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  • Matilda Thomann Studholme

Marie Antoinette's Life

Marie Antoinette is a historical figure that no one has or ever will forget. She has always been known because of her having (allegedly) said, “let them eat cake” when being told about the starving peasants of France. Even though, for many, this is as far as their knowledge of her goes, she had an intriguing life.

Marie Antoinette was born an Archduchess of Austria as she was the daughter of Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Francis the first. She was the fifteenth of sixteen children. By the age of 10 it was known that she did not have a talent for languages, not even being able to write in her own language (German), without mistakes. On the other hand, she had the advantage when it came to socialising, because she was described as quite charming. She married into the French royal family through Louis the sixteenth after his brother, Louis the fifteenth, died. Her relationship with the king had been troubled and it took them seven years to conceive a child after having gotten married. She gained the name “Madame Veto”, because she and King Louis XVI, vetoed the laws that might reduce their power.

During the time of her rule, France had been in financial difficulties. The last two kings had spent more than they owned, with King Louis XIV building Versailles. Versailles cost the working class the most in taxes. Since then, Versailles became the foundation of resentment and anger towards the monarchy.

Sadly, through misunderstanding, Marie Antoinette had been falsely accused of buying herself a diamond necklace that France could not afford. But the history of the necklace was that King Louis XV had wanted to buy it for his lover, Madame Du Barre in 1772. It took several years for the jeweller to source the diamonds, and by then King Louis had died of smallpox.

The same necklace was offered to King Louis XVI for Marie Antoinette. But she refused, knowing the financial troubles, and she thought the money could be better spent elsewhere, for example, on ships for the nation. This side of the story was told to the public too late. A fraudster, Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Remy, had signed Marie Antoinette’s name to obtain the necklace. The rumour spread that the necklace had been ordered and Marie Antoinette had refused to pay for it. Later Jeanne was convicted of the crime, but the Queen’s reputation did not recover, nor would it ever. She became known in France, mockingly, as “Madame Deficit”. Marie represented the enormous class divide, and at this point in the revolution, imprisoning and killing her, became an inevitability if the people wanted to abolish the monarchy. As well as her being a disconnected figure head, gambling and spending the finances of the nation on dresses.

In conclusion, even though Marie Antoinette had an undeservedly bad reputation, she still spent the equivalent of $3.6m on clothing each year. Sometimes she doubled her dress spend, making her insensitive to the hardships of her people.

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