Marie Antoinette
Copyright Michael D. Robbins 2006

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Courage! I have shown it for years; think you I shall lose it at the moment when my sufferings are to end?
(Mars in Cancer opposition Saturn in Capricorn.)

I was a queen, and you took away my crown; a wife, and you killed my husband; a mother, and you deprived me of my children. My blood alone remains: take it, but do not make me suffer long.

There is nothing new except what has been forgotten.

Farewell, my children, forever. I go to your Father.
Reply to inquisitors, October 1789.

I have seen all, I have heard all, I have forgotten all.

No one understands my ills, nor the terror that fills my breast, who does not know the heart of a mother.

And I will make thee beds of roses, And a thousand fragrant posies.


Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna von Habsburg-Lothringen, usually known as Marie Antoinette; (2 November 1755 – 16 October 1793) was Queen of France and Archduchess of Austria. The daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and his wife Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria was married to Louis XVI of France at age 14. As Louis XVI's wife and mother of "lost dauphin" Louis XVII, she was guillotined at the height of the French Revolution in 1793 and subsequently interred with her husband in the royal crypt at the Saint Denis Basilica in Paris.


Marie Antoinette's mother, the Empress Maria Theresa, had ruled the Austrian Empire for fifteen years before Marie Antoinette's birth. She was considered one of the most brilliant political figures in Europe.Born at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Maria Antonia was the fifteenth child of Francis I and Empress Maria Theresa. Of the names given at her christening, Maria honoured the Virgin Mary; Antonia honoured Saint Anthony of Padua; Josepha honoured her elder brother, Archduke Josef; and Johanna honoured Saint John the Evangelist[citation needed]. The court official described the new baby as "a small, but completely healthy Archduchess." She was brought up in the company of her similarly-aged siblings Maria Carolina (two years older) and Max (one year younger); her other brothers, Joseph, Leopold and Ferdinand Karl, were already involved in the Habsburg Empire.

Legend states that Maria Antonia and the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart met as children, when Mozart gave a short musical concert for the Imperial Family. After the concert, Empress Maria Theresa asked the young Mozart what he would like as a reward. Much to the Empress' amusement, Mozart is said to have asked for the hand of Maria Antonia, her youngest daughter, in marriage.

Maria Antonia's sisters were soon married to European royalty; the eldest, Maria Christina, to the Regent of the Netherlands; Maria Amalia to the Prince of Parma; and Maria Antonia's favourite sister, Maria Carolina, to King Ferdinand of Naples.

A peace treaty, the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), had been signed, which it was hoped would end over a century and a half of intermittent fighting between Austria and France. In the following Seven Years' War (1756–1763), Austria and France were allies. In an attempt to preserve this alliance, it was proposed that Louis XV of France's heir, his grandson Louis-Auguste, marry one of Empress Maria Theresa's daughters. When her elder sisters died of smallpox, Johanna Gabriella in 1762 and Maria Josepha in 1767, Maria Antonia was next in line to be married to the French prince.

Marie Antoinette's husband, Louis-Auguste, the future Louis XVI of France.After lengthy negotiations, the official proposal for the teenage girl was made by Louis XV. in 1769. Only when the marriage treaty was signed, Maria Theresia realized that her daughter lacked sufficient knowledge of French language and customs. Teachers for language and dancing tried to prepare the girl for the role as Queen of France.

On 19 April 1770, a marriage per procurationem took place in Vienna's Augustine Church. A crying Maria Antonia left Vienna on 21 April 1770 to her mother's parting words "Farewell, my dearest child. Do so much good to the French people that they can say that I have sent them an angel."[citation needed]

Travelling with a large entourage along the Danube, then via Munich, Augsburg, Günzburg, Ulm, Freiburg im Breisgau, the Border at the Rhine between Kehl and Strasbourg was reached weeks later.

On 7 May, as a symbolic act [1], Maria Antonia was required to leave all of her Austrian attire, possessions, servants and even friends behind. On a neutral island in the river, a pavilion was erected in which the 14 year old Maria Antonia had to cross the border naked and alone, to be received by messengers from the French court, as Marie Antoinette, as she was known from now on.

Dressed in French clothing, she was then taken to Strasbourg for a Thanksgiving Mass in her honour. The streets of the city were covered in flowers, which Marie Antoinette gently picked up like "the goddess Flora". The entire city was illuminated in her honour 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 very shy. 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. The Wedding Mass was celebrated with great pomp in the Chapel Royal on 16 May 1770. Just before the wedding, Marie Antoinette was presented with the magnificent jewels that traditionally belonged to a French dauphine. 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 2 million livres. Marie Antoinette then received King Louis's own personal wedding gift. It was a fan, encrusted with diamonds.

The Dauphin and Marie Antoinette were then married in front of the court, with Marie Antoinette wearing a dress with large white hoops covered in diamonds and pearls. There was then a formal dinner, which was also held in front of the crowd. Louis-Auguste ate an enormous amount. When the king told him to eat less, the Dauphin replied "Why? I always sleep better when I have a full stomach!"

The court then conducted the young couple to their bed, which had just been blessed by the Archbishop of Reims. However, the marriage was not consummated that night. Rumours would later circulate that Louis-Auguste was impotent, but this was not the case. Nor was it true that he suffered from phimosis. Rather, it seems that no one had explained to either Louis or Marie 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.

Life as Dauphine
Since they were not having sexual intercourse, Louis and Marie Antoinette remained childless for the first 7 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 dauphine's position was not helped by the fact that she had earned the enmity of the King's mistress, Madame du Barry. Du Barry had begun life as Jeanne Bécu, a commoner who as courtesan gained the notice of nobility and eventually became Louis XV's paramour. Marie Antoinette felt it was beneath her dignity as a Habsburg 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[citation needed].

Marie Antoinette's daily routine was even more depressing. When she awoke in the morning, she was assisted out of bed and dressed by the various high-ranking noblewomen who were her ladies-in-waiting. Her dinner was also in public, which she ate with her husband. Anyone who was decently dressed was permitted to come and watch the royals eating their dinner. Louis-Auguste ate enormous amounts of food, whilst Marie Antoinette ate almost nothing when she was in public. Marie Antoinette loathed this spectacle and she complained bitterly to her mother, "I put on my rouge and wash my hands in front of the whole world!"

Homesick and melancholy, Marie Antoinette especially missed the companionship she had enjoyed with her sister, Maria Carolina. She found a substitute for this with the gentle Princesse Thérèse de Lamballe. The Princesse de Lamballe was wealthy and kind-natured; she was also absolutely devoted to Marie Antoinette. Not long after meeting Thérèse, Marie Antoinette formed a deep attachment to the beautiful aristocrat, Gabrielle, Comtesse de Polignac. She was also on excellent terms with her husband's youngest brother Charles, the Comte d'Artois.

Marie Antoinette refused to involve herself in politics, possibly because she lacked any real knowledge or interest in it. She was being spied upon by her mother's ambassador, Comte Mercy d'Argenteau, who reported with great frustration that she was doing nothing to further Austria's influence in France.

