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Thursday, 24 March 2016

Marie Antoinette


Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna von Habsburg-Lothringen was born on November 2, 1755 at the Hofburg Palace, in Vienna. She was the daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Emperor Francis I and Empress Maria Theresa.

She was christened Maria in honor of the Virgin Mary, Antonia in honor of Saint Anthony of Padua, Josepha in honor of her elder brother, Archduke Josef, and Johanna in honor of Saint John the Evangelist.

Her formidable mother Maria Theresa bore 16 children together. Marie was the fifteenth and the youngest daughter.

A court official described the new baby as "a small, but completely healthy Archduchess."

Maria-Antonia was brought up in the company of her closest sister, Maria-Carolina (two years older) and brother, Max, (one year younger.)

The young princess' winter home was the Imperial Palace called the Hofburg in Vienna. Her summer home was the baroque and sumptuous 1,441-room Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna’s answer to Versailles.

Marie-Antonia met the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart on October 13, 1762, when she was seven, (he was two months her junior). Mozart performed a short musical concert for the Imperial Family. When the Empress asked him what he would like as a reward, the young child genius is said to have responded by saying he would like the hand of the Empress's youngest daughter - Marie-Antonia - in marriage (much to the Empress's amusement.)

Maria Antonia aged 12 by Martin van Meytens, c. 1767–68

Marie-Antonia had a minimal education since as the youngest daughter of a vast family she was not expected to have a politically expedient marriage.

She was flighty, artistic and read almost nothing. Marie-Antonia's French was imperfect and she preferred to speak German.


The 14-year-old Marie-Antonia left Vienna in April 1770, to wed the Dauphin Louis-Auguste (later Louis XVI of France). It was hoped their union would strengthen Austria's alliance in France.

This miniature portrait was sent to the Dauphin, for him to see what his future bride looked like. Joseph Ducreux (1769).

The Empress's parting words to her sobbing daughter was, "Farewell, my dearest child. Do so much good to the French people that they can say that I have sent them an angel."

Two and half weeks after leaving Vienna, Maria-Antonia was handed over to messengers from the French Court. She was stripped of all her Austrian clothing and re-dressed in French attire.

The Austrian princess was then taken to Strasbourg, where a Thanksgiving Mass was held in her honor. She was greeted there with a flattering rapture. The streets of the city where strewn in petals, which Marie-Antoinette (as she was now known) gently picked up like "the goddess Flora". The entire city was illuminated in her honor and a few days later, she began the journey to Versailles.

Marie-Antoinette was conveyed to the royal palace at Versailles, where she met her future grandfather-in-law Louis XV and the other members of the Royal Family. Her future husband, the Dauphin Louis-Auguste was shy, awkward and distant. He was only a year older than she was and had no sexual or romantic relationships to prepare him for dealing with his fiancée.

Their marriage was conducted within hours of Marie-Antoinette arriving at Versailles on May 16, 1770. Just before the wedding, Marie-Antoinette was presented with the magnificent jewels which traditionally belonged to a French Dauphiness. This collection included an elaborate diamond necklace which had belonged to Anne of Austria and pieces which had also belonged to Mary Queen of Scots and Catherine de Medici. The large collection of gems was valued at approximately two million livres (approximately $14 million in 2015). Marie-Antoinette then received King Louis's personal wedding gift to her. It was a fan, encrusted with diamonds.

The Wedding Mass was celebrated with great pomp in the Chapel Royal. Louis-Auguste and Marie-Antoinette were then married in front of the Court, with Marie-Antoinette wearing a magnificent dress with huge white hoops covered in diamonds and pearls.

The Court conducted the young couple to their bed, which had just been blessed by the Archbishop of Rheims. However, the marriage was not immediately consummated as no one had explained to either Louis or Antoinette what they were supposed to do on their wedding night. They had only a very vague idea of sex and this increased the awkwardness between them. Within days, gossips at Versailles were already whispering that the royal marriage was a sham.


The royal couple did not consummate their marriage until seven years after their wedding but Louis loved Marie Antoinette deeply and refused to follow tradition and take a mistress.

Louis XVI at the age of 20

Since they were not sleeping together, Louis and Marie-Antoinette remained childless for the first few years of their marriage. Spiteful gossips blamed Marie-Antoinette for her childlessness and some people even asserted that she should be divorced and sent back to Austria.

The young Dauphiness' position was not helped by the fact that she had earned the enmity of King Louis XV's mistress, Madame du Barry. Du Barry had begun life as Jeanne Bécu, a common prostitute before she had been noticed by the king and become his lover. Marie-Antoinette felt it was beneath her dignity as a Hapsburg princess to talk to a lady with such a past. Du Barry therefore set about to make Marie-Antoinette's life as miserable as possible. She began turning the king against his granddaughter-in-law and once tipped a bucket of dirty water on Antoinette's head as she walked underneath her window.

