Marie Antoinette, Queen of France


Marie Antoinette (b.1755-d.1793) was an Austrian Princess, who, at the age of 15, married Louis XVI of France  in order to strengthen the French monarchy's tie to Austria. At the time she was queen, the French people were becoming increasingly discontent with the bankrupt government. Being a foreigner, she was an easy target for the criticisms of the nobility. Her popularity among the commoners was low. It lead to a number of accusations including treason, corruption, and illicit sexual behavior. Her ability to manipulate her husband's Austrian policy placed a strain on her relationship with the French public. Marie-Antoinette's outlandish attire, frivolous manners and slowness in producing an heir further contributed to her lack of popularity among the commoners.

The queen's lack of popularity was evident from the start, and continued to mount, as her life was almost continually embroiled in scandal. The Diamond Necklace Affair is a perfect example of how the queen's indiscretions and infidelities undercut the authority of the monarch. Cardinal de Rohan bought the Queen a large diamond necklace, supposedly in return for sexual favors. Although the real events surrounding the diamond necklace are not fully known, the affair caused many of the public to dub her the "Austrian Whore." Countless pamphlets were published, spreading malicious rumors about the queen. Many pornographic drawings depicting the queen with numerous lovers, both male and female were circulated. Often, it was jealous courtiers who would instigate the material for these publications.

It was during this same time period that the Louis's financial advisors used some creative financing in an attempt to secure ongoing investments for the crown. The ineffectiveness of this attempt led the monarch to side-step Estates-General and create a hand picked assembly. Marie-Antoinette exerted an undeniable influence on Revolutionary politics. It was apparent the country would not feel safe or confident with the monarch while the "Austrian" was queen. On April 20, 1792, France declared war on Austria. The National Assembly took exceptional measures, only to have them vetoed by King Louis. These two vetoes caused a major uproar and many revolutionaries stormed the palace chanting, "The Austrian, where is she?  Her head, her head!" The King and Queen fled Paris to escape the angry revolutionaries, only to be caught in Varennes. They were returned to Paris, where Louis was executed a few months later.

Revolutionaries tended to view Marie-Antoinette as thoroughly deserving the treatment that she received. They felt that since she was from Austria, she always influenced the King to be lenient in actions towards the enemy. She was also the reason the revolution escalated, they believed, for she influenced the king to demand the continuation of his absolute power.

When Marie was arrested and brought in front of the Revolutionary Tribunal, she knew it would only be a matter of time before she was executed. However, it was during this most difficult stage in her life that Marie-Antoinette was able to become a positive figure for the first time. The courage and compassion she showed on behalf of her children would have made any mother proud.  Despite this new perception, soon Revolutionaries charged her with high treason and illicit sexual activity-- the most heinous of which was that she had sexual relations with her ailing son in hopes that the exertion might kill him. Drunken soldiers or palace servants who wanted to get even with her gave most of the testimony. The jury convened for only an hour before sentencing her to death.

On October 16, 1793, Marie-Antoinette was beheaded. It was on this day that France lost one of its most controversial figures. She was a key figure in turning the anger and frustration of the French people into revolution. Whether one despised or respected Queen Marie-Antoinette, her role will be argued about for many centuries.

Annotated Bibliography

Barker, Nancy. "Let Them Eat Cake: The Mythical Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution." Historian (Summer 1993): 709-25.
This is a very scholarly article examining the development of the myth in pre-Revolutionary France of a promiscuous, depraved and ruthless Marie Antoinette. Barker outlines several unfortunate facts about Marie Antoinette's background, lifestyle and personality which combined to demonize her in the eyes of her subjects. Barker demonstrates how an unwitting Marie Antoinette's character was distorted so that she became the scapegoat of a populace impatient for change. This article is particularly relevant to those researching such psychological factors as "mob mentality" in history. 

Blanc, Oliver. Last Letters. New York: Michael D.Capua Books, 1987.
This book is a collection of letters written by actors in  the French Revolution before their deaths. This book is of specific interest to this paper because it includes a letter written by Marie-Antoinette, which explains what she was going through at the time of her death. Through the letter the reader can also get a strong sense of her concern for her children. This book will help anyone looking for some good primary source material on Marie Antoinette's final thoughts.

Castelot, Andre. Queen of France. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1957.
This book is a biography of Marie-Antoinette. The author apparently had a mass of documents at his disposal when he wrote this book. He used letters, and court papers all to show the historical background for the time in which Marie-Antoinette lived.