Louis-Auguste and Marie Antoinette's life changed suddenly in the afternoon of 10th May 1774 when King Louis XV died of smallpox at 3 o'clock. The courtiers rushed over to Marie Antoinette's apartments to swear allegiance to their new king, Louis XVI, and his Austrian wife, Marie Antoinette. The new king and queen fell on their knees in prayer, with Louis saying "Dear God, guide and protect us. We are too young to reign." Marie Antoinette wiped away her tears and stood with her husband to greet the courtiers who had come to pledge their loyalty to the new king and queen.

Coronation and reign
Louis XVI's coronation took place at Rheims during the height of a bread shortage in Paris. This is the context in which she is incorrectly quoted as joking, "If they have no bread, then let them eat cake!" ("Qu'ils mangent de la brioche.") Cake at this time being the common tongue for a type of French bread, using less flour. However, there is no evidence that this phrase was ever uttered by Marie Antoinette. When Marie Antoinette actually heard about the bread shortage she wrote, "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."

The royals had been greeted with an outpouring of national joy and the young queen was especially adored, despite the cost of the coronation (almost 7000 livres were spent on a new crown for Louis XVI, and Marie Antoinette's magnificent gown was ordered from the fashion house of Paris's most exclusive designer, Rose Bertin).

Shortly after the coronation, Marie Antoinette attempted to bring Étienne François, duc de Choiseul back to court. He had been banished by Madame du Barry because of his loyalty to Marie Antoinette and the alliance with Austria. However, the new queen did not have much success. Although King Louis did meet with Choiseul, he did not bring him back to court permanently. Later, when she tried to have her friend, the duc de Guines, appointed ambassador to England, Louis XVI said, "I have made it quite clear to the queen that he cannot serve in England or in any other Embassy." It was obvious that Marie Antoinette enjoyed no political influence with her husband whatsoever.

When Marie Antoinette's sister-in-law, Marie Thérèse, the wife of the Comte d'Artois, gave birth to her first child in August 1775, Marie Antoinette was subjected to cat-calls from market women asking why she had not produced a son, too. She spent the next day weeping in her rooms, much to the distress of her ladies-in-waiting, who felt she was "extremely affecting when in misfortune."

Fulfilling Marie Antoinette's determination to avoid boredom, conversation in her circle shied away from the mundane or intellectual. According to Madame Campan, one of the queen's ladies-in-waiting, "The newest songs from the Comédie, the most timely joke or pun or quip, the bon mot of the day, the latest and choicest titbit of scandal or gossip – these comprised the sole topics of conversation in the intimate group about the queen; discussion on a serious plane was banished from her court."

The queen's circle of friends was very exclusive. This caused resentment in Versailles, where the courtiers thought the queen was deliberately excluding them. Soon, she became the target of the vicious gossip of Versailles. She, however, remained oblivious.

Under the influence of d'Artois, Marie Antoinette began visiting the Paris Opéra balls in disguise. It was not long before gossips began whispering that the queen was orchestrating such events to meet with various secret lovers.

She also began spending more and more money, since she had no real idea of its value. She had three major weaknesses: clothes, gambling and diamonds. For her twenty-first birthday, she participated in a three-day long gambling party, in which huge amounts of money changed hands.

The Petit TrianonMarie Antoinette had already caused enough anger at Versailles before she started appointing her friends to places that were traditionally held by others. She made Thérèse de Lamballe the Superintendent of the Queen's Household, despite the fact that there were some aristocratic ladies with a superior claim to that job.

She then began spending less time living at the palace and more time at Le Petit Trianon, which was a small château in the palace grounds. The château was renovated for her and the costs soon spiralled out of control, especially whenever the gardens were re-designed to suit the queen's new tastes.

Vindictive rumours began that Marie Antoinette was sleeping with her brother-in-law. Illegal presses in Paris soon began printing pamphlets showing the queen and Artois as adulterous lovers. The first pamphlet was called Les Amours de Charlot et Antoinette. L'Autrichienne en Goguette showed Artois and the Queen having anal sex in a palace salon. Le Godmiché Royal (the Royal dildo) showed Marie Antoinette masturbating, and later pamphlets would suggest that she had indulged in bestiality and lesbianism. None of these charges were true, but they began to chip away at the queen's popularity with the people.

There were also wider problems affecting France at the time, for the entire country was standing on the edge of bankruptcy. The long series of wars fought by Louis XIV and Louis XV had left France with the highest national debt in Europe. French society was under-taxed and what little money was collected failed to save the economy. An anti-British clique at court persuaded Louis XVI to support the American revolutionaries in their fight for independence from George III. This decision was a disaster for France, for the cost was enormous.

Marie Antoinette's brother, Emperor Joseph II, visited her in April 1777. He had come to inquire about the state of her marriage, since the Austrians were concerned about her failure to produce a son. They went for a long walk in the grounds of Le Petit Trianon, during which Joseph criticised her gambling and her taste in friends. He also had a deep conversation with Louis XVI, in which they discussed his sexual problems. Whatever Joseph II said to Louis XVI, it obviously worked, for the marriage was soon consummated and by April 1778, the queen could happily announce that she was pregnant.

Marie Antoinette and her Children, by Marie Louise Élisabeth Vigée-LebrunMarie Antoinette's first child was born at Versailles 19th December 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. She was created "Princess Royal" or Madame Royale, since she was the oldest 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 Antoinette in 1783, portrait by her favourite artist, Marie Louise Élisabeth Vigée-LebrunMadame Royale was followed by three other children – Louis Joseph born in 1781, Louis Charles in 1785 and Sophie Béatrix in 1786.

As she grew older, Marie Antoinette became much less extravagant. She was devoted to her children and she was very involved in taking care of them. Speaking of her youngest son, Louis Charles, she said, "Mon chou d'amour ("My cabbage of love", "cabbage" being a popular term of endearment even into modern times in Europe), is charming, and I love him madly. He loves me very much too, in his own way, without embarrassment." She was also much more involved in charity work, although she had always been very generous.

After she turned thirty in 1785, Marie Antoinette also began to dress with more restraint. 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. She was, however, fiercely criticised for building a small mock-village for herself in the grounds of Versailles in 1786.

The building of these kinds of artificial villages was very popular among French aristocratic ladies, who were keen to experience a rural idyll in the comfort of their own estates. This tradition had begun with Louis XIV's greatest mistress, the beautiful Athénaïs de Montespan in the 1680s. Marie Antoinette's defenders did not think she deserved so much criticism for building the Hameau (as it was known.) Baroness d'Oberkirch complained, "Other people spent more on their gardens!" Even so, the queen was already unpopular and she could not possibly understand how much the Hameau would further damage her reputation. Many people began to see her as a clueless spendthrift who liked to play at being a shepherdess, whilst some of the real peasants lived in very hard conditions.

