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Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette

Born: November 2, 1755
Vienna (now in Austria)
Died: October 16, 1793
Paris, France

French queen

M arie Antoinette was the queen of France at the outbreak of the French Revolution (178799). Her extravagant lifestyle, which included lavish parties and expensive clothes and jewelry, made her unpopular with most French citizens. When the king was overthrown, Marie Antoinette was put in jail and eventually beheaded.

A royal marriage

Marie Antoinette was born on November 2, 1755, in Vienna (now in Austria), the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. She was the eleventh daughter of the Holy Roman emperor Francis I (17081765) and the empress Maria Theresa (17171780). In 1770 she married Louis XVI (17541793). Louis was the French dauphin, or the oldest son of the king of France. He became king fours years later in 1774, which made Marie Antoinette the queen.

The personalities of the two rulers were very different. Louis XVI was withdrawn and emotionless. Marie Antoinette was happy and careless in her actions and choice of friends. At first the new queen was well liked by the French citizens. She organized elegant dances and gave many gifts and favors to her friends. However, people began to resent her increasingly extravagant ways. She soon became unpopular in the court and the country, annoying many of the nobles, including the King's brothers. She also bothered French aristocrats, or nobles, who were upset over a recent alliance with Austria. Austria was long viewed as France's enemy. Among the general French population she became the symbol for the extravagance of the royal family.

The queen intervenes

Marie Antoinette did not disrupt foreign affairs as frequently as has been claimed. When she first entered France she interrupted an official German greeting with, "Speak French, Monsieur. From now on I hear no language other than French." She sometimes tried, usually without great success, to obtain French support for her homeland.

The queen's influence on domestic policy before 1789 has also been exaggerated. Her interference in politics was usually in order to obtain jobs and money for her friends. It is true, however, that she usually opposed the efforts of reforming ministers such as A. R. J. Turgot (17271781) and became involved in court scandals against them. Activities such as the "diamond necklace affair," where the queen was accused of having an improper relationship with a wealthy church official in exchange for an expensive necklace, increased her unpopularity and led to a stream of pamphlets and articles against her. The fact that after the birth of her children Marie Antoinette's way of life became more restrained did not alter the popular image of an immoral and extravagant woman.

The last days of the monarchy

In the summer of 1788 France was having an economic crisis. Louis XVI yielded to pressure and assembled the Estates General, which was a governmental body that represented France's three Estatesthe nobles, the church, and the French common people. Marie Antoinette agreed to the return of Jacques Necker (17321804) as chief minister and to granting the Third Estate, which represented the commoners, as many representatives as the other two Estates combined. However, after such events as the taking of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 (French citizens overran a Paris prison and took the weapons stored there), Marie Antoinette supported the conservative court faction that insisted on keeping the royal family in power.

On October 1, 1789, the queen attended a banquet at Versailles, France, during which the French Revolution was attacked and insulted. A few days later (October 45) a Parisian crowd forced the royal court to move to Paris, where they could control it more easily. Marie Antoinette's role in the efforts of the monarchy to work with such moderates as the Comte de Mirabeau (17491791) and later with the constitutional monarchist A. P. Barnave (17611793) is unclear. But it appears that she lacked confidence in them. On June 21, 1791, the king and queen were captured at Varennes (a border town in France) after trying to escape. Convinced that only foreign assistance could save the monarchy, the queen sought the aid of her brother, the Holy Roman emperor Leopold II (17471792). At this time, many French military officers left the country. Thinking that France would be easily defeated, she favored a declaration of war against Austria in April 1792. On August 10, 1792, a Paris crowd stormed the Tuileries Palace and ended the monarchy.

The queen is dead

On August 13, 1792, Marie Antoinette began a captivity that was to end only with her death. She was jailed in various Parisian prisons. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to escape, Marie Antoinette appeared before the Revolutionary Tribunal. She was charged with aiding the enemy and inciting civil war within France. The tribunal found her guilty and condemned her to death. On October 16, 1793, she went to the guillotine. (The guillotine was a machine used during the French Revolution to execute people by beheading them.) Marie Antoinette aroused sympathy by her dignity and courage in prison and before the executioner.

For More Information

Fraser, Antonia. Marie Antoinette: The Journey. New York: Doubleday, 2001.

Lever, Evelyne. Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.

Thomas, Chantal. The Wicked Queen: The Origins of the Myth of Marie-Antoinette. New York: Zone Books, 1999.

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Marie Antoinette (1755–1793)

MARIE ANTOINETTE (17551793)

MARIE ANTOINETTE (17551793), queen of France. Josèphe-Jeanne-Marie Antoinette (Maria Antonia, archduchess of Austria) married Louis-Auguste, dauphin of France, on 16 May 1770. Louis XVI (ruled 17741792) and Marie Antoinette ascended the throne in 1774. The youngest daughter of the sixteen children of Maria Theresa (17171780), archduchess of Austria and queen of Bohemia and Hungary, and Francis I (ruled 17451765), Holy Roman emperor, Marie Antoinette wed at age fifteen to secure a tenuous Franco-Austrian alliance. A French tutor educated the archduchess in religion, history, the classics, and the arts. Not an adept learner, though enthusiastic, Marie Antoinette excelled in artistic pursuits. Her parents married for love, shared the same bed, and took joy in parenthood, unusual for the eighteenth century. Marie Antoinette's days were divided between courtly etiquette and the unceremonious family quarters. Maria Theresa's moral code permeated the court and influenced her children. Marie Antoinette venerated her loving, albeit highly principled mother, but she was especially attached to her father. His death at the age of fifty-six devastated the ten-year-old Marie Antoinette, and sorrow attended her throughout her life. This burden typified her complex personality, which was often eclipsed by her public image as a pitiless and spendthrift queen.

