The Life of Marie Antoinette
Print depicting Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) Queen consort of France and Navarre and wife of King Louis XVI, besieged by a mob in the Tuileries. Dated 18th Century. (Photo by Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution. Turn a page backward in history to the 18th century. There were some troublesome times in that era with some disturbing facts. Take the life of Marie Antoinette, a life that was torn. Was justice served when she received her final sentence? Maybe. But was justice served when her own children had to suffer the consequences of her and her husband’s actions?
Born in 1755, Marie Antoinette was the 15th child and last daughter that her mother, Maria Teresa (Queen of Hungary and Empress of the Holy Roman Empire) gave birth to. She was quite fond of her wet-nurse, the woman who took care of her, Constance Weber. Many times she would give her and her son gifts. Schooled on religion and morality but not much on other topics, Antoine (as she was called back then) lacked in her speech and had a problem with concentration. At the age of 12, she was unable to write or speak French or German very well. She was able to speak Italian well though and she loved music.
Mozart was her favorite music to listen to, so much so, that Mozart actually tried to propose to her. Dancing including ballet was something else she loved very well. But she needed more than just her dancing ability and love for music in the days ahead of her. In those days, it was customary to arrange marriages, sometimes even for political gain. Antoine’s mother had high hopes for Josepha, who was 16 and third to the youngest daughter, to marry Charles III of Spain. But something happened. A case of smallpox hit which took the life of her daughter-in-law in 1767. She and Josepha went to the tomb to pray, and for some reason, the tomb had not been tightly closed so Josepha caught smallpox. Although it did not take her life, her beauty was gone. So much for her wedding plans!
Since Antoine had smallpox when she was two, she was immune to it and did not catch it. King Ferdinand was still in need of a bride so the girls’ mother offered him one of her other two available daughters, who were suited for him, Amalia (age 21) or Charlotte (age 14). Antoine was only 12 at this time. The King of Naples chose Charlotte and Amalia was given to the King of Parma (Louis XV’s grandson). That left only Antoine, so because the Queen wanted to have friendly ties with France, she chose to arrange yet one more marriage. At the age of 14, Antoine was married to Louis XVI of France, who was only 20 at the time he became king after his grandfather died.
Before the actual wedding took place, she had to undergo some changes. Because she had crooked teeth, her teeth were fixed by a French dentist, a painful process; her hair was changed by a famous hairdresser, and her education had to be changed. Due to her inability to concentrate and her laziness, the Abbe Jacques-Mathieu de Vermond was brought in to teach her. He was able to help her to achieve at least a decent education. Like her sister, Amalia, at first, she was not happy with her arranged marriage.
It wasn’t until seven years later that she began having children as her marriage was not consummated for several years. She had a total of four children. Upon becoming the Queen of France, the French people, at first, were pleased with her because of her beauty and personality but that was short-lived. They began to complain that she spent too much money, which worsened or created France’s financial difficulties; had sympathy for France’s enemies; and that she had “too many lovers.”
Life may have started out well for the king and queen and their four children but it didn’t end well. Things began to get very turbulent for them. A bad economy was just the beginning. While they were living the exquisite lifestyle, they were putting heavy taxation on the people, particularly the poor. The king took out international loans to fund the American Revolution, increasing France’s debt. Almost to the point of bankruptcy, the king was forced to resort to radical fiscal reforms, which was unsettling to the people. Rather than try to offer solutions, he simply refused any help that was offered and did nothing about the problem.
Finally, in 1789, the king met with the Estates General (an assembly of three groups of people: clergy, nobility, and commoners) but it did not go well. Soon, the Third Estate, which represented the majority of the people, declared itself the National Assembly. But the king resisted by declaring it null and void. Then later, he called out the National Guard to restore order but instead, they resisted the king. The French Revolution had begun. Riots began taking place in Paris. After being forced from Versailles to Paris, the king, not wanting to abdicate his throne, agreed to an escape attempt, which only brought more disaster upon he and his family.
By 1792, the proof came that the king had secret dealings and counter-revolutionary intrigues. He and his wife were thrown into prison, along with their remaining children.
Their young son died under horrible living conditions in prison. Their daughter, Marie-Therese was the only one of the four children that did not die in childhood. She was released from prison in 1795 to live with her family in Austria. After months of being held in prison for treason, on October 16, 1793, Marie Antoinette was executed through the use of the guillotine. Her husband was executed nine months before in the same way. They were married for a total of only 19 years.