Marie-Antoinette's first child was born at Versailles December 19, 1778. She was forced to endure the humiliation of a public birth in her Bedchamber, in front of hundreds of courtiers. The Queen actually passed out through a combination of embarrassment and pain. It was the last time such a ritual was permitted as Marie-Antoinette refused to give birth in public ever again.

The baby was a girl and she was christened Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte. The royal infant was created "Princess Royal" or Madame Royale, since she was the eldest daughter of the King of France.

Despite the fact that the country had desired a boy, Marie-Antoinette was delighted with a girl. "A son would have belonged to the state," she said, "but you shall be mine, and have all my care; you shall share my happiness and soften my sorrows."

Marie Thérèse of France (December 19, 1778 - October 19, 1851) was allowed to leave France once the Terror was over, on the eve of her seventeenth birthday, She exchanged for some prominent French prisoners and taken to Vienna, her mother's birthplace. After her marriage to her cousin, Louis Antoine, Duke of Angoulême, the eldest son of the future Charles X, she was known as the Duchess of Angoulême. Marie Thérèse became the Dauphine of France upon the accession of her father-in-law to the throne of France in 1824.

Marie-Thérèse in Vienna in 1796 

Marie Antoinette eventually had four children:
Marie Thérèse of France
Louis Joseph, Dauphin of France (October 22, 1781)
Louis XVII of France (March 27, 1785)
Sophie of France (July 9, 1787)

Marie-Antoinette was devoted to her children and very involved in taking care of them. Speaking of her youngest son, Louis-Charles, she said, "Mon chou d'amour is charming, and I love him madly. He loves me very much too, in his own way, without embarrassment."

Marie Antoinette Queen of France with her three eldest children, By Marie Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

In 1787, Marie-Antoinette's youngest daughter, Sophie-Béatrix, died shortly before her first birthday. The Queen was devastated and spent hours weeping over the baby's body.

Not long after, the Royal Physicians informed Marie that her eldest son, the Dauphin Louis-Joséph, was terminally ill with consumption. The child's condition deteriorated and Marie-Antoinette spent most of her time nursing him during his last agonizing months. On June 4, 1789, Louis-Joséph died at the age of seven. Immediately, some of Marie-Antonette's enemies began to spread rumors that she had poisoned her own son.

Bust of the Dauphin Louis Josep hy Louis Pierre Deseine (1749-1822) - Wikipedia Commons


Upon the death of Louis XV on May 10, 1774, the Dauphin ascended the throne as King Louis XVI of France and Navarre, and Marie Antoinette became the Queen. Soon she was meddling in politics in the Austrian interest and shocking the French court by disregarding its strict etiquette.

Once she became Louis’ queen Marie Antoinette developed a gambling habit and some courtiers began a whispering campaign against her. For her twenty-first birthday, she participated in a three-day long gambling party, in which huge amounts of money changed hands.

Marie-Antoinette began spending more and more money, since she had no real idea of its value. As well as gambling, the Queen had two other major weaknesses; clothes and diamonds. She was nicknamed "Madame Deficit" as many people felt her extravagance was bankrupting her country.

Marie Antoinette acquired a dissolute reputation in 1785 from the "Diamond Necklace Affair." Public opinion was much excited by the false accusations that she criminally participated in defrauding the jewelers Boehmer and Bassenge of the cost of a very expensive diamond necklace they had created originally for Madame du Barry. She successfully sued Lord George Gordon for libel in 1788 when he accused her of fraud over the necklace, but the affair proved to be extremely damaging to her reputation, from which she never recovered.

Copy of the diamond necklace, Le Collier de la Reine, Château de Breteuil, France

Marie Antoinette,was nicknamed the Baker's wife after her husband distributed bread to the starving Parisians during a bread shortage. On being told that the people had no bread to eat she proclaimed "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche" ("let them eat cake.")

Anyone who was decently dressed was permitted to come and watch the royals eating their dinner. King Louis ate enormous amounts of food, whilst Marie-Antoinette consumed almost nothing when she was in public.


Marie Antoinette was famous for her beautiful looks and charm. According to the English contemporary Nathaniel Wraxall, physically she had an "elevated manner, lofty demeanor and graces of deportment."

Marie Antoinette's beauty regimen began with a special facial cleanser called Eau Cosmetique de Pigeon that was literally made of pigeons.

Marie Antoinette was more fulfilled by fashion than by her husband. She created looks with Rose Bertin her dressmaker designer on a weekly basis.

Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun controversial 1783 portrait Marie Antoinette en chemise, was viewed by her critics to be improper for a queen.

She owned a famous diamond, the Hope Diamond, a 44.5 carat walnut sized stone, which has brought ill luck and violent death to many of its owners.

When bathing Marie Antoinette was so modest she always wore a gown buttoned up to her neck in the bath.