The duc de Choiseul, foreign minister to Louis XV, and Maria Theresa orchestrated the political match between Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, an excruciatingly shy adolescent of sixteen years whose chief delights were hunting and puttering in his locksmith shop. The marriage was politically disastrous and personally fragile for Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. The enmity France bore for this Austrian queen was almost pathological. The hostility toward Marie Antoinette from both the educated elite and the populace forever impugned her character. She suffered rumors of infidelity and infertility in the seven years before she gave birth to a daughter and finally the dauphin, born in 1781. Marie Antoinette was comforted by Louis XVI, who ultimately came to love his charismatic bride and to whom he paid unfettered affection in public.

By 1774 the queen endured unspeakable venom at court and in Paris from those outraged at the monarchy for an unjust social order. Scandals proliferated, assuming a life of their own; "Madame Déficit" became the favorite political scapegoat. Marie Antoinette incensed her enemies with her disdain for etiquette and her expenditures, and she was condemned for trafficking with unsavory friends. Her untamed and extravagant conduct incited the authors of a libelous underground street discourse, already active by the time she came to France, and these authors exposed the decline of the monarchy. By the 1780s clandestine pamphlets targeting Marie Antoinette circulated widely, most notably in Essais historiques sur la vie de Marie Antoinette d'Autriche (c. 1789). Scurrilous works of this nature circulated in places like the Palais-Royal in Paris, a forum for public discontent, as well as at Versailles. The writers actively fed into public perceptions of Marie Antoinette as immoral and dissolute. Their fantastic charges of lesbian affairs, incestuous debauchery, and a demasculinization of men undermined the legitimacy of the monarchy.

The public refused to see Marie Antoinette as a loving and dutiful mother. This contemptuous response to the queen continued in the Diamond Necklace Affair of 17851786. Marie Antoinette was proclaimed guilty in the court of public opinion for this infamous case of stolen goods devised by the adventuress Jeanne de La Motte and a gullible dupe, Cardinal de Rohan, both jockeying for position at Versailles. Events spun out of control in 1789. Hungry market women from Paris stormed Versailles, forcing the king and queen's exile and house arrest in the Tuileries palace in Paris, followed by the monarchs' failed escape to Saint-Cloud on Easter in 1791. The escalating political turmoil of 1792 led to their trials and incarceration in the Conciergerie, the jail on the Seine in Paris.

While Marie Antoinette's critics have denigrated her, modern scholarship dispels distortions that blur her import. From her early days at court, Marie Antoinette was high-spirited, mischievous, and witty; she once masqueraded as a Sister of Charity before Louis XVI, and they howled together over his naïveté. She supported the arts and sought to relax the stiff decorum of the court while cultivating her keen need for privacy. Her loyal friendships defined her, none more so than that of the king, who sustained her in the anguish of relentless character defamation. Following the king's execution on 21 January 1793, Marie Antoinette on 16 October 1793 rode bravely erect in the tumbrel to her execution at the Place de la Révolution, a proud queen, devoted mother, and faithful wife.

See also Diamond Necklace, Affair of ; France ; Louis XVI (France) ; Maria Theresa (Holy Roman Empire) ; Revolutions, Age of .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Source

Maria Theresa. Marie Antoinette. Correspondance secrète entre Marie-Thérèse et le comte de Mercy-Argenteau, avec les lettres de Marie-Thérese et de Marie Antoinette. Paris, 18741875.

Secondary Sources

Cronin, Vincent. Louis and Antoinette. New York, 1975.

Schama, Simon. Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. New York, 1989.

Rosamond Hooper-Hamersley

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Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) was queen of France at the outbreak of the Revolution. Her activities and reputation contributed to the decline of the prestige of the French monarchy.

Marie Antoinette was the daughter of the Holy Roman emperor Francis I and the empress Maria Theresa. In 1770 she was married to the French Dauphin, who 4 years later ascended the throne as Louis XVI. The personalities of the two rulers were very different: while Louis XVI was phlegmatic and withdrawn, Marie Antoinette was gay, frivolous, and imprudent in her actions and choice of friends. She soon became unpopular in the court and the country, antagonizing many of the nobles, including the King's brothers and those Frenchmen who regretted the recently concluded alliance with Austria, long regarded as the traditional enemy; for the population as a whole she became the symbol for the extravagance of the court.

Although Marie Antoinette did not intervene in foreign affairs as frequently as has been asserted, she soon forgot her statement on first entering France, when she interrupted an official greeting in German, "Speak French, Monsieur. From now on I hear no language other than French." She sometimes sought, usually without great success, to obtain French support for Austrian objectives, for example, against Prussia and the Low Countries.

The Queen's influence on domestic policy before 1789 has also been exaggerated. Her interventions in politics were usually in order to obtain positions and subsidies for her friends. It is true, however, that she usually opposed the efforts of reforming ministers such as A. R. J. Turgot and became involved in court intrigues against them. Such activities, as well as her associates and personal life, particularly the "diamond necklace affair," when it appeared that the Queen had yielded herself to a wealthy cardinal for an expensive diamond necklace, increased her unpopularity and led to a stream of pamphlets and satires against her. The fact that after the birth of her children Marie Antoinette's way of life became more restrained did not alter the popular image of an immoral and extravagant woman.

