Marie Antionette - a queen at nineteen

Portrait of the Queen, Marie Antionette at twenty-four, by artist Madame Vigee-Lebrun. "Marie Antionette Holding A Rose".
Portrait of the Queen, Marie Antionette at twenty-four, by artist Madame Vigee-Lebrun. "Marie Antionette Holding A Rose".
Marie Antionette had a happy childhood at the Hoffburg Palace in Vienna, Austria.
Marie Antionette had a happy childhood at the Hoffburg Palace in Vienna, Austria.
Maria Antonia, the young princess ~ an impulsive ingenue.
Maria Antonia, the young princess ~ an impulsive ingenue.
Marie Antionette's mother, Empress Maria Theresa, Queen of Austria and Hungary.
Marie Antionette's mother, Empress Maria Theresa, Queen of Austria and Hungary.
Flattering portraits of Louie XVI and Marie Antionette.
Flattering portraits of Louie XVI and Marie Antionette.
An unflattering portrait of Louie XVI.
An unflattering portrait of Louie XVI.
The people of France rose-up, initially, against unemployment and the high cost of bread.
The people of France rose-up, initially, against unemployment and the high cost of bread.
The insurgents storm the Bastille, June, 1789, killing and injuring nearly two-hundred of the King's men ~ confiscating weapons and ammunition and winning a decisive advantage for the new republic.
The insurgents storm the Bastille, June, 1789, killing and injuring nearly two-hundred of the King's men ~ confiscating weapons and ammunition and winning a decisive advantage for the new republic.
The National Assembly were forming a constitution favoring either a limited or non-existent monarchy.
The National Assembly were forming a constitution favoring either a limited or non-existent monarchy.
The fall of the Monarchy. The King and Queen are escorted to their prison in the Temple.
The fall of the Monarchy. The King and Queen are escorted to their prison in the Temple.
A revolutionary tribunal found the King and Queen guilty of treason against France. Execution by guillotine of Louie XVI, January 21, 1793.
A revolutionary tribunal found the King and Queen guilty of treason against France. Execution by guillotine of Louie XVI, January 21, 1793.
Looking up to the heavens. The execution by guillotine of Marie Antionette, October 16, 1793. For her noble suffering, she entered the realm of legend.
Looking up to the heavens. The execution by guillotine of Marie Antionette, October 16, 1793. For her noble suffering, she entered the realm of legend.
The 1930's actress, Norma Shearer as Marie Antionette.
The 1930's actress, Norma Shearer as Marie Antionette.
Norma Shearer was a great actress who won an academy award for best actress in the movie, "The Divorcee".
Norma Shearer was a great actress who won an academy award for best actress in the movie, "The Divorcee".
Tutto a te mi guida. Everything leads me to you. Marie Antionette's motto and seal showing a pigeon in flight. For Fersen
Tutto a the mi guida. Everything leads me to you. Marie Antionette's motto and seal showing a pigeon in flight. For Fersen
Louie's younger brother, the Compte d'Artios, Louie XVI, and Marie Antionette.
Louie's younger brother, the Compte d'Artios, Louie XVI, and Marie Antionette.
Kirsten Dunst as the young dauphine of France, Marie Antionette.
Kirsten Dunst as the young dauphine of France, Marie Antionette.
The Queen in her glory and excess among her closest friends.
The Queen in her glory and excess among her closest friends.
Louie and Marie Antionette were also close friends, and she stood by him vehemently to the end.
Louie and Marie Antionette were also close friends, and she stood by him vehemently to the end.
A mosaic, courtesy Sophia Coppola.
A mosaic, courtesy Sophia Coppola.

Born in Vienna

Marie Antionette, was born Maria Antonia Josephina Johanna von Habsburg-Lothringen, on November 2, 1755 in Vienna, Austria. Her mother was the Queen of Bohemia and Hungary, Empress Maria Theresa. The Empress’s fifth child and youngest daughter was affectionately called Antonia. Nearly all of Antonia’s siblings would become dignitaries of Europe, including her younger brother, Maximillian Francis, who would be the future Archbishop of Cologne, and an emissary to France, after his sister became the dauphine of that country.


