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Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution
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The Teen Queen: Marie Antoinette

The Teen Queen: Marie Antoinette As Queen of France, Marie Antoinette had no official role and no legitimate political power — her main job was to produce a male heir to continue her husband's royal line.  Like the marriage, the coronation of Louis XVI was greeted warmly by the French people, who had great hopes that after the fifty-year reign of  Louis XV, the young King would bring new ideas, much-needed reforms, and a fresh approach to governing France in a rapidly-changing world.


This goodwill quickly eroded as the King's economic policies failed, while his Queen failed to produce an heir.  He seemed to lose interest in government, as she became aggressively social, attending the Opera and dances in the capital, gambling and  partying late into the night at Versailles.  In public and at court she was seen only in the latest and most expensive fashions. Rumors about her alleged secret lovers and out-of-control spending increased.

Illegal presses began printing pamphlets showing the queen as an ignorant, adulterous spendthrift.  Some speculated in print that the King's brother, the comte d'Artois, was taking the King's place in his wife's bed.  Louis XVI was the first French king in two hundred years not to have a royal mistress;  Marie Antoinette was the first queen to believe that she could be both wife and mistress to her husband. However, by cultivating fashion, taste, and the arts while failing to produce a legitimate heir, Marie Antoinette looked to all the world like a mistress, not a wife, and one whose sexuality was directed away from the King.  All the ire that had been directed at Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Barry, Louis XV's most famous mistresses, was now redirected at the only target available: the Queen who acted like a mistress, but who was not satisfied, it seemed, with the King.

Marie Antoinette's first child, Marie Therese Charlotte, was finally born in December 1778, followed by Louis Joseph in 1781, Louis Charles in 1785 and Sophie Béatrix in 1786. As she grew older, the Queen became less extravagant, devoting herself to her children, two of whom died in childhood.  In fact, her first son, the dauphin, died on June 4, 1789.  This meant that the Queen was in mourning for her son when the Tennis Court Oath was signed on June 20, the Bastille fell on July 14, and still when the Great Fear spread throughout the countryside in August.

In October 1789, the royal family was forced to leave Versailles for the Tuileries palace in the heart of Paris, where they lived in prison-like isolation. Marie Antoinette secretly requested help from other European rulers, including her royal siblings in Austria and Naples. On the night of June 20, 1791, the royal family attempted to flee.  Their escape plan was said to have been engineered by Axel von Fersen, the Swedish count who was rumored to be one of the Queen's lovers.  It is incontestable that Marie Antoinette's brother awaited the royal family just across the border and that he was accompanied by troops ready to invade.   They were caught in the small town of Varennes, half-way to the border, and brought back to Paris, prisoners now of the Revolutionary government.

On the night of August 10, 1792, militants attacked the royal palace where Marie Antoinette and her family were being held and forced the Legislative Assembly to "suspend" the King.  Little more than a month later, on September 20, the new National Convention  was convened, and two days later it voted to declare France a republic, thus abolishing the monarchy.  From that moment on, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were no longer King and Queen, but, like many others, imprisoned citizens suspected of treason.

Marie Antoinette became a widow when her husband was guillotined to death after being tried and convicted of treason in January 1793.  Her two remaining children were subsequently taken from her. After a brief trial, Marie Antoinette herself was convicted of treason and also of sexual abuse of her son in October 1793.  On October 16,  she too was executed by guillotine. She was 37 years old.

Famous Faces

Rumors and RevolutionThe Teen Queen: Marie AntoinetteHis Royal Hesitancy: Louis XVIThe Iron Fist: Maria TheresaSwede on the Side: Axel von FersenThe Queen's Crony: Princesse de LamballeMonsieur Moneybags: Jacques NeckerPass the Buck Chuck: Charles-Alexandre de CalonneMad Max: Maximilien RobespierreThe Warmonger: Jacques Pierre BrissotDear Abbe: Emmanuel Joseph SieyèsCrooked Cardinal: Cardinal de RohanAmerica's Sweetheart: Marquis de Lafayette
Explore Versailles Queen's Chamber

Versailles
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Timeline
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