Headlines ripped from today's tabloids, tattling on lusty celebrities and rambunctious royals? Or is this gossip a few centuries old?
Rumors have always been useful for those who wanted to sow discord and trouble, and this was never more true than in 18th-century France. The hothouse atmosphere of the royal court, where factions and rivalries operated secretly to shape policy and undermine sometimes tenuous royal power, created a ripe environment for a thriving gossip mill, presented mostly in the form of cheap, widely-distributed pamphlets that were the equivalent of today's tabloids.
Hired by powerful leaders of court factions, the pamphleteers themselves were often down-and-out writers who cared less about politics and more about earning a fast buck. The printers and sellers of pamphlets operated outside the law and had no qualms about spreading the most salacious rumors, often accompanied by lewd, pornographic pictures. The French public, like the printers, pamphleteers, and those who paid them, had a seemingly unlimited amount of ire for Marie Antointette, who became symbolic of all of France's ills.Printed secretly, the pamphlets were too plentiful to be squelched by the French government. The graphically illustrated scandal sheets accused the Queen of crimes ranging from hopeless stupidity all the way to adultery, sexual deviance, and even treason. Despite the claims of modern scholars to objectivity, these pamphlets continue to shape historical views of the French Queen, her society, and the aristocracy — just as they did for her contemporaries.