The spirited Antonia grew up in a grand environment in the Hoffburg Palace in Vienna. Hers was a creative and musical family, who one day invited the boy prodigy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to play a recital for the royal family. It was 1762, when both Antonia and little Mozart were exactly the same age - six years old. The ever affectionate Antonia kissed her new little friend, and the budding musical composer then told her that he wished to marry her. Instead, eight years later the archduchess, Antonia was married, at age fourteen, to the dauphin of France, heir to the throne and grandson of King Louie XV. When looking back on Marie Antionette’s life; there are many “only-ifs”, such as: only if she had stayed in Vienna to marry Mozart, and only if her father had lived to be a guiding presents in her life…

Antonia’s father, Emperor Francis I of Lorraine, was a spiritual minded Catholic and had warned his children, before he died, to shun the worldly and the vain and to beware of false friends. Antonia’s mother, the Queen, though also very religious, had a definite political agenda. She was a powerful leader who had proved herself and earned the title of Empress. Maria Theresa’s main objective was to strengthen the Franco-Austrian alliance which she had so skillfully obtained. She furthered her success in this endeavor by marrying off her youngest daughter to a grandson of Louie XV: Louie Augusta, who was not thought to be handsome, talented or clever but seen as clumsy and plain even in his own court. Empress Maria Theresa knew this, but her objective was clear, and in the tradition of royal marital affairs, she would have groomed her fourteen-year-old daughter to be a good wife above all else.


Married Life


At a very tender age, Maria Antonia took the long carriage ride to France, an innocent and an archduchess about to become the dauphine of France and married to the heir to the throne to live out the rest of her impassioned, short life in Versailles as Marie Antionette, the French translation of her birth-name. The dauphin and dauphine were married when they were 15 and 14 respectively, on May 16, 1770, but did not begin to have children until seven years later. This was partly due to a physical problem that Louie Augusta evidently had which was later fixed. But the couple were also very young and inexperienced and initially not at all attracted to one another.

Louie had been schooled from birth with anti-Austrian sentiment; however, he grew to find a loyal and charming friend in his young dauphine. Marie Antionette had the gift of charm and of pleasing people, and she used this to her advantage when dealing with her husband: he would give her anything she asked for, even after her tastes had become excessive and extravagant. But history has reported that Marie Antionette found her husband, Louie Augusta, not at all appealing, though she did stand by him as much as she could politically and in the crucial moments leading up to the end.


A Young Girl Thrust Into The Court At Versailles


Marie Antionette stepped gracefully into a hive of gossip and ill-will when she entered Versailles. It was the King’s older sisters who plotted against her most diabolically. They, like many, had anti-Austrian feelings, and did not agree with the latest developments of the Franco-Austrian alliance. The sisters were instantly placed very close to the dauphine and they used this advantage to trick the extremely naïve Marie Antionette and influence her mind to their political gain. Marie Antionette, the dauphine, had many enemies around her, including the King’s “favorite”, his mistress, who was called Madame Du Barry. The dauphine found this woman crass and improper and so decided not to acknowledge her.

This display lasted until it grew into a tower of babble that even went so far as to displease the King. So, Marie Antionette was forced to defer to a woman whose moral turpitude went completely against the standards of decency that the dauphine had grown up with at the Hoffburg. These oppositions coupled with the pressure and cruelty that the dauphine endured because of her inability to produce an heir, left her friendless. But, eventually, she did find allies at the court of Versailles. Louie’s younger brother, the Compte d’ Artois, who was elegant and debonair, helped Marie Antionette dream up an endless list of amusing activities: and the most extravagant was gambling. The dauphine also found a great friend and confidant in a young, widowed princess, Mme de Lamballe, and soon there would be many other aristocratic and royal youths in Marie Antionette’s retinue. Quite justifiably, she preferred people her own age.


Excess And Retribution


Louie Augusta became King and Marie Antionette Queen, in 1774, upon the death of Louie XV. It was a time of great popularity and love between the new, young Queen and her subjects: the people of France. But, the coronation and subsequent out-pouring of praise did not quell the nineteen-year-old Queen’s appetite for pleasure; indeed, she delighted even more in her pleasure-palace, the Trianon, and spent great sums of money to enhance its beauty.

