Marie Antoinette.  She was 14 – an age by which most would be considered a child.  She was handed over in marriage to the future King of France.  Maria Antonia Josepha Joanna was the 15th (of 16) child of the Empress of Austria, Maria Theresa, in 1755.  Surrounded by opulence the young Maria preferred music, art and the theater to the mundane academic studies.  As a result she could barely read or write, which would prove to hinder her later life.

Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette – Photo credit:  Google images
The Last Queen of France

Marie Antoinette was married at 14. She became the last Queen of France at the age of 19 when her husband’s grandfather, Louis XV died of smallpox at the age of 64.  Louis XVI was heir to the throne due to the untimely death of his father, Louis Ferdinand. The young king was not prepared to reign.  He was awkward, introverted and indecisive, not the quality of character to rule a country.

Louis XVI
Louis XVI – Photo credit:  Google images
The Palace of Versailles

Had we not visited the Palace of Versailles while in Paris this past January I don’t think I would have clearly understood the magnitude of what it meant to live at Versailles.  Photographs cannot begin to capture the vastness of the palace and surrounding gardens.  Versailles was not just a palace for the King and Queen. It was in fact the seat of government for all of France which meant thousands of people could be at Versailles at any given time.

The Palace of Versaille
The Palace of Versailles – Photos can’t capture the massiveness
Public Figures

Because members of the royal family were seen as public figures there was no privacy whatsoever. Imagine your every move witnessed by a throng of people, even including the marriage bed. If you were a member of the court you could be pretty much anywhere you wished to be. It’s also true that it took seven years for Louis to impregnate Marie.  His lack of knowledge (shall we say) in such endeavors left poor Marie blamed for not seducing him appropriately.

Her mother, the empress, wrote letter after letter admonishing her of pretty much everything she did. She was relentless in her quest for Marie’s perfection in all matters.  Imagine telling her that the fate of Austria and France rested on her shoulders.

Mother of Four

Eventually, Marie did give birth to four children, two of which died young. And, two were imprisoned with Marie and Louis during the revolution.  Of those two her young son died in prison and her daughter was eventually released.  She returned to Austria in a prisoner exchange.  She married but never had children.  A very sad fate for all of them.  Marie was seemingly a loving mother though. She broke with tradition and personally selected her children’s nurses.  She spent a great deal of time with them, which was also out of the ordinary.

Marie and her children
Marie and 3 of her children – Photo credit:  Google images
Set Up to Fail

I’ve long held an interest in the life of Marie Antoinette because it always seemed as if she was set up to fail.  And, in many ways she was.  Having never seen life outside of the palace in which she was raised, she had no knowledge of the “real” world.  She was given in marriage to seal a political deal, something her mother the Empress was known to do with her daughters. Marie lived under constant scrutiny from the day she arrived in France because of strained political relations between France and Austria.

French Finery

When Marie arrived in France she was stripped (literally) of all of her Austrian possessions and dressed in French finery before she met the king.  From that day forward she lived at Versailles, for 20 years.  She lived in a fantasy world where she wanted for nothing.  And, after a stumbling start to their marriage, Louis, grew quite fond of Marie.  He did not say no to her.   Marie received no training on how to be a queen. She could barely read or write and she had no sense of the ordinary in any way shape or form.  She had never known any other way of life. One can’t help but wonder why would anyone expect anything different of her.  Yet they did.

Table setting for two. Meals were eaten in public because Louis XIV believed the royals did not have private lives. Table setting for two.
Table setting for two. Meals were eaten in public because the royals were seen as public figures.
A Constitutional Monarchy

Sadly, Louis was inept as a ruling king.  By the time of the revolution he was completely overwhelmed and suffered bouts of depression.  Marie began to realize her role as queen was to support her husband in political matters. However, because she was so uneducated she wasn’t able to make much of a difference.  The one issue on which she would not compromise, and persuaded her husband to stand against, was that of the royal family becoming a constitutional monarchy. Had she relented, the royal family may have survived.  And yet, again, why would she relent on such a matter when her entire life she was pressed upon her to reign as queen of France?

Marie Antoinette

If, like me, you find fascination in historical figures such as Marie Anotinette – I encourage you to view the PBS documentary, “Marie Antoinette – A Film by David Gruber.  It is a 2-hour film that offers an historical biography of Marie Antoinette from birth thru death. As well as an overview of the French Revolution which brought about the demise of the French royal family lineage.  Although there are some scenes with actors the film primarily offers historical portraits for imagery. There are conversations with historians and scholars regarding Marie and the French Revolution. It is narrated by actress Blair Brown.  The film is well-done and offers the viewer a solid understanding of the life of Marie Antoinette – the last queen of France.

Marie Anotoinette Documentary - Photo Credit:
Marie Antoinette Documentary – Photo Credit:


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