Marie Antoinette's death traces a sad story that involves alleged child abuse, fancy dresses, a diamond heist, and imprisonment.
Marie Antoinette's death came at a time of great hardship, and many of today's historians believe it was a great injustice. To understand the events that led up to her death, it is essential to understand her background, lifestyle, and historical events that shrouded her death.
Marie Antoinette's Early Life
Marie Antoinette was born in Austria in 1755, a place she loved and longed to be throughout her life as Queen in France. She was born into a very prestigious family. Her parents were the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire and the Habsburg Empire, and her godparents were the King and Queen of Portugal.
Growing up, she struggled with reading and writing but loved the arts and music. She was known to be a charming, sweet child who performed and danced at family events.
But her childhood did not last long. She married King Louis 16th of France at the age of 19 and moved there to become Queen of France.
What Was Marie Antoinette's Marriage Like?
As soon as she was married, Marie was pushed into training. She needed to learn how to become a graceful, elegant French Queen. This involved French lessons, etiquette lessons, and a full-blown makeover.
Their marriage was not smooth sailing either. It took the couple seven years to consummate their marriage due to Louis having a mysterious illness – an illness that historians still debate today. However, the condition must have been corrected as they later had seven children.
The couple lived at the grand establishment of the Versailles in Paris. A beautiful château with ornate gardens and elegant halls. Today, the castle is open to the public, so you should check it out if you find yourself in Paris.
How Fashion Contributed To Marie Antoinette's Death
Queen Marie was an influential fashion icon, and in some circles, she still is. She was notorious for having huge hairstyles made up of multiple wigs, pins, jewels, and ornaments. Her hair was so grand that she was once entered in a competition for France's tallest hairstyle.
Occasionally, her hair even featured quirky extravagant designs. To celebrate a French victory at sea, her hairstylist installed a battleship atop her do. This later became an iconic look associated with her image.
It was not just her hair that Marie Antoinette was known for. She was also a lover of all things fashion. Well, with the equivalent of $3,600,000, who wouldn't be? An army of personal handmaids dressed her each morning in extravagant gowns in English and Polish styles.
Unfortunately, at that time in France, the poor were experiencing great hardship and could hardly gather enough supplies to feed their families. This made observing the Queen spending hundreds of thousands on her fashion excruciating for most of the French population, and her reputation began to decrease.
On top of this, she was falsely accused of being involved in the burglary of an illustrious diamond necklace worth the equivalent of $15 million today. Although she was cleared from all involvement in the heist, her reputation was severely damaged.
Years Leading Up To Marie Antoinette's Death: "Let Them Eat Cake"
Aside from her fashion reputation, many other events led up to Queen Marie Antoinette's death.
1788: France was faced with nationwide crop failure that led to an increase in bread prices. This meant it was difficult for the poor to source food for their families. The country then looked to the royals to navigate this issue but was faced with indifference.
This is where the supposed quote from the Queen came in. She responded to the bread famine by suggesting:
"Let them eat cake"
However, whether she said this or not, or who said this, is a hotly contested debate amongst historians.
1789: Life for the peasants in France were not getting any better the following year. And so, hundreds of peasants traveled to the King and Queen's home to protest outside. Tensions began to rise, however, and the peasants ended up storming the castle.
As the mob reached Antoinette, she was found cowering in the corner of a room.
Months Before Marie Antoinette's Death: The Escape Plan
The royals felt unsafe in Paris, and so they hatched an escape plan. They would dress up as peasants and seamlessly exit the city to another location where they could decide what to do from there.
However, going through years of etiquette training and living a majestic, royal lifestyle made it difficult to act as an impoverished peasant. As they rode out of the city, they felt obliged to give presents and chat to their people, blowing their cover.
Unsurprisingly, they were discovered when a man recognized King Louis from his image printed on the money. The couple was then taken to prison for conspiring against the revolution.
This event was so traumatic for poor Marie Antoinette that it is said her hair turned white immediately after.
Weeks Before Marie Antoinette's Death: Imprisonment At The Conciergerie
Shortly after being thrown in the Conciergerie, a French prison, Louis was tried and killed, leaving Marie Antoinette alone for ten months.
Marie was isolated from other prisoners due to her royal status. However, one evening, The Chevalier de Rougeville dropped her a white carnation that concealed a hidden message regarding an escape plan. This failed, however, and restrictions on the Queen within the prison were tightened.
She then had to face trial. The court tried her on many different accounts, treachery, squandering national funds, even incest with her son Louis XVII. After 20 hours in court, her fate was decided: death by guillotine the very next morning.
1793: Beheading And Marie Antoinette's Death
As mentioned earlier, Marie Antoinette was misrepresented as cruel and heartless but was a kind and generous woman. As she walked to the guillotine, it was reported that she accidentally stood on the executioner's foot and apologized. These would be her last words.
She was executed by Charles-Henri Sanson, the same man who executed her husband earlier that year. Once her guillotine slammed down and chopped off her head, Sanson allegedly took her head, headed it towards the crowd, and yelled, "Vive la République!" – long live the republic.
Aftermath Of Marie Antoinette's Death
Her remains were placed in an unmarked grave. But, they were later extracted by her grandson, Louis XVI, and she was given a formal burial at the Basilica of St-Denis.
If you are interested in finding out more about fascinating stories from history, check out our article on medieval torture devices.