Marie Antoinette is one of the most well-known queens in all of history. But how much do you really know about her? Here are fifteen interesting facts about Marie-Antoinette.
|MA at 13 - painting by van Meytens|
15. She married the dauphin Louis-Auguste Bourbon, the future King Louis XVI (XVI is 16, in case you are not proficient in your Roman numerals) at the ripe old age of fourteen and would go on to become queen of France at age 18. Of course, Louis was older than Marie...by one year! They were initially married by proxy in April 1770, then in person the following month. The May wedding took place at the Royal Chapel at Versailles where the bride wore a gown with diamonds and pearls. I am guessing her proxy did not don such jewels...
|The Royal Wedding, May 16, 1770|
14. She was not French. In fact, she was from one of the most (if not THE most) powerful dynasties in Europe - the Austrian Hapsburgs. She was born in Vienna, the 15th of 16 children, and named Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna Hapsburg.
|MA's mother - Maria Theresa Hapsburg - Painting by van Meytens|
However, upon her marriage she was forced to take on the more French sounding Antoinette. And if you did not put the obvious together, that makes her Austrian (not French) by birth...and explains why her nickname in France was...
13. L'Autrichienne (a double entendre meant to sound like "the Austrian bitch"). She also was called Madame Déficit, Madame Veto, and all kinds of other not-so-nice names and was the brunt of many crude political cartoons, salacious skits, dirty songs, and pornographic pamphlets (see below).
|A pornographic pamphlet attributed to French playwright François-Marie Mayeur|
12. She and Louis XVI did not consummate their marriage for seven years! This meant no royal babies, which in turn led to much speculation about why. It is believed that Louis had a physiological condition called phimosis that made sexual excitement quite painful. It would take him those seven years to build up the courage to have a procedure to correct the problem, but in the meantime, the true cause was obviously not common knowledge. Instead, his subjects made up songs. Like the one that took his hobby as a locksmith and created a little ditty about whether or not the locksmith would ever get the key in the keyhole...
|Louis XVI Painting by Callet|
11. Marie Antoinette had four children; a daughter (Marie Thérèse), a son (Louis Joseph Xavier François), another son (Louis XVII), and a daughter (Sophie Hélène Béatrice). Two of Marie Antoinette's four children preceded her in death and died prior to the onset of the French Revolution. The eldest son, Louis Joseph at the age of seven of tuberculosis, and Sophie died at 11 months, also of tuberculosis. Louis XVII's brief life, however, would be claimed by the French Revolution, although not by guillotine, but by neglect and abuse at the hands of his jailor. Marie Thérèse was the only of Marie Antoinette's children to life a long life, though most of it in exile.
|MA with her four children - painting by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun|
10. Marie Antoinette had a penchant for fashion and spent obscene amounts money on looking good, thereby genuinely earning the nickname "Madame Déficit." She had an obsession with clothes and shoes (I get it, I really do!); however, it is her love of some seriously preposterous wigs that make me scratch my head and wonder, WTH?! While it was fashionable for the aristocracy and bourgeoisie of the 18th-century to be coiffed with powdered wigs with some height to them (appropriately called poufs), Marie Antoinette took these poufs to new heights. Literally. Probably her most infamous was the ship wig. I look at this like my kids look at photos of me mid-1980's - all neon and lace. Yikes.
|Marie Antoinette sports a ship on her head|
9. Despite what popular culture says, historically speaking, she never said, "Let them eat cake." EVER. It was most likely propaganda to stir up further animosity toward the queen (as if people needed more reason to hate her...) It was probably so easily believed because Marie Antoinette was genuinely oblivious to the plight of her people. She was so wrapped up in her own world that she never considered that the average French citizen was starving or paying over a month's salary for a loaf of bread.
|Photo from http://lovemirandamarie.blogspot.com/|
8. Marie Antoinette was fascinated by peasant life...not the life of the real peasants who were her overtaxed and underfed subjects, but the ones who lived happily in her imagination. In fact, she so romanticized the life of a simple peasant (especially the shepherdess - la bergere) that she had her own hamlet built on the grounds of Versailles. This was to serve as her escape from the harrowing life of the palace. Her hamlet includes her boudoir, several gardens, a mill, a farm and she even owned perfumed sheep. Because, you know...peasants preferred to spend their money on perfume for their sheep instead of bread for their families...
