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French Women & Feminists in History: A Resource Guide

Marie Antoinette

Walter Montgomery, author. Stories of the French Revolution. 1893. Library of Congress Digital Collections.

Marie Antoinette was born November 2, 1755 in Vienna, Austria and was executed on October 16, 1793 at the Place de la Concorde, Paris, France. While the Chapelle Expiatoire in Paris is dedicated to her and to her husband, King Louis XVI, she is buried at the Basilica Cathedral of Saint Denis, France. In many ways Marie Antoinette was a victim of the world into which she was thrown. To begin with, she came from Austria and after an initially warm welcome in France she was increasingly viewed with suspicion from the French people. She was born an archduchess and came to France at a very young age (a mere 14 years old) to marry Louis XVI. It is worth considering that these two were put in charge of the nation of France as teenagers, Louis being only 19 to her 18 when he was crowned. This was a financially unstable time in France and neither of them seemed able to fully comprehend the Revolution that was brewing. She also had extravagant tastes and a genuine love of fashion and art. She became a patron of the immensely talented artist Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun who painted not only Marie Antoinette's portrait but over 600 other portraits. A figure of significance in many ways, during the Revolution, the painter wisely fled France and sought safety in Italy, Austria and Russia until she was finally able to return to France to live out her days.

Marie Antoinette's love of art and haute couture did her no favors during the Revolution as this caused her to spend profligately. Apparently she bought about 300 gowns a year, gaining a reputation as spoiled and vain. As the years went on and general unrest began to reach revolutionary levels, she also served as a scapegoat for those who would rather blame the Austrian queen than criticize their King. She is reported to have been genuinely fond of her husband but it was known that she had other lovers. She continued to spend freely even when France was in a financial crisis, making vast improvements to the charming hideaway of the Petit Trianon that cost over two million francs. These and other whims understandably went over poorly. Some modern scholars question whether her strong will and bold decisions suggest she was a proto-feminist. Either way, Marie Antoinette was vilified more than almost any female figure in French history and many scholars have asked the question, "Why was she hated so much?". During her trial the scrutiny and condemnation over her purported "libertine ways" was highlighted for dramatic effect (the sheer volume of pornographic cartoons of the Queen attests to this preoccupation with her sexuality). Contemporary biographies continue to fixate on this aspect of her life, often to the exclusion of other areas, including her political machinations and attempts to save the Monarchy. Whether or not one is sympathetic to her ideological leanings, or judgmental about her extra-marital affairs-it has never been proven that she heartlessly said, "let them eat cake" to the hungry people of Paris.

For digitized sources on women of this time period see Digitized Sources: Women in the French Revolution.

You can identify additional material by searching the Library of Congress Online Catalog using the following headings:

Marie Antoinette, Queen, consort of Louis XVI, King of France, 1755-1793. (Name Heading; returns works by Marie Antoinette)

Marie Antoinette, Queen, consort of Louis XVI, King of France, 1755-1793. (Subject Heading; returns works about Marie Antoinette)

Memoires written by members of court (eg. Madame Campan) from this period are plentiful: France--Court and courtiers--History--18th century

Print & Digital Resources

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

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