This afternoon in Paris, 1793, the French Revolution devoured the Queen.
Among the most emblematic death penalty victims in history, Marie Antoinette — the “widow Capet,” as she was styled in egalite, after the guillotine shortened her husband — had the bad luck to personify the decadence of the ancien regime under the hegemony of the sans-culotte.
(And, of course, the good luck to be born heir to all the perks of absolutism she enjoyed for the first thirty-plus years of life. So, you know: a mixed bag.)
Those infamous excesses — and her infamous alleged bon mot, “let them eat cake” — are said to have been greatly exaggerated, nothing that everyone wasn’t doing, nothing that wasn’t understandable under the circumstances.
She had a gift, it seems, for accumulating to her personal reputation the outrage incurred by every gross and petty indulgence of the old order. And she had a popular press, the libelles, ready to embroider them salaciously.
Cruel, wanton, senseless … her death was all of these, but then many others in the Terror suffered the same, as many others had under the Bourbons.
As royal dynastic pairings go, she’d been dealt a bad hand.
Her mere presence in France was fruit of the controversial policy of alliance with the Austrian Habsburgs from the Seven Years’ War, and she was trundled off with her dowry and her teenage wiles to the foreign snakepit of Versailles just as the minister advancing that policy fell. Distrusted by the French as an Austrian catspaw, castigated by her family for her inadequacies thereto, socially expected to display conspicuous regal largesse during a budget crisis not of her making, and unable for the longest time to get a successful coition from her indifferent and/or impotent husband, it must have seemed to her some days like every play was a losing one.
She struggled to gain traction at court. But she would lose much more than influence.
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. (WikiQuote)
Her bearing she kept forever: in a kangaroo court with a foreordained outcome where her imperious dignity still managed to turn aside an accusation of sexual abuse her son had been cajoled into supplying; on the scaffold, when she did not neglect courtesy to the executioner whose foot she trod:
“Monsieur, je vous demande pardon. Je ne l’ai pas fait exprès.”
Naturally, the doomed queen has had plenty of attention from printed word as well:
A few books about Marie Antoinette
As well as less, er, traditional media.
Part of the Themed Set: Belles Epoque.