In the summer of 1788, when Louis XVI yielded to pressure and convoked the Estates General to deal with the fiscal crisis, Marie Antoinette agreed, or appeared to agree, to the return of Jacques Necker as chief minister and to granting the Third Estate as many representatives as the other two combined. However, after the meeting of the Estates General in May 1789 and such events as the taking of the Bastille (July 14, 1789), Marie Antoinette supported the conservative court faction most insistent upon maintaining the Old Regime.

On Oct. 1, 1789, the Queen was received enthusiastically at a royalist banquet at Versailles during which the Revolution was denounced and its symbols insulted. A few days later (October 4-5) a Parisian crowd forced the court to move to Paris, where it could be controlled more readily. Marie Antoinette's role in the efforts of the monarchy to work with such moderates as the Comte de Mirabeau and later with the constitutional monarchist A. P. Barnave is unclear, but it appears that she lacked confidence in them. After the attempt of the royal couple to escape was thwarted at Varennes (June 21, 1791), the Queen, convinced that only foreign intervention could save the monarchy, sought the aid of her brother, the Holy Roman emperor Leopold II. Convinced that France, in its weakened condition, with many officers already émigrés, would be easily defeated, she favored the declaration of war on Austria in April 1792. On Aug. 10, 1792, the Paris crowd stormed the Tuileries Palace and ended the monarchy (the following month the National Convention established the First French Republic).

On August 13 Marie Antoinette began a captivity that was to end only with her death. She was first imprisoned in the Temple with her family and, after Aug. 1, 1793, in the Conciergerie. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to obtain her escape failed, Marie Antoinette appeared before the Revolutionary Tribunal, charged with aiding the enemy and inciting civil war within France. The Tribunal found her guilty and condemned her to death. On Oct. 16, 1793, she went to the guillotine. As did Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette aroused sympathy by her dignity and courage in prison and before the executioner.

Further Reading

Most biographers of Marie Antoinette have been popularizers or men of letters rather than professional historians. In English, recommended are Hilaire Belloc, Marie Antoinette (1909; 2d ed. 1924), generally objective despite Belloc's sympathy for the monarchy; and Stefan Zweig, Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman (trans. 1933), the subtitle of which suggests the interpretation. A more recent and good introductory account of the Queen is Dorothy Moulton Mayer, Marie Antoinette: The Tragic Queen (1969). See also André Castelot, Queen of France: A Biography of Marie Antoinette (1957). □

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Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette (ăntwənĕt´, äNtwänĕt´), 1755–93, queen of France, wife of King Louis XVI and daughter of Austrian Archduchess Maria Theresa and Holy Roman Emperor Francis I. She was married in 1770 to the dauphin, who became king in 1774. Her marriage had been made to strengthen France's alliance with its long-time enemy, Austria. The union, however, was not altogether popular, and Marie Antoinette's actions only increased hostility toward her. She constantly sought the advice of the Austrian ambassador and attempted to influence French foreign policy in favor of Austria.

Unhappy in her marriage, which remained unconsummated for seven years, she surrounded herself with a dissolute clique, led by Yolande de Polignac and Marie Thérèse de Lamballe, and threw herself into a life of pleasure and careless extravagance. Her notorious reputation led to scandals such as the Affair of the Diamond Necklace and to rumors concerning her relations with officers of the guard and with Hans Axel Fersen. The famous solution to the bread famine, "Let them eat cake," is unjustly attributed to the queen, but it is certain that Marie Antoinette lacked understanding of economic problems. With the birth of her first son, her life became more sedate.

Although she had contributed to the downfall of A. R. J. Turgot in 1776 and was hostile to Jacques Necker, her influence on the king's decisions during the first two years of the French Revolution (1789–91) has been exaggerated. She was brought with the king from Versailles to Paris (Oct., 1789) and was seized at Varennes when the royal family attempted to escape (1791). Despite her hatred of the Revolution, the apathy of the king forced her to conduct negotiations first with the comte de Mirabeau, then with Antoine Barnave. Simultaneously, however, she secretly urged Austrian intervention; after war was declared, she fully identified the cause of the Bourbon dynasty with that of France.

After the storming of the Tuileries palace (Aug., 1792), she and her husband were removed to the Temple and accused of treason. The king was executed in Jan., 1793. Marie Antoinette's son was taken from her (see Louis XVII), and she was transferred to the Conciergerie. Known derisively as the "Widow Capet," she was tried before the Revolutionary Tribunal (Oct. 14–15, 1793), found guilty, and guillotined (Oct. 16). In her last misfortunes she displayed steadfastness, courage, serenity, and dignity. Her portraits, notably by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, are well known.

Among Marie Antoinette's published correspondence see Lettres de Marie Antoinette (2 vol., 1895–96) and Olivier Bernier ed., Secrets of Marie Antoinette: A Collection of Letters (1986). See also biographies by S. Zweig (tr. 1933), A. Castelot (tr., 1957), D. M. Mayer (1969), P. Huisman (tr. 1971), J. Haslip (1987), A. Fraser (2001), and C. Weber (2006).

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Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette (1755–93) Queen of France. Daughter of Emperor Francis I and Maria Theresa of Austria, she married the future Louis XVI in 1770. Her life of pleasure and extravagance contributed to the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. She initiated the royal family's attempt to escape in 1791, was held prisoner, and then finally guillotined.