Late night parties, high stakes gambling, lavish spending, and a great taste for diamonds: these were Marie Antionette’s crimes. And because of her weakness for diamonds and jewelry, it was not difficult for her enemies, in 1785, to entrap her in the now infamous diamond necklace affair. This plot against the Queen, during hard economic times, was really the most overwhelming scandal to mark her reputation and pit her people against her. And with her dwindling popularity among the people of France, she withdrew more and more into the safe comforts of the Trianon. The extravagances continued against warnings from her mother, the Empress, in Vienna.



Your happiness can vanish all too fast, and you may be plunged, by your own doing, into the greatest calamities. - Empress Maria Theresa

(from Secrets of Marie Antionette, by Olivier Bernier).


Despite these and other scoldings from her mother, the earlier praises and popularity were also well-placed. At her heart, the Queen of France was a compassionate woman who showed largesse and kindness toward the less-fortunate. This, of course, was forgotten but then eventually memorialized.

Marie Antionette enjoyed friendship, motherhood, the Trianon Palace, and a romance with the dashing and horable Count Axel Fersen – all before the heaviest onslaught of the French Revolution; wherein, the royal family were brought down, imprisoned and executed. There were attempted escapes, to the Austrian Netherlands, England or America, but these attempts were a blunder of indecision and bad timing. Count Fersen desired strongly to save his Queen, but was some how ineffectual.

The Queen was a witness to some of the bloodiest atrocities of the Revolution, including having to see the head of her dearest friend, the Princess de Lamballe, displayed on a tall pike and waved before the royal family’s prison window. The Queen lived through her husband, the King’s, execution by guillotine. Amidst her grueling trial of trumped-up charges, Marie Antionette held her ground humbly and regally, while suffering an inhumanely cruel and lonely imprisonment in a tiny cell where crowds were allowed to walk passed and gawk.

There were sympathizers, however, especially at her trial, where women began to pity her as a mother. Upon her death sentence, in October of 1793, the Queen wrote a loving and intelligent letter to her sister-in-law; invoking her father’s Catholic religion and bestowing blessings upon her own kidnapped children. Incredibly, Marie Antionette had become known as “the most hated Queen”, and that is how she was gotten rid of – with utter hatred. And yet, had she not suffered as she did, the Queen may not have entered her well-earned place in the realm of legend.


Movies


An early movie with Norma Shearer as Marie Antionette tells the whole story of the French Queen’s life. Shearer portrays a girlish, impulsive archduchess in Vienna, anticipating life as the Queen of France with giddy excitement, yet with an artless, sad glint of foreboding in her eye. Robert Morley as the clumsy Louie Augusta and John Barrymore as Louie XV represent the acting of that era, and they convey the story well. And Tyrone Power, who could step right into this century, plays the handsome and devoted Fersen.

A much more recent version by Sophia Coppola, does not take the story all the way through to its devastating denoument, but ends just where the tragedy began. Still, it is fun to watch Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antionette and to experience Coppola’s feminine artistry. The director stays with the pink, plush loveliness of the Queen, the pastel beauty of Versailles, the paradisiacal phase of the Trianon, and the dawn of the lush grounds with its pristine lawns and clear, sublime pools.


In both movies, Mozart is given a respectful nod – the composer’s symphonies lending an enhanced scale of grandness. And Coppola uses an interesting mix of modern music as well.

In one sense, it is completely understandable that a director would end a movie version where Coppola did. The whole story is almost too painful to know. Remembering the Queen in the full bloom of her beauty and happiness is much more palatable. It is more wonderful to think of Marie Antionette as resurrected and living on, as she has, for over two hundred years, a legend.


Documentary

There is also an excellent PBS documentary by David Grubin, which describes the Queen's life very thoroughly and features interviews and insightful commentary by the prolific Antonia Fraser.


