History Of Marie Antoinette History Essay
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
Marie Antoinette is one of the most controversial women in history. Her life has inspired many fiction novels, movies, biographies and much more. She is also said to be one of the most misunderstood woman in history. What caused Marie Antoinette to become the most controversial and misunderstood woman in history? It was simply her reputation and the damage it accumulated during her life. This paper will look at Marie’s life and the events and characteristics of her life that lead to the decline of her reputation.
Marie Antoinette was born on November 2, 1755 in Vienna, Austria. She was the fifteenth child of Emperor Francis I and Empress Maria Theresa. Her parents were often involve in the affairs of Austria and had little time to spend with Antoinette; however, during the summer the family would vacation in the country where the family would be together. Antoinette did not have a normal education. Her tutor decided to focus less on reading and writing and put more emphasis on playing, which was where Antoinette’s concentration was. This could account for some of her actions in the future. After the death of her husband, Antoinette’s mother began to focus more and more on state affairs. Marie Antoinette was the eleventh daughter of Empress Maria Theresa. In History Today it is written that “all Maria Theresa’s daughters were pawns on the diplomatic chessboard” (History Today 2005). Maria Theresa’s strategy had always been to marry Antoinette off to the Dauphin Louis XVI of France. In preparation for her engagement, a French tutor was sent to educate Antoinette, whose education was almost non-existent. Even though she was hard to teach, the tutor found her to be of excellent character.
The union of Marie Antoinette to Louis XVI was celebrated in 1770. She arrived for the wedding with a large entourage and soon won over Louis XV, while intimidating her future husband. After their nuptials, the couple did not consummate the marriage. This was a great shock to the court. After seven years on unconsummated marriage, Antoinette’s brother, Joseph II, was sent to help the couple. What he did or said to the couple is unknown, but it did help them. Richard Covington writes, “Many historians conclude that Louis suffered from phimosis, a physiological handicap that makes sex painful, and that he eventually had surgery to correct the problem” (Covington 2006). Covington also states that other biographers believe that the couple just did not know what to do. However, for whatever reason the marriage was not consummated, Nancy Barker writes, “The marriage that for some seven years was [a] no marriage cannot be exaggerated as an essential cause of the defamation of the queen’s character” (Barker 1993).
It does not seem surprising that they waited so long to consummate the marriage considering that Marie and Louis were complete opposites. The queen wrote in a letter to a friend, “My tastes are not the same as the king’s” (Covington 2006). Louis was an introvert with simple tastes and early riser who enjoyed hunting and working with locks. Meanwhile, Marie was an extrovert with expensive tastes who craved social interactions and partied at night. Her frivolousness also contributed to the decline of her reputation. She once bought a pair of diamond bracelets. They cost as much as a mansion. She styled her hair in the bouffant style. She was also seen going out at night to operas and balls while her husband stayed at home. All of this was seen as unacceptable to the people of France. Barker writes, “This gilded youth helped create the fantastic image of the profligate, arrogant queen who danced while the people starved” (Barker 1993). Maria Theresa constantly wrote to her daughter, telling her to stop living like she was. These warnings from her mother went unheeded by Marie.
Another issue that added to the ruin of Antoinette’s reputation was the fact that Louis practiced fidelity. Barker notes that the mistress of the king, who was seen as a feminine influence on the king, was often used as the scapegoat and took the blame for the king’s weakness. The mistress could be banished after taking the blame, so the king’s rule was left unaffected, as was his ability to produce an heir that was not weak (hereditary monarchy). Since Louis did not take a mistress, the blame fell on Marie’s head. Marie was the queen and could not be banished, so hereditary monarchy was diluted (Barker 1993). While Louis practiced fidelity, Marie did not.
In 1774, Marie met a young man by the name of Axel von Fersen. Marie invited him to several balls, but Fersen eventually went to England. His return four years later resulted in the queen falling in love with him. He signed up to fight in the American Revolution and when he again returned to Versailles he wrote to his sister saying, “I cannot belong to the only person to whom I want to belong, the one who really loves me, and so I do not want to belong to anyone” (Covington 2006). Jacques Paratin and Valerie Nachef point out that there were letters written between Fersen and Antoinette and that these letters were written in using a cipher. They were able to decipher the letters. Fersen’s admission to his sister is thought to be about Marie Antoinette because in a letter from Antoinette to Fersen she wrote, “I can tell you that I love you” (Covington 2006). She often invited him to her Trianon. Many of the people at court were jealous that they were never invited and started rumors of perverse things that went on in there. Her affair with Fersen and his frequent visits to the Trianon was another event that caused damage to Marie’s reputation.
A characteristic of her life that could not be helped was that Antoinette was Austrian. There was one person who wrote, “The queen’s Viennese birth was her original and irremediable sin” (Barker 1993). This in addition to all her other “sins”, made the people detest Marie. Barker writes, “She was foreign; she hated and disdained the French; she was extravagant and luxury loving, depleting the royal treasury by her expenditures and her lavish rewards to her favorites; she intrigued to manipulate the king; and she was profligate, capable of sexual excesses without limit. Her lovers sullied the nuptial couch of kings” (Barker 1993). The public was being fed this information through pamphlets written by people in the court. With the knowledge they were gaining, the public was quickly becoming intolerant of Antoinette’s ways.
The incident that pushed the people over the edge was the Diamond Necklace Affair. A woman, Lamotte, impersonated the queen and ordered an extremely expensive diamond necklace. When the jewelers went to Marie demanding payment she did not know what they were talking about. Once Antoinette found the imposter, Lamotte was put on trial and convicted. Even though Marie had nothing to do with this scandal, she was persecuted for it. Covington writes that from that moment Marie could “do no right.” From there tensions continued to rise between the people of France and the monarchy. The French Revolution was on the rise. The revolutionaries eventually took Paris and then the palace. After a failed escape attempt, the royal family was held prisoner. Louis had written to different foreign powers plotting a counterrevolution. When it was discovered, Louis was sentenced to death and died by the way of the guillotine. Marie Antoinette was beheaded six months later after be convicted of treason. Pierre Saint-Amand and Jennifer Curtis Gage write, “Her death was not political . . . but rather highly moral. The queen’s execution can be interpreted as the Revolution’s to rectify the errant sexuality of the nation.”
While Marie Antoinette was frivolous, she was not the cause of France’s economic and social issues. The people of France had just witnessed and participated in the American Revolution and were ready for a change of their own. Marie Antoinette was mere the catalyst to achieving their goals. For change to happen revolutionaries needed someone to blame France’s current issues on and that charge fell to Antoinette. Had she not been there, the French Revolution would have taken longer to rise to the surface.
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