Marie Antoinette – The Infamous French Queen And The Ending On The Scaffold

Marie-Antoinette, the last queen of France.

14-year-old crown princess and political marriage

Marie Antoinette was the last Queen of France before the French Revolution overthrew the monarchy. Marie Antoinette's lavish lifestyle became a symbol of the uncontrolled extravagance of the French aristocracy and a cause of her death on the scaffold. But was Marie Antoinette really the frivolous queen the French revolutionaries claimed? Or was she merely a scapegoat as France languished in economic turmoil?

Beauty from Austria

Despite living and dying as the most notorious queen in French history, Marie Antoinette - whose real name was Maria Antonia Josefa Johanna - was born an Austrian, princess of the Hapsburg family, a longtime rival of the Bourbons, France. Like many royal marriages of the time, Marie Antoinette's engagement to future King Louis-Auguste was a gamble made for political gain. The marriage was arranged in the hands of Antonia's mother, the powerful Empress of Austria Maria Theresa. Maria Theresa wanted to forge an alliance to defuse long-standing animosity between France and Austria, primarily as a means of overthrowing the rising power of Prussia and Great Britain. She saw her daughter marrying the heir to the French throne as the perfect solution. Maria Theresa determined the lives of all 16 children as she did her entire empire - with an iron fist. The empress was especially harsh, even berating the carefree Princess Antonia, even after her daughter had ascended the throne.

The Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, mother of Marie Antoinette, was an assertive, tough ruler.

“It's not your beauty, which frankly is not very great, nor your talents nor your brilliance (you know perfectly well you have neither).” Maria Theresa wrote to her daughter after she became Queen of France.

In 1770, Antonia was officially married, becoming Crown Princess at the age of 14. Since then she adopted a new name with true French style, Marie Antoinette. France at this time was the most powerful country in Europe, with the Royal Palace at Versailles.

Having to force herself into so many strict court rules, and cumbersome etiquette and rituals that lasted since the time of King Louis XIV made Marie Antoinette always feel her youth stolen. The young empress could not hide her fatigue and frustration with the rigorous formalities surrounding her position.

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Wedding without consummation

Antonia's life reached the pinnacle of fame when the king died and her husband became King Louis XVI in 1774. Marie Antoinette, then 18 years old, officially crowned Queen of France.

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But the young queen was not happy with her marriage. While the entire court immediately admired Marie Antoinette's beautiful, graceful appearance, it took the King a long time to fully understand the fortunes of his life. It was customary for two people to have sex on their wedding night, but this did not happen.

The king suffered from phimosis, which caused painful erections. Unable to get close to her husband, the young crown princess Marie Antoinette turned her gaze to parties, games and other men. Deadlock in the royal bedroom wasn't just a problem in the home. For Maria Theresa, that could cost her family politically. At the behest of Queen Theresa, Antoinette's brother, Roman Emperor Joseph II, visited his sister and the King of France in the hope of improving their sexual relationship. He acted under the false name of Count Falkenstein to avoid stifling royal rituals that interfered with his travels.

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Before departing for Austria, Joseph II gave the couple much-needed advice: Marie Antoinette needed to be more affectionate with her husband, and Louis XVI should undergo a simple surgery to correct the sexual affair.

The wise advice of the Roman Emperor seemed to have worked. Seven years after the wedding, King Louis XVI could fulfill his duties as a husband, when the king was 23 years old, and the queen was 22 years old. Later, Marie Antoinette had her first child, Princess Marie-Thérèse Charlotte. In the following years, the last queen of the French dynasty had four children, but only one lived to adulthood.

King Louis XVI, the last king of the French monarchy.

However, Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI were more like friends than a couple. The Queen spent more time with her soulmates than with her husband. This was partly because they were on opposite polars. Marie Antoinette was dynamic and fun-loving, but the King was serious and restrained. The teenage queen reveled in lavish ballrooms all night until dawn, even gambling all the money in the treasury. Meanwhile, Louis was gifted in science and languages, and prefered to sit quietly and read books. “My style is not like the King, he only likes to hunt and work”, the queen wrote to a friend in April 1775. Antoinette also told her trusted mentor, Austrian Ambassador Comte Florimond de Mercy-Argenteau, that she "feels scared out of boredom". To amuse herself, the Empress spent a lot of money on clothes, shoes, wigs and jewelry - mainly diamonds and pearls.

