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Marie Antoinette: Frivolous Lamb to the Slaughter

Europe's royals are intriguing. Marie Antoinette was arguably doomed before she stepped a dainty foot in France and she didn't help herself.

This miniature of Marie Antoinette (Maria Antonia) by Joseph Decreux was sent to Dauphin Louis in France before the wedding so that he knew what his bride looked like.

This miniature of Marie Antoinette (Maria Antonia) by Joseph Decreux was sent to Dauphin Louis in France before the wedding so that he knew what his bride looked like.

Maria Antonia of Austria

On the 2nd November 1755, Her Royal Highness Archduchess Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna of Austria was born at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. She was the fifteenth of sixteen children born to Empress Maria Theresa of Austria (1717-1780) and Francis I, Duke of Lorraine and Holy Roman Emperor (1708-1765.) The House of Habsburg’s females were all named Maria in honour of the Virgin Mary and the Catholic faith. Antoine, as she was known to her family, was a princess and archduchess in the oldest and arguably most powerful and prestigious European dynasty.

Childhood in the Viennese imperial palaces of Hofburg and Schonbrunn was uncomplicated and for the girls, not exacting intellectually. The focus was on religion, morals, music, etiquette and personal appearance. Maria Antonia learned to play the harp, could dance and sing well but showed less flair with her writing and conversation.

The royal offspring were well-disciplined because Maria Theresa believed that it was her duty to prepare her eleven daughters and five sons for marriage and ruling kingdoms. Maria Antonia was closest to her sister Maria Carolina, known as Charlotte (1752-1814). Maria Christina, known as Mimi, was their mother’s favourite, and Maria Theresa did not conceal the fact which caused arguments between the siblings.

Political Pawn

During the Seven Years War between 1754 and 1763, Austria and France became allies via the Treaty of Versailles against Britain and Prussia. A marriage between France and Austria was desirable to ensure that the agreement survived the strains of war. Maria Theresa, Francis I and Louis XV of France (1710-1774) worked to effect a marriage.

Louis XV’s grandson Louis-Auguste (1754-1793) became Dauphin, the heir to the throne, after his father Louis Ferdinand’s death in December 1765. (1729-1765.) Maria Antonia was the youngest daughter of the House of Habsburg. Holy Roman Emperor Francis I died on 18th August 1765 but Maria Theresa continued to rule with her son Joseph, proclaimed Emperor Joseph II (1741-1790).

Negotiations completed by the adult rulers, Louis and Maria Antonia were engaged. The dowry was set at 200,000 crowns.

Louis XVI of France, husband of Marie Antoinette and the last ruler of France's Ancien Regime.

Louis XVI of France, husband of Marie Antoinette and the last ruler of France's Ancien Regime.

14-Year-Old Royal Bride

King Louis XV deployed a tutor to Vienna to educate Maria Antonia about the French, the royal court and what would be expected of her. The tutor recorded that she was frivolous and resistant to her lessons.

A miniature portrait of the bride-to-be was commissioned and sent to the two Louis’. They did not know what she looked like until it arrived in Paris.

The two teenagers, who had never met, were married by proxy on 19th April 1770 in Vienna and Maria Antonia was officially awarded, in person, to the French on 7th May 1770. Maria Antonia spent the remainder of her tumultuous life as Marie Antoinette.

Married Strangers at the Palace

Marie Antoinette and Louis finally met on the 16th May 1770 and a spectacular wedding ceremony was held hours after their first awkward conversation. When the couple made a public appearance at the Tuileries, they were popularly received. Over fifty thousand people vied for the best position to see them.

Back at court, it was noted that the bride and groom did not consummate their marriage on their wedding night or the subsequent nights. The teenagers were polite and distant. Louis’ tutors had instilled the belief in him at a very early age that he should never allow others to know what he was thinking so that he’d appear strong. This, and his shyness, looked like indifference to onlookers, including Marie Antoinette's brothers-in-law.

What Went Wrong for Dauphine Marie Antoinette

Tragically thirty or more people were trampled to death in the crowd at the couple’s first public appearance and this was perceived as a bad omen by many of the French people. This negative was added to the widespread resistance to the marriage because Austria and France had been long-term enemies before the Seven Year's War drew them together and their defeats to Prussia and Britain made the alliance more unpopular. Marie Antoinette could have been an angel beyond reproach (of course, she wasn’t) but the underlying issue was that she was Austrian.

Comtesse du Barry (1743-1793,) the King's mistress, and Marie Antoinette endured a strained relationship. Madame du Barry had connived to remove the Duc de Choiseul (1719-1785) from court because he had worked to bring about the French-Austrian alliance. After several months of tension, Du Barry believed that she controlled Marie Antoinette because to maintain the king’s favour the Austrian bride had to treat her, the mistress, well despite her own plentiful discourtesies and criticisms.

Florimont-Claude, Comte de Mercy d'Argenteau (1727-1794), the Empress’ Austrian minister in Paris tried to exert his powers over Marie Antoinette to benefit Austria. This was poorly received by the French.

Apart from the country of her birth causing initial problems, Marie Antoinette was very homesick and in a marriage with a stranger. He was devoted to hunting and the court business whilst she was more interested in fashion, the arts and pleasant activities. He retired early, she wanted to dance into the night.

Marie Antoinette circa 1790. Her hair turned from blonde to white during the French Revolution.

Marie Antoinette circa 1790. Her hair turned from blonde to white during the French Revolution.

L'Autrichienne

Marie Antoinette grew frustrated by Louis, the French court, its endless etiquette and claims on her time. She began to spend money and time on frivolous activities without a care for her public image. She was called 'L’ Autrichienne' ('Austrian bitch').

Vicious and insulting pamphlets were published during their first years of marriage decrying her and Louis for not providing the obligatory heir and spare to the throne. They eventually had a daughter and son who survived, another boy and girl died. Only Marie-Therese survived the French Revolution.

The beginning of the end of the French monarchy under the Ancien Regime was underway and would only gain momentum when their reign commenced in 1774.

The French abolished the monarchy on the 21st September 1792. Louis and Marie Antoinette were executed. She met Madame Guillotine on the 16th October 1793, ten months after Louis’ death.

Caricaturist George Cruickshank's depiction of Madame Guillotine in operation.

Caricaturist George Cruickshank's depiction of Madame Guillotine in operation.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Joanne Hayle

Comments

Joanne Hayle (author) from Wiltshire, U.K. on October 11, 2021:

Thanks for your visit and comment. :-) I can't add a comment on the Nelson article you did but I enjoyed it very much.

Joanne Hayle (author) from Wiltshire, U.K. on October 11, 2021:

Thanks for your visit and comment. :-) I can't add a comment on the Nelson article you did but I enjoyed it very much.

fran rooks from Toledo, Ohio on October 10, 2021:

Joanne, great article on Marie Antoinette. I always thought she was misunderstood. She had a terrible time during all the revolutions. Thanks for sharing.

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