Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna came into the world on November 2, 1755 – the last of fifteen children born to the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and his empress Maria Theresa. However, most people know her as Maria Antoinette, the name she was given by the French court when she married the future Louis XVI in April of 1770. She became the Queen of France and of Navarre when her husband’s grandfather died on May 10, 1774.
She and Louis were famously unable to consummate their marriage, and when she gave birth to her first daughter, it was suggested by her political rivals and the anti-Austrian faction at court that the child was not actually the king’s offspring. It was one of the many egregious lies that were spread about Marie Antoinette as she became the scapegoat for all of France’s socioeconomic and military problems. The most often believe and most often repeated myth about Marie Antoinette is that she said “Let them eat cake” when told of how French peasants were starving. Via a deliberate campaign of misinformation, she was made the figurehead for aristocratic French excesses and hatred of the queen became a rallying-point for revolutionaries.
In truth, both Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI were slandered to make them the focus of the French populace’s justified discontent. Louis in particular was a friend to the French plebian. “The first part of Louis’ reign was marked by attempts to reform France in accordance with Enlightenment ideals. These included efforts to abolish serfdom, remove the taille, and increase tolerance toward non-Catholics. The French nobility reacted to the proposed reforms with hostility, and successfully opposed their implementation.” Not only was Louis unable to make the peers stop being such greedy monsters, he made some serious (albeit well-meaning) policy blunders. For example, “Louis implemented deregulation of the grain market, advocated by his liberal minister Turgot, but it resulted in an increase in bread prices. In period of bad harvests, it would lead to food scarcity which would prompt the masses to revolt.” Nevertheless, without Louis there probably wouldn’t be a United States of America, inasmuch as he vigorously pursued aiding the rebelling English colonists with troops, money, and supplies – aid that France really couldn’t afford.
Marie Antoinette was the lightning rod for French dissatisfaction, because she was seen as an Austrian interloper and femme fatale. As happens to all women who are seen as “bad”, she was accused of promiscuity and lavishly slut shamed; another victim of The Jezebel Effect. Among other things, she “was falsely accused in the libelles of conducting an affair with [Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette who had a major role in the American victory over the English in the Revolutionary War], whom she loathed, and, as was published in “Le Godmiché Royal” (translated, “The Royal Dildo“), on having a sexual relationship with the English Baroness ‘Lady Sophie Farrell’ of Bournemouth, a well-known lesbian of the time.” At her “trial” by the Revolutionary Tribunal on October 14, 1793, Marie Antoinette was furthermore accused of staging orgies at Versailles and sexually assaulting her own son. None of these things were true.
Nonetheless, Marie Antoinette was found guilty of treason on October 16 and condemned to be executed a few hours later. “Preparing for her execution, she had to undress in front of her guards. She put on a plain white dress, white being the color worn by widowed queens of France. Her hair was shorn, her hands bound painfully behind her back and she was leashed with a rope. Unlike her husband, who had been taken to his execution in a carriage, she had to sit in an open cart. In the hour-long trip from the Conciergerie via the rue Saint-Honoré thoroughfare to the guillotine erected Place de la Révolution, (present-day Place de la Concorde), she maintained her composure, in spite of the insults of the jeering crowd calling her Autrichienne (Autrichienne referring to her Austrian ethnicity, while chienne in French is a female dog: bitch) … For her final confession, a priest was assigned to her, not a Roman Catholic priest, but a prêtre assermenté of the new republican constitutional Church. He sat by her in the cart, and she ignored him all the way to the scaffold … Marie Antoinette was guillotined at 12:15 p.m. on 16 October 1793. Her last words were “Pardon me, sir, I meant not to do it”, to Henri Sanson the executioner, whose foot she had accidentally stepped on after climbing to the scaffold.”
She and Louis had four children in all: Marie-Thérèse Charlotte, Louis Joseph, Dauphin of France, Louis XVII of France, Princess Sophie. Louis Joseph and Princess Sophie died young of natural causes prior to the Revolution, but Louis XVII was imprisoned and abused by his jailors (his autopsy reported that he was scarred all over his body by repeated whippings) from 1792 until his death at age 10 in 1795. Only Princess Marie-Therese would survive to adulthood, although she was also a prisoner of Revolutionaries until December of 1795. She married her cousin, Louis-Antoine, duc d’Angoulême, but had no children.
Interestingly, there remains a heir to the defunct French throne; Louis Alphonse of Bourbon, Duke of Anjou is a direct descendant of Louis XIV. If the French ever wanted a king back to act as a royal figurehead then Louis Alphonse would “rule” as Louis XX, and his son would be Louis XXI. The Duke of Anjou and his son are also both related to Marie Antoinette through her brother, Leopold II of Austria.