Queens Marie Antoinette
One of the world’s unluckiest Queens was Marie Antoinette and her husband King Louis August XVI because they became monarchs when France’s government and social system were long overdue for a change. Marie Antoinette was the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor and an Empress of Austria, born November 2nd, 1755. At the age of fourteen, her marriage was arranged to Louis, the Dauphin and future king of France by her mother in an attempt to strengthen the political relationship between the two countries. At the age of nineteen, she became the Queen of France in May, 1774, alongside her husband. Her marriage remained unconsummated for the first seven years of their marriage and as a result she did not provide an heir to the French throne, which sparked much hatred towards Antoinette. However, it is believed Louis suffered from a physical defect that prevented him from performing sexually which he later got fixed through a minor surgery. Antoinette and Louis had four children in total however only their eldest daughter survived the French Revolution. With the beginning of the French revolution, the monarchy became unwanted and unnecessary. As a result, Marie and Louis’s execution became necessary for social progress to take place. Marie Antoinette was executed by guillotine, like her husband, on October 6th, 1793. Marie Antoinette’s execution was the consequence of misunderstandings, unfair treatment and discrimination by the French toward an Austrian princess.
Marie Antoinette was born and raised in Austria, a past enemy of France, which gave a basis for the people of France to discriminate and distrust her loyalty to France. Dislike of Antoinette was first noticed in 1774 when she became the main focus of scandalous pamphlets that depicted her in unflattering, sexual situations. These pamphlets were false and designed to degrade Antoinette’s respect, dignity and status to the public (Magill, 918). The French people hated Antoinette for her Austrian blood and her mischievous behaviour. She was rumored to have had an affair with Count Axel Fersen, a Scottish diplomat. The French commoners would have considered this as cheating on their King, therefore cheating on their country (Cinderella). The hatred that was felt toward her Austrian background was clearly shown in October of 1789, during the rising of the French Revolution when thousands of women marched up to the palace of Versailles demanding for the queen to come out. They yelled “Death to the Austrian! We’ll wring her neck! We’ll tear her heart out!” (Plain, 31). Based on what the mob of women was yelling, their anger was not directed to the monarchy at all but rather to Antoinette, the Austrian. In 1792, Austria defeated the French Army and the Austrian army started marching towards French territory, which turned the French citizen’s fear of invasion into hatred for Austrians, specifically Antoinette (Plain, 33). In fact, many citizens falsely accused her of sharing France’s war plans with the Austrian Army (Magill, 920). The hatred that Antoinette suffered was undeserved and it became a permanent part of her life in France.
Antoinette’s arranged marriage brought together two people who had nothing in common; as a result Louis left her alone in the palace which made her feel rejected by her husband and isolated in France. Like many of the French citizen’s, Louis was also distrustful of his wife so he chose to leave her alone to adjust to the French court and new life as Dauphine of France (Plain, 12). Furthermore, Louis felt guilty for his failure to consummate their marriage, for which Antoinette was also ridiculed, he made up for it by spoiling the sexually deprived queen in other ways (Bernier, 52). Louis was able to fulfill his martial duties such provide for Antoinette and eventually, an heir to the throne of France, however he did not meet any of her emotionally or intimacy needs; he left her companionless in France (Magill, 918). This means that she was left alone to do as she pleased. So to amuse herself she started spending a great deal of money on luxuries and unnecessary things. Antoinette became known for her gambling habit were she would loose millions during just one game and she spent many nights dancing away at masked balls while her husband stayed at home. The older courtiers were stunned by Antoinette because she behaved like no previous French queen ever had. To her mother, to justify her bad behaviour, she wrote, “You see, I am so terrified of being bored” (Plain, 22).
After her marriage, her mother who said that Marie was doing “nothing solid or useful” with her life at Versailles constantly scolded Antoinette making her feel more unwanted (Doland). Another bad choice that Antoinette had was forming a close friendship with a group of hedonists in an attempt to diminish her loneliness, which encouraged her to spend excessively on lavish parties (Middleton, 580). Antoinette was followed by bad-luck from the moment she entered France. She was the rejected wife, girl and scapegoat for the country’s lack of finances (Fraser, 458). Money and partying were the salvation that Antoinette turned to deal with her emotional troubles; however it ended up being one of her downfalls.