One of the cottages built in Marie Antoinette's private village in 1783. The cost was not as great as the queen's enemies pretended, but she was criticised for it nonethelessMain article: Affair of the diamond necklace

Louis, Cardinal de Rohan, a member of one of France's most prominent aristocratic houses, was not in the queen's favour. He had been the Envoy to Austria: personal letters of his had been intercepted, in which he bragged to friends back home that he had "bedded half the Austrian court" and that Marie Antoinette's own mother the Empress had "begged" him for her turn. He had also jested to friends in Vienna by showing them some of the pamphlets insulting Marie Antoinette's honour. His ambitions to follow in the footsteps of Cardinal Richelieu and become Prime Minister of France meant that he was desperate to return to her favour, as the position was by royal appointment, and Marie Antoinette blocked his progress at every turn.

When an impoverished aristocrat named Jeanne Saint-Rémy de Valois, Comtesse de la Motte, became aware of Rohan's desire to befriend the queen, she first became his mistress and then set about hatching an ingenious plan to make a small fortune for herself in the process.

Marie Antoinette had refused to buy a magnificent diamond necklace from the Royal Jewellers (she said the cost was too high and that the royal family preferred now to spend their money on the Navy). She became impatient with the jeweller and snapped, "Not only have I never commissioned you to make a jewel … but, what is more, I have told you repeatedly that I would never add so much as another carat to my present collection of diamonds. I refused to buy your necklace for myself; the king offered to buy it for me, and I refused it as a gift. Never mention it again."

The Comtesse de la Motte then pretended to be an intimate friend of the queen's, whilst persuading the cardinal that the queen secretly desired the necklace. He paid the 2 million livres to her (thinking she would then give it to the queen) and the Comtesse collected the necklace from the jewellers (who also thought she would give it to the queen, who would then pay them.) The Comtesse de la Motte, however, disappeared with both the jewels and the money.

When the Comtesse and the cardinal were brought to trial, the monarchy's enemies seized upon the chance to attack the queen through the scandal. They implied that it was Marie Antoinette's poor reputation which had made the whole débâcle possible. The cardinal was acquitted and Marie Antoinette was suspected of having masterminded the whole plot. Naturally, the pamphleteers delighted in suggesting that she was having affairs with both the cardinal and the Comtesse.

Popular hatred against the queen accelerated rapidly after the Affair of the Diamond Necklace. The Comtesse later escaped to England, where she continued to insult the queen and protest her own innocence.

Coupled with the political disaster of the Affair of the Necklace, the royal family also suffered some terrible personal tragedies. 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 her 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.

The French government was now seriously in debt, thanks to inefficient taxation and costly foreign wars. The king summoned a council of nobles to discuss the situation. The Assembly of Notables, as it was called, could find no solution to the government's financial crisis. So Louis XVI was left with no alternative other than to call a meeting of the Estates-General in May 1789. The Estates-General was the main representative body of the French population, but it had not been called since the reign of Louis XIII in 1614.

Within days of meeting, the Estates-General was clamouring for reforms and criticising the monarchy and its policies. However, the royal family's attentions were on other things. On 4 June, the Dauphin died at the age of seven. The king sank into sporadic bouts of clinical depression and the queen was heartbroken. Immediately, some of her enemies began to spread rumours that she had poisoned her own son.

The ultra-royalist circles at Versailles feared and resented the Estates-General. Marie Antoinette was coming to suspect that the reformists in the Estates-General were secretly working to overthrow the monarchy. On 11 July, Marie Antoinette and her brother-in-law the Comte d'Artois persuaded Louis XVI to dismiss the liberal prime minister, Jacques Necker. Marie Antoinette's ally, Baron de Breteuil was made prime minister instead.

Breteuil was a devout Roman Catholic and a committed royalist. The monarchy's enemies painted him as a ruthless tyrant, even though he did have a reputation for being very humanitarian in his treatment of opponents. Even so, the propaganda worked and Paris was gripped by fear that the royalists were planning a military attack on the city in order to force it into submission.

A large mob marched on the symbol of royal authority in Paris, the Bastille Prison and seized control of it on 14 July 1789. The Governor of the Prison was lynched and so were two ultra-right politicians. News did not reach the palace until very late that evening. When Louis XVI heard of it he asked, "This is a revolt?" to which the duc de la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt replied, "No, sire. It is a revolution."

Panic seized the palace and many courtiers fled for their lives. The Comte d'Artois fled abroad, in part due to fears he would be assassinated. Marie Antoinette's friend Duchesse de Polignac, the governess of her children, fled to Switzerland, where she continued writing to the queen. Marie Antoinette appointed the devout and disciplined Marquise de Tourzel as governess to the two surviving royal children – Princess Marie Thérèse and the new dauphin, Louis Charles.

Marie Antoinette hoped to flee also. She felt it was unwise to remain so close to Paris during the current troubles. She hoped that the king would give orders for them to move to their château at Saint-Cloud or even to another royal home at Compiègne. The queen's things were already packed, and so were her children's, however Louis decided that they would stay at Versailles. The queen could not disobey her husband and she refused to leave him.

Later, Louis XVI would realise what a mistake he had made in not leaving the Palace of Versailles when he had the chance. His decision to remain at the palace would condemn his entire family to intense suffering and trauma in the years ahead.

Bedroom of Marie AntoinetteIt was a few months before news arrived that a mob from Paris had taken the decision to march on Versailles. Rumours had spread in the city that the royals were hoarding all the grain. News reached the Palace on October 5th, with Marie Antoinette once again repeating her plea that they flee. The king refused.

Since she was aware that she was the most unpopular member of the royal family, Marie Antoinette chose to sleep on her own that evening. She left strict instructions with the Marquise de Tourzel that she was to take the children straight to the king if there were any disturbances.

In the early hours of the morning, the mob broke into the palace. The queen's guards were massacred. She and her ladies-in-waiting only narrowly escaped with their lives before the crowd burst in and ransacked her chambers. They made it to the centre of the palace; the king's bedchamber. The king's younger sister, Princess Elisabeth, was already there. The two children arrived and the doors were locked.

By this time, a large crowd had gathered in the palace's courtyard and were demanding that the queen come to the balcony. She appeared in her night-robe, accompanied by her two children. The crowd demanded that the two children be sent back inside. So the queen stood alone for almost ten minutes, whilst many in the crowd pointed muskets at her. She then bowed her head and returned inside. Some in the mob were so impressed by her bravery that they cried "Vive la Reine!" ("Long live the Queen!")

The Royals were forced to return with the mob to Paris. They were taken to the dilapidated Tuileries Palace, which had last been used during the reign of Louis XIV. The Marquis de la Fayette, a liberal aristocrat who had embraced many American ideas when he fought for George Washington, was placed in charge of the royal family's security. When he met the queen he bluntly told her, "Your Majesty is a prisoner. Yes, it's true. Since Her Majesty no longer has her Guard of Honour, she is a prisoner." Other royal "prisoners" included Louis XVI's sister, Elisabeth, and his other brother – the Comte de Provence. The Princesse de Lamballe had refused to abandon Marie Antoinette, as had the Marquise de Tourzel and several other royal servants.

Desperate to reassure her friends, Marie Antoinette sent a short note to the Austrian ambassador saying, "I'm fine, don't worry." When she appeared in public she appeared calm, serene and dignified.

