Inside The Final Days Before Marie Antoinettes Death Sated Frances Bloodlust
By Andrew Milne | Checked By Joanna Nix
Published October 14, 2019
The days preceding Marie Antoinette's execution were excruciating. She was imprisoned, endured allegations of incest, and her hair went white overnight from shock.
Marie Antoinette: the very name of the doomed queen of France, the last of the Ancien Régime, evokes power and fascination. Against the poverty of late 18th-century France, the five syllables evoke a cloud of pastel-colored indulgence, absurd fashions, and cruel frivolity, like a rococo painting sprung to life.
The real life, and death, of Marie Antoinette is certainly as fascinating. Falling from the Olympus- on-earth of Versailles to the humble cell of the Conciergerie and ultimately the executioners scaffold, the last days of the last real Queen of France were full of humiliation, degradation, and blood.
Life At The Conciergerie
Tucked away in its cavernous halls, Marie Antoinettes life at the Conciergerie couldnt have been more divorced from her life of luxury in Versailles. Formerly the seat of power for the French monarchy in the Middle Ages, the imposing Gothic palace lorded over the Île de la Cité in the center of Paris as part administrative center, part prison during the reign of the Bourbons (her husbands dynasty).
The final 11 weeks of her life were spent in a humble cell at the Conciergerie, much of which she likely spent reflecting on the turns her life and France took to bring her from the top of the world to the guillotines blade.
Marie Antoinette Being Taken To Her Execution
Marie Antoinette being taken to her death, by William Hamilton.
Marie Antoinette wasnt even French. Born Maria Antonia in 1755 Vienna to Empress Maria of Austria, the young princess was chosen to marry the dauphin of France, Louis Auguste, when her sister was found an unsuitable match. In preparation to join the more formal French court, a tutor instructed young Maria Antonia, finding her more intelligent than has been generally supposed, yet also warned that She is rather lazy and extremely frivolous, she is hard to teach.
The Years Preceding Marie Antoinettes Death
Marie Antoinette embraced the frivolity that came so naturally to her in a way that stood out even in Versailles. Four years after coming to the heart of French political life, she and her husband became its leaders when they were crowned king and queen in 1774.
She was only 18, and was frustrated by her and her husbands polar opposite personalities. My tastes are not the same as the Kings, who is only interested in hunting and his metal-working, she wrote to a friend in 1775.
Versailles, the former seat of the French monarchy.
Marie Antoinette threw herself into the spirit of the French court gambling, partying, and purchasing. These indulgences earned her the nickname Madame Déficit, while the common people of France suffered through a poor economy.
Yet, while reckless, she was also known for her good heart in personal matters, adopting several less fortunate children. A lady-in-waiting and close friend even recalled: She was so happy at doing good and hated to miss any opportunity of doing so.
The Monarchy And Revolution
However soft her heart was one-on-one, to the underclass of France grew to consider her a scapegoat for all of Frances ills. People called her LAutrichienne (a play on her Austrian heritage and chienne, the French word for bitch).
The diamond necklace affair made matters even worse, when a self-styled countess fooled a cardinal into purchasing an exorbitantly expensive necklace on the queens behalf even though the queen had previously refused to buy it. When news got out about the debacle in 1785, and people thought Marie Antoinette had tried to get her hands on a 650-diamond necklace without paying for it, her already shaky reputation was ruined.
The Diamond Necklace From The Diamond Necklace Affair
A large and expensive necklace with a dark history was a PR disaster for the French monarchy.
Inspired by the American Revolution and the fact that King Louis XVI put France into an economic depression in part by paying to support the Americans the French people were itching for a revolt.
Then came the summer of 1789. Parisians stormed the Bastille prison, freeing political prisoners from the symbol of Ancien Régime power. In October of that year, the people rioted over the exorbitant price of bread, marching 12 miles from the capital to the golden gates of Versailles.
Legend has it that a frightened Marie Antoinette charmed the mostly- female mob from her balcony, bowing to them from above. The mobs threats of violence turned into shouts of Long live the queen!
But the queen wasnt soothed. They are going to force us to go to Paris, the King and me, she said, preceded by the heads of our bodyguards on pikes.
She was prescient; members of the crowd, carrying pikes topped with the heads of the royal guards, captured the royal family and took them to Tuileries Palace in Paris.
Marie Antoinette Revolutionary Tribunal
Marie Antoinette faced a revolutionary tribunal in the days preceding her death.
The royal couple wasnt officially arrested until the disastrous Flight to Varennes in June 1791, in which the royal familys mad-dash to freedom in the Austria-controlled Netherlands crumbled thanks to poor timing and a too-large (and too-conspicuous) horse-drawn coach.
The royal family was imprisoned in the Temple and on Sept. 21, 1792 the National Assembly officially declared France a republic. It was a precipitous (albeit temporary) end to the French monarchy, which had ruled over Gaul for representing the fall of a nearly a millennium.
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