The revolution in France of 1978 is one of the most important events in human history. It is important because it overthrew a powerful monarchy and introduced new principles of democratic government. The revolution was extremely violent, killing both the French king and thousands of citizens. France was in chaos as one group of revolutionaries after another failed to establish firm government. Eventually, the French army seized power, led by its most successful general, Napoleon Bonaparte.1 During the French revolution, Louis XVI was the reigning king. He was married to Marie Antoinette, a pleasure-loving woman. Marie Antoinette was a queen of France as the wife of Louis XVI, a king who was shy and stupid rather than a bad or cruel and preferred hunting to governing his country. Marie Antoinette was a daughter of Maria Theresa of Austria. She married Louis in 1770, four years before he ascended to the throne. Marie Antoinette enjoyed great popularity at first.2 Gradually, however, members of the royal court turned against her, as she ignored French advisors and continued to depend on Austrian relatives for guidance. In other words, Marie Antoinette enchanted her small circle of friends but created the image of an untrustworthy foreigner and prodigal spendthrift opposed to the reforms proposed by the king’s ministers. Also, her extravagant behavior and apparent unconcern for the welfare of the people brought their hatred upon her. According to legend, she responded the news that the people had no bread by saying, “Let them eat cake.”3
At the beginning of the French revolution in 1789, Marie Antoinette opposed the moderate reformers, and constantly plotted to restore the power of monarchy. But in the long run, Marie Antoinette4—whose brother was Holy Roman Emperor and the ruler of Austria— urged Louis to leave France and seek foreign assistance. The royal family attempted flight in 1971, but was intercepted and held prisoner. During imprisonment, Marie Antoinette acted with courage and dignity. Louis accepted the new constitution limiting his authority and eventually was put to death early in 1793. The queen was placed on trial, and in October was guillotined.5
The intents of this paper are to: (1) know who really Marie Antoinette was; (2) be aware of how Marie Antoinette spent her childhood days; (3) learn how she became a queen; (4) know why French people hated her; (5)figure out how was she as a mother; (6) know how she responded to French Revolution; (7) learn about how she dealt life while she was in prison and; (8) know how she was executed and buried and;
A. Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette’s original name was “Maria Antonia Josefa Johonna von Habsburg-Lothringen” but it was changed to Marie Antoinette when she married to Louie XVI and later became more familiar in the history as Marie Antoinette.6 She was born in November 2, 1755 and was an Archduchess of Austria and subsequently promoted as Queen of France when her husband was crowned as king of France. She was the youngest daughter of Francis I and Maria Theresa— queen of Hungary and Bohemia and an archduchess of Austria— and most beautiful amongst with her other siblings.7
B. How Marie Antoinette spent her childhood days?
Maria Antonia was born in Vienna. Her name “Maria Antonia Josefa Johonna” was given to her during her christening to venerate the significant people, including saints, in their lives and these are the following: “Maria” was given to her to honor Virgin Mary;8 “Antonia” was for Saint Anthony of Padua; “Josefa” was named after her brother Archduke Josef; and “Johanna” was for Saint John the Evangelist. Maria Antonia had three older brothers named “Joseph, Leopold, and Ferdinand Karl”, an older sister named Maria Carolina and a younger sibling named Maximilian and showed their authority over the Habsburg Empire.9
Antonia witnessed how her mother ruled as a leader. Though her mother, Maria Theresa, was a strong leader and her own people loved her. Antonia’s mother was a busy empress yet she was able to manage in supervising her children’s needs as much as she desired to but the education of Antonia was overlooked by Maria Theresa since she tolerated the actions of the beautiful and high-spirited young girl.10 Antonia had more time playing rather than studying, though she was excellent in her music lessons and became a very good harpist and dancer.11 Compared with other royal couples—who married because of arranged or fixed marriage in order to retain its power—Antonia’s parents joined in marriage because of love and really enjoyed their family life. Though Antonia’s family belonged in a royal family yet they are causal and simple. Antonia respected and loved her mother so much but she was closer to her good-natured father, Francis I. But Antonia’s life turned gloomy when her beloved father died at the age of 56 because of stroke.12