From the beginning of the Revolution, Marie Antoinette remained skeptical about the chances of a compromise. However, she was not yet prepared to give up all hope of a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Certain republicans, like Antoine Barnave, were moved by her plight and many more were thoroughly impressed by her dignity. The Comte de Mirabeau, whom she despised, told many people how impressed he was with the queen's courage and "manly" strength of character.

Trying to re-establish normality, Marie Antoinette began inviting charitable commissions to the Tuileries and continued her generous patronage and desire to alleviate the suffering of the poor children of Paris. She also spent as much time as possible with her children, particularly the Dauphin, whom she affectionately nicknamed mon chou d'amour.

Public hatred against the queen was so intense that she had to attend her daughter's first Communion in disguise. The traditional gift for a Princess upon her first Communion was a set of magnificent diamonds, but both Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette decided it would be better that Marie Thérèse go without the diamonds than the people go without bread.

Meanwhile, the National Assembly was drawing up a new constitution which would turn France into a constitutional monarchy. Marie Antoinette opened secret communications with the comte de Mirabeau, a prominent member of the National Assembly who hoped to restore the authority of the crown. Nevertheless, her mistrust of Mirabeau prevented the king from following his advice. Catherine the Great wrote to Marie Antoinette from Russia, telling her that the royals should ignore the complaints of their people "as the moon goes on its course without being stopped by the cries of dogs." Louis's sister, Elisabeth, was even more vocal in her hatred of the new system. Elisabeth, like her exiled brother the Comte d'Artois, was so horrified with the French Revolution, that she believed a civil war was inevitable.

On 14 July 1790, the royal family had to attend festivities to celebrate the first anniversary of the fall of the Bastille. The queen dutifully attended, even though she described the celebrations as symbolising "everything that is most cruel and sorrowful". The king's liberal cousin, Philippe, duc d'Orléans returned from England and publicly proclaimed his support for the revolutionaries. His hatred for Marie Antoinette was extreme and she believed that he was fomenting the Revolution in order to seize the crown for himself. Ultra-royalists even whispered that the duc d'Orléans had orchestrated the siege of Versailles in the hope of having Marie Antoinette assassinated. The duke enjoyed enormous popular support amongst the people of Paris, although his Scottish mistress Grace Elliott was a secret royalist, who later admitted to having gone to Belgium on a secret mission for the queen. She carried messages to baron de Breteuil, who was now acting as Louis and Antoinette's secret Prime Minister-in-exile. With Louis now suffering from periodic depression and chronic lethargy, Marie Antoinette had taken it upon herself to appointing Breteuil. It is generally believed that she forged the official document appointing Breteuil and passed it off as the king's own handwriting.

Hope of compromise between the royals and the revolutionaries dimmed with the creation of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy in 1790. This was a republican attack on the privileges and ancient practises of the Roman Catholic Church. When news was delivered to the royal family, Marie Antoinette whispered to the Marquise de Tourzel, "The Church. The Church... we're next."

By 1791, both the king and the queen had now come to the conclusion that the Revolution was going to destroy France. They came to the decision to flee to Montmédy, a royalist stronghold in the east of France. There they would gather their supporters and any foreign assistance they could (Marie Antoinette's brother Emperor Leopold II, the Russian empress, the King of Sweden and the King of Prussia had all promised military aid.) They hoped that once they had escaped they would be able to negotiate with the revolutionaries, but they were now quite prepared to use force to stop them.

The royals' escape was foiled at the town of Varennes, when the King's face was recognized on a coin as the horses drawing the carriage were being replaced, and they were forced back to Paris by local republicans. They were returned to the Tuileries Palace, but from now on it was clear that the King and the entire royal family were enemies of the Revolution.

Marie Antoinette then tried to preserve the crown's rapidly deteriorating position by secretly negotiating with Antoine Barnave, leader of the constitutional monarchist faction in the Assembly. Barnave persuaded Louis to openly accept the new constitution in September 1791, but the queen undermined Barnave by privately urging her brother, Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, to conduct a counterrevolutionary crusade against France.

Louis's attempt, encouraged by the Queen, to regain his authority by making war with her relations in Austria, hoping that a quick defeat of France would cause the Austrians to restore the monarchy, proved disastrous. When the Duke of Brunswick, commander of the Austro-Prussian army invading France, issued a manifesto threatening Paris with destruction if the royal family were harmed, reaction in Paris was swift and brutal. Rather than heeding the Manifesto, the revolutionaries were enraged by it and they attacked the Tuileries on August 10th 1792.

Marie Antoinette's initial decision was to stand and face the mob, even if it meant doing it on her own. However, her ladies-in-waiting begged her to think of her children and she reluctantly agreed to accompany the king and his entourage when they fled the palace for the National Assembly. The Palace was invaded in their absence and the Swiss Guard were massacred. The Governor of the Tuileries, the Marquis de Champcenetz, managed to escape the mob despite incurring heavy wounds. He was sentenced to death by the revolutionaries but managed to escape Paris with the help of Mrs. Elliott.

Louis XVI was arrested by the republicans on 13th August, and just over a month later, on September 21st, the National Convention abolished the monarchy. The royal family were then moved to the forbidding Temple Fortress and imprisoned. The king, queen, their two children and Louis's sister Elisabeth were heavily guarded, lest they be rescued by royalists.

After they had been imprisoned, Paris erupted into violence. The mob invaded the prisons and massacred anyone suspected of royalist leanings. Marie Antoinette's dearest friend, the Princesse de Lamballe, was captured and told to repudiate her oath of loyalty to the queen. When she refused, she was murdered by repeated hammer-blows to the head. Her body was then torn apart and her head placed on a pike. It was taken to Marie Antoinette's window and displayed outside it. When the queen saw this horrific sight, she collapsed to the ground in a dead faint.

Louis was tried for treason on December 11th. He was condemned to death on January 17th. The duc d'Orléans voted for Louis's death. He was allowed one last farewell supper with his family and he urged his young son not to seek vengeance for his death. The queen spent the next few hours huddled against her husband, clutching their son. Marie Thérèse sobbed hysterically, whilst Elisabeth clung to her brother. Louis was taken to the guillotine the next day. When she heard the crowds cheer her husband's death, Marie Antoinette collapsed to the ground, unable to speak.

Marie Antoinette did not ever truly recover from her husband's death. According to her daughter, "She no longer had any hope left in her heart or distinguished between life and death." She began to suffer from convulsions and fainting fits. She also lost her appetite and lost an enormous amount of weight.

The Conciergerie Prison where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned before her deathOn the night of July 3, 1793, commissioners arrived in the royal family's cell with instructions to separate Marie Antoinette's son from the rest of his family. He had been proclaimed Louis XVII by exiled royalists after his father's death. The republican government had therefore decided to imprison the eight-year-old child in solitary confinement. Louis flung himself into his mother's arms crying hysterically and Marie Antoinette shielded him with her body, refusing to give him up. When the commissioners threatened to kill her if she did not hand the child over, she still refused to move. It was only when they threatened to kill Marie Thérèse that she came to realise how hopeless the situation was. Two hours after the commissioners had entered her room, Marie Antoinette had to say goodbye to her beloved son. She would never see him again.