Books


Sophia Coppola based her movie, in part, on the book about Marie Antionette by the popular historian, Antonia Fraser. And there are many other books about the beloved Queen, including these: Marie Antionette, The Last Queen Of France by Evelyne Lever; Marie Antionette by Stefan Zweig; and Secrets Of Marie Antionette, A Collection Of Letters by Olivier Bernier.

Books about Marie Antionette

Movies about Marie Antionette

More by this Author


Comments 20 comments

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida

This is a beautiful rendition of Marie Antoinette and her all too short life as the queen of France. The recent film with Kirsten Dunst portraying her was also beautiful to watch. Especially since the movie ended before the heroine's execution. Thank you for your diligent research.


tracykarl99 profile image

tracykarl99 6 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks so much for reading and for the nice comments. Yes, I enjoyed watching the Coppola movie too ~


billyaustindillon profile image

billyaustindillon 6 years ago

Tracy enjoyed the read - she had a fully packed young reign and life - you have captured well and the beauty of the time with different movie stills.


tracykarl99 profile image

tracykarl99 6 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks very much - I appreciate your wonderful comments. Glad you enjoyed reading this hub.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

Thank you for this well written, interesting article. I love Maria Theresa chandeliers, too. Well done!


tracykarl99 profile image

tracykarl99 6 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks for stopping by ~ glad you enjoyed the article. Not sure that I know what a Maria Theresa chandelier looks like ~ will have to explore that!


Kendall H. profile image

Kendall H. 6 years ago from Northern CA

So much myth surrounds Marie Antoinette that it remains a mystery as to her real personality. I suppose we'll never know, but in the mean time it's fun to speculate. Great hub!


tracykarl99 profile image

tracykarl99 6 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thank you very much. I have just learned about a great documentary that was made my David Grubin. A must-see for M.A. fans. And I will add it to this hub.


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

I enjoyed this article. In the past I never did any formal reading on Miss Antoinette; I only know bits and pieces. Thanks for your article it helped to fill the gaps.


tracykarl99 profile image

tracykarl99 6 years ago from San Francisco Author

I'm so glad that this was helpful! There are many great biographies about Marie Antionette. You might enjoy the movies and documentaries, too. Thanks for stopping by ~ it is always a pleasure to see your smiling face!


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago

Love this............ I have always loved Marie Antoinette because I picture her as an innocent little girl thrown to the wind and sacrificed. She may not have been anything of the kind, but that I how I see her. This was great.......... thank you! Kaie


tracykarl99 profile image

tracykarl99 6 years ago from San Francisco Author

I agree with you, Kaie. Marie Antionette's punishment seems outrageously incongruous to her so called crimes ~ she wasn't the first, nor the last, to endure such unfairness; but, I suppose, as a martyr, she becomes a lesson to us all. Thanks!!


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

tracy - a wonderful hub. I know very little about Marie Antionette and now have some sympathy for her. So often, the ruling class do not understand the plight of the poor, and are so out of it, do not feel the threat of their rage. It's too bad that Maria Antionette did not leave before the merde hit the fan.


tracykarl99 profile image

tracykarl99 6 years ago from San Francisco Author

Dolores, So true ~ Marie Antionette was clearly a victim of her own unfortunate ignorance, as well as the cruelty of others. I believe a hub has been written analyzing the failure of Louie's escape plans. I have always felt that an earlier escape to England would have been successful. Thanks for the nice comments!


eilander1542011 profile image

eilander1542011 6 years ago from Everywhere

I had no idea as to just how much history this woman was involved in. I love reading your hubs and learning form them all in the scope of a quick, ten-minute adventure.


tracykarl99 profile image

tracykarl99 6 years ago from San Francisco Author

eilander, I had no idea either, until I read Fraser's book and started doing a little research. I'm delighted that you are so enjoying the read!


_thats_a_bingo profile image

_that's_a_bingo 5 years ago

A very interesting hub!


tracykarl99 profile image

tracykarl99 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thank you!


gkerosi profile image

gkerosi 3 years ago from Nairobi

Great Hub. Very vivid description.


tracykarl99 profile image

tracykarl99 2 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks so much :)

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working