioche.””, so you are correct, and it also says that the two main points of this phrase are 1) that cake and bread (and brioche) are made with flour so if flour is in short supply then both bread and cake (and brioche) will be, and (2) that cake (and brioche) is more of a luxury (more expensive) than bread. Therefore the phrase, whether refering to cake or brioche, can only be either crass or ironic. It also points out that these words actually first appear in “The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau which was actually written when Marie Antoinette was only 13.
    Antonia Fraser who has written about Marie Antoinette actually dates the phrase much earlier:-
    “Let them eat cake was said 100 years before her by Marie-Thérèse, the wife of Louis XIV. It was a callous and ignorant statement and she, Marie Antoinette, was neither.”
    It is interesting that it is such a famous phrase and yet was most probably never uttered by Marie Antoinette.

  3. Cynthia says:

    I think it’s awful the way the royal family was treated during the revolution. Marie Antoinette was most certainly innocent of most of the charges brought against her, and it’s a sure bet her spending didn’t cause France’s deficit–most likely aid to the colonies in revolt against England (America) was one of the key factors and mismanagement leftover from Louis XV..

    Two things listed, though, I disagree with–Marie did have affection for her husband, and he for her–my understanding through reading about them is that they were both very immature for their ages when first married to each other–neither had knowledge enough of adult affairs to know how to function in the adult world. Her husband’s grandfather, then king, treated them both like favored children rather than educating them about their upcoming royal duties. I don’t mean that Marie didn’t have an affair with Axel Fersen, but she did love the king and their displays of affection were attested to by numerous sources.

    As to Madame du Barry, Marie was mostly the one aggravating that relationship, due to influence from Louis’ (XVI) aunts. Marie refused to publicly recognize the mistress under advice from the king’s sisters who had used the young Marie for their own personal feelings. Both Marie and Louis (her husband) were impressionable and easily led by others seeming to be more knowledgeable.

  4. Claire says:

    Hi Cynthia,

    Thanks for the comment. I didn’t mean “lack of affection” in that way, more a lack of sexual attention, but you’re right they were both very young and Marie was grief stricken when her husband was executed. I actually don’t know much about this period of history, having never studied it in depth so my article is based on a few online resources. I now really want to read the Antonia Fraser biography to learn more about her. Poor Marie Antoinette though, it seems that her life was just one big scandal. Do you think it was mainly because she was Austrian that she was unpopular?

  5. Matterhorn says:

    Thanks for this post! I love this Queen. By the way, have you seen Elena Maria Vidal’s blog Tea at Trianon ? It is a wonderful source of well-researched, well-documented information on Marie-Antoinette, Louis XVI, and the rest of their family. The author (a Catholic historian and historical novelist) sifts through fact and rumor and comes to very interesting conclusions.

  6. Lexy says:

    Mainly at the beginnign, Claire. Austria was France’s great ennemy for years when Marie and Louis’s wedding occured, and even if peace was signed, the Anti-Austria faction remained powerful, and Louis XV even thought of an annulation of this fruitless wedding when he felt dissapointed because of his alliance with Martie-Thérèse. Marie was popular with her at the beginnig of her reign, mostly in lower classes and in young nobilities’s circles, because she wanted to change things.but her habit of offering expensive gifts to her friends and plotting to give them charges made her unpopular. I think that she had a lot in common with Anne, like you suggest, she took an active role in politique too, after aging and maturing, was a sexy and fashionable woman and endured an unfair trial. But you forgot one point: Marie was deeply maternal with her four children, and was truly despaired when sle lost two of them. She wanted to breastfeed them, even if it was not queenly: does it remember you someone?

  7. Lexy says:

    Oh, I forgot: in fact Louis and marie weren’t treated both as spoiled children. Louis was smart and received an axcellent education. He studied his life lond, not only in ” making keys”; he was fond of geography and spoke English currently. Marie could barely read at the time of her wedding. And while Louis XV understood that his grandson was worth his role of future king ( even if his shyness and his will not to hurt anyone spoiled all his projects of reform), his look on marie was ambiguous: he had the habit of sleeping with young women of her age before Du Barry, and he often acted strangely with her, taking her on his lap in a way that he could see her petticoats for exemple.

  8. Sheena says:

    Von Habsburg? Would it be safe to say that maybe her and Kathrine of Aragon might have some common branches on the family tree? (Distantly, obviously…)

  9. ProudtobeCatholic says:

    Sheena, I did a little research into Marie Antoinette’s ancestory. I found that through her mother she is a descendent of Katherine of Aragon’s sister, Joanna.

  10. Jenny says:

    Hi Proud to be Catholic,

    You are correct in that because Phillip II of Spain’s fourth wife (gis cousin and niece) was a Hapburg from Austria and Joan the Mad (Katherine of Aragon’s sister) did marry a Hapsburg. If I am correct, with the exception of Mary Tudor, no Monarch of England has married a Hapsburg. Please correct me if I am wrong

  11. Interesting article and I am glad to see a site about Anne. Thanks to Matterhorn for the mention. I just wanted to point out that the most current research has shown that Louis XVI did not have a physical deformity and there is no evidence that he had ever had surgery.

  12. Claire says:

    Thanks for the comment, Elena, I suppose it was just one of those conspiracy theories to explain the lack of consummation. One of the sources I read stated that it was believed that Louis had the surgery after Marie’s brother had visited and persuaded him to. I wonder if it was just Marie’s youth that prevented the marriage being consummated, although there could be all kinds of reasons, particularly in an arranged marriage where the couple is somewhat forced together. What do you think?