At two o'clock in the morning of 2nd August 1793, Marie Antoinette was awoken by guards and told to get dressed. She was taken away from her daughter and sister-in-law and transferred across Paris to the Conciergerie Prison. She was re-named "the Widow Capet," after Hugh Capet, founder of the Capetian Dynasty. She was no longer to be referred to as "Marie Antoinette" but simply "Antoinette Capet" or "Prisoner No. 280." A young peasant girl, Rosalie Lamorlière, was entrusted to take care of Marie Antoinette's needs, but these were few since the queen did not ask for much.

On 2nd September, the republican journalist and politician, Jacques Hébert, told the Committee of Public Safety, "I have promised [my readers] the head of Antoinette. I will go and cut it off myself if there is any delay in giving it to me." Most republicans now felt an intense hatred for her and they were determined to see her dead.

She was brought to trial on October 14th. When she entered the courtroom, most people were shocked at her appearance. She was emaciated, prematurely aged, exhausted and care-worn. Forty witnesses were called by the prosecution. They returned to the Affair of the Necklace or alleged that the queen had plied the Swiss Guard with alcohol during the siege of the palace. The most horrific charges came whenever Hébert accused her of having sexually abused her own son. When the queen was pressed to answer this charge she replied, "If I have not replied it is because Nature itself refuses to respond to such a charge laid against a mother."

The following questions were actually put to the jury: Is it established that manoeuvres and communications have existed with foreign powers and either external enemies of the republic, the said manoeuvres, &c., tending to furnish them with assistance in money, give them an entry into French territory, and facilitate the progress of their armies? Is Marie Antoinette of Austria, the widow Capet, convicted of having co-operated in these maneuvres and maintained these communications? Is it established that a plot and conspiracy has existed tending to kindle civil war within the republic, by arming the citizens against one another? Is Marie Antoinette, the widow Capet, convicted of having participated in this plot and conspiracy?

The jury decided unanimously in the affirmative, and she was condemned to death for treason on October 15th and escorted back to the Conciergerie. She wrote her final letter known as her "Testament", to her sister-in-law Elisabeth. She expressed her love for her friends and family and begged that her children would not seek to avenge her murder.

Marie Antoinette on her way to the guillotine, by Jacques-Louis David, 1793On the morning of October 16th, a guard arrived to cut her hair and bind her hands behind her back. She was forced into a common, slow-moving cart and paraded through the streets of Paris for over an hour before reaching the Place de la Révolution where the guillotine stood. She stepped lightly down from the cart and stared up at the guillotine. The priest who had accompanied her whispered, "This is the moment, Madame, to arm yourself with courage." Marie Antoinette turned to look at him and smiled, "Courage? The moment when my troubles are going to end is not the moment when my courage is going to fail me." Legend states that her last words were "Monsieur, I ask your pardon. I did not do it on purpose," spoken after she had stepped on the executioner's foot.

At 12:15 on Wednesday October 16, 1793, Marie Antoinette was executed. Her head was exhibited to a cheering crowd. Her body was then taken and dumped in an unmarked mass grave in the Rue d'Anjou.

Marie Antoinette went down in history as a shallow, weak, self-indulgent and stupid person. Only royalists, who saw her as a martyr, viewed her any differently. They later recovered her body and reburied it in the Bourbon dynasty crypt in Paris, and they also retrieved the bodies of Louis XVI and Princess Elisabeth (who was executed in 1794).

In recent years, however, this has somewhat changed. In 1933, Stefan Zweig wrote a biography of her "Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Ordinary Woman," in which he argued the queen achieved greatness during the final years of her life thanks to her extraordinary courage. His biography was later made into a hugely successful movie starring Norma Shearer (see below.)

French historians, like André Castelot and Évelyne Lever, have generally been more critical in their biographies of Marie Antoinette; although neither has attacked her with the venom that she received during her lifetime.

The trend in recent years, however, has been to focus on Marie Antoinette's strengths rather than her weaknesses. Deborah Cadbury, in her biography of Louis XVII, praised Marie Antoinette's devotion to her family and Munro Price, in his political study on the fall of the French monarchy, wrote "Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette have often been portrayed as weak and vacillating. Far from it; their policy between 1789 and 1792 was entirely consistent, and highly conservative. They were prepared to die for their beliefs, and ultimately did so."

The most thorough biography of Marie Antoinette has come from British historian, Lady Antonia Fraser. Marie Antoinette: The Journey was first published in 2001 and became an instant bestseller. Plans are now afoot to turn it into a Hollywood movie (see below.) After reading Fraser's book, historian Simon Sebag Montefiore concluded that Marie Antoinette was "a woman more sinned against than sinning."

Marie Antoinette's life provided inspiration for the novel Trianon (first published in 1997) by author and historian, Elena Maria Vidal. Based on Vidal's painstaking research, this novel depicts pre-Revolution life at Versailles and the characters of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI with authenticity, in an attempt to dispel previous misconceptions about the royal couple. Trianon is the prequel to Madame Royale which is inspired by the life of Princess Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, daughter of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI

The only major disagreement amongst modern historians is the role played by the Swedish aristocrat, Count Axel von Fersen. There were unsubstantiated rumours at court that the dashing Fersen was at one time Marie Antoinette's lover. It is true that the two were very close and that Fersen risked his life many times to try and free her from prison. Some historians, like Evelyn Farr and Antonia Fraser, seem convinced that at one point the two did enjoy a physical relationship based on Fersen's famous line "Resté là" in his diary entry whenever he spent time with his other lovers. Others remain skeptical, arguing that there is no concrete evidence to support the idea that the two were lovers in the physical sense. Some even have claimed that Louis-Charles, later dauphin of France, was the biological child of Marie Antoinette and Fersen - this suggestion has however been rejected by Louis-Charles's most recent biographer, Deborah Cadbury.

Marie Antoinette was the beautiful Queen of France who became a symbol for the wanton extravagance of the 18th century monarchy, and was stripped of her riches and finery, imprisoned and beheaded by her own subjects during the French Revolution that began in 1789.

As her life began there was little hint of this total reversal of life's fortunes. Marie Antoinette was born in 1755 at very apex of the European social pyramid.

She was born a princess and archduchess, the 15th and the favourite daughter of Maria Teresa, Empress of Austria. The Hapsburg house of Austria was the oldest royal house of Europe, and the young princess enjoyed the relaxed environment of the Schonbrünn Palace and the indulgence of tutors her parents, brothers and sisters.

Marie Thérèse was famous Austrian empress who counted among her many accomplishments her ability to marry her many children in ways strategic to the Austrian empire. So it was with Marie Antoinette. For her pretty and favourite daughter, Marie Thérèse arranged a special marriage to cement the new alliance with France that she had concluded with Louis XV. So, Marie Antoinette was to leave Austria to the most prestigious throne in all Europe.

