Tragic queen of France | Sunday Observer

Tragic queen of France

25 July, 2021

When Marie Antoinette arrived in a gold-flowered carriage to the sound of drums and trumpets for her marriage she was only a 14-year-old princess. As fate had decreed, she came to France to get married to a 15-year-old prince. Her blue eyes and blonde hair added to her beauty. As arranged, they were married at the white chapel of the great palace. While the bride remained a charming princess, the bridegroom was a clumsy prince. Those facts did not deter extravagant festivities and fireworks in the city. However, their marriage was not consummated for seven years.

Sweet tooth

The bridegroom Louis had a sweet tooth and a passion for hunting. When the newly married couple visited Paris, they were greeted by people who were burdened with excessive taxes. Marie proved to be frivolous and willful, but she was a warm-hearted person. There were signs that she wanted to be a good wife and a mother. However, her hopes were dashed to the ground when she found that Louis had a physical deformity which could have been corrected through surgery.

The situation prompted Marie to flirt with a handsome Swedish officer while remaining faithful to her husband. In the meantime, the King of France died of smallpox and Louis XVI, 19, and his queen Marie Antoinette, 18, began their reign. The young queen who had come from Austria soon became a prisoner in the palace. She lost her right to privacy when a host of young women had been employed to dress her. She constantly rebelled against such a way of life.

Finding that she could not change the existing situation, Marie began to lead an extravagant life. As a young and beautiful queen, Marie dressed well and wore diamond earrings and bracelets. She had a passion for horse riding and attending balls. With the enormous wealth she had inherited she began to take part in gambling and associate with young princes.

With the passage of time, the King agreed to undergo an operation and the marriage was consummated. In due course, Marie gave birth to a daughter in 1778. Three years later, she gave birth to her first son. People celebrated the event by dancing in the streets as they were happy to see an heir to the throne. However, Marie’s popularity was on the wane because of her wasteful ways. People began to lose their respect for the monarchy. As the daughter of the Holy Roman

Emperor Francis I and Empress Maria Theresa, Marie had no touch with the common people. Her marriage to Louis was intended to cement an alliance between France and the Habsbury dynasty. When she started showing signs of interest towards Austria, people in France began to consider her as a foreigner. Her extravagance made the situation worse.

Cardinal Louis Rene Edouard de Rohan was an unpopular figure in the French court. Countess de la Motte told the Cardinal that he could regain his position if he acted as an intermediary in securing a valuable diamond necklace for the queen. He ordered the necklace from a Parisian jeweller who delivered the necklace to him and the countess believing that they were the queen’s agents. The necklace went missing. When the jeweller complained that he did not receive the payment, the Cardinal and the Countess were charged with fraud. After the trial he was sent to a monastery and the countess was whipped and sentenced to life imprisonment. The queen’s supposed involvement made the people angry on the eve of the French Revolution.

French Revolution

After the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, Marie Antoinette favoured the intransigents who opposed any compromise with the moderate revolutionaries. Then she appealed for help from her brother, Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II. When the desired help did not arrive, Marie and Louis tried to escape from Paris with their son in 1791. However, the revolutionaries captured and brought them back as prisoners. In the following year the monarchy was overthrown and the king was executed. It became clear that the revolutionaries were not against the king.

They resented the queen’s arrogance and wasteful ways. When she appointed her friends to powerful positions, the situation became worse. She was branded as ‘the Austrian’. When she visited Paris in 1785, she realised that the people were against her. Then she took refuge in a hamlet and gave up many of her frivolous pursuits. She decided to spend more time with her children.

The French Revolution was the ultimate result of simmering public apathy against the monarchy. The Government imposed heavy taxes on the poor while nobles were leading a luxurious life. At the height of public pressure for change of Government, the king called a meeting of the State Generals at Versailles. The nobles, members of the clergy and commoners took part in the meeting.

When Marie Antoinette wearing royal robes made her appearance, the commoners viewed her as the symbol of tyranny they were going to destroy. On July 14, 1789 the revolutionaries mobbed the feudal prison of the Bastille opening the floodgates of the French Revolution. Historians mark the day as the dawn of the French Republic.

When the French Revolution was gathering momentum, the king was on a hunting spree and the queen was in her make-believe world. More than 6,000 men and women stormed the palace braving heavy rains. They were not asking for luxuries, they were only asking for bread. When the mob entered the palace after killing the guards, the royal couple sought refuge in their bedroom. When they could not bear the insults hurled at them, the queen decided to make her appearance. She appeared on the balcony and bowed to the new rulers of France.

The king and the queen were imprisoned in a grim old palace in Paris. Sentries were posted even in her bedroom. Marie, 37, dressed in black, looked fear-stricken. Her body was emaciated and hair dishevelled. Marie was sent before the revolutionary tribunal. After the trial, Marie was sentenced to death for treason.

The new rulers of France cut off her hair and bound her hands behind her. She was then taken in a horse-driven cart through Paris to the Great Square where the guillotine stood. Marie Antoinette mounted it and they bound her to the plank. Then the heavy blade fell putting an end to her life and the monarchy. According to historians, Marie Antoinette died a martyr to set the people of France free.

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