Queen Antoinete and her children.

Behind Antoinette's outrageous behavior lied a young heart. She was described by those close to her as a kind person. The queen once took care of a farmer who was gored by a deer and adopted several children.

But Antoinette's lavish, unruly lifestyle overwhelms her kindness, making the Queen notorious among the royal family and the public, and also infuriating her strict mother. After hearing of her daughter's insolent behavior, the Empress of Austria warned her to immediately correct her lifestyle. “You are living a wasted life,” Queen Maria Theresa wrote to her daughter, French Empress Marie Antoinette in 1775. “I hope I do not have to live to see a disastrous end.”

Queen Theresa's words were an early harbinger of her unruly daughter's fate.

Party Queen

Before King Louis XVI ascended the throne, France was already in an economic recession. Although Queen Marie Antoinette's lavish spending was certainly not the only cause of France's collapse, it did not help the economy, and on the contrary caused discontent in the community.

The Empress was famous for regularly organizing extravagant parties, buying extremely expensive costumes, decorating the palace with huge amounts of money taken from the treasury while the financial situation was poor. The country's political economy deteriorated, in part because of the French Royal Family's support of the American Revolution. 

Queen Antoinette's lavishly decorated private room at the Palace of Versailles

The foreign-born queen indulged in luxuries while the rest of France was starving, a common theme at the time in stories about Marie Antoinette.

The Empress's notoriety was exacerbated by her political incompetence. Under the influence of her mother and brother, Marie Antoinette made one political mistake after another in promoting Austrian interests in the French Crown. French opponents, already wary of a foreign empress from Austria with whom France shared a history of hostility, had further reason to suspect the queen of disloyalty.

“Let them (starving peasants) eat cake”

Somehow, all the bad rumors about Queen Marie Antoinette eventually led to one of the most famous false quotes in history. After being told that the French people were starving because they could not afford bread, Queen Antoinette was said to have uttered the words of ridicule: “If they have no bread to eat, let them eat cake ". With this statement, the young queen became the focus of public criticism, although Marie Antoinette was known to have a rather considerate personality.

However, some historians believe that such mockery was never uttered on Marie Antoinette's lips. The queen's words may have been misunderstood by the famous 18th-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Some other historians speculate that the owner of the criticized statement may have been a noble woman of Hispanic origin. Many have theorized that the ridicule was then put into Marie Antoinette's mouth to possibly promote the revolution that overthrew the French monarchy.

In fact, Marie Antoinette's true feelings are probably the opposite. In a letter to her mother around the time of the bread shortage in France, she wrote, “Certainly, when we see those who treat us so well despite their misfortune, we have more obligations than ever to work hard for their happiness.”

Exhausted by boring royal duties and hostility at the court, Marie Antoinette escaped by retreating to the private villa Petit Trianon. But this closed area is another mistake of the Queen of France, as it shows a psychological alienation and offends other officials of the court.

Marie Antoinette's decadence, disregard for royal etiquette, and apparent attempt to sustain the last winds of the monarchy in the face of growing popular resistance caused her to easily become a target of the French revolutionaries.

Love scandal

One of the other scandals about Queen Marie Antoinette was that she had an affair after 7 years of marriage. Disappointed in her husband, Queen Marie Antoinette had an affair with the pompous Swedish Count Axel von Fersen.

Count Axel von Fersen, lover of French Queen Antoinette.

Marie Antoinette fell in love with Count Fersen as soon as the two first met at a soccer game in January 1774. Not long after, the Empress betrayed her husband, secretly dating her lover. She even regularly invited Fersen to Petit Trianon - a private house that she spent the equivalent of $ 6 million to remodel to her liking.

