Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution
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Comparing Historically Significant Women in Power

Plan 3:  Comparing Historically Significant Women in Power

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In this lesson, students will learn about some of the world’s historically significant, politically influential women.  They will learn specifically about Marie Antoinette and her role in the politics of France during the late 1700’s.  Students will also study other historically significant women and examine how these women came into positions of power, their success in these positions, and their common background and leadership characteristics.  Finally, students will draw conclusions about how these women are remembered in history and what can be learned from them. 

Subject Areas: 
Women’s Studies, World History, Government/Political Science, Current Events, Social Studies, and Communication Arts

Grade Level:  9-12

Lesson Objectives:
Students will:
  1. Utilize prior knowledge to form opinions about questions on an Anticipation Guide
  2. Participate in class and small group discussion activities related to Marie Antoinette’s life and draw conclusions related to her political and historical significance
  3. Utilize listening and viewing skills to complete Viewing and Discussion Guide activities related to Marie Antoinette
  4. Conduct research about an historically significant woman and make comparisons between her and Marie Antoinette using a graphic organizer
  5. Write a biography and complete an informational display about the woman they have researched and present this information to another student
  6. Provide constructive feedback for one another about the information presented on their individual displays
  7. Use what they have learned about Marie Antoinette and other influential women in history to analyze changes in the opinions initially recorded on the Anticipation Guide

Relevant National Standards:
McRel Compendium of K-12 Standards Addressed:

Historical Understanding
Standard 2:  Understands the historical perspective

World History
Standard 32:  Understands the causes and consequences of political revolutions in the late 18th
                      and early 19th centuries

Language Arts
Standard 1:  Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
Standard 4:  Gathers and uses information for research purposes

Standard 5:  Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process
Standard 7:  Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of
                    informational texts

Listening and Speaking
Standard 8:  Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes

Standard 9:  Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media

Thinking and Reasoning
Standard 3:  Effectively uses mental processes that are based on identifying similarities and

Working with Others
Standard 1:  Contributes to the overall effort of a group
Standard 4:  Displays effective interpersonal communication skills

Estimated Time:
Two to three 90-minutes class periods or four 50-minute class periods plus additional time for extension activities.

Materials Needed:
  • Anticipation Guide (included with lesson plan)
  • Viewing and Discussion Guide (included with lesson plan)
  • Television with VCR/DVD to view video clips from Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution (clips specified in lesson plan)
  • Comparing Women in History handout (included with lesson plan)
  • Internet access and/or access to primary source materials for research purposes
  • 1 poster board per student
  •  assorted art supplies (optional)

1.  To focus student attention on the topic, begin by distributing the Anticipation Guide handout.  Review the directions, and provide students with approximately 5 minutes to complete the guide.

2.  After all students have completed the activity, facilitate a short discussion about each question.  Encourage students to use specific reasons and examples when sharing their opinions.  Following the discussion, explain to students that as part of the lesson they will be learning about a famous, French “teen queen”, Marie Antoinette, why she is historically significant, and her role in the French Revolution. 

3.  Access students prior knowledge about Marie Antoinette by asking questions such as:
  • Who was Marie Antoinette?
  • Why was she famous/well known in world history?
  • What words would you use to describe Marie Antoinette?
Some students may have very limited knowledge of Antoinette.  Explain to them that she is a key figure from the late 1700’s and important to world history, in particular, the French Revolution. 

4.  Share some basic information about Marie Antoinette by reading an excerpt about her life from the website. Following is an excerpt of the article entitled “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.”