The life of Marie Antoinette was the stuff of dreams when she was married at age 15 to the crown prince of France, the dauphin. France was then the most powerful nation of continental Europe, and the royal palace at Versailles the most opulent. The young princess could hardly have hoped for a more prestigious marriage and her magnificent marriage ceremony in 1770 was unmatched in royal pageantry.

At the border she was stripped and re-dressed with clothing fashionable at the French court. When she was presented to the French king Louis XV, he pronounced her delightful, and told others of her fine full figure, of which he much approved. She became dauphine surrounded by all the comforts of the French court.

Her enchanted life reached its pinnacle when the old king died and her husband became King Louis XVI in 1774. Marie Antoinette, still a teenager became Queen of France.

Unhappy Marriage and Boredom

But this daughter of life's fortune was unhappy in her marriage. Louis was homely, awkward and hardly her heart's desire. His devotion to the hunt, clocks and his workshop and his early hours were in contrast to her pursuit of the arts, fashion, dance and French nightlife. The contrast of Charles and Diana comes to mind. While King Louis XV, her husband's brothers, Provence and Artois, and others at court noticed at once her grace and beauty, her own shy husband was slow to exercise the rights of the marriage bed. From afar, Louis XVI, like the others, much admired Marie's physical charms and her character, and Louis would become a thoroughly devoted husband, but in her early years in France he was little comfort to her.

Pushed by her mother's letters, Marie still sought out Louis. Yet, to add to Antoinette's frustration, even when she could achieve intimacy with him, Louis was unable to achieve erection. So, Antoinette and Louis were unable to have sex and their marriage went unconsummated for seven years. It took the intervention of the Queen's oldest brother, emperor Joseph of Austria, in a heart to heart meeting with Louis in 1777, to convince him to have the needed operation. Meanwhile, the teenage queen suffered in silence as she was snidely taunted for her inability to produce an heir to the throne.

Beyond her personal frustrations with her husband, Marie Antoinette was bored with her position and its duties. The days of the young princess and then queen were spent in endless court rituals and strict etiquette tracing to the days of Louis XIV.

The young queen tired of being constantly on public display with the requirements of her position. She missed the more relaxed environment and freedom of Vienna. Her displeasure and sarcasm directed at the older aunts and members of the high nobility were noticed and commented upon.

Marie Antoinette sought escape from her marital frustration and the boredom of court life. Time went by and she began to exercise power as queen, Marie Antoinette spent less time at court, and surrounded herself with a dissolute clique, led by Yolande de Polignac and Thérèse de Lamballe. She lavished expensive gifts and positions upon these friends and in doing so ignored the great houses of the French nobility.

With her young friends, Marie Antoinette threw herself into a life of pleasure and careless extravagance. These included masked balls in Paris, gambling, theatricals and late night promenades in the park. Her circle included the King's frivolous young brother the Count of Artois, and handsome young courtiers the Duc de Ligne, Counts Dillon, Vaudreuil and Axel Fersen.

The Queen's indiscretions with her circle of friends led to scandals such as the Diamond Necklace Affair and rumours concerning her relations with that circle including Axel Fersen.

The young queen, with her blonde beauty and style set fashion trends through France and Europe. Her painter Vigee Lebrun commented about the translucent colour of her complexion, her long blonde hair and her well-proportioned and full-bosomed figure. All commented how well she carried herself. Her page Tilly said she walked better than any woman and as you'd offer a woman a chair, you'd offer her a throne.

The queen enjoyed her beauty style, but her fashion fame came at a price. The Queen spent lavishly on her dress and adornments. Each year she exceeded her clothing allowance which the King covered. The excessive fashions for high headdresses, plumes and voluminous dresses were subject to public comment, caricature and on occasion ridicule.

The queen also spent lavishly on her friends as mentioned and on her entertainment including her retreat at Petit Trianon. This small palace adjoining Versailles was given to Marie by Louis XVI. There she arranged extensive interior decorations and building of a theatre for her theatricals and the Temple of Love in the park.

Marie also had built a rustic Viennese retreat called the hameau. Here, she played at being at being a simple milkmaid. To add to the fun, Sevres porcelain bowls were cast using Marie Antoinette's own ample breasts as their mould (as was said to have had been done in the case of Helen of Troy). The hameau was stocked with perfumed sheep and goats, but the actual milking and chores were done by servants.

By the late 1780s, envy and hatred of Marie Antoinette were widespread. Many at court had always opposed the Austrian alliance, and had resented her efforts to intercede on occasion for Austrian causes.

The king's brother the Count of Provence and his cousin the Count of Orleans both thought they were more capable than Louis XVI. They were jealous both of Louis's kingship and his marriage to the beautiful Marie Antoinette.

Many others among the nobility were envious of the Queen and insulted by her dismissal of court etiquette, preference for her small court circle and the patronage she wielded on their behalf. Thus, disaffected members of the nobility became fertile sources for dirt on the queen. They fabricated and circulated scurrilous stories about the Queen and her private life. Stories accused of all sort of sexual acts with men and women of the court, of sending funds to Austria, and challenged the paternity of the royal children.

By the mid 1780s tales of the queen's extravagance, dissipation and sexual vice abounded. It was at this point that the Diamond Necklace Affair became the sensation, grabbing the attention of the entire nation.

The affair fused three disparate situation, united by widely held beliefs in the loose morals of Marie Antoinette. For years an impoverished scion of past Valois nobility, Madame Lamotte schemed to gain a position at court. At the same time, socially prominent Prince de Rohan, the Cardinal of France was unhappy over his years of exclusion from Marie Antoinette's inner circle, and the jeweller Boehmer was unable to convince Marie Antoinette to buy a fabulously expensive diamond necklace originally made for Louis XV's lover Madame du Barry.

Lamotte was a full figured attractive woman who caught the attention of both men, and was able to convince them she was a lesbian lover of Marie Antoinette. Lamotte convinced Rohan that the Queen indeed wanted the necklace and Rohan obtained it from Boehmer and gave it to Lamotte after meeting a prostitute dressed as Marie Antoinette at a late night rendezvous near the Temple of Love, where the Queen was said to hold lovers' trysts with others.

When Boehmer approached the Queen for payment (just as she was preparing for to play a role in a banned Beaumarchais play Le Figaro), the charade unravelled. When they learned the basic facts of the affair, both king and queen were enraged that Rohan would think that the queen would use a go-between to obtain a necklace.

Royal pique proved disastrous. The cardinal, highest churchman in France, was arrested on the Day of Assumption in the middle of the entire court. Next the Queen demanded public vindication, so the king obtained a trial before the Parlement of Paris.

The trial proved a sensation for months, with the dirty laundry of the monarchy paraded before all France. The cast included the highest nobles, charlatans, a prostitute who looked like the Queen, and above all the fabulous diamond necklace and the Queen herself despite never being called as witness. In the end, the nobility displayed their defiance before the entire nation in the Diamond Necklace Affair with their acquittal of Prince de Rohan on the charge of insulting the queen. The ruling of the Parlement of Nobles effectively said that at the least, given her reputation, the queen was worthy of such insult. Rohan could reasonably believe Marie Antoinette would use him as a go-between and in the end exchange her sexual favours for a diamond necklace.

