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Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, en grand habit de cour, by Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty, 1775.

Not All Fun and Cake: An Alternative Interpretation of the Life of Queen Marie Antoinette

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History depicts her as an irresponsible woman whose life was a vanity fair. In fact, she was another historical example of a woman who couldn't live her life as she really wanted to.

Marie Antoinette was born on November 2, 1755, as a daughter of Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor and Empress Maria Theresa. She was the youngest of fifteen children of the royal couple. Her education was focused on preparing her for her future role as queen. The young woman’s life was full of responsibilities, and she couldn't do anything to change her fate. Being a princess, and later a queen, she still couldn't decide much about her own life.

After centuries of repeating propaganda and lies, the most recent research about Marie Antoinette shows that she was not an evil and vain woman - but actually a humble daughter of a much disciplined court of Austria. Analysis of her own notes, memoirs of her friends, and other people who met her, prove that she was a woman who lived in the cage created by her roots. Apart from the history of Marie Antoinette as a political figure, there is a story of a girl who wanted a different life for herself.

Sadness in Versailles

When she married Louise-Auguste and became the Dauphine of France, she was only 14 years old. The first letter Marie Antoinette sent to her mother still shows the young lady’s tear drop. She studied French, but for the first time in her life she was in a place where she couldn't speak her mother tongue, and she didn't know most of the people around her. Four years after the wedding, on May 10, 1774, she became the Queen of France and Navarre.

Louis Auguste as Dauphin of France, by Louis-Michel Van Loo (1769).

Louis Auguste as Dauphin of France, by Louis-Michel Van Loo (1769). ( Public Domain )

Marie Antoinette was very unhappy in Versailles, but her personality didn't allow her to cultivate a negative attitude. She became a supporter of the arts and she tried to enjoy her situation as much as possible. Her days were full of fun as she enjoyed creating theatrical plays. Moreover, as the queen, she could buy things which were out of reach of most of the people who lived in Europe. Some expensive jewels, clothes, and other possessions gave her a reputation as a queen who spent too much.

There is a significant amount of truth in this belief. The citizens of France faced a difficult life during her husband’s reign. However, Marie lived behind the wall. She was born in the palace, and spent all of her life as a person who was far from the normal ways of life.

The Story Behind Madame Deficit

Although her nickname on the streets of Paris was ''Madame Deficit'', she wasn't as guilty of the financial crisis as politicians wanted the public to believe. She was against financial reform, but at the same time, Marie Antoinette was very interested in helping regular people or anyone in need.

Marie Antoinette in her living room, Jean-Baptiste André Gautier-Dagoty 1774.

Marie Antoinette in her living room, Jean-Baptiste André Gautier-Dagoty 1774. ( Public Domain )

According to her enemies, she was not an innocent girl, but a woman who betrayed the king. It was never confirmed, but anti-royal publications of her times tried to create as much evidence as possible that she was not suitable for her role. Her bad reputation was also connected with the fact that she bore her first child after 8 years of marriage.

Happiness in the Hamau de la Reine

Marie Antoinette believed that the palace of Versailles was hell, however she began to feel more at ease when she was able to stay in a small rustic house. The house was built in 1783 by Richard Mique, the Queen’s favorite architect. It was like a cottage with beautiful flowers all around it even though it was located near the palace.

Le hameau de la reine by the artificial lake in the gardens of the Petit Trianon.

Le hameau de la reine by the artificial lake in the gardens of the Petit Trianon. ( CC BY 3.0 )

The small house was good for the Queen, but also allowed her to feel like she traveled far away from the golden Versailles. It became her favorite place and she spent as much time there as possible. As a mother of four, she preferred to spend time in this pleasant environment far from the sight of her enemies. She was an amateur gardener and in the pleasant Parisian climate she received beautiful results for her efforts.

Marie Antoinette with her two eldest children, Marie-Thérèse Charlotte and the Dauphin Louis Joseph, in the Petit Trianon's gardens, by Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller (1785).

Marie Antoinette with her two eldest children, Marie-Thérèse Charlotte and the Dauphin Louis Joseph, in the Petit Trianon's gardens, by Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller (1785). ( Public Domain )

During the revolution, her small paradise was changed into a mill. Later on it was abandoned, but the building became a museum in the 20th century.

An Execution of Lies

The greatest myth about Marie Antoinette is the story describing her asking why the poor people of Paris didn't eat cakes, if they didn't have bread. This phrase was actually said by Spanish children about a century earlier. However, the supporters of the Revolution used the tale from the past as if it was said by Marie, and it has been repeated by many people, including modern artists, writers, and film makers.

When she was locked in prison, Marie Antoinette was blamed for all of the royals’ sins. During the Revolution, all of the royal family became prisoners. Many nobles were killed and it was believed that the king and queen had to die too.

Marie Antoinette was executed by guillotine on the Place de la Revolution on October 16, 1793. She was killed for having royal roots, misunderstandings, and untrue arguments that were lodged against her. This doesn't mean that she was a holy woman, but the greatest sin of Marie Antoinette was her curse – she was born a princess and she couldn't choose anything different. No matter how good or humble she may have been, she had to pay for everything that the royals and even her own husband did.

Marie Antoinette before the Revolutionary Tribunal.

Marie Antoinette before the Revolutionary Tribunal. ( Public Domain )

Another Depiction of Marie

Marie Antoinette was nothing like the revolutionary propaganda wanted to depict her. She was sensitive, loving, and lost in the world of intrigues in the French court. She made a few mistakes, but in fact, she never understood the mentality of the French and missed her life in Vienna. When she died, she was 38 only years old. After the execution, her head was taken by her loyal friend – Madame Tussaud, who created a mask and later a wax head of the Queen.

Marie Antoinette's execution on 16 October 1793: Sanson, the executioner, showing Marie Antoinette's head to the people. (Anonymous, 1793. Musée Carnavalet, Paris)

Marie Antoinette's execution on 16 October 1793: Sanson, the executioner, showing Marie Antoinette's head to the people. (Anonymous, 1793. Musée Carnavalet, Paris) ( Public Domain )

Marie Antoinette probably believed that she would have been happier if she had been born in a normal family. With her love of the countryside, she could have enjoyed a simpler life and been happier than she was as a queen of France. 

Top image: Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, en grand habit de cour, by Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty, 1775. ( Public Domain )

By Natalia Klimczak

References:

Antonia Fraser, Maria Antonina: podróż przez życie, 2006.
Andre Castelot, Queen of France: a biography of Marie Antoinette , 1957.
Evelyne Lever, Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France , 2006.
Marie Antoinette by Richard Covington, available at: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/marie-antoinette-134629573/?no-ist

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