The couple regularly exchanged secret letters as well as designed the interior of the Petit Trianon house. It was also said that Count Fersen is the biological father of the Queen's second son because the baby was born exactly 9 months after the two met. This further damaged the reputation of the Queen of France.

The French Revolution and the Fall of the Monarchy

By 1786, three years before the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette's credibility before the people was severely damaged. Caricatures and rumors of her hedonistic lifestyle and palace guests continued to circulate, and were further emphasized by opponents of the monarchy.

A major scandal involved a lavish necklace made of 650 diamonds worth $4.7 million in today's value, which unfortunately involved the Queen, also known as the "Chain Love Story" necklace” – making the situation worse. But perhaps most disastrous were the rumors that the Queen's child was not the King's. Many believe that at least two of the royal heirs were the result of Antoinette's passionate love affair with Swedish Count Fersen.

The growing dissatisfaction caused by severe food shortages, while the French treasury was dwindling, turned into pressure on the French monarchy.

Capture the Bastilles

On July 11, 1789, King Louis, under the influence of conservative nobles in the Privy Council, as well as his wife, Queen Marie Antoinette, and younger brother, Duke of Artois, expelled the minister. Head reformed Necker and restructured all ministries. Most Parisians saw it as the beginning of a royal coup and they rebelled.

On July 14, 1789, about 900 Parisian workers and peasants stormed the Bastille to steal weapons and ammunition. Disregarding Marie Antoinette’s opinion, King Louis XVI refused to send troops to quell the revolt. Thus the French Revolution officially began. In October of that year, a revolt of thousands of Parisians walked 12 miles from Paris city hall to Versailles; They wanted to bring King Louis XVI and the Queen back to the capital to take responsibility for the plight of the French people.

By the time they reached Versailles, the crowd had expanded to 10,000. They shouted for the Queen to appear on the balcony of the Palace. Marie Antoinette did so, bowing so low towards the crowd of angry Parisians that, for a moment, she was even greeted with chants of “Long live the queen.”

But Marie Antoinette understood that would not last long. "They will force us to Paris, the King and I, after hanging the heads of the royal guards on poles," the queen said as she retreated into the palace. Within hours, the protesters - carrying spiked stakes attached to the head of the Queen's bodyguards - arrested all members of the royal family and brought them to the Tuileries Palace in Paris.

The French royal family lived under supervision at their new residence. But while King Louis XVI struggled to survive under strict guard due to his indecisive and gentle temperament, Queen Marie Antoinette insisted on reacting.

End of French monarchy

During her imprisonment in the Tuileries, Marie Antoinette held secret meetings with ministers, ambassadors, and through diplomatic missions, calling on other European nations to invade France in order to concuss the French Revolution.

After all attempts by the Queen to quell the revolution failed, the royal family finally planned to flee Paris. In June 1791, with the help of Count Fersen, the king, queen and their children boarded a carriage and drove to Montmédy, a city near the Netherlands that was Austrian-controlled. But the horsemen were followed and were eventually taken back by the National Guard to Paris by order of Parliament.

With a majority of the members of Parliament in favor of a constitutional monarchy over a republic, the factions came to an agreement for King Louis XVI to be a puppet monarch: the king must establish a oath in the Constitution and decree to declare that if he rebelled against that oath, commanded armies for the purpose of waging war on the nation, or permitted anyone to do so in his name, the King would have to abdicate.

However, during the uprising of August 10, 1792, the King was arrested and put on trial before Parliament. King was convicted of treason, then executed by guillotine on January 21, 1793.

Meanwhile, on September 21, 1792, the First French Republic was officially proclaimed, ending the monarchy that lasted for a thousand years. Louis XVI became the only French monarch to be executed.

Queen Marie Antoinette was taken from the Temple Tower to the Conciergerie shortly after the King was executed. She suffered the same fate as her husband, dying on the guillotine in October 1793. In 1815, after the Bourbons regained power over France, the remains of the Queen and King Louis XVI were transferred to the Basilica Cathedral of Saint Denis.

Painting of Queen Marie Antoinette before her execution.

Painting of the scene of the execution of the beheading of Queen Marie Antoinette in 1793.

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