Chew, Robin. "Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France. "Lucid Interactive. November 1995. <> (October 20, 2005).
A brief biography which contains some more background information. This differs from the other two internet biographies in that it looks at Marie-Antoinette's life in the context of the time period. It also reviews some actions Marie took, which were productive for the French people. This is an effective method and worth checking out. The site also contains links to other websites about Marie Antoinette as well as other rulers of the time, and a short list of suggested books about Marie.

Fraser, Antonia. Marie Antoinette: The Journey. New York: Doubleday, 2001.

This book is a biography of Marie Antoinette. It is very useful for anyone studying myths about Marie Antoinette. The Author attempts to find validity in or dispel the myths that have become associated with Marie Antoinette. This includes the possibility of Marie's lesbian love affairs, the "let them eat cake" quote, and others. The author also seeks to illustrate the sharp contrast between the nobility and the common people of France at the time.

Furneaux, Rupert. The Last Days of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. New York: The John Day Company, 1971.

This book examines the events which took place leading up to the death of Marie Antoinette. It in an in depth examination of that particular part of the revolution and the actions of Louis XVI which ultimately lead to his demise. Because the book is focused on the revolution, alot of the information is not specifically about Marie Antoinette. There is however a wealth of information on her last days.

Kaplow, Jeffery. France on the Eve of Revolution. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1971.
This book introduces the reader to some of the problems that lead up to the French Revolution. It is a book filled with articles containing on the decline of French economy, the ineffectiveness of the ruling class, and most notably, overextension of military forces. The book is not all about Marie Antoinette.

Haslip, Joan. Marie Antoinette. New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1987. 
In this book, Joan Haslip presents her study of Marie Antoinette from a revisionist standpoint. Her intent was to write a book which studied Marie in a different context than many before it had. Rather than focusing on the violent times in which Marie died. Instead, Haslip tries to study the person. To do so she focuses on Marie prior to the Diamond Necklace affair, since the study of Marie after words has been quite in depth. It is a good source on the early life of Marie. It also contains a good study of her latter years.

Kelly, KJ. "Marie Antoinette Portraits by Elizabeth Louise Vigee LeBrun." (3 November 2000) BatguanoWebworks <> (Oct. 22, 2005).
Elizabeth-Louise Vigee-LeBrum, an accomplished French painter, left France during the revolution and traveled around Europe, involving herself with academic and artistic circles. She was a friend of Marie Antoinette, and painted 30 pictures of her. This site contains those contemporary paintings of Marie Antoinette. Some of the more notable paintings have a brief historical description.

Lamballe, Marie Therese Louise de Sovoie Carignan, Princess Labmelle. Secret Memoirs of Princess Lamballe. Ed. by Catherine Hyde. New York & London: M. Walter Dunne, Publisher, 1901.
This book is the translated memoirs of Marie Therese Louise De Sovoie Caringan, a close friend of Marie Antoinette. Catherine Hyde provides annotations to the writing. The source provides a close look at the life and times of Marie Antoinette because of her closeness to Marie. The journal also illustrates what was going on among the nobility prior to the death of Marie Antonette.

Lucas-Dubreton, J. The Restoration and the July Monarchy. London: William Heinemann, Ltd., 1929.
This book begins with the Restoration of the Bourbons to the throne of France. It also deals with the ill-fated July Monarchy. Its 18 year period is chronicled here. This is a very readable book and should serve any person well who has interest in this period of French History. Although this is after Marie-Antoinette's time, it nonetheless serves a crucial role in understanding her. This book provides information about the exhumation of her body. This helps a person who is interested in researching Marie-Antoinette because it provides some details of the legacy that she left behind. This legacy was present in spite of her death and the way many people felt about her. Love her or hate her she was immortalized in time, and this time period started that process.

"Marie Antoinette." Chateau De Versailles. <> (Oct. 22, 2005).
This site contains historical information on Marie Antoinette and people related to her from the Chateau De Versailles museum. It contains links to the museum (where Marie used to live) which may be useful for anyone planning to visit the museum while in France. 

"Marie Antoinette Online." Marie Antoinette Online. 2000-2004. <> (Oct 22, 2005). 
This site contains a large gallery of art works pertaining to Marie Antoinette. They are divided up into eight categories of artwork (sculpture, portraits, cartoons, ceramics and porcelain, paintings/drawings, film/theater, cartoons, and furniture/furnishings). It contains both contemporary and modern artwork of the French Queen. One section is dedicated to satirical cartoons of the Queen, which illustrated the popular image the French had of their Queen. It also has a list of books available for purchase through 

Merrick. Jeffrey. "The Family Politics of the Marquis deBombelles." Journal of Family History. 21 (October 1996): 503-518.
This journal article is about the diary of Marc-Marie deBombelles, Marie Antoinette's son. He provides, through his diary, a sense of his home life. This is of specific important to this paper because it talks of Marie-Antoinette as a bad mother.