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Marie Antoinette (1755–1793)

Marie Antoinette (1755–1793)

Queen of France. Name variations: Marie-Antoinette; Madame Veto. Born in Vienna, Austria, Nov 2, 1755; died by the guillotine in Paris, France, Oct 16, 1793; dau. of Francis Stephen of Lorraine, grand duke of Tuscany, also known as Francis I, Holy Roman emperor (r. 1745–1765), and Maria Theresa of Austria (1717–1780), empress of the Habsburg domains; sister of Maria Carolina (1752–1814), Joseph II, emperor of Austria and Holy Roman emperor (r. 1765–1790), Maria Christina (1742–1798), Elizabeth of Austria (1743–1808), Leopold II, Holy Roman emperor (r. 1790–1792), and Maria Amalia (1746–1804); m. Louis XVI, king of France (r. 1774–1792), in 1770; children: 1st daughter, Princess Marie Thérèse Charlotte (1778–1851), was exchanged by the Revolutionary government to the Court of Vienna and grew up to be the duchess of Angoulême; the 1st dauphin, Louis Joseph (1781–1789); the 2nd dauphin, Louis Charles (b. 1785), imprisoned during the Revolution, was proclaimed "Louis XVII" by royalists, and apparently died in prison in 1795; Princess Sophie Beatrix (1786–1787).

Austrian-born queen of France whose misfortune was to be the wife of Louis XVI when that monarch was overthrown in the French Revolution of 1789, and whose poor judgment and provocative behavior led to her execution in the name of the Revolution; was raised at the Schonbrunn palace and indifferently educated; betrothed to the dauphin of France, the future Louis XVI (1769) to reinforce the alliance between the House of Habsburg and the House of Bourbon; married the dauphin (1770); engaged in court intrigues and flirtations until outbreak of French Revolution (1789); failed in attempted flight from France with the king (June 1791); arrested by revolutionaries (1792) and tried before Revolutionary Tribunal (Oct 14, 1793).

See also Stefan Zweig, Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman (Viking, 1933); Carolly Erickson, To the Scaffold: The Life of Marie-Antoinette (Morrow, 1991); Joan Haslip, Marie Antoinette (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1987); and Women in World History.

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Marie Antoinette (1755–1793)

Marie Antoinette (1755–1793)

Austrian-born queen of France whose misfortune was to be the wife of Louis XVI when that monarch was overthrown in the French Revolution of 1789, and whose poor judgment and provocative behavior led to her execution in the name of the Revolution . Name variations: Marie-Antoinette. Born in Vienna, Austria, on November 2, 1755; died by the guillotine in Paris, France, on October 16, 1793; daughter of Francis Stephen of Lorraine, grand duke of Tuscany, also known as Francis I, Holy Roman emperor (r. 1745–1765), and Maria Theresa of Austria (1717–1780), empress of the Habsburg domains; sister of Maria Carolina (1752–1814), Joseph II, emperor of Austria and Holy Roman emperor (r. 1765–1790), Maria Christina (1742–1798), Elizabeth of Austria (1743–1808), Leopold II, Holy Roman emperor (r. 1790–1792), and Maria Amalia (1746–1804); marriedLouis XVI, king of France (r. 1774–1792), in 1770; children: first daughter, Princess Marie Thérèse Charlotte (1778–1851), was exchanged by the Revolutionary government to the Court of Vienna and grew up to be the duchess of Angoulême; the first dauphin, Louis Joseph (1781–1789); the second dauphin, Louis Charles (b. 1785), imprisoned during the Revolution, was proclaimed "Louis XVII" by royalists, and apparently died in prison in 1795; Princess Sophie Beatrix (1786–1787).

Marie Antoinette was raised at the Schonbrunn palace and indifferently educated; betrothed to the dauphin of France, the future Louis XVI (1769) to reinforce the alliance between the House of Habsburg and the House of Bourbon; married the dauphin (1770); gave birth to four royal children (1778–86); engaged in court intrigues and flirtations until out-break of French Revolution (1789); failed in attempted flight from France with the king (June 1791); arrested by revolutionaries (1792) and tried before Revolutionary Tribunal (October 14, 1793); guillotined in Paris (October 16, 1793). Marie Antoinette was the very symbol of a failed and hated monarchy in the most profoundly symbolic revolution of modern history, the sad fulfillment of all the prophecies of vanity.

Marie Antoinette, a queen forever associated with the French Revolution of 1789, was—along with her royal husband, Louis XVI—one of its two most prominent victims. Undoubtedly self-indulgent and proud, she nevertheless did not deserve the calumny heaped upon her by the revolutionaries of France. Indeed, the excessive nature of the accusations brought against her before the revolutionary tribunal suggest an obsession with the queen as a hated symbol as much as an individual guilty of treason.

It has been noted by biographers, particularly Stefan Zweig, whose writing was greatly influenced by the theories of psychoanalysis, that Marie Antoinette was in most ways an unremarkable person. Attractive with her blue eyes and blonde curls, despite her Habsburg features, she was, even so, no match for the great beauties of the court at Versailles. Only the most gallant would compare her with the influential mistress of Louis XV, Madame du Barry , who dominated affairs in 1770 when Marie Antoinette arrived France to marry the heir to the throne. Nor did she possess more than ordinary intelligence and education. Lively and personable, she gave her heart to many, and her body, it would seem, to some. Yet her adultery has been attributed, in part, to her husband's incapacity to engage in normal sexual intercourse during their first six

years of marriage (he suffered a genital defect called phymosis, which was corrected when the king finally submitted to minor surgery). But Marie Antoinette was hardly the libertine of popular mythology. Events, rather than personality, would thrust her onto the pages of history.

