May 16, 2007

Marie Antoinette

I noted that today, May 16, 237 years ago, in 1770, Marie Antoinette (aged 14) married the future Louis XVI (aged 15).
I recently finished reading the “Marie Antoinette” by Antonia Fraser, a best-seller. Both this rather recent book and a previous one by Stefan Zweig (1933) give a much more nuanced view on Marie Antoinette than many of us may have got from school and elsewhere, often based on pamphlets, sometimes true - especially about her spending, often false.


Antonia Fraser’s book gave the idea to Sofia Coppola to make a film, starring Kirsten Dunst. The film may not have had quite the same success as Sofia’s previous film, “Lost in Translation”, but I quite liked it. The film ends with the revolution, but the book covers her whole life. The film is now available on CD (I have no commission).

Many of you may know her story better than I, but I thought some of the readers would like to refresh their memory about her life. (I must admit I was touched by the book and the film, so it may not be quite neutral).

Marie Antoinette had a rather short life 1755-1793. Look at her portraits (at 12, 14 and at 22 and on the way to the guillotine, at 38).

Daughter of Francis I and Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, she was forced to a political marriage, at 14, with someone who - in the beginning - did not care the least about her. Everybody expected a crown prince. It took seven years before she gave birth to a first child - a girl (the last public birth at the Court – in front of hundreds). She then had three other children, two boys and another girl. She loved and cared a lot about her children. Her youngest daughter died at the age of 1 and her eldest son at the age of 7.

In 1789, the French revolution forced the royal couple and their children to leave Versailles for the Tuileries Palace in Paris, as “prisoners”. The few next years, Marie Antoinette impressed many, including the revolutionary side, for her courage and strength of character. I’m not going into any further details (the escape and the capture at Varennes etc., organized by her supposedly Swedish lover, the Count Axel von Fersen).

Louis XVI was arrested in August 1792 and the monarchy was abolished in September the same year (reestablished after Napoleon). The royal family now became real prisoners in the Temple Fortress. The violence increased. Marie Antoinette’s best friend (the Princess of Lamballe) was captured, refused to repudiate her oath of loyalty to the Queen and was murdered. Her head was put on a pike and displayed outside Marie Antoinette’s prison window.

The King was condemned and taken to the guillotine in January 1793. In July the same year, her son (then 8), supposed to become Louis XVII, was taken from her – he died in captivity two years later. A few weeks later she was separated also from her last daughter and brought to the Conciergerie, where you can still visit her cell. In some kind of trial, she was condemned to death and brought to the guillotine as “Prisoner 280”, October 16, 1793. Her head was exhibited to the crowd. The guillotine was placed on the present Place de la Concorde.

Later (again after Napoleon), she was buried at the St. Denis basilica, together with her husband and most other French Kings and Queens.

7 comments:

hpy said...

Ma mère avait un très vieux livre sur Fersen et son époque Marie-Antoinette, écrit en vieux suédois. Je me demande si je peux encore le trouver ou si ma soeur en "rangeant" il y a quelques années, ne l'a pas jeté, ce qui serait dommage.

Cergie said...

J'ai eu la chance de visiter avec des journalistes (mon mari est journaliste) le hameau de la reine en juin dernier. Il faut que je retrouve les posts que j'ai fait dessus et que je te les fassent parvenir en lien. Cela va me demander un peu de temps et aujourd'hui je ne suis guère en avance
Pauvre petite reine. Elle a été tant choyée en Autriche dans sa famille et se retrouver en france avec ce carcan protocolaire...

black feline said...

i think the controversy surrounding her...even to this day was the remark made..allegedly by her when told that the people had no bread to eat..she said "eat cakes!"...will be good if u could make some comments on this...thks

Peter said...

black feline:
This is something that was in the pamphlets. Most historical experts would say that she most probably never pronounced these words. The whole thing may rather have been invented by her opponents, who were in all levels of the society, including her close surrounding.

black feline said...

i thought so too...she's probably a victim of the circumstances. Unfortunately the tagline stays to this day...whenever we have bad government who's out of touch with the ground...we like to use the phrase " we have a bunch of marie antoinettes here!" Back home in Singapore..the present bunch of goons from the incumbent government fits the bill to a T...

lyliane said...

Pauvre reine!, je suis allée visiter la conciergerie à Paris où elle a été enfermée et il parait que ses cheveux sont devenus blancs en une nuit. J'ai vu aussi le film qui m'a beaucoup plu, avec cette musique moderne, je crois qu'elle aurait aimé aussi.

stephanie said...

J''ai entendu aussi cette histoire sur les cheveux blancs en une nuit, c'est possible... Les gros chocs peuvent produire ce genre de chose.

En revanche, j'ai trouvé que le film n'était basé que sur le marketing et sur l'actrice principale. On n'apprend rien du tout, mis à part que les macarons existaient bien déjà à cette époque!

Je trouve dommage de ne pas avoir vu la fin de sa vie non plus, puisque le film s'arrête à son départ de Versailles. Et puis, le film n'est pas assez nuancé, en gros c'était juste une pauvre petite fille naïve qui a été victime de son époque... Il ne faut pas oublier qu'elle n'a jamais été intéressée par ce qui passait en dehors du château aussi. On décrit aussi Louis XVI comme un abruti, or il ne l'était pas tant que ça, et il était beaucoup plus humaniste que ce que les livres d'école nous disent.

Bref, le film a été très médiatisé, parce que c'était Sofia Coppola et Kristen Dunst, maintenant, le même film aurait été fait par un inconnu, on aurait dit que c'était nul. Mais la musique est bien c'est vrai. Acheter la BO mais pas le film!