5.  Once students have some basic background about Marie Antoinette, distribute the Viewing and Discussion Guide and review the directions for completing Part 1.  Have students watch the following excerpts from the film Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution.  Stop and discuss information as needed while viewing.
     Episode 1
  • approximately 3:14 beginning with “Marie Antoinette grew up at the Hapsburg Court in Vienna….” to approximately 9:50 ending with “She had no idea what lies ahead of her.”
  • approximately 15:15 beginning with “Royals didn’t have much sense of the larger world and their countries.” to approximately 16:00 ending with “Her role was to bear an heir to the throne.”
     Episode 2
  • approximately 2:08 beginning with “France was nearly bankrupt.” to approximately 3:00 ending with “It was her fault, it was her responsibility.”
  • approximately 4:26 beginning with “At last, the Queen recognized the danger…” to approximately 8:30 ending with “They didn’t want to share power with the delegates.”
  • approximately 9:35 beginning with “The deputies to the Third estate had declared themselves a National Assembly.” to approximately 13:35 ending with “You may be sure that adversity ahs not lessened my strength or my courage.”
  • approximately 18:17 beginning with “The royal family was take to the Tuileries Palace in Paris….” to approximately 21:25 ending with “”Tribulation first makes you realize who you are.”
  • approximately 28:42 beginning with “With the King and Queen back in the Tuileries Palace…” to approximately 35:25 ending with “The monarchy which had endured for nearly 1000 years was no more.”
  • approximately 44:43 beginning with “All of Europe was aligning itself against France.” to approximately 49:00 ending with “Her reputation was.”
  • approximately 52:40 beginning with “When the verdict came, it was four in the morning.” to approximately 53:35 ending with “I am calm as people are whose conscience is clear.”
  • approximately 54:47 beginning with As the tumbrel made its way across Paris…” to approximately 57:45 ending with “She was buried in an unmarked grave.”

6.  Have students work in small groups to discuss their answers to the Viewing and Discussion Guide.  This could also be done as a large group activity.  Encourage students to add details to their answers as they discuss each question.

7.  As a class, discuss Part 2 of the Viewing and Discussion Guide.  Have students site specific reasons, facts, and examples from Part 1 of the guide in their discussion of each question.

8.  Distribute the Comparing Women in History handout and review the directions for completing the activity.  Some students may have trouble selecting a woman to research.  You could make suggestions from the list below or other resources available to you.
      Hatshepsut            Nefertiti        Cleopatra        Eleanor of Aquitaine
      Winnie Mandela        Mary Queen of Scots    Elizabeth I        Catherine the Great
      Catherine de Medici    Indira Ghandi        Margaret Thatcher    Queen Victoria (Eng.)
      Empress Maria Theresa    Benazir Bhutto    Corazon Aquino    Eleanor Roosevelt
      Evita Peron        Chandrika Kumaratunga    Megawati Sukarnoputri

9.  Provide students with a least one class period to complete their research and create their display. 

10.  When all projects have been completed, have each student display his/her work.  Direct students to share their projects with another student in the class.  Each student should  provide the other with feedback about the project by writing the following phrases on a sheet of paper and completing each phrase.
  • Three things I learned from your project were….
  • The thing I liked best about your project was….
  • One suggestion for improving your project is….
Have students exchange feedback sheets after both have presented their projects to each other.  Collect feedback sheets from all students.

11.  Post all projects around the classroom or in a display location within the school so others may learn from what the students have created.

12.  As a culminating activity, facilitate a class discussion or have students complete a written response based upon the questions from the Anticipation Guide.  Ask students to address ideas such as:
  • How have your ideas and opinions about these questions changed since studying Marie Antoinette?  Why?

Assessment Suggestions:      
1.  A completion grade could be assessed for the Anticipation Guide activity.
2.  Participation grades could be awarded for all group discussion activities.
3.  The Viewing Guide could be graded for accuracy using a points/percentage grade.
4.  The research project could be graded for accuracy and content using a points/percentage
     grade or a scoring guide.
5.  Students will evaluate one another’s projects and could receive a completion or participation
     grade for this activity.

Extension Activity:
1.  Discuss reasons why the U.S. has not elected a woman president.  Direct students to brainstorm am list of historical and/or modern day women who possess the skills, qualifications, and personality to serve as president.  When a name is added to the list, encourage students to give reasons why they believe this woman would have been/could be a successful president.  As a closing activity, have students write a letter to the editor showing support for this woman as president or have students create an informational campaign pamphlet or website home page that gives specific reasons why this woman should been/should be elected President of the United States.

Related Resources:

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