Figure 1.--This painting of Marie Antoinette and the children appears to have been done in 1785. The girl is Marie Therese, the Madame Royale. The baby is Louos-Charles, the uncrowned Louis XVII. The Dauphane Louis Joseph is pictured at the right. Notice the short hair and long pants skeleton suit. The artist was Elisabeth Vigee le Brun. As this was painted before the Revolution, it can be considered a realtively accurate depiction.
The ill-fated Marie Antoinette is perhaps the most famous of all French queens and the maligned. She has often been depicted as an insensitive, extravagant woman--largely because it is often the victors who write history. Many modern historians believe that this depiction of the Queen is unfair and without grounding in fact. The Austrian Archduchess Marie Antoinette's father was Francis I Stephende Lorraine Holy Roman Emperor (1708- ) and the Habsburg Austrian Empress Maria Theresa (1717-80). Her father's title of Holy Roman Emperor was prestigious, but of limited power. Her mother Empress Maria Theresa was, however, one of the most powerful monarchs in Europe. Marie Antoinette was born in 1755 in Vienna. She was the royal couple's youngest and reportedly most beautiful child. She was brought up to believe that her destiny was to become queen of France. Royal marriages were at the time often diplomatic tools and the marriage of the Hapsburg and Bourbon families was an important event in the diplomatic world of the 18th century.
The Austrian Archduchess Marie Antoinette's father was Francis I Stephende Lorraine Holy Roman Emperor (1708- ) and the Habsburg Austrian Empress Maria Theresa (1717-80). Her father's title of Holy Roman Emperor was prestigious, but with only limited power. Her mother Empress Maria Theresa was, however, one of the most powerful monarchs in Europe.
Marie Antoinette was the 15th of the Empress Maria Theresa's impressive brood of 16 children.
Marie Antoinette was born in 1755 in Vienna.
Marie Antoinette was the royal couple's youngest and reportedly most beautiful child. By all acounts she was petite and pretty. Her complexion was stunning and set off her blue-grey eyes. She was reportedly pleasant, but in no way particularly intelligent or accomplished. But the Dauphin was no great catch in terms of personality. Accounts vary, but stocky if not fat, uncordinated, and slowitted or ways in hich he has been described. [Fraser] Marie was brought up to believe that her destiny was to become queen of France. She was not, however, particularly chosen by the Dauphin. She was the seventh girl in the family. Some of her oldersisters were selected to wed other European royals and somde died, so it was Marie Abntoinette that was eventually selected to wed the Dauphin.
Louis XVI was born in 1754 at Versailles. He was to be the last King of France (1774-93) in the line of the Bourbon monarchs preceding the Revolution of 1789--the last Bourbon king to govern France as an absolute ruler. He became heir to his grandfather's throne upon his father's death in 1765. While he was the third son, he was the only surviving son with his father, the Dauphin died. Unlike his father, Louis was neither intelligent or handsome.
Emperess Maria Theresa dispatched her daughter off to France at the age of 14 to marry the French Dauphin Dauphine (crown prince) of France. It was a political marriage. The French Bourbons and Austrian Hapsburgs were the two most prestigious royal houses in Europe. France had fought man wars with Austria, but they were allies in the Seven Years War and the marriage was to cement a new alliance between the two countries. Marie was not sent alone. Her procession involved 57 coaches, 376 horses, 132 officials and other dignataries as well as a retinue of doctors, hairdressers, cooks, bakers, a blacksmith, a dressmaker, and others. The Empress's parting words were "Do so much good to the French people that they can say that I have sent them an angel." [Fraser] Marie Antoinette married the Dauphin in 1770 French.
Marie Antoinette was still very young and imature, if headstrong. She was determined to win over her new country. She was, however, hardly prepared to become queen. When Louis XV died in 1774, however, she became queen when her husband was crowned King Louis XVI. She was only about 18 years old at the time. Royal marriages were at the time often diplomatic tools and the marriage of the Hapsburg and Bourbpn families was an important step in the diplomatic world of the 18th century. The teenage queen was, however, blithely unaware of politics are the forces that were sweeping her new country. Louis did not, however, conumate the marriage for some time. A birth defected impaired his interest. At the time the lack of an heir for several years was blamed on the queen and it became an emarassment to her. Her mother is reported to have remarked that give her daughter's beauty that there mist be something seriously remiss with Louis. Most blamed the Queen. As a teenagers she became obsessed with fashion and as quenn had access to the resources to endulge herself. The Queen emersed herself in court life, the fashions, hair styles, and theatricals. She spent lavishly and the enemies of the regime made this an issue. She became known as Madame Defecit. The rumors about the Queen affected people's view of the monarchy.
