Marie Antoinette

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Date: 2003
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Biography
Length: 673 words
Content Level: (Level 4)
Lexile Measure: 1120L

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About this Person
Born: November 02, 1755 in Vienna, Austria
Died: October 16, 1793 in Paris, France
Nationality: French
Occupation: Queen
Other Names: Marie-Antoinette; Josephe-Jeanne-Marie-Antoinette
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The Life and Times of Marie Antoinette (1755-1793)

At the time of Marie Antoinette's birth:

  • Rangoon was founded by the Burmese king Aloung P'Houra
  • Moscow State University was founded
  • An earthquake erupted in Lisbon, killing 40,000
  • Samuel Johnson wrote the Dictionary of the English Language
At the time of Marie Antoinette's death:
  • Louis XVI was beheaded
  • The Reign of Terror expanded throughout France
  • J. P. Blanchard flew the first human-piloted balloon in the U.S.
  • George Washington was president of the U.S.
The times:
  • 1607-1765: Colonial Period of American literature
  • 1660-1798: Neoclassical Period of English literature
  • 1715-1774: The Age of Enlightenment and the Reign of Louis XV in France
  • 1750-1798: Age of Johnson of English literature
  • 1750-1850: Period of Neoclassicism and Romanticism in art
  • 1756-1763: Seven Years' War
  • 1765-1830: Revolutionary and Early National Period of American literature
  • 1775-1783: American War of Independence
  • 1789-1799: French Revolution
Marie Antoinette's contemporaries:
  • Pierre Laplace (1749-1827) French astronomer and mathematician
  • James Madison (1751-1836) American president
  • Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) American painter
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) Austrian composer
  • William Blake (1757-1827) British artist and poet
  • George Vancouver (1757-1798) British explorer
  • James Monroe (1758-1831) American president
  • Maximilien de Robespierre (1758-1794) French revolutionary leader
Selected world events:
  • 1763: The French and Indian War ended; England defeated France
  • 1776: The Declaration of Independence was signed
  • 1778: The first U.S.-Indian treaty was signed
  • 1781: British surrendered at Yorktown, ending the American Revolution
  • 1783: The Treaty of Paris formally recognized American independence
  • 1787: The Constitution of the U.S. was written
  • 1789: George Washington became first U.S. president
  • 1792: Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin

Marie-Antoinette was the queen of France during the French Revolution whose unpopular political beliefs resulted in her execution.

Marie-Antoinette was born in Vienna on November 2, 1755, the day of the great earthquake at Lisbon. She was christened Marie-Antonia by her parents, the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa and Francis I. It was to be the role of the princess to foster good relations with the French crown. To this end, she was married to the future Louis XVI of France in 1770, and, in 1774, upon the death of Louis XV, became queen of France.

At first, the attractive and lively young woman made a favorable impression at the French court and with the French people. She came to enjoy giving grand balls (and gambling—to the great irritation of her husband) and often bestowed expensive favors. After the death of her mother in 1780, she led a more extravagant lifestyle of frivolous amusement and eventually became an object of deep resentment. Various scandals and suspicions that she manipulated affairs to the advantage of her native Austria added to her growing unpopularity.

After a worrisome and embarrassing period of childlessness, she finally gave birth to a daughter (1778), and two sons (1781 and 1785), and despite her reputation for frivolity, she proved a dedicated and loving mother. Indeed, it was a strong sense of principles that led to her downfall, not simply a detached carelessness.

Having learned from her mother conservative tenets of government, Marie was a staunch absolutist (believing that absolute power should be in the hands of one ruler). After the outbreak of Revolution in 1789, she became more powerful politically by exerting a conservative influence on her husband, Louis XVI. She resisted Louis's attempts at reform and dissuaded him from cooperating at all with the moderate revolutionaries whom she called a "collection of scoundrels, lunatics, and beasts."

Marie longed for foreign intervention against the French Revolution to restore power to the crown. To this end, she was involved in arranging the ill-fated flight to Varennes of 1791 and welcomed the Brunswick Manifesto of 1792. Marie shared none of the popularity of Louis XVI, and when the extravagant, meddlesome foreign queen was brought to trial, her fate was sealed. On October 16, 1793, she was found guilty and sentenced to public execution which she suffered that day. The resentful Marie-Antoinette met her death confident that she was innocent and simply had maintained her dignity and principles throughout an unspeakably horrible Revolution.

FURTHER READINGS:

  • Loomis, Stanley. The Fatal Friendship: Marie Antoinette, Count Fersen and the Flight to Varennes. Doubleday, 1972.
  • Mayer, Dorothy Moulton. Marie Antoinette: The Tragic Queen. Coward-McCann, 1968.
  • Erickson, Carolly. To the Scaffold: The Life of Marie-Antoinette. Morrow, 1991.
  • Haslip, Joan. Marie Antoinette. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1987.
  • Seward, Desmond. Marie Antoinette. Constable, 1981.

 

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Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|EJ2102101187