After she turned thirty, Marie-Antoinette began to dress with more constraint. She abandoned the more elaborate wigs which had been festooned with jewels and feathers and she refused to buy any more jewels for her personal collection.

Sometimes she wore a dress decorated with paper flowers to encourage the masses to eat tubers. To popularize the growing of potatoes she wore potato blossoms in her hair.


Marie Antoinette had a sweet tooth; she loved meringues, even making them with her own hands. the queen was also partial to a pastille stuffed with chocolate paste,

As time went on, Marie Antoinette began spending less time living at the palace and more time at La Petit Trianon, which was a small château in the palace grounds. The property was renovated for her and the costs soon spiraled out of control, especially whenever the gardens were re-designed to suit the queen's new tastes.

 hameau de la reine by the artificial lake in the gardens of the Petit Trianon. By Jean-Christophe Benoist - Wikipedia commons

Marie Antoinette took French leave from the hassles of court life at La Petit Trianon where she had a mock farm. There, dressed as a milkmaid, she cared for her perfumed sheep and goats.

The French queen was a musical glass player and was very fond of the "Carillion National," which she constantly played on her harpsichord.

The sentimental ballad “My Heart Cries for You" was a hit for Guy Mitchell in 1950. The music is from an old French song attributed to Marie Antoinette " La jardinière du Roi". The chorus "My heart cries for you, Sighs for you, dies for you..." is original and does not appear in the French song.

Marie Antoinette was a yo yo enthusiast as was her son son Dauphin Louis Charles. The toy became associated with aristocratic French families fleeing the guillotine.


In the days following the storming of the Bastille, the emigration of members of the high aristocracy began, On October 5, 1789 a crowd from Paris descended upon Versailles and forced the royal family, to move to the Tuileries Palace in Paris, where they lived under a form of house arrest under the watch of La Fayette's Garde nationale

Louis XVI had allies beyond France's borders who wanted to see him regain the throne. The king and queen planned an escape and broke from the Tuileries on the night of June 21, 1791, under the guise of servants. The royal family reached Varennes, 142 miles from Paris, where they were arrested at the house of the registrar of passports, by Citizen Drouet, the local postmaster. He had been alerted by a message received from nearby Sainte-Menehould, where the escaping party had spent the previous night. A merchant there had alerted the town authorities of their presence after recognizing the King's face on an Assignat, as Louis tried to buy something from a grocery store.

Arrest of the royal family at Varennes, night of 21–22 June 1791, by Thomas Falcon Marshall (1854).

During the night of June 21-22, the queen's hair had, according to Mme Campan, Marie Antoinette's first lady-of-the-bedchamber, "turned white as those of a seventy-year old woman.”

The royal family was brought back to their quarters at the Tuileries, where they were kept under heavier watch. The disastrous flight to Varennes discredited the monarchy.

King Louis XVI was put on trial for treason by the National Convention found guilty and guillotined on January 21 1793. The queen, now called "Widow Capet", plunged into deep mourning.

After Louis' execution, Marie Antoinette's fate became a central question of the National Convention. She was confined to an isolated cell in the Conciergerie as 'Prisoner n° 280' from August 1, 1793. Her single room  was 12-ft long, 8 ft broad and 4 ft underground.

Marie Antoinette's cell in the Conciergerie . (Photo: André Lage Freitas. By André Lage Freitas - Wikipedia Commons85
She owned a little spaniel, known as Thisbe, who was with the queen and her family when they were imprisoned  at the Tuileries. When Louis XVI was guillotined, the pup stayed with the queen and her children, but they were separated when the queen was imprisoned in the Conciergerie.

Marie Antoinette was tried for treason in 1793. When bought into court to hear her sentence she was asked if she had anything to offer against it. She replied "nothing." and was sentenced to be guillotined.

On August 28, 1793 the Chevalier de Rougeville visited Marie Antoinette in a final attempt to save her from the guillotine. He threw a carnation behind the stove and signaled to her. When the queen was left alone she picked up the flower and found behind the petals a tiny note. Money was being raised to bribe her guard, Gilbert. She used a needle to prick out the answer on a piece of paper, which she handed to Gilbert. The guard in two minds waited for five days before telling his superiors.

On the day of Marie Antoinette's execution, her hands were tied behind her back and her greying locks were cut off.  For an hour and a half the queen dealt with a procession at nearly a mile long of the masses shouting abuse at her. She did not respond or complain, looking around her with a calm and dignified air.

Marie Antoinette climbed up the scaffold to more jeers and smiled. As she was standing on the platform about to be guillotined, she accidentally stepped on Samson the executioner's foot. "Monsieur" she said ""Pardon me. I meant not to do it," Her last words were "Farewell children, forever, I am going to your father" and at 12:15 p.m. on October 16, 1793 she was executed.

Marie Antoinette's execution on 16 October 1793: Samson, the executioner, showing Marie Antoinette's head to the people.

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