Marie Antoinette in a Muslin dress by Louise Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun
Occupation: Queen of France
Born: November 2, 1755 in Vienna, Austria
Died: October 16, 1793 in Paris, France
Best known for: The last Queen of France who was beheaded during the French Revolution
Where was Marie Antoinette born?
Marie Antoinette was born in Vienna, Austria on November 2, 1755. She was the youngest daughter of Emperor Francis I and Empress Maria Theresa. Young Marie grew up as a wealthy princess. She had private tutors and lived in large palaces in Austria. She spent much of her time with her closest sister in age, Maria Carolina.
Marrying a Prince
At the age of eleven, Marie was promised in marriage to the Prince of France. This wasn't the romantic marriage of a princess and prince that you see in the movies. This marriage was meant to form an alliance between the countries of Austria and France. At the age of 15, Marie was married to the prince from a distance. She had never met her husband. A month later, she finally met the prince and they had another marriage ceremony together.
An Extravagant Queen
In 1774, the king of France, Louis XV, died and Marie's husband was crowned King Louis XVI. This made Marie the Queen of France. Marie loved the idea of being queen. She spent lavishly on new decorations at the palace, exotic dresses, jewelry, and fancy hairdos.
At the same time that Marie Antoinette was spending France's money on her extravagant living, the economy of France was struggling. The average person in France didn't have enough money to buy bread to feed their families. The people began to blame Marie, the Austrian Princess, for their problems. Enemies of the king began to spread rumors about her wild living, free spending, and love affairs.
Queen Marie Antoinette of France and Two of Her Children Walking in the Park of Trianon by Adolf Ulrik Wertmuller
The Diamond Necklace Scandal
In 1778, Marie had her first child, a daughter named Maria. She would go on to have four children including her first son, prince Louis Joseph(called the Dauphin). She began to get more involved in politics, often supporting her home country of Austria. She also toned down her lifestyle and began to spend less.
Despite her changes, the people were willing to believe just about any gossip that was spread about the queen. One such story had to do with a very expensive diamond necklace that the king offered to buy the queen. The queen turned it down twice, saying it was too expensive. However, a group of con artists hatched a plan to steal the necklace. They claimed to represent the queen. Even though Marie had nothing to do with the plan, she was blamed by many and her reputation only grew worse.
Let Them Eat Cake
According to one popular story, when Marie was asked what the people should do when they had no bread to eat, Marie replied "Let them eat cake." While this story is most likely not true, it was stories and gossip like this about the queen and king that caused the people to revolt in the French Revolution.
The French Revolution Begins
The French Revolution began with the Storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. At first, it looked like the king would remain in control. However, a few months later on October 5, a large group of women and men marched from Paris to the Palace of Versailles. They rioted outside the palace for some time until some of the protestors managed to find a way in. The queen and her ladies had to run from the protesters to the king's bedchamber to avoid being killed.
Later, the crowd demanded to see the queen. She was forced to stand on a balcony in front of the crowd while they yelled at her and pointed guns at her. At first, she brought her children out with her, hoping the protesters would have pity on her. But they demanded the children leave. Marie stood in front of the crowd for some time, praying they wouldn't kill her. Eventually, the Marquis de Lafayette, acting as peacemaker, knelt and kissed her hand. The crowd, impressed by the queen's courage, allowed her to live.
An Escape Attempt
The people then forced Marie and the king to move from Versailles to Paris, where they were basically held as prisoners. On June 20, 1791, they tried to escape. They got as far as the town of Varennes before they were arrested and forced to return to Paris.
Marie Antoinette's Execution in 1793 at the Place de la Revolution by Unknown
Trial and Execution
Over the next few years, the government of France was in turmoil. On January 21, 1793, King Louis XVI was executed. Later that year, the French government announced a time of "Terror", when anyone against the revolution would be executed. Not long after the Reign of Terror began, Marie Antoinette was brought to trial. She was found guilty and was executed by guillotine on October 16, 1793.
Interesting Facts about Marie Antoinette
Many people blamed Marie Antoinette for France's financial difficulties earning her the nickname "Madame Deficit."
She sometimes wore giant hairdos that rose up to four feet tall. One time she had a large model of a French warship woven into her hair to commemorate a French naval victory.
Two of her favorite things were chocolate and flowers. She employed her own chocolate maker and often started the day with a cup of hot chocolate.
Marie and her husband, King Louis XVI, were very different. While she enjoyed wild parties and dancing, he liked to read and make furniture.