As King and Queen, Marie and Louis XVI inherited many of France’s problems, especially the poor financial situation, which Antoinette got blamed for because of her extravagant spending. Antoinette spent millions on gambling, parties, shopping and other luxuries while the peasants, which was 80% of France’s population, straved. The third estate of France’s social ladder was the poorest of France and who paid the most taxes (Plain, 16). France was facing bankruptcy and eventually as people noticed Antoinette’s spending, they blamed her for France’s national debt. She became known as “Madame Deficit” (Fraser, 250). In reality, LouisXVI had secretly been aiding the American Revolution and many of its wars. Still because a majority of France’s money was secretly given to America, Antoinette who openly spent her money was given the blame for its lack of finances (Cinderella). “As the monarchy reeled in debt and edged towards bankruptcy, Queen who symbolized frivolous, decadent luxury to common people, drew much blame upon herself” (Magill, 919). In fact, Antoinette was in debt herself because of the amount of money she spent on fashion. She spent two million every year on clothing alone by 1777 (Bernier, 53). Because Antoinette was a foreigner and a woman, she became an easy scapegoat for France’s financial issues. This is one of the reasons behind the numerous rumors that were spread about her and nothing seemed too outrageous to believe about the Austrian Queen. Although it must be noted that Antoinette did attempt to reform her reputation as she matured and became a mother by becoming less extravagant, wearing simpler gowns and posing in portraits with her children. Nevertheless her attempt went in vain because it was too late for her to change the mind of the French people (Cinderella). One of the biggest scandals that were associated with her was the Diamond Necklace Affair that she did not have anything to do with and was just another fabrication made to disgrace the Queen further and moreover reduce her creditablity (Columbia). It is evident that as money became a pressing issue, blaming Antoinette appeared to be the most convienent target to direct the anger at.
With the beginning of the French Revolution came revolts, riots and demands from unsatisfied citizens, which the monarchy did not know how to effectively deal with to prevent further angry outbreaks. It should first be noted that Marie and Louis knew that they were both too young and inexpereicned to rule a country. In fact, upon hearing that they were King and Queen, Louis and Marie were found on their knees praying together and crying, “Oh God, oh God, protect us. We are too young to reign!” (Bernier, 49). Louis showed his lack of authority and independent thinking when he attempted to establish new reforms to minimize the distress felt by the peasants but the nobility would not co-operate (Middleton, 580). Once the revolution had reached its peak, the royal family tried to escape France which appeared unfavourable on them because it seemed like they were abondonning their people. It especially looked bad for Marie Antoinette who was an Austrian because it showed she had no loyalty or concern for the french community (Plain, 32). The Jacobins, who came into power, wanted to rid the country of its monarchy and resulted in Maie and Louis’s lives becoming the center of negative attention (Plain, 34). Following the deaht of Louis XVI, the Bloody Reign of Terror came into existence whose first victime would be the Queen (Middleton, 579). One of Louis XVI’s greatest weaknesses as a King was his inability to promote change in the social systems to satisfy all three estates. He let the first and second estate’s unsatisfaction of loosing priviledges over-power his decision to enforce taxes on them as well to reduce the burden on the third estate. As a result, he did not have any alternative but to borrow more money from the Swiss bank to pay the government (Plain, 21). Louis clearly needed a more politically aware wife that could have helped him with the decision making and governing of the parlement except Antoinette was the least equipped person to compensate for his weaknesses as a ruler (Magill, 920). If Louis had been a stronger king with proper skills to guide and control the revolutionary outbreaks, then prehaps he could have prevented the deathly outcomes that he and his wife faced (Plain, 39). Antoinette became the victim of Louis XVI’s poor governing skills, lack of authority and their inability to aid each other in their governing duties.
The misperception about her loyalty, unjustified dislike and prejudice that Marie Antoinette faced because of her Austrian heritage resulted in her unnecessary execution. There were many unfair circumstances that surrounded Antoinette that eventually led to her untimely death. Firstly, her original status as the Austrian archduchess pre-determined hatred towards her from the French. Secondly, Antoinette’s and Louis’s marriage started off badly which led her to gambling and expensive spending of France’s money. Also, her excessive spending made her an easy target to blame for France’s poor financial situation. Lastly, Louis’s poor governing skills allowed the French revolution to get out of control and target the monarchy. It is evident that these circumstances did not work in Marie’s favour and faced many hardships till the end of her life. When looking at the reign of Marie Antoinette and France’s discrimination against her because of her country of origin, it shows how prejudice can sometimes blind people’s clear thinking and lead to harsh actions and hatred based on that one preconception; ultimately resulting into an action you cannot reverse.