Louis took 7 years to consummate the marriage. A simple surgucal procedure, which Louis resisted out of fear, corrected a birth defect. Perhaps a little of both. Eventually Louis and Marie Antoinette had four children, two boys and two girls. Neither of the boys inherited the crown, although their younger son is often referred to as Louis VXVII. Rumors swirled that Louis was not the father, but there is no real evidence to support charges that the Queen was unfaithful. The cahrges leveled against the Queen would be difficult to print in even a modern scandal magazine. A chant at the time went "She was worse than Cleopatra, prouder than Agrippina, more lubricious than Messalina, more cruel than Catherine de'Medici, ect." All seem to have been without basis. The Queen seems to have been chase if not a prude. [Fraser]
Marie Therese was born in 1778 and was given the title of Duchess of Angouleme. She was referred to as Madame Royale, meaning the Princess Royal or eldest daughter of the king. Marie Therese with her parents was confined in the Temple prison. She survived the Revolution. As female ancestors could not inheit the crown on France, she unlike her brother Louis-Charles was not a political threat to the Revolution. She never married.
Louis-Joseph was the first son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. He was born in 1781, but we have little information on his childhood. A French student has kindly provided some information on his clothing. He was reportedly outfitted in boyish styled clothes which was an inovation for French royal children. His father was traumatized by his mother who reportedly had her clothes reproduced for him to wear. Louis was, as a result, determined to dress his sons in more boyish fashions at an early age. Available images show him wearing skeleton suits at an early age. Louis-Joseph died in June 1789 at the age of 8 years, just at the outbreak of the Revolution. I am unsure about the circumstances of his death.
Louis-Charles was born in 1785 at Versailles. He died in 1795 at Paris. He was the titular King of France from 1793. Second son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, he became dauphin (heir to the throne) on the death of his older brother, Louis-Joseph, in June 1789, shortly after the outbreak of the Revolution. Imprisoned with the rest of the royal family in Paris, the French nobles in exile proclaimed him King with the execution of the father on Jan 21, 1793. On July 3, 1793, he was taken from his mother and put under the surveillance of a cobbler. Marie Antoinette was executed on Oct. 16, 1793, and in Jan. 1794, Louis was again imprisoned. The harsh conditions of his confinement quickly undermined his health and he died in June, his death a severe blow to the constitutional monarchists who has once again become a powerful political force. The secrecy surrounding his last months gave rise to many rumours that he had been murdered or had escaped. During the next few decades, more than 30 people claimed to be Louis XVII.
Sophie Helene Beatrix was born in 1786. She died a year later in 1787.
The Austrain princess early in her marriage with the Dauphin was apparently popular with the French people. She was described as kind to the peasants and willing to interact
with her subjects. When French artistocrats hunted, they would not hesitate to trampled over crops or even peasant children in their way. Some peasants were even inadvertedly shot. The young princess and future queen who often followed in her coach, was known to stop to help the injured individuals. Some people were even taken back to the palace for trearment. She also reportedly dressed up in common clothes to explore Paris and learn more about her subjects.
The ill-fated Marie Antoinette is perhaps the most famous of all French queens. She has often been depicted as an insensitive, extravagant woman--largely because it is often the victors who write history. Many modern historians believe that this depiction of the Queen is unfair and without grounding in fact. She is most famously quoted as saying of the starving poor of Paris, "Let them eat cake." One of the most famous quotes in history. Not only is there no evudence that she ever said any such thing, but suc a statement was not in keeping with her character. If anythinf she was unfasiinably philanthropic. [Fraser] The accounts of the Queen's excesses, however, are believed by many historians to be overstated. France was involved in a financial crisis in the 1780s, in part because her husband Louis XVI had committed large sums to support the American revolutionaries against Britain and King George III. The Queen actually reduced the royal household staff as well as eliminated some unnecessary positions based on privilege. The Queen also had a very close group of friends whom she often invited to the Trianon, her small house on the property of Versailles, excluding many notable indviduals.
