Maria Antonia Josepha Joanna of Habsburg-Lorraine, "Marie Antoinette"
Born on November 2, 1755 in Vienna, she was the 15th child of the Austrian Empress Marie Therese of Hapsburg and her husband Francis I of Lorraine. Described at her birth as "a small, but completely healthy Archduchess"
Portrait of Marie Antoinette at age 12, three years before she would be married.
by Martin van Meytens, 1767
by Martin van Meytens, 1767
She excelled at singing and dancing and learned to play the spinet, the clavichord and the harp. She loved dolls. It seems she was a creature of beauty. And she was said to have "exquisite" poise and a famously graceful deportment. Horace Walpole once quoted Virgil as to her gait, saying, "vera incessu patuit dea" (she was in truth revealed to be a goddess by her step).
Her marriage to the Dauphin (Louis XVI) of France in 1770, was to cement a complex alliance between Austria and France made during the Seven Years' War. She was fifteen years old.
In her hunting attire, By Joseph Krantzinger (1771)
Many rumors still circulate about Marie Antoinette. That she partied excessively, that she dined and indulged with indifference. Others conjecture she was painted with broad prejudicial strokes, due to her Austrian ties and that she was merely easy scapegoat for a starving country in the lead-up to the French Revolution. She was criticized for
using her power too liberally, as in appointing to friends, not peers, to positions. Still others worried she didn't hold enough sway over the King, that Austrian interests were not being looked after, and the alliance unequal. And even here she was suspected of funneling monies to her brother upon his visits to the court.
She had always to deal with political power plays of the day, rumors of lovers, and royal expectations to contend with. Is it any wonder she often sought to escape at Petit Trianon, a small château on the grounds of Versailles, which was given to her as a gift by Louis XVI? (even though it had been built for Louis’ mistress Madame de Pompadour), or if a lack of affection from her husband and endless criticism from her mother, led her to indulge in superior retail therapy? She suffered personal tragedies too. Losing three of her siblings to smallpox and burying three of her own children. Here she is portrayed with the two who survived:
by Adolf Ulrich Wertmüller (1785)
Things were simultaneously crumbling with mounting hysteria and she was arrested during an escape attempt in mid 1791. After imprisonment of one type or another, she was executed by guillotine on October 16, 1793, a few hours after being declared guilty of treason.
Sitting in for the last act of French Royalty, having the the blessings and breakings of a restless and tumultous cultural milieu heaped on her as the last bubbles of the monarchy raced its way to the surface, you wonder if with her "outsider" Austrian heritage and the specificity of the times (read: French Revolution) there was any way she could have come out ahead.
Here is what the Irish politician and author John Wilson Croker (1780-1857) wrote in his Essays on the French Revolution:
We have followed the history of Marie Antoinette with the greatest diligence and scrupulosity. We have lived in those times. We have talked with some of her friends and some of her enemies; we have read, certainly not all, but hundreds of the libels written against her; and we have, in short, examined her life with– if we may be allowed to say so of ourselves– something of the accuracy of contemporaries, the diligence of inquirers, and the impartiality of historians, all combined; and we feel it our duty to declare, in as a solemn a manner as literature admits of, our well-matured opinion that every reproach against the morals of the queen was a gross calumny– that she was, as we have said, one of the purest of human beings. (Croker’s Essays, p 562)
Her maid Madame Campan herself refuted any calumnies in her Memoirs when she said of Marie-Antoinette:
I who for fifteen years saw her attached to her august consort and her children, kind to her servitors, unfortunately too polite, too simple, too much on an equality with the people of the Court, I cannot bear to see her character reviled. I wish I had a hundred mouths, I wish I had wings and could inspire the same confidence in the truth which is so readily accorded to lies.
Marie Antoinette à la Rose, by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (1783)
For all the positions in life to which we are afforded or burdened, we enter and exit through the same door and have only the interim to enjoy. So enjoy yourself this Thursday for Fashion Night Out at our Marie Antoinette inspired party. Come by for champagne and dessert and hold court with us at The Paris Market. Have a piece of cake. And eat it too!
See you for Fashion Night Out!