Related Posts with Thumbnails

That Austrian Whore: Why Marie Antoinette Was Hated


For years, I looked at famous figures in history in a one-dimensional way:  I saw them as the stiff-spined and pinch-faced people staring back from text books or old portraits.
 I eventually learned to look beyond the prune faces and beneath the starched petticoats; I learned how to see people and not portraits or myths. Henry VIII went from being a fat ogre to a fiery hot-head and smooth politician. Before my eyes, Napoleon was transformed from a short dictator to a master of public relations and Elizabeth I from a severe and pale-faced figure to a masterful ruler and manipulator. Scratching the surface of a person, learning what lies beyond their polite smiles and icy glares is a challenge, but it is also rewarding.

I have been accused of romanticizing or waxing poetic about Marie Antoinette. That simply is not the case. I do not have rose-colored glasses on where the Queen is concerned.  Marie Antoinette, is a multi-faceted person. My view of her is as multi-dimensional as a prism - I recognize her positive characteristics and cringe at her negative ones.

So today, I will not write about Marie Antoinette's sharp sense of style and unswerving loyalty and generosity.  I will discuss a few of her flaws and more irritating habits.


Marie Antoinette could be an ingrate. Knowing how much his wife delighted in the amusements of simple life, Louis XVI decided to make Marie Antoinette a spinning wheel. After spending hours in his workshop constructing the wheel, he proudly presented it to her. In her book, To The Scaffold, Carolly Erickson writes, "She was charmed, she thanked him warmly - and as soon as he had gone, gave the spinning wheel away." One imagines the big, awkward king, like a kid proudly showing off his artwork. His reward for his thoughtful efforts?  A polite smile and a pat on the rear as he was scooted out the door.

Marie Antoinette could be thoughtless. Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI had different interests and kept different schedules. Marie Antoinette liked chit-chat, a swirl of activity, and staying up late. Louis was uncomfortable engaging in idle or pointless conversation, was content to work with his hands, and liked to be to bed promptly at 11 PM. One night, early in their marriage, Marie Antoinette contrived a plan to get him to bed early so she could go out on the town. With the help of Louis's younger brother, she set the clock ahead. As the clock chimed its eleventh chime, Louis bid her goodnight and departed. Marie Antoinette, perhaps feeling giddy at the success of the ruse, might have clapped her hands and giggled. Whether she had intended it or not, she had made her husband the butt of the joke...and many more people heard what she had done.


Marie Antoinette did not always lead by example. Madame Royal, Marie Antoinette's daughter, writes in her journal about a particular Christmas when the Queen encouraged her children to give their gifts away to the needy. She wanted to make them aware that there were less fortunate souls in the world, and that it was the duty of their station to look out for those souls. These are lofty and admirable principles to espouse, but they must be taught through action and deed not just word. Although the Queen was charitable, even giving money out of her purse to support various hospitals and orphans, she made no real sacrifices. While people were starving just outside the gates of Versailles, the Queen was hosting lavish fetes. She went through slippers, gowns, and diamonds as if they were limitless resources and rights of her passage.


The young Marie Antoinette was childish and tactless. Marie Antoinette, the outsider from Austria, had a difficult time adjusting to life at the opulent, corrupt Versailles. Because of her heritage, she was hated by various factions, including Louis XV's mistress, Madame du Barry. Did she rise above it by turning the other cheek? Absolutely not! Marie Antoinette responded by flinging mud. One story tells of Marie Antoinette giggling behind her fan at some of her enemies while at the funeral of Louis XV!


Marie Antoinette was blindly loyal. Oftentimes, Marie Antoinette would show loyalty and favor to those who didn't deserve it. Marie Antoinette and the Comte d'Artois, the King's youngest brother, became friends early on. Artois was a profligate, a lover of women and games of chance. In spite of the King's strong disapproval, he encouraged Marie Antoinette to place high wagers on horse races and card games. Marie Antoinette's friendship with this libertine was the source of speculation and cruel gossip; she was accused of being sexually involved with her brother-in-law. In the end, Artois's friendship would prove as insubstantial and pointless as a game of faro. He deserted his brother, sister, niece, nephew, and sister-in-law when the French Revolution began. At the King's request, he fled France.