If not a Valeria Messalina or a Fredegund , Marie Antoinette was a foreigner. Austrian born, she found herself at an early age in a strange court, at the center of intrigues and expectations, and the wife of an indifferent and inept prince. Far from the steady hand of her capable mother, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria , and lacking good counsel or the wisdom to seek it, Marie Antoinette behaved poorly and became queen at a time when France was drifting toward financial ruin and political chaos. When she became the subject of court gossip and then the object of unbridled popular speculation, detractors of the monarchy fixed upon her as a root cause of political decline and royal extravagance. Failing to be French in a country awash in nationalism, Marie Antoinette became the symbol of foreign influence for millions of French citizens, an emblem of financial irresponsibility, and the personification of moral corruption. It was as the most obvious representation of the Bourbon monarchy, the reputed "Austrian whore" who, it was claimed, had suggested that the hungry French eat cake, that Marie Antoinette mounted the scaffold and was decapitated by the "national razor" on October 16, 1793.

She was born in imperial splendor on November 2, 1755. Her father was the lackluster Francis I, but her mother was a conscientious and intelligent heir to the Habsburg name and empire. Preoccupied with heavy responsibilities, particularly in foreign affairs, Maria Theresa could spare but little time for her energetic daughter. While her mother struggled to maintain the empire through war and diplomacy, Marie Antoinette romped and indulged herself, failing to take any formal instruction seriously. Most official attention was directed to her royal brother, Joseph II, who would share imperial power with his mother after 1765.

Marie Antoinette's emergence from the historical obscurity of most royal princesses can be traced to the formation of a state alliance between France and Austria after the War of the Austrian Succession, which ended in 1748. Austria, having lost valuable territories to Prussia, needed a strong continental ally to protect it against additional piracy. Although France was the ancient enemy of the Habsburgs, the court at Vienna and the court at Versailles found they had common enemies. As blood was thicker than ink, discussions began early on to link the two dynasties together with a wedding ring. Yet it was not until 1766 that Louis XV of France, a singularly ineffective monarch who was controlled by his mistresses and his degeneracy, signaled that a marriage between the dauphin, or heir to the French throne, and the 11-year-old Marie Antoinette would be welcomed. Maria Theresa, fearful that her archenemy, Frederick I the Great of Prussia, would somehow unhinge the Franco-Austrian understanding, pressed for a rapid conclusion of the business. She was indifferent to reports that the dauphin would hardly be an appealing son-in-law. As for Marie Antoinette, she seems to have thought but little of the engagement, continuing in her amusements and failing to master even written German, much less French. Child that she was, she enjoyed the last years of her girlhood while the politicians argued interminably over the particulars of her coming marriage. It was three years before a final understanding was obtained. By then, Marie Antoinette was 14 years old.

On April 19, 1770, Marie Antoinette was married by proxy in Vienna to the dauphin of France, a man she had never seen. Shortly thereafter, a magnificent procession accompanied her to a wooden pavilion on an island in the Rhine near Strasbourg where she was handed over to French courtiers. In a specially constructed room, she was stripped of her Austrian garments and dressed in French clothing; from that moment Marie Antoinette became legally French. At Compiegne, she was met by Louis XV and his grandson, the dauphin. It could not have been a joyful moment for the girl. Her groom, besides being plain in appearance, was completely devoid of enthusiasm, a condition that was to prove enduring. Although not yet the corpulent man he would be in a few years, the dauphin already displayed a torpor that would increase with the passage of time.

On May 16, 1770, the actual wedding took place at Versailles. After extraordinary celebrations, Marie Antoinette and her husband were finally alone. Almost certainly she learned then of her husband's incapacity; it would not be long before almost everyone else at court and in foreign governments knew as well. Eight years were to elapse before the dauphiness would deliver a child.

In the early years, Marie Antoinette was relatively popular among the subjects of the Bourbon crown. Many hopes and ambitions rode upon her narrow shoulders, because the old king was widely detested. When the dauphin ascended the throne, it was thought, his young wife would have borne him many children. The dynasty would be reinvigorated, secure, and France would march forward along the road of enlightenment and progress. But no children were conceived. Meanwhile, Marie Antoinette found the French court stiff and cool, her husband distant and inept. Ignoring her mother's cautionary letters, the young woman drifted into intrigues at court, going so far as to insult the king's favorite, Madame du Barry, whom Marie Antoinette, as the ranking woman at Versailles, saw as undeserving of the influence she commanded. This marked the beginning of a road that would lead her into ever-deeper factionalism and spite.

The year 1774 was a critical one in the life of Marie Antoinette. Louis XV died and Louis XVI succeeded him with Marie Antoinette as his proud queen. In the same year, the queen met the comte de Fersen, a young Swede who was eventually to become her lover and, until the end of his life, her most devoted admirer and defender. And it was the year that Marie Antoinette first saw a particular diamond necklace that was to do her incalculable harm. Encountering the disapproval of the older, sedate elements at court, she appears to have retaliated by launching herself onto a treacherous sea of conspicuous hedonism.

The France that the new royal couple inherited was the focus of the Enlightenment, a progressive movement at once reformist, literary, and scientific. Yet it was not the serene realm dreamed of by the celebrated philosophers of the day. The nation had been defeated in war, was financially insecure, and was torn between the claims of the aristocracy, the royal courts, and the bureaucracy. France was also regarded as despotic by its great thinkers such as Voltaire, Diderot, and Rousseau and so became the object of intellectual disdain. Most of this was beyond Marie Antoinette's comprehension. Bored with the endless ceremony of Versailles, the queen discovered the entertaining world of Parisian society while the larger world of France discovered its new monarch well intended but ineffective. Many were sure that her mother, the Austrian queen, was to blame.

