(Marie-Antoinett-Josèphe-Jeanne d'Autriche-Lorraine) (1755-1793)
Queen of France, the forth daughter of Maria Theresa, Archduchess of Austria
and Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, and the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I.
In 1770, when she was only 14, she was married to the Dauphin (Crown Prince)
of France, afterwards Louis XVI.
Louis then was 15, he was fat, shy, and openly preferred hunting and his locksmith shop to royal duties.
Young and inexperienced, she aroused criticism by her rebellious behavior; she refused to follow the royal etiquette, refused to wear clothes not chosen by herself, disregarded conventions, and wasted big sums on her whims. On becoming queen, in 1774, she soon deepened the dislike of her subjects by her devotion to the interests of Austria, as well as by her opposition to all the measures for relieving the financial distress of France. She was called the "Austrian Whore" and "Madame Deficit." All miseries of France became identified with her extravagance, for which even her mother, Maria Theresa rebuked her: "a queen can only degrade herself by this sort of heedless extravagance in difficult times."
Marie Antoinette’s unpopularity was also aggravated by the fact that the royal couple did not have children for 7 years. The public blamed the queen for this, though the problem was with the king, who had to undergo a surgery to be able to impregnate his wife. Their first child, Marie Therese Charlotte, called Madame Royale, was born 1778. Marie Antoinette settled down and became a devoted wife and mother, though this did not save her reputation and did not stop the evil and dirty rumors about her. She was abused in pornographic songs, pictures and pamphlets; even a fake autobiography, in which the queen confessed her debauchery, was published.
The so-called The Diamond Necklace Affair (The Affair of the Necklace) (1786) caused the greatest damage to her reputation. One Jeanne de La Motte, an adventuress who pretended to be a countess and a close friend of the queen, undertook to make a promotion at the court for the Cardinal de Rohan. She organized for him a meeting with the queen in the gardens of Versailles at night. The queen was fake, but the cardinal remained under the illusion that he had met Marie Antoinette. Then the “countess” told the cardinal that the queen asked him to buy a very expensive diamond necklace on her behalf, as she wished to remain anonymous. The cardinal got the necklace, being sure that the queen would pay for it, and passed it to Jeanne de La Motte, who in her turn passed it to her husband to London to sell. When the jewelers demanded payment, a scandal started. Both the cardinal and Mme La Motte were arrested. The cardinal was tried and found not guilty; Mme La Motte was publicly flogged, and branded. Although Marie Antoinette knew about the whole affair simultaneously with the public, and her name was used, it was widely believed that she had accepted the necklace and refused to pay for it. The affair discredited the monarchy. This affair served as a plot for Alexander Dumas’ novel The Queen’s Necklace.
After the French Revolution began (1789), she influenced Louis to resist all attempts by the National Assembly to restrict the royal prerogative. She became the target of revolutionaries, who attributed to her the celebrated remark, after being told the people had no bread, "Let them eat cake!" Modern historians consider that there is a mistake and Marie Antoinette never said such words. Nevertheless the king and queen and their children were imprisoned in the Tuileries palace in Paris and remained imprisoned for several years. Marie Antoinette tried to save the crown by negotiating secretly with monarchist factions and with her brother, Emperor Leopold II. News of her intrigues further enraged the French, and when Austria went to war with France, Louis and Marie Antoinette were charged with treason. The monarchy was abolished (1792), and king Louis's trial began. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. January 21, 1793 he was guillotined. Marie Antoinette remained in prison with her children, Louis Charles and Marie Therese Charlotte; after Louis’ execution, they were separated from their mother.
In October 1793, Marie Antoinette was tried and, like her husband, convicted
of treason and sentenced to death. She was guillotined on October 16, 1793.
Her son, now Louis XVII, died in prison of tuberculosis in 1795. Marie
Antoinette's daughter, Madame Royale, survived the revolution. She became
the Duchess d'Angouleme and had great influence during the reigns of her
uncles Louis XVIII and Charles X.
See: Adelaida Labii-Girar: Portrait of Marie Antoinette.
Louise-Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun. Portrait of Marie Antoinette with Children.
There are three children in this portrait: the girl is Marie Therese Charlotte (Madame Royale), the elder boy is her brother Louis, the Dauphin, who died in 1789; the younger boy, also Louis, who became the Dauphin after his brother’s death and Louis XVII after his father’s death, died in prison in 1795.
Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser. Doubleday, 2001.
Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen Of France by Evelyne Lever, Catherine Temerson (Translator). Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2000.