When the not guilty verdict was announced in the crowded Paris opera house an enormous roar went up and all eyes turned to the royal box. A shocked Marie Antoinette hastily departed for her coach, amid the crowd's hoots.

The court did convict the less well connected Lamotte, and she was branded on her breasts and imprisoned. But her husband had escaped to England and she escaped prison. She exacted her revenge by concocting and circulating a tale that she was indeed the queen's lesbian lover, that the queen was insatiable in her desires and that the queen got the necklace and the affair was all for her amusement. As fabulous as her story was, it circulated in the thousands and was widely believed. So much so that had she not died in 1793, Lamotte might well have testified against Marie at her trial.

Ironically, as the Diamond Necklace Affair erupted and the Queen's popularity sank to its nadir, age and maturity tempered her lifestyle. Louis and Marie were able to have children and Antoinette bore four children. She spent less time with Paris night life and more with her children and family. Though still graceful and attractive, as she passed age thirty, Marie's increasingly stout figure moved her toward darker colours. Her milliner Madame Bertin used less ostentatious fashion, while still showing Marie's large bust to fine advantage. Even as she still flirted with men of court and spent much time with Axel Fersen, Louis was increasingly devoted to his handsome wife whom he adored.

While Marie's personal life was settling down, the state of France was not. France also had bad harvests in the late 1780s and the poor suffered. The Queen was good hearted and kindly and tried to aid the poor of her country. She attended benefits for charity (including the night the Necklace verdict was announced), and used the hameau to aid a number of impoverished families. However, her small acts were hardly noticed amid the suffering. What was remembered was that the queen played at being a milkmaid and shepherdess, at the manicured hameau of Trianon, while real peasants starved. Her perceived insensitivity led many to believe she said "Let them eat cake", when told of the widespread starvation.

Furthermore, France reeled under huge debts inherited from Louis XV which Louis XVI had been unable to repay. France's debt was now a crisis, with the final straw being its France's costly aid from 1778 to 1783 to the American colonies in their War of Independence with Great Britain. To try to revive the Queen's popularity and rally support for the monarchy portraits were made and exhibited showing the Queen surrounded by her loving children. Yet the obvious royal propaganda backfired as detractors noticing the Queen's expansive costume, dubbed the pictured heroine, "Madame Deficit".

It was at this time, amid such increased unpopularity and still reeling from the aftershocks of the Necklace Affair, when Louis XVI most needed support from the nobility. He tried to effect needed reforms through a series of ministers, relying in each instance on advice from his Queen, and then he called an assembly of notables to again try to effect reforms to deal with the financial crisis. Louis was not a forceful king, his wife's influence was resented and the position of the monarchy weakened.

Tragedy struck Louis and Marie in 1789. Their oldest son and heir, the dauphin, was dying of a crippling, agonizing hereditary disease and would die in June. Besides her miscarriages, this was the second child dead; their second daughter had died in 1786. And now amid this grief, the couple faced the crisis that now threatened their rule, which would bring still further tragedies to this family.

Unable to force the nobility to make needed financial reforms, the desperate king called the Estates General in May 1789. This was the first time in 175 years it was called. But it was unique because it gave representation to common men, as one of the three estates able to vote. Louis did this to try to gain the support of the common people (third estate) to force needed reforms.

The Estate General did not begin auspiciously as the Queen's appearance was met first by silence and then call Vive Duc Orleans - her scorned suitor and hated foe. This rebelliousness was a sign of what was to follow. The common people were not content with the limited role of the third estate Louis envisioned. The genie was now out of the bottle. The third estate declared itself the national assembly and in the Tennis Court Oath said it would not adjourn until France had a constitution.

Louis lacked the will to quell this rebellion but was repeatedly lobbied to take action by Marie Antoinette. The queen strongly desired to preserve absolute monarchy and was firm in her opposition to reforms that would give greater power to the common people.

However, with a taste of success, the common people did not want to see the third estate suppressed. In July, a mob of commoners seized the Invalides and obtained a supply of fire arms. The next effort was to obtain powder so they could defend the assembly as needed. For this effort the mob attacked a great symbol of absolute monarchy, the ancient and famous Bastille prison and fortress that loomed in the centre of Paris.

Louis failed to take prompt action and the mob succeeded in taking the Bastille. The governor of the Bastille who resisted and threatened to blow up the gun powder was hacked to death by the mob his head sported on pikes for all to see. The crowd had arms and ammunition. Lawlessness had occurred and no royal action had been taken in response. Louis went to Paris to restore calm but no actions were taken against those who stormed the Bastille.

The storming of the Bastille greatly disturbed a number of nobles who knew the poverty of the common people and feared vengeance if royal power was inadequate to check mob impulses. Leading members of the royal court, including close friends of Marie Antoinette fled the country. These included in July and August the Count of Artois and Madame Polignac and in October her close friend and portraitist Vigee Lebrun.

The royal court at Versailles was just 20 miles from the raging cauldron of Paris. Marie Antoinette too feared the Paris mob and counselled Louis to repair to the country so he could quell rebellion from afar, but Louis would not leave Versailles.
The Queen was successful in convincing Louis to increase troops from the provinces, which they hoped would be loyal to the crown. Marie's actions did not go unnoticed. Her proud bearing and perceived arrogance made her the prime target for vilification by the revolutionaries. Despite Antoinette's efforts, the king was reluctant to confront the assembly after new troops were called in, but Louis would not fire on his own people. In the summer period called the "Great Fear" peasants revolted through the countryside in fear that the king under pressure from the queen and her "Austrian committee" would put down revolution. In August, the Declaration of the Rights of Man was published renouncing noble titles, the people further asserting their position seeking equal rights against reassertion of absolute monarchy.

On October 1 1789, a great banquet for the royal guards was held at Versailles, where royal and Austrian banners were cheered and toasts made to king and queen in attendance while the tricolour cockade of the French people was trod under foot. Tales of the banquet and "orgies" spread to the Paris slums where a new bread shortage was looming.

Parisians said enough is enough and on October 4, a great mob collected to demand bread from the king. The next day the mob mainly of Parisian women marched thought the driving rain to Versailles to put an end to orgies and demand bread. Many brandished knives and swore to use them to "cut the pretty throat of the Austrian" who was the source of all their problems. "How glad I'd be to put this blade into her belly up to my elbow." Others vowed to cut different "pieces of Antoinette".

On reaching Versailles, they met with the assembly and had a brief audience with the king. Again, the Queen had wished to flee at their advance, but Louis would neither depart nor fire on the women. That night the mob (perhaps aided by agents of the Duke of Orleans) found an unguarded entrance and was directed straight to the apartments of the sleeping queen. As they hurled their imprecations to "kill the Austrian whore", the Queen's two guards gave their lives to save her, as Madame Campan and her other maids hastily gathered some clothes and underwear, and Marie Antoinette ran from her bed literally "half naked" (by some accounts) to narrowly elude her attackers. They later ripped the Queen's bed to pieces.

