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MARIE ANTOINETTE

revolutions. During her second exile, from 1848 to the end of her life, she lived at Claremont, where her charity and piety endeared her to the many English friends of the Orleans family. Marie Amélie died at Claremont, on the 24th of March 1866.

See A. Trognon, Vie de Marie Amélie (1872); A. L. Baron Imbert de St Amand, La Jeunesse de Marie Amélie (1891), Marie Amélie au Palais Royal (1892), Marie Amélie et la cour de Palerme (1891), Marie Amélie et la cour des Tuileries (1892), Marie Amélie et l’apogée de règne de Louis Philippe (1893), Marie Amélie et la société française en 1847 (1894), and Marie Amélie et la duchesse d’Orleans (1893).


MARIE ANTOINETTE (1755–1793), queen of France, ninth child of Maria Theresa and the emperor Francis I., was born at Vienna, on the 2nd of November 1755. She was brought up under a simple and austere régime and educated with a view to the French marriage arranged by Maria Theresa, the abbé Vermond being appointed as her tutor in 1769. Her marriage with the dauphin, which took place at Versailles on the 16th of May 1770, was intended to crown the policy of Choiseul and confirm the alliance between Austria and France. This fact, combined with her youth and the extreme corruption of the French court, made her position very difficult. Madame du Barry, whose influence over Louis XV. was at that time supreme, formed the centre of a powerful anti-Choiseul cabal, which succeeded in less than a year after the dauphin’s marriage in bringing about the fall of Choiseul and seriously threatening the stability of the Austrian alliance. Thus the young princess was surrounded by enemies both at court and in the dauphin’s household, and came to rely almost entirely upon the Austrian ambassador, the comte de Mercy-Argenteau, whom Maria Theresa had instructed to act as her mentor, at the same time arranging that she herself should be kept informed of all that concerned her daughter, so that she might at once advise her and safeguard the alliance. Hence arose the famous secret correspondence of Mercy-Argenteau, an invaluable record of all the details of Marie Antoinette’s life from her marriage in 1770 till the death of Maria Theresa in 1780.

Marie Antoinette soon won the affection and confidence of the dauphin and endeared herself to the king, but her position was precarious, and both Mercy and Maria Theresa had continually to urge her to conquer her violent dislike for the favourite and try to conciliate her.

The accession of the young king and queen on the death of Louis XV. (May 10, 1774), was hailed with great popular enthusiasm. But her first steps brought Marie Antoinette into open hostility with the anti-Austrian party. She was urgent in obtaining the dismissal of d’Aiguillon, and did all in her power to secure the recall of Choiseul, though without success. Thus from the very first she appeared in the light of a partisan, having against her all the enemies of Choiseul and of the Austrian alliance, and was already given the nickname of “l’autrichienne” by mesdames the king’s aunts. At the same time her undisguised impatience of the cumbrous court etiquette shocked many people, and her taste for pleasure led her to seek the society of the comte d’Artois and his young and dissolute circle. But the greatest weakness in her position lay in her unsatisfactory relations with her husband. The king, though affectionate, was cold and apathetic, and it was not till seven years after her marriage that there was any possibility of her bearing him an heir. This fact naturally decreased her popularity, and as early as September 1774, was made the subject of offensive pamphlets and the like, as in the case of the affaire Beaumarchais. (See Beaumarchais.)

The end of the period of mourning for the late king was the signal for a succession of gaieties, during which the queen displayed a passion for amusement and excitement which led to unfortunate results. Being childless, and with a husband who could not command her respect, her longing for affection led her to form various intimate friendships, above all with the princesse de Lamballe and the comtesse Jules de Polignac, who soon obtained such an empire over her affections that no favour was too great for them to ask, and often to obtain. Thus for the benefit of Madame de Lamballe the queen revived the superfluous and expensive office of superintendent of her household, which led to constant disagreements and jealousies among her ladies and offended many important families. In frequenting the salons of her friends the queen not only came in contact with a number of the younger and more dissipated courtiers, whose high play and unseemly amusements she countenanced, but she fell under the influence of various ambitious intriguers, such as the baron de Bésenval, the comte de Vaudreuil, the duc de Lauzun and the comte d’Adhémar, whose interested manœuvres she was induced to further by her affection for her favourites. Thus she was often led to interfere for frivolous reasons in public affairs, sometimes with serious results, as in the case of the trial of the comte de Guines (1776), when her interference was responsible for the fall of Turgot. At the same time her extravagance in dress, jewelry and amusements (including the gardens and theatricals at Trianon, of the cost of which such exaggerated reports were spread about) and her presence at horse-races and masked balls in Paris without the king, gave rise to great scandal, which was seized upon by her enemies, among whom were Mesdames, the count of Provence, and the duke of Orleans and the Palais Royal clique.

At this critical period her brother, the emperor Joseph II., decided to visit France. As the result of his visit he left with the queen a memorandum in which he pointed out to her in plain terms the dangers of her conduct.[1] He also took advantage of his visit to advise the king, with such success that at last, in 1778, the queen had the hope of becoming a mother. For a time the emperor’s remonstrances had some effect, and after the birth of her daughter, Marie Thérèse Charlotte (afterwards duchesse d’Angoulême) in December 1778, the queen lived a more quiet life. The death of Maria Theresa (Nov. 29, 1780) deprived her of a wise and devoted friend, and by removing all restraint on the rashness of Joseph II. was bound to increase the dislike of the Austrian alliance and cause embarrassment to Marie Antoinette. Her position was very much strengthened by the birth (Oct. 22, 1781) of a dauphin, Louis Joseph Xavier François, and on the death of Maurepas, which left the king without a chief minister, she might have exerted a considerable influence in public affairs had she taken a consistent interest in them; but her repugnance to serious matters triumphed, and she preferred to occupy herself with the education of her children, to whom she was a wise and devoted mother,[2] and with her friends and amusements at Trianon. Personal motives alone would lead her to interfere in public affairs, especially when it was a question of obtaining places or favours for her favourites and their friends. The influence of the Polignacs was now at its height, and they obtained large sums of money, a dukedom, and many nominations to places. It was Madame de Polignac who obtained the appointment of Calonne as controller-general of the finances,[3] and who succeeded Madame de Guéménée as “governess of the children of France” after the bankruptcy of the prince de Guéménée in 1782.[4] Again, in response to Mercy and Joseph II.’s urgent representations, Marie Antoinette exerted herself on behalf of Austria in the affairs of the opening of the Scheldt (1783–1784) and the exchange of Bavaria (1785), in which, though she failed to provoke active interference on the part of France, she succeeded in obtaining the payment of considerable indemnities to Austria, a fact which led to the popular legend of her having sent millions to Austria, and aroused much indignation against her. Later, on the recommendation of Mercy and Vermond, she supported the nomination of Loménie de Brienne in 1787, an appointment which, though widely approved at the time, was laid to the queen’s blame when it ended in failure.

Two more children were born to her; Louis Charles, duke of Normandy, afterwards dauphin, on the 27th of March 1785, and Sophie Hélène Beatrix (d. June 19, 1787), on the 9th of July 1786. In 1785–1786 the affair of the Diamond Necklace (q.v.)

  1. See Arneth, Marie Antoinette, Joseph II. and Leopold II., pp. 1–18.
  2. v. the Instructions données à la marquise de Tourzel, governess of the children of France, dated the 24th of July, 1789, in la Rocheterie and Beaucourt, Lettres de Marie Antoinette, ii. 131.
  3. But see Arneth and Flammermont, i. 228, foot-note.
  4. This had reflected discredit on the queen, Madame de Guéménée having been one of her intimate friends.