Marie Antoinette

Born in 1755, Marie Antoinette was the famous Queen of France who was deposed and executed along with her husband, Louis XVI, during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. She has come to symbolize the decadence of eighteenth-century French royalty. Descended from the House of Hapsburg-Lorraine, Marie Antoinette had four children.

Born in Vienna, Marie Antoinette was an Austrian Archduchess. She was the fifteenth child of Empress Maria Theresa, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia as well as ruler of the Hapsburg territories and Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor. During her childhood she was closest to her older sister Maria Carolina. Small of stature, Marie Antoinette was noted for her musical interests, ability to dance, and grace. Although relations between France and Austria were traditionally strained, the Seven Years War prompted Austria to seek a tentative alliance with France and Marie Antoinette was betrothed to the dauphin, Louis-Auguste of France.

Marie Antoinette was married by proxy in 1767 and finally handed to the French in 1770. While she was initially revered for her beauty, the overriding mistrust for Austria by the French people as well as the French court made her life in France difficult well before she assumed the role of Queen. Although the French people believed she had a negative influence on the government of Louis XVI, the reality of the situation, according to historians, was that she had next to no influence on the king who refused to involve her in any discussions of French policy. Nevertheless, her reputation was often maligned for the couple’s inability to conceive early in their marriage.

Marie Antoinette gave birth to their first daughter Marie Therese of France in 1778 (d.1851). Subsequent births included Louis-Joseph (1781-1789), Louis XVII of France (1785-1795), Sophie Helene Beatrice of France (1786-1787). Despite her producing heirs to the throne, Marie Antoinette’s popularity with the people continued to dwindle. With the overspending of the French government adding to its unpopularity and fervor for revolution growing, Marie Antoinette chose to stay in France with her husband even when other family members were leaving the country for safety.

Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, along with their family, were placed under house arrest in the Tuileries Palace in 1791. Louis was executed in 1792. Marie Antoinette was guillotined in 1793. Of their surviving children Louis XVII never ruled France and died imprisoned at the age of ten. Marie Therese is the only child to survive into adulthood. She died at the age of seventy-two. Historians have written extensively on this queen who was executed during the French Revolution. The famous quote attributed to her during the bread crisis, “let them eat cake” has never been supported with actual evidence.