Marie Antoinette Queen of France and Navarre 1755-1793
Her brother, Emperor Joseph II, describes her as “kind and honest”: Marie-Antoinette, Austrian princess and wife of Louis XVI, remains one of the most emblematic figures in the history of Versailles. She arrived at the French court when she was only fifteen years old. From her marriage to the Dauphin Louis, heir to the throne, she showed difficulties in adapting to French customs and, having become queen, she multiplied, most often unconsciously, the blunders which gradually alienated public opinion and contribute to tarnish its image in a disastrous way.
History describes her as frivolous, carefree, often fleeing the court to take refuge in the Petit Trianon, the estate her husband had built for her, among her sheep. Certainly, but Marie-Antoinette (1774-1792) was Queen of France and had to comply with her obligations. The large apartment was the very place of this public life. Almost nothing private in this row of four rooms, even in the bedroom, with a monumental bed topped with gilding and peacock feathers. “Of course, the Queen’s rising and setting ceremonies took place there. But even the deliveries, those of Marie-Antoinette like those of the other queens, took place in public. It was necessary to ensure that there could not be an exchange of babies…”.
Marie Antoinette, the queen with a tragic fate.
Daughter of François I of Lorraine, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and of Marie-Thérèse of Habsburg, archduchess of Austria, Marie-Antoinette was born in Vienna on November 2, 1755. Her marriage to the future Louis XVI, celebrated in the Royal Chapel of the castle on May 16, 1770, is in part the work of the Duke of Choiseul, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and one of the main architects of Franco-Austrian reconciliation. This union, however, arouses some reluctance in public opinion, which retains the memory of the centuries-old struggles against the House of Austria. The sumptuous ceremonies that take place during princely weddings are notably marked by the inauguration of the hall of the Royal Opera.
The young Dauphine becomes the first woman of the court. With her husband, in the eyes of public opinion, she symbolizes the promises of a new reign that the age of Louis XV lets hope for. The aging King has indeed become very unpopular and his death, on May 10, 1774, is felt as a relief in the kingdom. Marie-Antoinette becomes queen when she is not yet twenty years old.
A queen at court
In love with his wife, Louis XVI allowed her to take a place at court that the two previous queens, Marie-Thérèse of Austria and Marie Leszczinska, had never had. Appreciating the entertainment, the Queen intervened in the choice of court performances, encouraged the artists, and became enthusiastic about court balls.
As her role requires, she also regularly keeps her circle in her apartment and shows a very keen penchant for billiards and card games, which she often plays in excess, losing and winning in turn considerable sums, to the point that the King was moved by it and had certain too risky games which were swallowing up real fortunes to be banned. Musician, Marie-Antoinette plays the harp and the harpsichord. She can also sing. She favors the composers she likes, such as Grétry, Gluck or Sacchini.
Her very sure taste made her protect a number of artists, such as the painter Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun who painted around thirty portraits of the sovereign and owed her, in large part, the success of her career. The Queen also devotes a lot of time to fashion, to the chagrin of her mother who regularly chapters her on this subject. She often intervenes herself in the choice of her dresses and her hairstyle, thus ignoring her lady of attires of which this is however the function, and going so far as to receive herself the milliner Rose Bertin, nicknamed with a certain malevolence the “minister of modes”.
Marie-Antoinette in the privacy part
As soon as she arrived in Versailles, Marie-Antoinette occupied the Queen’s apartment in which she had to submit to the obligations of her function: rising, toilet, audiences, public meals … But, accustomed to the simple ceremonial of Austrian palaces, she Does not support the constraints of the Versailles label, and strives to seek a more intimate life. Surrounded by a circle that she chooses herself (and not always with discernment), she favors the living room of her interior Cabinets, located behind the rooms of her state apartment and that she seeks to extend upstairs. above, as well as that of the Petit Trianon, built by Louis XV and which Louis XVI offered him upon his accession. Very early on, she undertook major embellishment work which altered almost all of the gardens, in the midst of which soon rose elegant factories, a theater and, subsequently, an entire hamlet.
In 1778, after eight long years of marriage, she finally gave birth to her first child. Marie-Thérèse, known as “Madame Royale”, was soon followed by “Le Dauphin” King’s son, Louis-Joseph, born in 1781. A few years later, she gave birth to Louis-Charles who became Dauphin on the death of his elder brother in 1789 , then Sophie-Béatrice, who will only live a few months. The Queen will always be a loving mother and close to her children. The successive deaths of Sophie-Béatrice and of the first “Le Dauphin” King’s son, will be for her as for the King, particularly painful ordeals (like God’s judgement).
The criticized queen
Under the influence of her mother, Marie-Antoinette awkwardly tries to play a political role, but she is little appreciated by the Court. Madame Adélaïde, Louis XVI’s aunt, who does not tolerate the slightest fantasy – even the most innocent – in the Queen’s behavior, gives her the pejorative nickname of “Austrian” who will accompany her until her death. Despite an opinion that was initially very favorable to her, the Queen gradually became the target of pamphlets, libels and caricatures which redoubled from 1785 with the Collier affair, a fraud of which she was, however, only the victim. Its spending is scrutinized, often exaggerated, and it is accused of increasingly exhausting the finances of the kingdom. Every attempt to win back public opinion is a failure, and at the time of the Revolution the Queen is frankly hated.
Her ambiguous attitude during the French Revolution – she gave the image of a queen hesitating between flight and conciliation – accelerated her tragic end. Locked up in the Temple at the end of the day of August 10, 1792, she was transferred to the Conciergerie some time after the King’s execution in 1793. It was with great courage that she endured her trial before the Revolutionary Tribunal. , then its execution, on October 16, 1793, on the current Place de la Concorde. In 1815, his remains – along with those of Louis XVI – were solemnly transferred to the Abbey of Saint-Denis and placed in the crypt.
Photo credit (main photo): Wikimedia Commons
Photo explanations: Marie Antoinette in two paintings by Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun. One (left) made in 1778, the other (right) made in 1779. In the second portrait you can see the new haircut adopted after the birth of the daughter: the birth had made the hairline much more delicate. hair, which therefore could no longer be elaborately styled and above all could not be subjected to strong stress; A new hairstyle was created by the hairdresser Léonard, especially for the queen.