  13. Di says:

    The royal family was put under house arrest at Tuileries Palace during the French Revolution because Louis XVI was stupid enough to get caught while attempting to flee to Varennes on 20 June 1791. They fled in costume and Louis thinking it was safe removed his and got caught. The reasoning behind them fleeing was because Louis was indecisive in the demands of the revolutionaries and was become difficult in the planning of a constitutional monarchy.

    After the mobs of Paris led by Danton; stormed the Tuileries on 10 August 1792 the royal family fled to the Legislative Assembly and the king tried to flee again. He was killed by guillotine 5 months later on 21 January 1793. and the Queen just months after that on 16 October.

    If I’m not mistaken Marie Antoinette was killed because she was in the way of the new government as she was a focal point for the monarchists after Louis XVI was executed. The only way to get rid of her was to put her to death on sham charges and to pave way for a life without a monarchy. The Jacobins and Paris Revolutionaries saw to that as well as “Madame Guillotine”

    Sorry I’m taking a class on the Revolution this semester. wasn’t planning on going on and on.

    Marie Antoinette was an interesting character. great focal point of Revolutionary films though the Coppola/Dunst 2006 film was absolutely horrid.

  14. Lexy says:

    I’ve read biographies, and I think that the “consummation problem” was either purely physical or psychologic. In the firdt case, some historians have came to the conclusion that Louis was “too big” , which is believable since he was well built, and that being sensitive he couldn’t accept to hurt his wife. But my opinion is that he had psychological problems. He was always mocked and criticized by his granefather, who was considered as a stallion; but his main rival was his elder brother, the duke of Burgundy, whose early death made him Dauphin. He was a second choice, like Henry VIII, but I’ve never heard that Elizabeth of York wished Henry had died instead of Arthur! Louis suffered from it, and maybez thought that his brother would have made it better, even in marie’s bed.

  15. Ashley says:

    Marie Antoinette is an incredibly interesting figure to read about, its absolutely tragic the way she was treated and I believe she was innocent of all the charges brought against her.

  16. Matterhorn says:

    Here is a link to the first installment of an amazing portrayal of Marie Antoinette’s trial from the 1990 film “L’Autrichienne.” German actress Ute Lemper plays the Queen.

    Sadly there are no subtitles. But I think Lemper’s wonderful performance transcends language barriers…

  17. Jessica says:

    I like her story, even if it’s a sad one. I’m reading Antonia Fraser’s book about her life. I interest myself for her life since I saw Sofia Coppola’s film.

  18. Gina says:

    As usual with your posts, it intrigued me enough to do a little research on this Queen I know so little about (other than the beheading of course) So, I rented the Sophia Coppola version of Marie Antionette. It was entertaining. The thing that stuck with me was the question of: “what happened to her children”.
    I was horrified when I looked into it: Louis XVII of France was tortured, beaten and humiliated in prison. He was left to die alone in a cell, malnurished and neglected. It practically gave me nightmares when I read the wikipedia page.

    Great women of history don’t just get their own lives taken from them, but that of their children.

  19. Lexy says:

    Another terrible thing with Louis XVII, Gina, is that he was first looked after by a not so bad couple, the Simon, even if story painted them as monsters; but they made him play under his mother’s window and saying that he couldn’t wait for the execution of this woman. They even made him scream: ” Isn’t that bloody whore executed”? Just imagine how she felt at this moment?

  20. Hi, Claire. I agree with Simone Bertiere, the author of L’Insoumise, whose scholarship suggests that Marie-Antoinette had a “narrowness of passage” and therefore Louis had trouble fitting inside her. It made love-making a painful and embarrassing experience, until the marriage was finally “completely” consummated in the spring of 1778. Louis did not have an operation, although it was discussed with doctors and in letters, because according to his journal he went hunting on horseback every day during the time he allegedly had the surgery, which such a surgery would have rendered impossible. Vincent Cronin in “Louis and Antoinette” also maintains that the surgery never took place. Joseph tended to exaggerate his influence over the young King, for political reasons, although he did persuade the King and Queen to sleep together more often, and so the Queen finally conceived.

  21. Kate says:

    Thank you! I find both these women very interesting. I do not believe Anne Boleyn or Marie Antoinette were guilty of the crimes for which they were accused. They were not perfect, they made mistakes, however I believe they were indeed innocent and good, however, tragic Queens.

    I don’t believe there was unfaithfulness from either wife. Henry VIII was definitely unfaithful, while Louis XVI was very faithful to his wife. It’s quite amazing how the lives of Anne Boleyn and Marie Antoinette connect.

    Ah, history,

    1. Helen Ruth Davis says:

      Louis XVI was faithful. Louis XV- not so much.

  22. Anne says:

    Hello to all, and a very quick question to anyone who may know the answer. I recently found out about a movie, “l’Autrichienne,” staring Ute Lemper as Marie Antoinette. There are many clips of this movie on YouTube, but before I can watch them, I need to know how much bloodshed is shown at the end, and how graphic and gory it is. I don’t handle such things well, and also had to ask the same type of questions before I could watch Anne Boleyn’s death in Showtime’s “The Tudors.” I don’t want to have nightmares, so I would very much appreciate hearing from anyone who could provide me a detailed description of Marie Antoinette’s death in “l’Autrichienne.”

    Many thanks. All the best, and kindest regards,

    Anne Barrett

    1. Kate says:

      Hello Anne!

      “L’Autrichienne” was very well done in its portrayal of Marie Antoinette’s final weeks at the Concierge. If memory serves me correctly, her death is not shown. The movie ends with her only being carted off to her execution, not the actual deed itself. I, too, am very sensitive when it comes to violence and she died so violently. But there is nothing too graphic in this, if I remember well..



      1. Kate says:

        I should correct my misspelling! It was the Conciergerie where she spent her final months and weeks. Oops.

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