Weird History
1.1k voters

What Marie Antoinette Was Really Like, According To The People Who Knew Her

Updated July 14, 2020 8.7k votes 1.1k voters 87.4k views15 items

List RulesVote up the items that help bring the last Queen of pre-revolutionary France to life.

Clueless, spendthrift royal, or martyr to the ancien regime? Saintly mother or selfish Jezebel? Conceptions of Marie Antionette have run the gamut from ruthless slander (especially in her own lifetime) to post-Revolutionary hagiography. The truth, as always, is more complex. Marie Antoinette was probably doing the best she could in the circumstances into which her birth thrust her, and her life was overtaken by events completely beyond her control. She did, for a short time, shine as an emblem of regal grace and as a fashion icon. And she never said, "Let them eat cake."

These firsthand descriptions of Marie Antoinette - contradictory as they sometimes seem to be - help to restore some of the ill-fated queen's humanity. Read on if you want to know her a little better.

  • Photo: Jacques-Louis David / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Her Last Act On Earth Was One Of Simple Courtesy

    Marie Antoinette went to the guillotine on October 16, 1793. The image at right was sketched from life shortly beforehand by painter Jacques-Louis David, who had been one of those who voted her guilty. The following passage, translated from the original French, was written by her biographer, Maxime de La Rocheterie:

    Climbing the stairs [to the guillotine scaffold], she mistakenly put her foot on that of the executioner. [Henri] Sanson [the executioner] let out a cry of pain. The Queen responded: "Sir," she said, with a liberty of spirit and a dignity incredible in such a moment, "Sir, I beg your pardon." Then she raised her eyes to the sky and murmured a final prayer.

    Telling detail?
  • Photo: Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    She Couldn’t Wait To Get Our Of Her Restrictive Fancy Dresses

    Madame du Hausset observed

    So much did she delight in being unshackled by finery that she would hurry from Court to fling off her royal robes and ornaments, exclaiming, when freed from them, "Thank Heaven, I am out of harness!"

    Telling detail?
  • Photo: Jean-Baptiste André Gautier-Dagoty / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    She Was ‘Generous, Liberal, And Very Charitable’

    Madame du Hausset felt that Marie Antoinette’s reputation for extravagance was unfair: 

    Her allowance as Queen of France was no more than 300,000 francs. It is well known that she was generous, liberal, and very charitable; that she paid all her expenses regularly respecting her household, Trianon, her dresses, diamonds, millinery, and everything else; her Court establishment excepted, and some few articles, which were paid by the civil list.

    Telling detail?
  • Photo: Adolf Ulrik Wertmuller / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    She Couldn’t Wait To Be A Mother

    According to the journal of the Princess de Lamballe,

    The idea of becoming a mother filled her soul with an exuberant delight, which made the very pavement on which she trod vibrate with the words, "I shall be a mother! I shall be a mother!" She was so overjoyed that she not only made it public throughout France but dispatches were sent off to all her royal relatives.

    Telling detail?