|The Farmhouse at the Queen's Hamlet (photo: J. Boyer-Switala)|
|The Farmhouse at the Queen's Hamlet (photo: J. Boyer-Switala)|
7. She may or may not have had an affair with a stud of a Swedish meatball named Count Hans Axel von Fersen. According to Marie Antoinette biographer Antonia Fraser, there is no doubt about it. She states, "The idea of a great pure love that is never consummated, although propagated by some sympathetic historians, does not seem to fit the facts of human nature." And fact is, the court at Versailles (or any royal court for that matter!) made bed hopping a favorite past time. Moral or immoral, taking on lovers outside of marriage was part of court culture for centuries. Well, except Louis XVI who was the first French king in over 200 years to NOT have a mistress! But, when you consider that most marriages were indeed political in nature, it stands to reason that one would be drawn toward intimacy with a soul mate.
|Count Hans Axel von Fersen - MA's favorite Swedish dish|
6. Marie Antoinette was additionally accused of debauchery that included participation in orgies and even lesbian trysts with her BFF, the Princess de Lamballe. While she did have a bad gambling habit, her other past times were not nearly as unscrupulous as the libelles (think 18th-century tabloids) made them out to be.
|Libelle of Marie Antoinette embracing the Duchesse de Polignac|
But during the revolution, the common citizen held on to those twisted thoughts and used them to further abuse and torment Marie Antoinette. During the September Massacres, the sans-culottes murdered, then mutilated the dead body of Princess de Lamballe. They severed her head and placed it on a pike then dragged her dead body around the streets of Paris for two days. You can be sure they found their way to the imprisoned Marie Antoinette, and forced the grief-stricken queen to look at her best friend's severed head that had been torn from her lifeless body. There were even perverse calls from the crowd demanding the queen kiss the decapitated princess.
|The Princess de Lamballe in happier days|
5. Speaking of affairs and scandal, there was the whole diamond necklace debacle known simply as L'Affaire. The scandal involved a 2,800 carat diamond necklace, a spurned Valois woman, a wealthy cardinal, a prostitute, some forged letters, a secret rendezvous, a rose, and, of course, the unsuspecting queen. The story is long and complicated (perhaps fodder for another blog!) but rest assured, it did nothing for MA's reputation.
|2,800 carats of trouble|
4. During her trial, Marie Antoinette was accused of a bevy of crimes. She did not put up a fight for any allegation until one member of the tribunal accused her of incest. When asked if she had anything to say about this, she stood up, vehemently denied such abominable actions, and appealed to the sympathy and sensibility of the mothers in the courtroom. These were the only charges brought against her that were dropped.
|Marie Antoinette defending herself against false charges of incest|
3. She was executed by beheading on 16 October 1793. As she mounted the scaffold and made her way toward the guillotine, she inadvertently stepped on the executioner's foot. Her last words on this earth were, "Pardonez-moi, monsieur. Je ne l'ai pas fait exprés." (Pardon me, sir. I did not mean to). After she was beheaded, the executioner exhibited her head to a cheering crowd (see below), then her body was dumped in an unmarked mass grave (not a very royal burial!) in the cemetery located at La Madeleine.
|Marie Antoinette's Execution (print from British Museum)|
|Place de la Concorde, Paris - where MA (and Louis) were executed (Photo: J. Boyer-Switala)|
|Marker at Place de la Concorde (photo: J. Boyer-Switala)|
2. Had she survived, Marie Antoinette would have settled in my home state, Pennsylvania! Some of her émigré friends set up an place of respite where the queen and her children were to join them. This is located in Bradford County, PA and is known as the French Azilum. Of course the queen never made it, and the émigrés were eventually repatriated by Napoleon Bonaparte.
|La Grande Maison (photo courtesy of frenchazilum.com)|
1. She is buried at St. Denis Basilica...maybe... As mentioned in #3, after her execution, her body was irreverently tossed in an unmarked mass grave at La Madeleine cemetery. During the Bourbon Restoration (1815), some bones of both Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were exhumed and taken to St. Denis Basilica where they joined all but a handful of France's royalty. But was it really the bodies of Louis and Marie? There was no DNA testing in 1815, and although some people guessed (based on a garter around the thigh bone of a skeleton, I believe), we can not be 100% certain.
|Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette - St. Denis Basilica, Paris (Photo: J. Boyer-Switala)|
Marie Antoinette was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She took the blame for problems that had been accumulating in France for centuries. Lack of rights and no voice in government for the average citizen, political corruption, numerous (and expensive!) wars, and royal extravagance. She began as a teenage girl who made poor choices that most adolescent girls make...except she was the queen of France (most teenage girls do not have that one with which to contend!) If she was guilty of anything, it was ignorance, frivolity, and naïveté Fiscal frugality was never her strong suit, so when the nation is starving and you're wearing a ship on your head that cost thousands...well, it is only a matter of time before you're head winds up being separated from your body.