A. How she became a queen of France and how was she as a queen?
A couple of years passed after Antonia’s father died, her mother had made an arranged marriage for Antonia to a crown prince of France in order to have an alliance between Austria and France. At the age of 14 in 1770, Antonia went to France to be married. At that time, Louis was just 15 years old and was fat, awkward and shy. Louis disregarded his responsibilities and chose to be involved in hunting and worked in his locksmith shop.13 And not only that, he suffered too from a sickness called phimosis that stopped him from procreating for the first seven years of their marriage with Antonia. And since the public did not know the real condition of the king, because it was a secret matter, they blamed Antonia for not having children and become leaders in the future—Antonia was frequently blamed with the things that she cannot control. 14Compared to the court of Maria Theresa, the court of Versailles was more rigid and Antonia never mined it but rather expressed her feelings like yawing and giggling publicly during royal ceremonies. As time progressed, Antonia turned to be more rebellious and always insisted to go out by herself or accompany with a couple of companions rather than served and surrounded by servants. She chose her own set of friends and outfits and refused to wear stays and corsets. When Antonia’s brother went to France and visited her in the court, he refuted that his sister was not an ill-mannered person and not neglecting her duties. When the father of Louis died in 1774, Louis inherited the throne and became a king.15 During his coronation; Antonia was erroneously quoted as joking, “If they have no bread, then let them eat cake”. But there was no proof that she really stated it. When Antonia learned regarding the bread scarcity she wrote: 16
“It is quite certain that in seeing the people who treat us so well despite their own misfortune, we are more obliged than ever to work hard for their happiness. The king seems to understand this truth; as for myself, I know that in my whole life (even if I live for a hundred years) I shall never forget the day of the coronation”17
The royal family received an appreciation from the people and Antonia, now called Marie Antoinette, was admired in spite of the cost of the coronation which was nearly 7,000 livres for Louis’ new crown and the magnificent gown for Marie Antoinette that was ordered from the fashion house of Paris whose designer was Rose Bertin.18 After the crowning, Marie Antoinette tried to get again Étienne François, duc de Choiseul back to the court because he was drove out by Madame du Barry because of his allegiance to Marie Antoinette and with Austria. But Marie Antoinette was not successful with her attempt in taking back Étienne François, duc de Choiseul.19 Subsequently, when Marie Antoinette attempted to have her friend (the duc de Guines) assigned as ambassador to England, the King stated that: “I have made it quite clear to the queen that he cannot serve in England or in any other Embassy”.20 This would only show that Marie Antoinette had no political control to King Louie XVI. In August 1775, the sister-in-law of Marie Antoinette, Marie Thérèse and the wife of the Comte d’Artois, delivered her first baby and because of this, Marie Antoinette was pressured by her people to have her own son. When she learned about it, Marie Antoinette wept in her room and was quite distress.21 But three years after the coronation of King Louis XVI, he had undergone to a minor surgery that gave him a chance to have children. Antonia’s first child named Marie Theresa Charlotte (eventually called Madame Royale) was born after one year of surgery.22
B. Why French people hated her?
A couple of French people had hatred on Marie Antoinette because she was an Austrian blood and because of her playful manner. Marie Antoinette was speculated to have several affairs.23 The most speculated affair was with a Swedish diplomat named Count Hans Axel Fersen. Count Hans Axel Fersen was one of the favorites of Marie Antoinette but it was uncertain that they had a relationship. Moreover, Marie Antoinette was named too as Madame Deficit because she was held liable for the financial problems in their country. It was really true that Marie Antoinette lived in an extravagant life but Maria Theresa sent her a message “to warn her against such extravagance”.24 But though she lived in an abundant lifestyle but she was not that spoiled as the citizen of France thought. When Marie Antoinette became more matured, she turned to be less wasteful. She attempted to change her persona by dressing up simple outfits and posed together with her children in portraits. But in spite of her efforts, it had still no impact to the callous public.25
C. How was she as a mother?
On December 19, 1778, Marie Antoinette delivered her first baby. In her first baby, she was pushed to bear the shame in her bedchamber, before the numerous courtiers. But in her other children, she refused to deliver a baby in public again.26 The child was named as Marie Thérèse Charlotte and was made “Princess Royal” or “Madame Royale” because she was the first daughter of King Louis XVI. Though the public wanted to have a boy but Marie Antoinette was very happy to have a daughter and she stated that: “A son would have belonged to the state; but you shall be mine, and have all my care; you shall share my happiness and soften my sorrows”.27 After Marie Antoinette gave birth to Marie Thérèse Charlotte, she had bore three more children namely Louis Joseph (born in 1781), Louis Charles (born in 1785), and Sophie Béatrix (born in 1786).28
D. How she responded to French Revolution?
Several of the French aristocrats wholeheartedly backed up the American Revolution. When the American Revolution had started, it was also the time of King Louis XVI reigning as king of France. King Louis XVI surreptitiously supported the colonies then subsequently helped them explicitly.29 Many believed that the colonies had the tendency to lose in the battle if there was no support from France. During the governance of King Louis XVI, the French marquis—who turned to be an American general—named Lafayette was at Versailles and he was uneasy when he was in the place. In the beginning, Marie Antoinette thought that Lafayette was just a farmer or country-dweller.30 But as Lafayette went back from the American Revolution, Marie Antoinette’s attitude towards Lafayette was changed and she assigned Lafayette as “commander-in-chief of the King’s Dragoons”. During 1789, the French Revolution flared up. As Marie Antoinette learned about the attack, she remained quiet and composed. She stated that: “I know they have come from Paris to demand my head, but I learned from my mother not to fear death and I shall await it with firmness”.31 In other words, she was not afraid to be killed but stood firm as queen.
