I have written dozens of articles about Marie Antoinette's sharp sense of style, her unswerving loyalty, the bravery she displayed in her final days. I have not discussed her flaws - that is, until now...
Marie Antoinette could be thoughtless 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 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 much like a child 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 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' younger brother, she moved the arms of the clock to a later hour. 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 a joke - a joke that would be repeated throughout Versailles and Paris.
Marie Antoinette did not always lead by example. Madame Royale, 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 in the streets of Paris, the Queen was hosting lavish soirees and building her expensive, beloved le hameau on the grounds of Versailles. 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 settling into her new home at 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! One story tells of Marie Antoinette giggling behind her fan at some of her enemies while at the funeral of Louis XV! (Click here to read another story about Marie Antoinette's campaign against Madame du Barry)
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, her friendship with Artois 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 near 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. Marie Antoinette's blind devotion to the Duchesse de Polignac would prompt some to suggest the two were involved in a lesbian relationship; a rumor that would cause incomparable damage to the queen's reputation.