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15 Facts About Marie Antoinette We Just Learned That Made Us Say 'Whoa'

Updated April 30, 2021 3.3k votes 584 voters 74.7k views15 items

List RulesVote up the most surprising, non-cake-related facts about Marie Antoinette.

As a notoriously misunderstood historical figure, Marie Antoinette lived a fascinating life. Considered selfish and the personification of royal excess by her critics, Marie was also a loving mother and, by some accounts, kind and generous to those around her. 

Facts about Marie Antoinette highlight the inconsistencies related to her reputation as well as the complexities of her circumstances. Hated as a foreigner, scapegoated as a woman, and the target of numerous false accusations - including her misattributed line, "Let them eat cake!" - Marie Antoinette continues to fascinate many modern observers.

Details about Marie Antoinette's life reveal her human side and the legacy she left behind. Vote up the Marie Antoinette facts you just learned. 

  • Photo: Palace of Versailles / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Marie Antoinette Had Several Adopted Children, Including A Young Senegalese Boy

    Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI did not have their first child until 1778 - nearly eight years after they were married. From 1778 to 1786, Marie gave birth to four children, although two, Louis Joseph and Sophie, perished young. 

    Marie Antoinette purportedly loved children and adopted at least five during her lifetime. Four of the adoptees were orphans of royal attendants, while the fifth was presented to her as a "gift" during the 1780s. Known as Jean Amilcar, the boy was from Senegal and, instead of taking him on as a servant, Marie Antoinette had him baptized and cared for him as her own. 

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  • Photo: Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Her Son, Louis-Charles, Testified Against Her

    As Marie Antoinette's enemies conspired against her, they sought out the assistance of her son and heir to the throne, Louis-Charles (b. 1785). Although Louis-Charles was the second son of Antoinette and King Louis XVI, the passing of his older brother thrust him onto the throne when his father was executed in January 1793.

    At the time, Marie Antoinette and her children were being held in prison, and Louis-Charles soon fell under the care of Antoine Simon. Simon tutored Louis-Charles and, with fellow anti-Royalist Jacques Hébert, persuaded him to testify that his mother had taught him to touch himself. Louis-Charles also confessed that he and his mother had engaged in an inappropriate relationship several times. 

    At her trial, Hébert insisted, "there is no doubt... that there was an incestuous act" between Louis-Charles and his mother. In lieu of defending herself, Marie Antoinette said, "If I have not replied... it is because nature refused a response to such an accusation made of a mother."

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  • Photo: William Hamilton / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    The Condition When One's Hair Goes White Almost Overnight Is Called 'Marie Antoinette Syndrome'

    Marie Antoinette's hair reportedly turned white very suddenly - the night before she was executed. She was only 38 years old at the time, and her change in hair color has, in hindsight, been attributed to stress or an "immune-mediated disorder."

    Marie Antoinette wasn't the only historical figure to have experienced this phenomenon. When Sir Thomas More was held in the Tower of London before his execution in 1535, he, too, suddenly lost pigment in his hair. As a result, some contemporary observers challenge the moniker of the affliction, insisting "Marie Antoinette syndrome" is fine for women, but the male form should be called "Thomas More syndrome."

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  • Photo: Ludwig Guttenbrunn / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Marie Antoinette's Daughter Was Queen Of France For Less Than 30 Minutes

    The execution of King Louis XVI in January 1793 meant his eldest son, Louis-Charles, took the throne. Only 8 years old at the time, Louis-Charles was first under the care of his mother and then supervised by anti-Royalists.

    The young boy, now King Louis XVII, was kept in confinement under harsh conditions. He became ill and, on June 8, 1795, succumbed to tuberculosis.

    When Louis XVII passed (there were rumors he was still alive that lasted well into the 19th century), his sister, Marie Therese, became the only living child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. She fled to Austria and, in 1799, married her cousin and heir to the French throne, Louis-Antoine, Duc d'Angouleme. 

    In 1830, amid revolution in France, Marie Therese's husband became King Louis XIX of France. He abdicated 20 minutes into his reign, taking his queen with him. 

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