She is the Queen who danced while her people starved; who spent extravagantly on clothes and jewels without a thought for her subjects’ plight. She is the Queen without reputation, a devil in disguise; drunk on the fountain of youth. Yet was this Queen of revelry destined to be doomed? After all, the winners rewrite the history books, and the losers are left languishing beneath the ground, their reputations marred forever. And so begins the true story of Marie’s demise…

Marie Antoinette was born in 1755, the 15th daughter of Maria Teresa, Empress of Austria, making her one of the most sought after marriage prizes in the world. Yet she was not the favourite and many were surprised at her mother’s choice of bridegroom, the Dauphin Louis XIV, whom she married in 1770, at the tender age of 14. She was little more than a girl, in a foreign land so alien from her own. The culture was different, the environment, the language, and even the people were different from her own. It is no wonder then that she was trapped in a life of debauchery, surrounded by poor role models that encouraged her to gamble and dress extravagantly. Yet surely extravagance is no crime? Many male monarchs had done the same! Certainly she was no saint, but her material pleasures were often exaggerated. She was also a kind-hearted individual, dedicated to making her people’s lives better. She and Louis often participated in almsgiving, which were charitable acts of kindness in times of hardship. One of the most notable examples was during the famine of 1787-1788, where the royal family sold most of their flatware to buy grain for the people, and themselves ate the cheap barley bread in order to give more to the hungry. Yet their acts of kindness often went unnoticed and gradually their popularity waned.

Almsgiving stopped with their incarceration in The Temple in August 1792, as they could give nothing but their very own lives. In the end this is exactly what they did, sacrificed themselves for the good of their people, to end the bloody war they called ‘The French Revolution’. In the face of death, they stood strong, showed dignity, and displayed forgiveness for all those who wronged them. They knew that their people had been brainwashed by propaganda, puppets of a new generation. They were scapegoats to placate the revolutionaries’ thirst for blood and vengeance against the nobility.

Their waning popularity was not the only issue in their turbulent reign over France but their marriage too. Louis loved hunting, clocks, workshops, and the early hours, whereas Marie had a professed love of the arts, fashion, dance, and French nightlife. As a result, their marriage was unconsummated for seven years. Primarily because of the lack of chemistry between them, but also because Louis was impotent. Some began to speculate that Marie was infertile, and ridiculed her position as Queen further. After all, what use was a Queen when she could not reproduce and provide an heir for the kingdom? Bored with court and her husband, she surrounded herself with a dissolute clique, led by Yolande de Polignac and Thérèse de Lamballe, which led to scandals such as ‘The Diamond Necklace Affair’.

By 1780, envy and hatred of Marie Antoinette was widespread and people began to talk. They told lewd tales of prostitution, that Marie engaged in sexual acts with both men and women for money, that she sold her soul to the devil to dabble in physical and immoral pleasures. She paid no heed to these rumours and continued to snub the court. She was naïve and young, unaware of the consequences of her actions, and, as a result, became further isolated from society. Ironically, the more her popularity waned, the better a person she became. She decreased her expenditure, used more modest fashions, and tried to look after the poor. Yet, as mentioned previously, her acts of kindness went unnoticed, and she was blamed for her people’s suffering.

It did not help that the monarchy refused to give up their position of power, when the people were baying for their blood. Because of their refusal, the people took matters into their own hands. Massacres, riots, and bloodshed was the recipe for daily French life and, for aristocrats, this was the beginning of the end. The most notable case was Marie’s friend Lamballe, who refused to swear an oath against the Queen, and consequently was hacked to death by the mob. Her head, breasts, and genitals severed and mounted on pikes. The death of Lamballe must have been a rude awakening for the aristocrats, as many fled into hiding upon hearing the news.

But sadly it was too late for Marie and Louis, as both were sentenced to death within a month of each other, the grisly guillotine awaiting their heads. But Marie’s suffering was far more prolonged than her husband’s. She watched him die in January 1793, had her son taken away in the same month, and, by September of the same year, she was separated from her daughter and sister-in-law, and put in Conciergerie prison. By October 14th, she was awoken in the middle of the night to face a revolutionary tribunal, with her own son testifying against her. Yet this was not of his own choice. He was forced to testify that she had abused him, despite the falsity of this statement. Bravely she uttered: ‘If I make no reply it is because I cannot, I appeal to all mothers in this audience’. It was not enough. At the age of 38 – and emancipated beyond her years – she walked onto the scaffold, held her head up high and faced her demons. The guillotine severed her head, the crowd cheered, and with this revolution, the truth was buried beneath the ground, rewritten to exemplify her love of luxury as opposed to her acts of kindness.

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