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Marie AntoinetteMarie Antoinette

Queen of France, 1774-1793

Marie Antoinette was born in Vienna, Austria, on November 2, 1755. She was the youngest daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and Maria Theresa, who raised her with the expectation that she would someday become Queen of France. Her parents' dreams came true after she married the French Crown Prince in 1770, and he became King Louis XVI in 1774.

Despite her upbringing, the young queen was bored by the stiff formalities of court life and amused herself with such pleasures as fancy balls, theatricals, horse races, and gambling. To give her an escape from the court, Louis gave her the Château Petit Trianon (also known as Versailles), where the queen and her friends amused themselves.

The French people all but hated Marie, primarily because she was Austrian. In addition, because her husband was known for being a less-than-able administrator, many in France believed that Marie was the one in actual control of things. Since public criticism of the king could be dangerous, it was far safer to blame all of France's problems on the foreign queen. Although it was Louis's loan to the American colonies to help their revolutionary efforts that actually created France's financial problems, the French people found it easier to blame the crisis on Marie's lifestyle. She was even accused of having numerous affairs, including at least one with a woman. She tried to change her image amongst the French people by wearing simple gowns and posing for portraits with her children, but none of her efforts had much effect on the public.

Tragedy struck Marie twice in 1789 -- her eldest son died, and the French Revolution started. Louis gradually lost control of France, but Marie faced danger courageously. She tried to stiffen the king's will, but only made people angry by her stubborn opposition to the revolutionary changes. It was on Marie's advice that the king assembled troops around Versailles twice in 1789. In early October 1789, a Parisian mob marched to Versailles and forced the royal family to move to the Tuileries palace in Paris. From then on, Louis and Marie were virtual prisoners in Paris

On the night of June 20, 1791, the royal family set out in disguise by carriage for the eastern frontier of France. An alert patriot recognized the king from his picture on French paper money, however, and the king and queen were stopped at Varennes and returned under guard to Paris.

In 1792, France went to war with Austria. Not surprisingly, Marie was almost immediately accused of passing military secrets to the enemy. On August 10, Marie and Louis were thrown into prison. Louis was tried and convicted of treason in December, and guillotined on January 21, 1793. In October 1793, Marie was tried and, like her husband, convicted of treason. On October 16 she was taken to the guillotine through the streets of Paris in an open cart. She maintained her dignity to the end, and even apologized to the executioner for accidentally stepping on his foot.

SEE ALSO
Louis XVI

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This page was last updated on January 18, 2017.