Price, Munro. The Road From Versailles: Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and the Fall of the French Monarchy. New York: Saint Martians Press, 2002.
This book is a study of the policies of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Little is written by Louis XVI so it is hard to tell what he actually wanted to accomplish and how he planned on doing it. The author writes about the secret diplomacy and secret policy of Marie and Louis based on documents written by people all across Europe who interacted with Marie and Louis.  It is a complex study which goes far beyond biographical information. This book would be very useful for a complex study of Marie Antoinette. Its usefulness for basic study may be limited.

Rouart, Jean-Marie. "A New View of the Frivolous Queen." World Press Review. (January 1994, 46.
This article demonstrates that it was the myths surrounding her, and not her otherwise obscure life, which transformed Marie Antoinette in a legendary figure following her death. Rouart states that her story (which he summarizes) captures public imagination because the circumstances of her time pitted her between two vastly different worlds: the idyllic life of Versailles and the bloody anarchy of the Revolution. The article analyzes the primacy of legend over actual events. 

Saint-Amand, Pierre. "Terrorizing Marie-Antoinette."  Critical Inquiry 20 (Spring 1994): 379-400.
This journal article compares the situation of Marie-Antoinette during the French Revolution to that of Hillary Clinton today. It is  an important article because it compares the politics of yesteryear to today. 

Schama, Simon. Citizens. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989.
This book was written as an attempt to reappraise the French Revolution and to push the argument one step further than ever before. This book can be difficult to read in sections, but it does provide a new look at the French Revolution. It is applicable to this paper because it provides somewhat of a different view of Marie-Antoinette. This book, more than most, focuses only on her in relationship to the history of the period.

Schneider, Marcel." Lost in Versailles." World Press Review. (January 1994): 46.
This short article reflects on how Marie Antoinette's personality, her manner at court and her incompatible marriage to King Louis all conspired to lead to her downfall. Schneider paints a picture of a queen whose self-indulgent and carefree nature aggravated the already tense political situation in France. He takes a sympathetic view o Marie Antoinette's fate, particularly in mentioning that envious courtiers contributed to the scandalous rumors that surrounded the queen. This is a good site for people interested in the "clashing personalities" aspect of the events.

Sole, Jacques. Questions of the French Revolution. New York: Pantheon Books; 1989.
This is an easy to read book that will provide the reader with everything he or she would like to know about the French Revolution. Sole also spends time giving important information about Marie-Antoinette. He tells of her supposed wild sexual life style and her relationship with the King. This author does not seem to think her sexual lifestyle was as wild as many may want to think.

Stone, Bailey. The Genesis of the French Revolution. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
This book draws upon the historiography of the French Revolution as well as other scholarship, in order to develop an interpretation of the French Revolution's genesis that historians would view as "global historical". This book focuses more on the state's role in the revolution as compared to the societies. This book is suggested for people who already have studied the French Revolution, as it may confuse those who have not.

Tattersall, K.R.J. "Marie Antoinette: Archduchess of Austria and Queen of France." The Austrian Mint. (Oct. 22, 2005) <>
This web page, provided by the Austrian Mint, provides a biography of Marie Antoinette. Unlike most websites, this biography has information on the early life of Marie, before she became Queen, and her exploits as Queen. Since she was born in Austria, the author writes about her Austrian background. 

Yapp, Hentyle; Nong, Chantal;  Salas, Julia; and Chen, Edward. "Marie-Antoinette - A Whore." The Webb Schools. [> (20 October 2005).
This website contains biography, written by high school students, of the two prominent figures in the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette and Charlette Corday. The page is haphazardly edited and contains some typographical errors. In spite of the editing mistakes this page does contain some useful biographical information. It is not recommended for the college level, although lower levels may find it helpful. One of the links on the page <> contains famous paintings and drawings regarding the popular image of Marie Antoinette. These pictures will be useful to anyone studying her or the French Revolution.

Yalom, Marilyn. Blood Sisters. New York: Basic Books, 1993.
This book is the entire study of memoirs of prominent women during the time of the French Revolution. It serves a great source for anyone who is interested in studying women of this time period. It is of specific importance to this paper because it includes memoirs of Marie-Antoinette. It provides actual primary source documentation written by her, this is extremely valuable for anyone researching this topic.

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