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Marie Antoinette: Biography, Execution & Quotes

Instructor: Patricia Chappine

Patricia has a master's degree in Holocaust and genocide studies and 27 graduate credits in American history. She will start coursework on her doctoral degree in history this fall. She has taught heritage of the western world I and II and U.S. history I and II at a community college in southern New Jersey for the past two years.

In this lesson, learn about the life, quotes (and misquotes), and execution of the last queen of France, Marie Antoinette. Then you can test your knowledge with a quiz.

Introduction

Marie Antoinette was born into Austrian royalty in 1755. Due to an attempt at keeping an alliance between Austria and France, she was married to the French heir to the throne and eventually became queen. Her life was cut short during the social upheaval of the French Revolution. During her lifetime, she was regarded as a social butterfly and a woman used to wealth and extravagance. Viewed as the opposite of her husband, who was reserved, Antoinette was extroverted and charismatic. She quickly became known for parties, gambling, and high fashion. This lifestyle made her the target of great public disgust during the French Revolution. However, a lot of public knowledge about Antoinette is based on the propaganda of the time period and not on the facts.

A canvas painting of a young Marie Antoinette by artist Martin van Meytens. Circa 1767.
Young Antoinette

Biography

Marie Antoinette was born Maria Antonia Josepha Joanna in Vienna, Austria on November 2, 1755. Her family knew her simply as Antonia. She was the fifteenth child of sixteen born to Austrian Empress Maria Theresa and Holy Roman Emperor Francis I. Because of her wealthy family (the Hapsburgs), she received an education in religion and philosophical principles and learned to play several instruments such as the harp. She also learned to speak Italian and German. Long a symbol of high fashion, it might surprise many to know that she was a tomboy as a child. While she led a childhood of wealth and prestige, she was often neglected by her mother who had many other children to marry off before her.

The end of the Seven Years' War in 1763 set in motion a marriage that would change Antonia's life forever. It would also ultimately lead to her execution. There was already a shaky alliance between Austria and France, and Empress Theresa wanted to establish a marriage between her family and the French monarchy. She had her chance in 1765 when Louis Dauphin of France died and left eleven year old Louis Auguste as heir to the crown and Antoinette was promised to Auguste several months later. She was sent to France with an enormous escort of carriages, horses, and soldiers. They were married on May 16, 1770. Antoinette was only fifteen years old at the time.

In 1774, King Louis XV died and left the French throne open to Louis Auguste (Louis XVI). Antoinette became the queen of France at the age of nineteen. She was consumed by the parties of the French court. She even had her own private castle on the grounds of Versailles, which was the French royal palace and court. In fact, in 1777, her mother was made known that Marie Antoinette hadn't consummated her marriage with Louis Auguste yet. Quickly, Empress Theresa sent Antoinette's brother, Joseph II, to counsel her on her duties as a wife. By 1778, she gave birth to a daughter, Marie Theresa Charlotte. Her other children included: Louis Joseph Xavier François in October, 1781, Louis Charles in March, 1785, she gave birth to another son, Louis Charles, and Sophie Hélène Béatrice de France, in July, 1786, who tragically died the following month.

Quotes and Misquotes

Portrait of Marie Antoinette by artist Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty, 1775.
Antoinette 1775

The most enduring quote attributed to Antoinette was 'let them eat cake' in reply to the fact that the people of France were so poor that they couldn't afford buy even bread. This quote was circulated to symbolize the out-of-touch attitude of the French nobility. However, you might be surprised to learn that her most famous quote was just a piece of propaganda. There is no historical evidence that Antoinette ever uttered those words. However, there is no shortage of real quotes to give modern day readers an insight into Antoinette's life. In a letter she wrote to a friend in 1775, the queen revealed the differences between her personality and that of her husband. She stated, 'My tastes are not the same as the King's, who is only interested in hunting and his metal-working.'

During the protest outside Versailles, Antoinette stated, 'They are going to force us to go to Paris, the King and me, preceded by the heads of our bodyguards on pikes.' She seemed very aware of the intentions of the mob. Once imprisoned, she wrote one final letter to her sister-in-law Elizabeth. She said, 'I am calm, as people are whose consciences are clear.' After she was arrested, she summed up her situation in the following statement, 'I was a queen, and you took away my crown; a wife, and you killed my husband; a mother, and you deprived me of my children. My blood alone remains: take it, but do not make me suffer long.' Even right before her death, she kept up a brave façade. For instance, on the day of her execution, a priest told her to have courage and Antoinette replied, 'Courage! I have shown it for years; think you I shall lose it at the moment when my sufferings are to end?'

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