As Marie Antoinette lived only for amusement and paid scant attention to Louis, he, strangely enough, doted on her. He indulged her every whim, including expending two million livres on the Little Trianon, a miniature palace on the Versailles grounds. There, Marie Antoinette and her friends put on amateur plays, indulged in flirtations, and, when the mood struck them, pretended to be cowherds and milkmaids and simple folk. In these last years of the 1770s, Marie Antoinette's reputation declined not only because of her extravagance, but also because it was widely believed that she had taken a series of lovers and, therefore, betrayed her husband and sovereign. Even her friendships with women, such as the Princess de Lamballe (1749–1792) and the Comtesse de Polignac (1749–1793), were rumored to be indecent. To a considerable degree, these allegations stemmed from the Diamond Necklace Affair.

A cunning cardinal, Prince Louis de Rohan, sought the queen's favor for personal advancement. Duped by a dishonest young woman, Madame Jeanne La Motte , and her friends, he was persuaded that the queen coveted a particular diamond necklace worth more than a million and half livres. By 1785, Rohan had bought the necklace and, in the night hours, met a young woman in the Versailles gardens, whom he assumed to be the queen, and gave her the necklace. The woman gave Rohan a note promising to pay with Marie Antoinette's forged signature. Of course, it was all a swindle. Though Marie Antoinette was not involved in the proceedings, it was made to look as though she, rather than the imposter, had been responsible—that she had taken the necklace without paying for it. The affair became public, and the queen was insulted and outraged. The king had Rohan arrested and tried, but the justices exonerated him, probably because of their growing hatred of the queen. The populace sided with Rohan, seeing the queen as duplicitous and the king as a cuckold and a fool. From then on, no libel against the queen was too extravagant to believe. Pornography featuring the queen as a nymphomaniac and lesbian flourished and could be found in the Parisian streets and the halls of Versailles.

Stefan Zweig, on the uncovering of Marie Antoinette's remains">

The handful of pale dust … was the last trace of that long-dead woman who in her day had been the goddess of grace and of taste, and subsequently the queen of many sorrows.

—Stefan Zweig, on the uncovering of Marie Antoinette's remains

Ironically, as the queen's reputation diminished in this period of her life, she and her husband finally accomplished the most important task of any royal couple. They conceived children. A simple operation in 1777 corrected the king's phymosis, and in December 1778 the queen gave birth to a girl, Marie Thérèse Charlotte . A dauphin was born in 1781, only to die in 1789. But a second dauphin, Louis Charles, was born in 1785 and Princess Sophie Beatrix in 1786, only to die a year later. The children sobered the queen somewhat, and the delivery of male offspring restored a small measure of royal popularity. But the queen's basic personality was not altered, and the king remained benign but befuddled by events he could not control. Still searching for the great passion of her life, Marie Antoinette, long in love with the comte de Fersen, found her fulfillment with him in 1785. She was 30 years old.

Meanwhile, the ground was beginning to tremble beneath them. France's economy was in a long decline, and royal government suffered from costly and unsuccessful wars and inefficient financial management. The royal debt climbed yearly, and Marie Antoinette's extravagances helped not at all. The root of the problem was not so much national poverty but a hopelessly complex and antiquated system of administration and taxation. By the 1780s, the fear of royal bankruptcy haunted the middle classes, and, influenced by the Enlightenment, they demanded a modern, efficient, constitutional state. Inspired by the American Revolution, all classes of French society yearned for personal liberty and an end to the absolute model of the state, which, no doubt, allowed for many injustices and abuses. Louis tried to take matters in hand and appointed a series of reformist ministers such as Jacques Turgot and Jacques Necker. But serious change would alter France's ancient social structure and reduce the privileges of the aristocracy and the clergy. Resistance was certain, and the friends of the old order, including the king's younger brothers, the comte de Provence and the comte d'Artois, found their champion in the queen. Convinced that her associates would lose the generous allowances she had secured for them should the schemes of the reformers be implemented, Marie Antoinette became known as "Madame Veto" by influencing Louis to evade change and dismiss the reformers.

La Motte, Jeanne de Valois, countess de (1756–1791)

French adventurer . Name variations: Madame La Motte; Jeanne Lamotte; Jeanne de Valois, countess de la Motte; Countess de La Motte. Born Jeanne de Saint-Rémy de Valois in 1756; died in 1791; daughter of a poor farmer in Champagne; married Nicolas de La Motte (a soldier).

Jeanne de Saint-Rémy de Valois was born in 1756, the daughter of a poor farmer from Champagne who was one of the last of the Valois; he was a direct descendant of the French king, Henry II. After her father died and left her penniless, Jeanne de Valois was aided by a kindly marquise who had her background authenticated, and she was granted an annual pension of 800 livres by Louis XVI. She spent the next few years petitioning the court for more. Madame Elisabeth convinced the king to double the amount.

Jeanne de Valois married Nicolas de La Motte, a soldier in the police militia, whom she referred to as a count, and together they set out to recoup the Valois estates. Since the legacy had already been put in the hands of the Orléans family, Jeanne had to recover the money some other way. Thus, she became involved in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace (L'Affaire du Collier), which took place during 1783–84.

Jeanne de Valois, now the Countess de La Motte, befriended the cardinal Louis de Rohan, who for eight years had been out of favor at court, most especially out of the queen's favor. La Motte persuaded him that she was an intimate friend of Marie Antoinette and promised that she would use her influence to help the queen change her mind about him. In May 1874, she told Rohan that on his next visit to Versailles, the queen would show her change of heart by slightly inclining her head. Subsequently, while in the queen's presence, Rohan was sure he saw her do just that, not once, but several times. La Motte then hired a Palais Royal prostitute to impersonate Marie Antoinette. Wearing a flowing gown and a wide-brimmed hat with veil, the prostitute met with the cardinal in the park of Versailles at 11 o'clock on a moonless summer night; the cardinal kissed her hem, and she gave him a rose.

