Portrayed to have lived a luxurious and excessive life, Marie Antoinette of France has been the subject of numerous writings, films and documentaries through the ages. Her image may have been misconstrued somewhere along the way, so we've put together a primer on little-known facts about the queen.
1. Born the 15th child of Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, her family had promised her hand in marriage as a political move.
By the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, Empress Maria Theresa sought a stronger alliance between Austria and France, which had first been secured through the betrothal of her 11th daughter and second to the last child, Maria Antonia Josepha Joanna to the heir to the French throne. When King Louis XV sent a tutor to instruct his grandson’s future wife, the tutor already found the young princess to be lazy and frivolous, although with her gray-blue eyes and ash-blonde hair, quite a stunner.
A portrait of the princess at the age of 7.
2. She was married at the very young age of 14 and she came to France with a grand procession.
In the summer of 1770, Marie Antoinette set out to marry Louis-Auguste in France, escorted by 57 carriages, 117 footmen, and 376 horses. A day after the two first met in the Palace of Versailles, they were wed in a grand ceremony that accommodated 5,000 guests.
Initially, she felt homesick and would regularly write letters to her mother. Louis-Auguste did not prove to be a promising companion, his manner timid and uninspired. She later formed small circles of French court favorites, with whom she would regularly spend her days.
3. Supposedly unable to consummate the marriage for seven years and thus produce a child, the couple was the subject of gossip.
When Louis XV died and Louis-Auguste succeeded him as Louis XVI, a 19-year-old Marie Antoinette was at her husband’s side as Queen. The two were complete opposites: the Queen loved to socialize, gamble, party, and spend in excess, while the king was much more solitary. Seven years into their marriage, they had supposedly not yet consummated the union, which created rumors outside the palace walls. The Dauphin was said to be impotent. When Maria Theresa heard the news, she dispatched one of her sons, Emperor Joseph II, to intervene. Within a year’s time, she gave birth to the first daughter, Marie Therese Charlotte.
Marie Antoinette with two of her four children.
As Marie Antoinette began to spend more time outside the palace, some suspected her of having affairs with Swedish diplomat Count Axel von Fersen, while another scandal allegedly linked her to a cardinal.
4. She earned the nickname “Madame Deficit.”
As the French government experienced a hitch in finances and poor harvests affected the country, Marie Antoinette’s excessive lifestyle began to shine through even more. She retreated to the Petit Trianon, a private castle on the palace estate, mostly away from the king. She was credited for having a farm built just so her ladies-in-waiting could dress in elaborate shepherdess costumes. All this and more made her the subject of comics and pornographic pamphlets highlighting her as a queen of adultery, ignorance, and extravagance, earning her the nickname “Madame Deficit.”
5. She wasn't the biggest spender on fashion in the French royal family.
Versailles was a dirty place, surrounded by animals and their excrement. It was customary for the royal family and other aristocrats to throw their shoes away after a few days instead of cleaning them. Marie Antoinette did not care much for this practice, unlike her brother-in-law, the Comte d'Artois, who went through 365 pairs of shoes a year.
6. There’s no record of her ever saying, “Let them eat cake!”
She supposedly uttered it when she heard that her subjects were starving and had no bread to eat, although there is no evidence to support it.
7. She had a clear conscience before facing the dreaded guillotine.
The financial turmoil, political conflict, and social unrest sparked the French Revolution, which aimed to overthrow the monarchy in the process. After imprisonment, Marie Antoinette was put on trial and found guilty She faced the guillotine just like her husband had a few months before her. In a final letter, she is said to have written to her sister-in-law, “I am calm as people are whose conscience is clear.” She was 37.