Heralded as one of France’s most iconic royals, Marie Antoinette has always been know for her flamboyance, style, and love for excess. As the last queen before the French Revolution, Antoinette’s relationship with the public was tumultuous, to say the least. In this article, we have compiled everything you need to know about Marie Antoinette and her life of glamour, opulence, and tragedy.
Marie Antonia Josepha Johanna was born in 1755 in Vienna, Austria. She was the 15th child of Empress Maria Theresa, and the Holy Roman Emperor, Francis I. Marie was tutored by the best academics and musicians in the region and it is known that she excelled at singing and playing the harp. In fact, for a short while, Marie was taught alongside the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart whilst studying in Vienna.
Growing up in such a politically formidable family, it was important that the young princess was married off to a husband that could secure political connections and stability in Europe. When Marie was just 11 years old, her mother agreed for her to marry the future French king, Louis XVI.
When Marie and Louis were just 15 and 16 years old, they were ‘married by proxy’ in Marie’s native Vienna. Having never met, it was their opulent lavish wedding ceremony at Versailles where the young dauphin and princess were able to first meet. This is where her name was also officially changed to Marie Antoinette.
Their wedding was one of the most glamorous and excessive of the time and no expense was spared by either household. In fact, it is now estimated that over 5,000 guests were in attendance. In fact, the wedding dress was even stitched and embroidered with silver thread and real diamonds, a wedding present from her mother. One guest recorded, ‘all the ladies [were] in full dress in the front of the boxes presented a sight as surprising as it was magnificent. The court had never seemed so brilliant’.
It is widely believed by historians that the marriage remained unconsummated until 1777, when eight months later in April 1778, it was confirmed that the young queen was pregnant. A month later, Marie Antoinette gave birth to her first child, Marie-Therese Charlotte. It is following the birth of Marie-Therese, that is understood that Antoinette began taking a more lively involvement with the court and political matters. Ultimately, an involvement that led to her family’s downfall.
Sadly, Antoinette’s second pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage in 1779, it is now understood by historians. However, in October 1781, Antoinette gave birth to Louis Joseph Xavier Francois, Dauphin of France. Four years later, in 1785, Antoinette gave birth to Louis Charles and, in July 1786, she also gave birth to Marie Sophie Helene Beatrix. Tragically, the young Madame Sophie only lived until June 1787.
As well as her biological children, Antoinette also adopted four other children whilst on the throne. These included, Armand Gagne, Jean Amilcar, Ernestine Lambriquet, and Zoe Victoire. In fact, Jean Amilcar was a Senegalese slave boy who was trafficked and ‘given’ to the queen. However, she soon freed the young Amilcar and instead adopted and baptized him.
Le Hameau De La Reine
Perhaps one of Antoinette’s most controversial moves was the construction of the Hameau De La Reine, which translates as The Queen’s Hamlet. Le Hameau De La Reine was a retreat and farm built on the grounds of Versailles. Construction finished in 1783, and the site consists of a number of streams and lakes, a rustic collection of cottages, and a fully landscaped garden of various flowers and shrubs. Originally, Le Hameau De La Reine also included a working barn, mill, dovecote, and dairy.
The construction of Le Hameau De La Reine proved incredibly unpopular amongst the French people, the majority of which believed that it was grotesque and in poor taste for Antoinette to be playing out the life of a peasant whilst living amongst true luxury and wealth. Her rejection of royal life was seen as insincere and out of touch with the reality of the population’s difficult lives during this period.
In fact, by the end of its construction, the entire project consisted of 12 cottages that the queen used to entertain in almost constantly. She had furniture imported from overseas and even a collection of porcelain specially designed and made for these cottages.
Antoinette was known for her flamboyant and glamorous fashion sense. She is known to have rejected wearing a corset, instead deemed them ‘torturous’. Most famously, Antoinette was known for having extravagantly adorned hairstyles with her signature ‘pouf’ becoming higher and higher as her reign carried on.
For banqueting, Antoinette would wear large dresses with exaggerated bustles. It is also believed that when relaxing with friends or in Hameau De La Reine, Antoinette would wear thin linen and muslin dresses in simple pastel colors. She is known to have had a penchant for peasant clothes and was known to dress up as a milkmaid when she was in one of her cottages.
Marie Antoinette’s life came to a grisly and untimely end in 1793, when she was imprisoned and executed. Previously, Antoinette tried to escape the palace and was instead captured and found guilty of depleting the national treasury, high treason, and conspiring against the state. It is known that Antoinette’s last words were, ‘Pardon me, sir, I did not do it on purpose’, after accidentally stepping on the executioner’s foot.
Following Antoinette’s death, her body was mercilessly thrown into an unmarked grave. However, in 1815, she and Louis’ bodies were exhumed and reburied at the Basilica of St. Denis.
Antoinette’s life was one of short-lived extravagance that ultimately ended in imprisonment and tragedy. However, Antoinette’s penchant for the finer things in life has carried on in popular culture since the Queen’s execution. With a particular eye for fashion and interior design, many of Antoinette’s gowns and indeed Le Hameau De La Reine can still be viewed at the modern-day Versailles.