Meanwhile, the queen's jeweler had made an opulent diamond necklace expressly for Marie Antoinette but could not convince her to purchase it. The queen said she had a diamond necklace, wore it rarely, and did not need another. When King Louis offered to buy it for her, she again turned it down, saying that the money would be better spent on a ship for the French fleet.

Aware of the jeweler's frustration, La Motte confided to Rohan that the queen wished to buy a diamond necklace, on credit and without the king's knowledge, and wanted him to act as security. With the help of a duped Rohan and a forged document that stated the queen's acceptance of the terms of purchase—1,600,000 livres to be paid off in three monthly installments—La Motte convinced the jeweler to give her the necklace. She and her husband then broke up the necklace and sold the jewels.

In 1786, the plot was revealed, and Rohan and La Motte were arrested. Rohan was acquitted, but La Motte was branded and imprisoned. The following year, she escaped from jail and joined her husband in England. Countess de La Motte then wrote her memoirs before dying from a drunken fall from a three-story window. Though historians now know that Marie Antoinette was completely innocent in the Affair of the Necklace, at the time she was discredited by the incident, and it exacerbated the public's suspicions about her. Countess de La Motte's autobiography was published in 1793, two years after her death, and Alexander Dumas pére later wrote the well-known historical novel, Le Collier de la Reine (1849–50), based on her scam.

It is doubtful that Marie Antoinette guessed at the profound currents animating French society by the late 1780s. No more than the king could she have foreseen the consequences of the summoning of an Estates General to Versailles in 1789. Hard pressed by the mounting debt, stung by criticisms by the nobility, and worried

by popular disturbances caused by food shortages and high prices, the king decided to call elected deputies of the clergy, nobility, and commons to find a way out. Unwilling to settle for a limited agenda or half measures, however, the deputies of the Third Estate, or commons, demanded far-reaching changes, including a written constitution to limit the monarchy and define the rights of French "citizens." These demands were underscored by ominous popular violence in Paris, in other French cities, and in the countryside. Unwittingly, Louis, by issuing an invitation for limited reform to save the royal finances, had touched off an uncontrollable revolution.

The Revolution that began in 1789, commenced as an endeavor by nobles and progressive members of the middle-class to modernize France, was altered almost immediately by the explosion of popular violence directed toward the destruction of legal and economic inequality, and matured in the early 1790s into a determined crusade to create a democratic republic of virtue. In time, the Revolution displayed an intolerance of dissent more bloody and grim than any tyranny of the Bourbon monarchy.

When the Estates General was transformed into a National Assembly in June 1789, drastic changes in French life came rapidly. Many nobles and some of the royal family fled the realm. But Louis and Marie Antoinette stayed on, trying to shore up what was left of the monarchy. Perhaps still unaware of the magnitude of events, the king and queen were surprised when a mob of women, angry over rising bread prices in Paris, marched on Versailles in October and demanded that the royal couple come to the city and "do something" to relieve their plight. Marie Antoinette barely escaped death at the hands of the women, for whom she was plainly a symbol of royal indulgence and corruption, but that was only the beginning of a long melancholy train of humiliations and endangerments.

Taken to the Tuileries in Paris, the king and queen and their children were, in effect, held hostage to the demands of both the National Assembly and the more radical city government. Around them swirled innumerable intrigues and counterplots, but the tide was running strongly against them. Louis finally accepted the idea of a constitutional monarchy, but the queen was made of stronger stuff and urged him to resist. If necessary, the royal family should flee the country and find help at foreign courts to destroy the Revolution in its infancy. Louis procrastinated, but, outraged by revolutionary assaults on the Church, finally agreed to a scheme to escape Paris on June 20, 1791, under a plan developed by the comte de Fersen.

By an incredibly bad stroke of fortune, the royal couple, with Marie Antoinette disguised as a noblewoman and Louis as her manservant, were recognized and apprehended at Varennes, only a few miles from the French border. Returned to Paris, the king sullenly agreed to the newly drafted Constitution of 1791, which severely limited his powers.

The royal couple were now virtually prisoners, although Louis tried to play the role of constitutional monarch. For a time, little could be done. Then, in 1792, the revolutionary government went to war with Austria and Prussia, determined to liberate Europe from kings. When

the war went badly, however, suspicion of treachery fell upon the king and queen and their moderate supporters. In August, a mob broke into the Tuileries, murdered the king's bodyguards, and demanded the overthrow of the king. The frightened Assembly concurred, and the royal family was imprisoned in a tower called the Temple.

Time was running out for Marie Antoinette and her husband. A terrible terror seized Paris in September, leading to a horrible massacre of royalist and noble prisoners in the thousands. Among the victims was Marie Antoinette's closest friend, the Princess de Lamballe, whose mutilated body was displayed to the appalled queen. In December, Louis was brought to trial for treason against the Revolution. Compromising documents were discovered in a secret safe that incriminated the king by showing his correspondence with counter-revolutionaries. No one doubted the queen's connivance. Separated from his family until the night before his execution, Louis exhibited quiet courage and dignity as he said his farewells to his family. For Marie Antoinette, it must have been painful to say goodbye to the father of her children. How far they had come together since she first saw him at Compiegne 23 years before. On the next day, January 21, 1793, the king was executed.

