Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette (ăntwənĕt´, äNtwänĕt´), 1755–93, queen of France, wife of King Louis XVI and daughter of Austrian Archduchess Maria Theresa and Holy Roman Emperor Francis I. She was married in 1770 to the dauphin, who became king in 1774. Her marriage had been made to strengthen France's alliance with its long-time enemy, Austria. The union, however, was not altogether popular, and Marie Antoinette's actions only increased hostility toward her. She constantly sought the advice of the Austrian ambassador and attempted to influence French foreign policy in favor of Austria.

Unhappy in her marriage, which remained unconsummated for seven years, she surrounded herself with a dissolute clique, led by Yolande de Polignac and Marie Thérèse de Lamballe, and threw herself into a life of pleasure and careless extravagance. Her notorious reputation led to scandals such as the Affair of the Diamond Necklace and to rumors concerning her relations with officers of the guard and with Hans Axel Fersen. The famous solution to the bread famine, "Let them eat cake," is unjustly attributed to the queen, but it is certain that Marie Antoinette lacked understanding of economic problems. With the birth of her first son, her life became more sedate.

Although she had contributed to the downfall of A. R. J. Turgot in 1776 and was hostile to Jacques Necker, her influence on the king's decisions during the first two years of the French Revolution (1789–91) has been exaggerated. She was brought with the king from Versailles to Paris (Oct., 1789) and was seized at Varennes when the royal family attempted to escape (1791). Despite her hatred of the Revolution, the apathy of the king forced her to conduct negotiations first with the comte de Mirabeau, then with Antoine Barnave. Simultaneously, however, she secretly urged Austrian intervention; after war was declared, she fully identified the cause of the Bourbon dynasty with that of France.

After the storming of the Tuileries palace (Aug., 1792), she and her husband were removed to the Temple and accused of treason. The king was executed in Jan., 1793. Marie Antoinette's son was taken from her (see Louis XVII), and she was transferred to the Conciergerie. Known derisively as the "Widow Capet," she was tried before the Revolutionary Tribunal (Oct. 14–15, 1793), found guilty, and guillotined (Oct. 16). In her last misfortunes she displayed steadfastness, courage, serenity, and dignity. Her portraits, notably by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, are well known.

Among Marie Antoinette's published correspondence see Lettres de Marie Antoinette (2 vol., 1895–96) and Olivier Bernier ed., Secrets of Marie Antoinette: A Collection of Letters (1986). See also biographies by S. Zweig (tr. 1933), A. Castelot (tr., 1957), D. M. Mayer (1969), P. Huisman (tr. 1971), J. Haslip (1987), A. Fraser (2001), and C. Weber (2006).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Marie Antoinette: Selected full-text books and articles

"Let Them Eat Cake": The Mythical Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution By Barker, Nancy N The Historian, Vol. 55, No. 4, Summer 1993
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
An Introduction to Eighteenth Century France By John Lough Longmans, Green, 1960
Librarian's tip: Chap. VI "Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette"
Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution 1789-1799 By Samuel F. Scott; Barry Rothaus Greenwood Press, vol.2, 1985
Librarian's tip: Discussion of Marie Antoinette begins on p. 635
Edmund Burke, Marie Antoinette, and the Procedure Criminelle By Blakemore, Steven; Hembree, Fred The Historian, Vol. 63, No. 3, Spring 2001
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Fatal Women of Romanticism By Adriana Craciun Cambridge University Press, 2003
Librarian's tip: Chap. 3 "'The Aristocracy of Genius': Mary Robinson and Marie Antoinette"
Homosexuality in Modern France By Jeffrey Merrick; Bryant T. Ragan Jr Oxford University Press, 1996
Librarian's tip: Chap. 3 "Pass as a Woman, Act like a Man: Marie Antoinette as Tribade in the Pornography of the French Revolution"
The Politics of Virtue in Enlightenment France By Marisa Linton Palgrave, 2001
Librarian's tip: "Marie-Antoinette: The Queen as the Corrupter of Royal Virtue" begins on p. 150
The Lure of Perfection: Fashion and Ballet, 1780-1830 By Judith Chazin Bennahum Routledge, 2004
Librarian's tip: Discussion of Marie Antoinette begins on p. 17
The French Revolution, 1788-1792 By Gaetano Salvemini; I. M. Rawson Jonathan Cape, 1954
Librarian's tip: Chap. VI "The Flight to Varennes"
The Life and Death of Louis XVI By Saul K. Padover D. Appleton-Century, 1939
Librarian's tip: Chap. IV "My Daughter Will Love You" and Chap. IX "Only Turgot and I Love the People"
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