The Duchesse de Polignac, one of Marie Antoinette's close friends, was the perfect example of the courtier leech. Once attached to Marie Antoinette, she sucked her nearly dry (whether intentionally or not)! Polignac, a beautiful, delicate, and by some accounts, warm-hearted woman was married to a spend-thrift and involved with a violent and abusive lover. Her family was impoverished. Marie Antoinette, sympathizing with the young woman's tenuous position, appointed her First Equerry and awarded her an annual salary of 12,000 livres. Polignac had an apartment at the head of the marble staircase very nearly Marie Antoinette's rooms. In no time, most of her family and her lover had obtained positions and pensions. These appointments would anger faithful courtiers, jealous nobles, and starving peasants. Polignac fled France at the beginning of the Revolution. She kept in touch with the Queen through friends and acquaintances, including the Duchess of Devonshire, but the damage of her alliance with the queen had been done. Gabrielle Polignac died of a sudden illness a few months after the Queen's execution.

Further reading on the people mentioned in this post: 


8 comments:

  1. Leah,

    What a fascinating post. I never knew any of these things about Marie. We do tend to put her on a pedestal. I think we are a wee bit jealous of her stunning clothes, shoes and style! It is easy to live a fantasy through by gone Kings and Queens.

    Cathy

    ReplyDelete
  2. I heartily dislike La Polignac. Poor Lambelle stayed and died horribly, but La Polignace bravely ran away.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Honestly you have to think about how young she was when she was put in power to be Queen. Second, you have to think about her upbringing. It was said she couldn't even read or write her OWN name very well until the age of 12. WIth that said it is obvious she was very naive due to lack of education to when it came to expenses. I don't think it was EVER her personal intention to starve all of France and not care. It was just by her naivety and obliviousness to the matter. I think she was just very young and naive when she was named Queen and by the time she realized her bad judgements it was too late. I think she had a good heart though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Erica im totally agree with you, always think the same, people judge Marie Antoinette with actual ways to think or analize this, but they have to think people like Marie born and has been educated for act in that way, that was her destiny and she was so young like teens of this age only was interested in have fun, not in politics...

      Delete
  4. WOW!! This is so fascinating, I've learned so much about Queen Marie Antoinette that I never even heard of before! I am doing a magazine article for school, but even though it is only supposed to be about the bad things about Marie, I now know about some of the good things about her too. Thank you Leah!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, thank you AnonyMouse, for taking the time to vis my blog and leave such a kind comment!

      Delete
  5. You do have to know that she herself was almost hated by her own mother and that her lack of education was the product of neglect. I personally see her as a poor, naive, young woman. She did spend a lot but how the heck was she supposed to know? She was never educated in state affairs. All she knew was that her duty was to dress well, make the palace look beautiful, to produce children, and do some charity. I don't really think she was an ingrate for the spinning wheel- you also have to know that at this point, she and her young husband were still weren't getting along quite well. They had no common interests and at her still you age, why would she spend her time with a spinning wheel rather than doing mischievous things? And I really don't think it mattered to Louis whether his young wife appreciated his gift or not. All that mattered was he was able to craft a spinning wheel and he was very proud of it. He wouldn't need it either way even though he purposely made it for Antonia. It was the self-satisfaction he was after. And by goodness, she was a princess raised by an ever fashionable empress. It's not like she purposely lavished herself with extravagance, she grew up rich even though they lived quite "simply". It was a sense of style embedded in her skin. She never realized that it was perceived as "lavishness" by the French people until it was too late. In short, she was raised fashionable. She didn't know how hard diamonds and pearls had to be acquired, how would she know? when all she was taught to do was to play, sing and dance? And as I stated, she did spend a lot- in gambling and in clothes. She had to resort to these things because of LONELINESS. She didn't have real friends if she had any. Her sisters were miles away from her, her husband totally UNINTERESTED in her, her mother always critical and her enemies were EVERYWHERE. This is just too much for a teenager to bear. Think about teenagers nowadays- she would have committed suicide in mere months in France. People are merely looking at the things that Marie Antoinette had done during her years as queen of France without bothering to know why. Her life could be compared to that of a gradeschooler who became Queen. How would the country supposed to prosper? Seriously, I'd blame their parents.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I wonder about whether she couldn't "read or write her name very well", considering it has been stated she was rather fluent in multiple languages.
    History. Fascinating, yet confounding.

    ReplyDelete

You have left a comment on my blog! Merci beaucoup! I hope to you will visit Titillating Facts About the Life and Times of Marie Antoinette again soon! Until then...au revoir and bonne chance!