Marie Antoinette now awaited her own inevitable end. But, before then, she would be forced to drink the full bitter cup. The "Widow Capet," as she was called, was repeatedly insulted and humiliated, then, in July, separated from her remaining son. She never saw him again. Meanwhile, he was subjected to great pressures to bring evidence against his mother. Eventually, he was made to say that she, along with Madame Elisabeth , her sister-in-law, had introduced him to masturbation. No crime was too extreme to charge against the "Austrian harpy." Before the Revolutionary Tribunal, the queen conducted herself with a resolution unknown to her earlier years. Rejecting the infamous charges of incest, she appealed beyond the court to the generations to come by asking any mother who might hear her words if such an act were imaginable.

The revolutionary painter Jacques Louis David sketched Marie Antoinette in the tumbrel on the way to the guillotine on October 16,1793. She is depicted as a barren, haggard old woman with hands tied behind her back. Her hair had gone entirely white, but in the portrait, as in history, she showed no sign of fear. Moments later, her bleeding head was lifted to the crowd. Then it was placed between the legs of her corpse and carried away to be tossed in a common grave in the Madeleine cemetery. She was not yet 38 years old.

sources:

Schama, Simon. Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989.

Scott, Samuel F., and Rothaus, Barry, eds. Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution 1789–1799. CT: Greenwood Press, 1985.

Zweig, Stefan. Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman. NY: Viking Press, 1933 (reissued, Harmony Books, 1984).

suggested reading:

Erickson, Carolly. To the Scaffold: The Life of Marie-Antoinette. NY: Morrow, 1991.

Gershoy, Leo. The French Revolution and Napoleon. NY: Appleton-Century Crofts, 1964.

Haslip, Joan. Marie Antoinette. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1987.

Seward, Desmond. Marie Antoinette. London: Constable, 1981.

C. David Rice , Ph.D., chair and professor, Department of History, Central Missouri State University, Warrensburg, Missouri

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Marie Antoinette (1755–1793)

Marie Antoinette (1755–1793)

Marie Antoinette (1755–1793), queen of France. Marie Antoinette was queen of France at the outbreak of the Revolution. Her activities and reputation contributed to the decline of the prestige of the French monarchy.

Marie Antoinette was the daughter of the Holy Roman emperor Francis I and the empress Maria Theresa. In 1770 she was married to the French Dauphin, who 4 years later ascended the throne as Louis XVI. The personalities of the two rulers were very different: while Louis XVI was phlegmatic and withdrawn, Marie Antoinette was gay, frivolous, and imprudent in her actions and choice of friends. She soon became unpopular in the court and the country, antagonizing many of the nobles, including the King's brothers and those Frenchmen who regretted the recently concluded alliance with Austria, long regarded as the traditional enemy; for the population as a whole she became the symbol for the extravagance of the court.

Although Marie Antoinette did not intervene in foreign affairs as frequently as has been asserted, she soon forgot her statement on first entering France, when she interrupted an official greeting in German, "Speak French, Monsieur. From now on I hear no language other than French." She sometimes sought, usually without great success, to obtain French support for Austrian objectives, for example, against Prussia and the Low Countries.

The Queen's influence on domestic policy before 1789 has also been exaggerated. Her interventions in politics were usually in order to obtain positions and subsidies for her friends. It is true, however, that she usually opposed the efforts of reforming ministers such as A. R. J. Turgot and became involved in court intrigues against them. Such activities, as well as her associates and personal life, particularly the "diamond necklace affair," when it appeared that the Queen had yielded herself to a wealthy cardinal for an expensive diamond necklace, increased her unpopularity and led to a stream of pamphlets and satires against her. The fact that after the birth of her children Marie Antoinette's way of life became more restrained did not alter the popular image of an immoral and extravagant woman.

In the summer of 1788, when Louis XVI yielded to pressure and convoked the Estates General to deal with the fiscal crisis, Marie Antoinette agreed, or appeared to agree, to the return of Jacques Necker as chief minister and to granting the Third Estate as many representatives as the other two combined. However, after the meeting of the Estates General in May 1789 and such events as the taking of the Bastille ( July 14, 1789), Marie Antoinette supported the conservative court faction most insistent upon maintaining the Old Regime.

On Oct. 1, 1789, the Queen was received enthusiastically at a royalist banquet at Versailles during which the Revolution was denounced and its symbols insulted. A few days later (October 4–5) a Parisian crowd forced the court to move to Paris, where it could be controlled more readily. Marie Antoinette's role in the efforts of the monarchy to work with such moderates as the Comte de Mirabeau and later with the constitutional monarchist A. P. Barnave is unclear, but it appears that she lacked confidence in them. After the attempt of the royal couple to escape was thwarted at Varennes ( June 21, 1791), the Queen, convinced that only foreign intervention could save the monarchy, sought the aid of her brother, the Holy Roman emperor Leopold II. Convinced that France, in its weakened condition, with many officers already émigrés, would be easily defeated, she favored the declaration of war on Austria in April 1792. On Aug. 10, 1792, the Paris crowd stormed the Tuileries Palace and ended the monarchy (the following month the National Convention established the First French Republic).

On August 13 Marie Antoinette began a captivity that was to end only with her death. She was first imprisoned in the Temple with her family and, after Aug. 1, 1793, in the Conciergerie. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to obtain her escape failed, Marie Antoinette appeared before the Revolutionary Tribunal, charged with aiding the enemy and inciting civil war within France. The Tribunal found her guilty and condemned her to death. On Oct. 16, 1793, she went to the guillotine. As did Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette aroused sympathy by her dignity and courage in prison and before the executioner.

EWB

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Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.