Maria Antoinette

Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette is better known for her extravagance and lavish lifestyle than her personal accomplishments. To many people, she personified the selfish, decadent and out-of-touch aristocracy in the days before the French Revolution. As the wife of Louis XVI, she was one of the last French queens, but she was not highly involved in the rule of the French throne. Rather, she spent her early reign doting on her children and decorating her many palaces, taking a role in politics only shortly before her death.

Born in Vienna in 1755, Marie was the fifteenth of sixteen children and the youngest daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and Maria Theresa. Marie was chosen to marry the future king of France, Louis XVI, and bring about peace between the two powers. Initial reactions to the marriage were decidedly mixed, but the princess was found especially unfavorable by the French courtiers, who distrusted Austria and had been hoping that Louis might marry a Saxon princess instead. Louis XVI himself, upon becoming king, was wary of Austrian influence and let the new queen have little say in political affairs. Marie instead spent her days gambling, purchasing clothing and jewelry, and renovating the Petit Trianon, a chateau given her by her husband.

Marie gave birth to her first daughter, the eldest of four children, in 1778. In 1781, her second child, this time a son, was born. Despite the birth of an heir, however, her political influence did not increase in the slightest, much to the disappointment of her brother, ruler of Austria.

In spite of France's debt-ridden financial situation, a result of both the Seven Years' War and the Revolutionary War, the French queen continued to purchase lavish estates, an extortion which, along with scandalous rumors that accompanied her reign, earned her a reputation as a corrupt spendthrift. Finally, desperate for funds needed to restore France's financial stability, Louis XVI was led to call a meeting of the Estates-General, which had not been summoned in 160 years. After the conference, Marie abandoned her usual activities and instead became much more involved in politics, this time against the interests of her native Austria. Due to both her husband's increasing depression and her desire to preserve her children through any means, the Queen unintentionally emerged a prime political figure in French affairs. Marie also remained focused on the health of her eldest son, which continued to worsen throughout his life. The heir died in 1789, but his passing was now unimportant to the French people, who were already putting into place the first stages of the French Revolution. Only a few months later, Louis and his wife were forced to move to Paris, where they were shut away in the Tuileries Palace under close watch. When France went to war with Austria in 1792, Marie's reputation was further tarnished, and the vulnerable royal couple was moved to the tower of the Temple in the Marais, where they were treated harshly. By 1973, the monarchy had fallen and Louis XVI was executed. Marie, who had fallen into deep mourning and refused to eat following the death of her husband, was herself executed on October 16 of that same year.

Key events during the life of antoinette:

Born the fifteenth child of Francis I and Maria Theresa
Married Louis-Auguste, son of Louis XV
Louis-Auguste was crowned Louis XVI
Gave birth to her first child, Marie Therese Charlotte
1781, 1785
Births of her sons, Louis Joseph and Louis Charles
Louis XVI was foprced to assemble the Estates-General to save him from ruin
The French people create a new government under the National Assembly
The royal family was brought to Paris and locked away
Louis XVI was executed
Marie Antoinette was executed by guillotine

Book Links
Marie Antoinette  by  Alice Birkhead

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Marie Antoinette  in  Stories from French History  by  Lena Dalkeith
French Revolution  in  France: Peeps at History  by  John Finnemore
Marie Antoinette  in  The Story of France  by  Mary Macgregor
Flight of the Royal Family  in  The Story of France  by  Mary Macgregor
Marie Antoinette Is Executed  in  The Story of France  by  Mary Macgregor
Diamond Necklace  in  Historical Tales: French  by  Charles Morris
Flight of the King  in  Historical Tales: French  by  Charles Morris
Flight to Varennes  in  Brave Men and Brave Deeds  by  M. B. Synge
Marie Antoinette  in  The Struggle for Sea Power  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

Without a word, Marie Antoinette went to the little balcony ouside the apartment and stood there in full sight of the angry people.
 in Stories from French History

Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, in Prison
 in The Hanoverians

The young king and queen fell on their knees and asked God to help them.
 in  Stories of the French Revolution

The queen putting the red cap on her little son's head.
 in  Stories of the French Revolution

The king's farewell meeting with his family.
 in  Stories of the French Revolution

Marie Antoinette being prepared for execution.
 in  Stories of the French Revolution

Marie Antoinette and her Children
 in Historical Tales: French

The Flight to Varennes
 in Brave Men and Brave Deeds

Short Biography
Louis XVI King during the French revolution. Beheaded by republicans who sought to overthrow the monarchy.
Robespierre Key figure of the French Revolution. Leader of the Reign of Terror.
Napoleon Victorious general who rose to power during the French Revolution. Crowned himself Emperor and restored France to greatness.
Maria Theresa Head of Hapsburg Dynasty. Ruled over much of Eastern Europe. Opposed Frederick the Great.
Joseph II Eldest son of Maria Theresa who attempted to make dramatic changes to "modernize" Austria, with limited success.