These actions offended important nobles who in turn spread scandalous stories about her. Pamphlets flooded the streets of Paris filled with a wide variety of slanderous accusations. Accounts of orgies in the gardens of Versailles were recointed along with an alleged plot to make King Louis an alcoholic so that the Queen and her lovers could deceive him more easily. She was called "Madame Deficit," "the Austrian bitch," and "the Austrian whore" among many other apelations. Cartoonists depicted the portly Louis XVI and his frivolous Austrain wife with massive hairdos and hats--at least these depictions of her hairdos were accurate if usually overstated. Marie Antoinette had become the most hated woman in France even before the Revolution. It was the French nobility that resisted the financial reforms that France so badly needed that triggered the Revolution, not the King or Queen.
The ritual at the French court was mind boggling. This was not something that either Marie Antoinette or Louis created. They inherited it. The Queen's toilette and the King's morning dressing (lever) could take hours! The whole procedure was a as carefully choreographed as any formal dance. The Queen was not allowed to reach for anything. Several nobel ladies were there to hand her anything she needed and who handed her what was all established in advanced and such resoinsubilities jealously guarded. The Queen's household numbered 500 people. These were not sevants, but people of nobel birth who had duties such as holding the train of her dress and or the First Gentelman Usher would be offended by assocation in the caoach whebn they traveled. [Fraser] The cost of employing nobels in such numbers for such duties was enormous. The Queen for her part longed for privavy and simplicity. Her efforts to acquire more intimate quarters, first Petit Trianon and then the Palace of St. Cloud, wre roundly critucised in the Paris broadsheets who deplored the cost. There is no real indication that the Queen was especially profliate, at least in the content of the times. Nor does she seem to have led the venal social life with which she was acused. She did enjoy gambling and horseracing, but persued both in moderation. Dhe wanted to be known as a great patron of the arts and she did spend considerable sums on opaintings, musiscians, ballet, and the theater. Her critics vilfied her for what they charged were frivolus and extravagant expenditures. [Fraser]
Madame Elisabeth Vigee le Brun was notable for the images she painted of the French royal family, especially Marie Antoinette and her children. Elizabeth's father was a respected portratist, but she hardly knew him as she was not raised in their home. He died when she still a child. There were great difficulties facing a woman who wanted to be an artist in the 18th century, but Elizabeth prevailed. Her career was assured when she was chosen to paint a portait of Queen Marie Antonette. Other commissions from the royal family followed. The best portraits of the royal children were done by le Brun. Madame Vigee LeBrun had a spectacular career, pinting in capitals throughout Europe and being elected to the Academies in modst of them, an amazing honor for a woman in the 18th century. After the Revolution she went into exile, living in Italy and Austria and finally Russia where she was protected by the Emperess Catherine II. She wrote a fascinating memoir which is available on line.
A Paris street mon seize the Bastill in 1789 and set the Revolution in motion. The Queen was advised to seek refuge in Austria with the children, but she refused to abandn her vascilating husband. Another mob descended on the royal palace at Versailles outside Paris and brought the royal family to the Tuilerie palace in Paris. This made the King and Queen and their family virtual prisoners. Neither Louis or the Queen could sence that their survival lay with adopting to the new political realities of France. The Queen sought aid from other European rulers, especially her brother, the Austrian Emperor, who was best position to assist her. This was in effect treason. Even after an aborted attempt to flee Paris in 1791, the Queen continued to seek foreign assistance. Austria and Prussia eventually declared war on France and moved on Paris. Revolutionaru officials accused the Queen of passing military secrets to the enemy. The King and Queen were arrested on August 10, 1792, charged with treason and imprisoned. The King on January 21, 1793, was convicted and publically executed by guillotine to the cheers of the Paris mob.
The unpopular Queen was cruely treated by her guards. Louis-Charles and Marie-Therese were taken from her. Her dearest friend, the Princess de Lambelle, was executed. Her jailers put the severed head on a pole and paraded in front of the Queen.
Some historians insist that the Queen's trial was a mockery. There were many scandalous charges designed to humiliate her. Marie Antoinette was presented as an evil, foreign force behind the ancien régime, and the views of the Even her son Louis-Charles was brought to testify against her. It is true, however, that she did conspire with her relatives to have foreign armies invade France and thus a charge of treason does not seem to be spurious. Queen Marie Antoinette followed the King to the guillotine on October 16, 1793--at the age of only 38 years. She was not allowed to see or embrace her children before being carted off to the guillotine.
Fraser, Antonia. Marie Antoinette (Doubleday, 2001), 512p.
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