E. How she dealt life while she was in prison?
It was not easy for Marie Antoinette when her husband, King Louis XVI, died. One of her daughters stated that: “She no longer had any hope left in her heart or distinguished between life and death”. Marie Antoinette started to faint and experienced seizure. In addition, she had no appetite anymore and because of that, her weight declined. In 1793 of July 3, a couple of commissioners appeared in the royal family’s cell and had instructions to take the son of Marie Antoinette from his family and he was declared as Louis XVII after the death of his father.32 The republican administration had come to a conclusion to detain and seclude the eight-year-old son of Marie Antoinette. Marie Antoinette’s son cried loudly and went to his mom’s arms and as a mother; she embraced her son and refused to give up her son. In order to get her son, the commissioners threatened Marie Antoinette that if she refused to give her son, they will kill her but Marie Antoinette was not moved.33 But when the commissioners told her that they will kill her daughter, Marie Thérèse, Marie Antoinette had come into realization that there was no other way but to release her son. The commissioners went out from the royal family’s cell after two hours of negotiation to Marie Antoinette to release her son and they truly succeed. Marie Antoinette and her son did not see each other again since from that time.34 In 1793 of August 2, Marie Antoinette was separated from her daughter and sister-in-law and relocated her across Paris to the Conciergerie Prison. Marie Antoinette was re-named as “the Widow Capet” and eventually called as “Antoinette Capet” or “Prisoner No. 280”.35 Marie Antoinette’s needs were attended by a peasant girl named Rosalie Lamorlière. In 1793 of August 29, Marie Antoinette had a visitor named Alexandre Gonsse de Rougeville, a loyalist who gave her a secret message that was kept in the petals of the carnation. The message notified her to prepare herself for a planned rescue. But the plan was not carried out because the guards seized her response.36
F. How she was executed and buried?
In October 16, 1793, a guard had “arrived to cut her hair and bind her hands at the back”. Marie Antoinette had walked on the streets of Paris for more than an hour before she reached the Place de la Révolution where the guillotine had stood. She went down from the cart and looked intently at the guillotine.37 Then the priest whispered to her, “This is the moment, Madame, to arm yourself with courage”. But she smiled and replied, “Courage? The moment when my troubles are going to end is not the moment when my courage is going to fail me”.38 At exactly 12:15, she was beheaded and her head was showed to the crowd. The remains of Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI and Louis’s sister named Madame Elisabeth were entombed in a mass grave close to La Madeleine church today.39
During French Revolution, many people believed that Marie Antoinette was no good as queen of France but the truth was; she was a very braved and courageous woman. Though there were times she committed mistakes, maybe because of her being young, but she really did her best to change herself so that the public will be pleased. She stood firm during the most trying moments of her life especially when she was about to guillotined.
Moreover, Marie Antoinette was just like with other normal 18th century woman. During this period, women were not treated equally compared to men. And in this period, the women had little rights, freedom and no room for themselves. Just like Marie Antoinette experienced. She just became significant because of what she did for her country, Austria, when she married Louis XVI for the intention to create and Alliance with France. At this time too, women were not mind though they were very honest with their feelings and they were obliged to perform their responsibilities.
1 Ken Hills, The French Revolution. Pp. 374-375
2-3 Marie Antoinette. New Standard Encyclopedia, pp. 138-139, vol. 11
4-5 Marie Antoinette. Grolier Encyclopedia of Knowledge, p. 125, vol. 12.
6-7 Marie Antoinette: Marie Antoinette’s Early Life.
8-9 Marie Antoinette. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. December 12, 2006.
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16-22 Marie Antoinette: Coronation and reign. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. December 12, 2006.
23-25 Marie Antoinette: Marie Antoinette’s Early Life.
26-28 Marie Antoinette: Motherhood. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. December 12, 2006.
29-31 Marie Antoinette: Marie Antoinette’s Early Life.
32-36 Marie Antoinette: Imprisonment. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. December 12, 2006.
37-39 Marie Antoinette: Execution and Burial. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. December 12,
Ken Hills, The French Revolution. Visual Factfinder. Pp. 374-375
Marie Antoinette. New Standard Encyclopedia, pp. 138-139, vol. 11
Marie Antoinette. Grolier Encyclopedia of Knowledge, p. 125, vol. 12.
4. Marie Antoinette: Marie Antoinette’s Early Life. http://www.royalty.nu/Europe/France/MarieAntoinette.html
5. Marie Antoinette. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. December 12, 2006.
6. Marie Antoinette: Marie Antoinette’s Early Life.
Marie Antoinette: Coronation and reign. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. December
12, 2006. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Antoinette#Coronation_and_reign