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Marie Antoinette
1755 - 1793
 

 

Marie Antoinette was born in 1755, a princess, the 15th and the favorite daughter of Maria Teresa, Empress of Austria. Maria Teresa was successful in marrying strategically to better the Austrian empire. Maria Teresa arranged a special marriage of Marie (at age 15) to improve her the relations with France. France was the most powerful nation at that time and Marie was considered the most fortunate woman in the world. Marie Antoinette had to fit the part of the most influential woman in France. When she reached the French border, she was dressed with clothing fashionable at the French court.

Marie did not stay a French princess for very long, her husband became King Louis XVI in 1774 and she became Queen of France. Marie was unhappy in her marriage to the king, though. King Louis’ interests were totally different than Marie’s. He loved hunting, quietness and solitude. She loved the arts, fashion, dances and the French nightlife There was also difficulty in consummating their marriage because Louis was unable to achieve an erection. This resulted in an unconsummated marriage for seven years. During the 7 unconsummated years Marie was ridiculed because of her inability to produce an heir to the throne. Finally, Louis had an operation that corrected the problem.

Marie Antoinette began to escape from her marriage. She surrounded herself with friends whom lavished expensive gifts upon. She began to partake in a life of pleasure and carelessness, going to masked balls in Paris, gambling, and theatricals. Marie was beautiful and enjoyed being the epitome of fashion in all of Europe. Each year she overspent her clothing allowance buying expensive gowns, headdresses and jewelry. Marie also spent lavishly on the furnishings and fineries of a small private palace she had in Versatile. She also had built a rustic Viennese retreat, which was very costly. She used these palaces to entertain her very fashionable and haughty friends.

Marie alienated the French Court and French etiquette by her behavior. She also alienated most of the French nobility. This made enemies for her husband the king. By 1786 most of France hated Marie Antoinette. Scandalous stories became wide spread of Marie’s sordid private life. Marie Antoinette began to realize the terrible situation the throne was in, due to her scandalous behavior. She began to temper her lifestyle. Her status now as mother to four children, heirs to the throne may have also helped settle her down.

France was beginning to have hard times in the late 1780s. The harvest was poor and the people of France started going hungry. Marie Antoinette, being kind hearted, came to the aid of the people. However, her small acts of kindness to help impoverished families were over shadowed by her previous extravagant behavior. This led many to spread the tale that she said, “Let them eat cake” amid their suffering. All the people of France blamed the horrible financial state of affairs of the country on Marie’s behavior. When, in reality the huge debt was inherited from the previous King.

"Madame Deficit" became one of the names that Marie acquired. In addition, the aid that France gave to the American colonies during the War of Independence from Great Britain from 1778 to 1783 had made a huge drain on the economy. Rebellions started to break out all over the country to overthrow the monarchy. The commoners stormed the Bastille. Many members of the royal court, including close friends of Marie Antoinette, fled the country. The royal court was only 20 miles from Bastille and Marie and the King began fearing the angry mobs. Louis’ weaknesses were beginning to become a major factor in their safety. He would not leave the country and he was weak in assembling troops to quell the mobs. Marie, however, did convince him to increase troops from the provinces, which they hoped would-be loyal to the crown.

But, the mobs still came but Louis would not instruct his troops to fire on his own people. Mobs of women marched to the royal palace in Versailles to demand bread from the king. Many brandished knives and shouted how they were going cut the throats of the monarchy. Marie had wanted to flee out of the country, but Louis would not, nor would he tell his troops to fire on the women. That night the angry mob found an unguarded entrance into the palace and went straight to the rooms of Marie. Two of the Queen’s guards gave their lives to save her.

Marie ran from the room to escape the attackers. Marie had escaped with her life, but the mob was not satisfied. They wanted the king and queen to appear on the balcony before them. After this, they forcibly took Marie and King Louis back to Paris and put them under close watch. Finally, Marie convinced Louis to flee France. The royal couple with their children disguised themselves as commoners and escaped from Paris. But, foolishly they still wanted all the comforts while they traveled and their coach was slowed down considerably. It required extra horses and attracted much attention. At one change of the horses, an alert patriot noticed Marie issuing orders though dressed as a maid. The people were alerted and soon a mob confronted the king and queen on arrival at the French-Austrian border. They were forced to return to Paris.

Soon thereafter, the country voted to get rid of the monarchy. Louis and Marie were stripped of their royal callings along with anything valuable including documents, jewels, and other precious objects of the royal family. The new Republic threw the royal family into jail. Other aristocrats were imprisoned at this same time also. This was the beginning of “The Reign of Terror”. The royal family was under even closer guard in dark prison cells. In December 1792, King Louis XVI was tried for treason, convicted and put to death. In January 1793, he was executed on the guillotine. On October 14, Marie Antoinette was awoken at night and faced the Revolutionary Tribunal and soon after was found guilty and beheaded.

 

 

 

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This web page was last updated on: 08 December, 2008