The Queen had escaped with her life, but the mob was not satisfied. They later demanded that king and queen appear on the balcony before them and then that the monarchs return with them to Paris. And so, Louis and Marie left Versailles to be installed in the dusty unused Tuileries palace in Paris. Marie Antoinette would never again see her beloved Petit Trianon. From then on, the king and queen would be under the close scrutiny of the common citizens of Paris and vulnerable to attack from them. For king and queen were acutely aware that the move to Paris was not of their choosing but they were powerless to overrule the dictate of the mob.

In 1790 and 1791, the revolution seemed to have stabilized. However, the seeds for future discord and for a more violent revolution were already being sown. The emboldened assembly gave broad rights to the people, at the expense of the nobles and clergy. Many of the reforms were voted into law over the king's veto. Louis was particularly anxious over the civil oath now required of Roman Catholic clergy.

Many nobles had fled France, and Marie Antoinette feared for her safety and royal authority. She conspired with these émigrés and sought aid from other European rulers including her brother, the Austrian Emperor. After the death of the leading moderate politician, Conte Mirabeau in 1791, and further actions of the Assembly infringing the authority of Roman Catholic clergy, Marie convinced the reluctant Louis to flee France.

The queen's friend and rumoured lover Axel Fersen from his own pocket arranged the needed coach, assumed identity papers and escape plans. The royal couple with their children all disguised as common travellers, escaped from Paris. The king and queen had insisted that they travel with all needed comforts, so their coach was lumbering and slow. It required extra horses and changes and attracted attention.

At one change an alert patriot noticed an attractive but familiar woman who issued orders though dressed as a maid. He thought he recognized the queen and from a gold piece given as a tip recognized the king. This patriot Jacques Drouet sped ahead and reached the small town Varennes and alerted the people who confronted the king and queen on arrival. They had travelled over 200 miles and were just near the French-Austrian border and loyal troops ready to rescue them. But the rescue did not occur. A humiliated king and queen were forced to return to Paris over dusty roads over the course of the next four days. Frenchmen came from near and far to gaze and glare at the famous captives, on several occasions almost assaulting them. Later members of the assembly arrived and crowded into the coach with them.

When they arrived in Paris they met complete silence with all men keeping on their hats and no salutes or other sign of deference to the king. The weary travellers were caked in dust and sweat. As Campan drew the bath for Marie Antoinette, and Queen removed her hat and veil, both noticed the Queen's blonde hair was now completely white from the fright and torment of the journey.

After the disastrous flight to Varennes, Marie Antoinette at first worked with constitutional monarchist Barnave to try to restore royal prestige. However, hatred of the queen now rose to new levels.

Marie Antoinette began anew to seek aid from abroad to intervene in France and restore royal authority. Austria and Prussia threatened France on behalf of the royal family and France declared war on those powers in April 1792, again over the king's veto. In June, the Tuileries palace was invaded and sacked by a mob, the king and queen held up to ridicule and humiliation but not otherwise harmed. At the same time, calls for volunteers arose under the cry "Patrie en Danger", as Frenchmen were called to repel the invaders.

In July 1792, as Prussian armies invaded France, the Duke of Brunswick threatened the people of Paris that if any harm came to persons of the king or queen, serious vengeance would be exacted by the invaders on France. The proclamation was made public and caused a sensation in the country.

On August 10, 1792, the Tuileries palace was stormed by the populace, who sought refuge in the Assembly. The king and queen and their family were installed in the tiny reporter’s box, amid stifling heat, glares and heckling of the crowd. In that cage, they heard the reports of the fall of the Tuileries and massacre of the 900 Swiss guards who had stayed to defend them. They watched as treasures from the Tuileries were piled on the speaker’s desk including papers, jewels, precious objects of the royal family. They listened to the debates which voted to suspend and then end the monarchy. A Republic declared and the royal family imprisoned in the Temple fortress.

Other aristocrats were imprisoned at this same time. As the fortunes of French armies in the field waned the cry went up to kill traitors in their midst. Hundreds of aristocrats were massacred in the prisons in September 1792. The most famous victim was Madame Lamballe, close friend of Marie Antoinette who had returned to Paris to aid her in time of peril. Lamballe was summoned before a tribunal and when she failed to swear an oath against the queen, she was hacked to death by the mob, her head, breasts and genitals severed and mounted on pikes, and paraded before the Queen's window in the Temple. The Reign of Terror had now begun.

The royal family was under close guard and now shorn of all their finery and servants and forced to live simply in the confines of the Temple fortress. But their peace was not to last.

In December 1792, King Louis XVI was summoned before the National Convention and tried for treason. He was convicted and on a close vote sentenced to death. In January 1793, Louis XVI was executed on the guillotine. In the two years that followed thousands more would be tried before revolutionary tribunals and similarly executed on the guillotine.

After her husband's death, in July 1793, Marie Antoinette's son was forcibly taken from her. The poor woman begged that her son be allowed to stay but she was powerless to change the will of the ministers. The boy was put under the care of Simon, a cobbler and one of the Commissaires of the Commune, and died of neglect within two years.

In September 1793, Marie Antoinette was separated from her daughter and sister in law. Now called "Widow Capet", Marie was transferred to months of solitary confinement in the dank Conciergerie prison, where she was under twenty-four hour guard by revolutionaries who from behind their screen watched her every move. The Conciergerie prison was the antechamber to death. In this dank prison, she lost much weight and her eyesight began to fail, but she did not have long to live.

On October 14, the poor pallid woman was awoken at night and faced the Revolutionary Tribunal. The trial was a horror, with the Queen attacked more as a person than as a queen. Her own son was forced to testify that she abused him. The queen bravely replied to all charges and to this she said, "If I make no reply, it is because I cannot, I appeal to all mothers in this audience."

Despite her eloquence, the verdict was never in doubt. Like the king, Marie was found guilty.

When she rode to her death on October 16, 1793, many gasped ... for Marie Antoinette was just 38, but the crowd saw (as artist David sketched) an old hag in peasant garb, ragged and grey - a stark contrast to elegant and voluptuous Queen of Trianon, the child of fortune, she had been just 4 years earlier. Marie Antoinette's hair had been roughly shorn, her with hands tied tight behind her back, as she rode in the garbage cart amid the crowd’s whistles and jeers. Yet, the poor woman sat straight and tried to retain her dignity. To the end, Marie Antoinette displayed a queen's bearing and courage, in the face of all adversity.

After her final ordeal, the body of Marie Antoinette was harshly pushed on to the guillotine plank, her head placed in the vice and at noon the blade fell to loud cheers all round. In the words of a revolutionary organ, "Never has Piere Duchesne seen such joy as seeing that [expletive] whore's head separated from her [expletive] crain's neck". Sanson held her bleeding head high for all to see. Later her head was throne in the cart between her legs. The body of Marie Antoinette was left on the grass before being dumped in an unmarked grave. So ended the life of once the most illustrious and glamorous woman in all Europe.


the Sun conjunct Venus in Scorpio, with moon and Jupiter in Libra, all tend to the harmonising and sexually attractive features noteworthy for Marie Antoinette.

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