Marie-Antoinette was an Austrian princess, the daughter of Queen Maria-Theresa of Austria. She was arranged to be married to Louis XVI of France and subsequently became Queen of France upon Louis’ ascension to the throne.
Her marriage was not consummated until 1777, which was the subject of much public ridicule and led to many lewd cartoons and pamphlets being circulated underground. Popular rumours suggested that Marie-Antoinette had many extra-marital lovers due to the ‘inadequacies’ of the King. Furthermore, her Austrian heritage was used by many against her to depict her as a foreigner with no regard for the French people’s welfare, an idea furthered by Marie-Antoinette’s lavish lifestyle, where she spent thousands of livres on elaborate wigs, dresses and jewellery. By the time of the opening of the Estates-General, she was generally hated by the French people, a fact reflected in many publications during the Pamphlet Wars which criticised and derided the monarchy.
She is often considered to have planned the royal family’s flight towards Austria, where her family could have sheltered them and then helped restore the French monarchy; however, this was a failed attempt, being the Flight to Varennes, and ultimately acted as one of the key reasons which led to the complete downfall of the French monarchy.
The general population’s hatred of Marie-Antoinette only increased with their attempt to flee France, and old rumours about her allegedly promiscuous behaviour began to circulate once again. By 1793, the vitriol against her reached new heights and following the royal family’s imprisonment, she was charged with treason, financial extravagance with public finances and incestuous sexual activity with her son, the last claim having no basis but public opinion. She was executed on 16 October 1793, thus finally ending the toxic relationship between the Queen and her former people.
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