Josephe Jeanne De Lorraine Marie Antoinette, queen of France, born in Vienna, Nov. 2, 1755, executed in Paris, Oct. 16, 1793. She was the youngest daughter of the emperor Francis I. (who died in 1765) and Maria Theresa. Her marriage with the French dauphin, the future Louis XVI., was early determined upon by her mother, with a view of strengthening Austria against Prussia. The princess was brought up in the unconventional manner of the imperial family circle; but while taught to be natural and unaffected, her attainments were not above the superficiality of merely fashionable accomplishments. French actors taught her elocution; a Frenchman instructed her in dancing; and though Maria Theresa inculcated in her mind solid moral principles, she regarded the rather frivolous character of her education as necessary to qualify her for the French throne. The abbe de Vermond, a worthless person, was brought in 1709 from Paris as her tutor, and afterward became her reader. She went to France in her 15th year, and was enthusiastically received all along the journey, and especially at Strasburg by the prince de Rohan, then coadjutor of his uncle the cardinal, who afterward, as ambassador in Vienna, shocked Maria Theresa by his levity and dissipations, and who subsequently, while cardinal and royal chaplain, implicated Marie Antoinette in the affair of the diamond necklace.
Her marriage with the dauphin was celebrated at Versailles, May 10, 1770, and was followed by sumptuous festivities, marred however by a number of casualties, involving the loss of several lives, which were regarded by the superstitious as ominous. The powerful anti-Austrian party at the court, and the daughters of Louis XV., as Avell as Mine, du Barry, the king's mistress, were unfriendly to the new dauphiness, though the old king himself was pleased with her vivacity. But tins peculiar trait of her character, and her dislike of the restraints of court life, alienated from her the rigid upholders of etiquette among the nobility, while no greater contrast could be imagined than that between the joyous and impulsive young princess, fond of pleasure, excitement, and society, and her grave, sedate, and ungainly, though good-natured and upright husband, who delighted chiefly in mechanical pursuits, and in a life of good fare, seclusion, and meditation. She was consequently left to drift along in a social set including many persons of inferior moral culture, who encouraged her in indiscretions which were misconstrued and injured the popularity which her youth and fascinating manners had at first gained for her.
After her husband's accession to the throne (May 10, 1774), her charities enlisted popular sympathy for a time, but her wayward conduct, which occasionally wore a coloring of positive impropriety, was grossly exaggerated by her detractors. Yet, though her admirers were numerous, she gave no cause of complaint to her husband, with whom she lived in perfect harmony, and to whom she bore four children. Louis XVI. humored and honored her, while she, without deep feelings of love, never ceased to respect him. According to the best authorities, she led a virtuous life in the midst of vicious associations. But the haughty spirit of her race, which asserted itself occasionally despite her general urbanity, could not always be reconciled with her fondness for familiar intercourse and her desire to please. Shortly after she became queen she conceived a warm friendship for the princess de Lamballe, and insisted upon restoring for her benefit the office of superintendent of the queen's household. This entailed additional expense, and gave offence to her former ladies in waiting, who resigned, while other ladies of the court declined to serve under the princess.
At the same time she was on bad terms with her brother-in-law the count of Provence (afterward Louis XVIII.), the prince de Conde, and the duke of Orleans, and she made bitter enemies of many of the women of easy virtue who had nourished under Louis XV., and whom she discarded. Yet while setting such examples, she was forbearing toward the failings of some of her own favorites; and this want of consistency strengthened her enemies, who made every effort to injure her in public estimation. In this they succeeded, especially after the sensation produced by the affair of the necklace (1785), in which Marie Antoinette was scandalously implicated by the woman Lamotte and the cardinal de Rohan, and for which the two latter were imprisoned. (See Lamotte-Valois.) Nothing could be proved against Marie Antoinette, who exerted herself to alleviate the condition of the prisoner La-motte, whose husband, and she herself afterward, overwhelmed the queen with defamations. This affair became a convenient weapon in the hands of the queen's enemies. Her famous parties at the Trianon were described as orgies, and her fondness for private theatricals and for unceremonial balls and amusements became pretexts for atrocious calumnies.
At the same time she was,denounced as hostile to France, and as solely laboring in the interest of Austria. Ever since the birth of the first dauphin (1781) she had been charged, and not without some reason, with mixing herself up too much with politics. But at length she was accused of being the cause of all the national and financial troubles; of having procured vast sums for her brother, the emperor Joseph II.; of having helped the Polignac family to grow rich at the expense of the state; and of warmly supporting the administration of the unpopular Calonne, who gratified all her caprices, and whose influence became paramount after the death of Vergennes (1787). Marie Antoinette was often admonished by her brother Joseph, as she had been by her mother, who were especially alarmed at her loss of prestige consequent upon her over-familiar intercourse with the Polignacs and other friends.
Many sarcastic songs were circulated in Paris, m which she was held up to ridicule and opprobrium. Her opposition to the assembling of the notables for the consideration of the financial situation confirmed the popular prejudices against her, and she was nicknamed Madame Deficit. The aid afforded to the American colonies, of which she was an enthusiastic advocate, had been an additional source of financial embarrassment. In fact, she wrote to one of her friends, April 9 1787: "Dearly enough do we pay to-day for our rejoicing and enthusiasm over the American war." Calonne was removed at her instigation, and replaced by Lomenie de Bri-enne, archbishop of Touloose, a prelate fond of theatricals and puerilities, and an especial favorite of the queen. She joined him in a strenuous opposition to Necker's suggestion of a convocation of the states general, which was taken up by Lafayette and by public opinion as the only alternative to revolution. Hut, frightened at the tumults in Paris and other places, she at last prevailed upon the prime minister to issue a decree (Aug. 8, 1788) for the meeting of the states' general in May, 1789. The king continued to lead his placid life, while the queen controlled affairs of state.
Lomenie de Brienne having lost her confidence, she placed Necker at the head of the cabinet. But the outbreak of the political storm which was gathering round the monarchy was accelerated by her want of earnestness and sincerity in the proposed creation of a third estate, winch she regarded as a deathblow to the nobility and as a menace to the throne. At the opening of the states general. May 5, 1789, she was received in a manner which deeply offended her pride; and so low had she already sunk in public estimation that the habitual expression of sympathy on occasions of bereavement in the royal family were withheld by that body on the death of her firstborn son, the dauphin, June 4, 1789. During the subsequent political developments the count de la Marck in vain appealed to her to come t.. an understanding with Mirabcau, to which she replied that her husband would probably never become so miserable as to he obliged to resort to such an expedient: but at a later period, when she in her turn in vain attempted to conciliate Mirabcau, she exclaimed that it was her destinv to make mischief.
Appalled at the signs of the times, and at the detestation in which she was held by the populace, she led an uneasy life at the Trianon till Oct. 5, 1789 when that palace was invaded by the mob from whose violence she only escaped by her own intrepidity. While she fully recognized the peril of the situation, the king consented to accompany the populace to Paris, a step which she regarded as fatal, and she very re-luctantlv went with him and their children. Feeling that her unpopularity aggravated the difficulties of her husband's position, she now strove to remain in the background, but still virtually continued to control affairs; and as some of her measures conflicted with those urged by the king's other advisers, many cross purposes increased the prevailing uncertainty and confusion. She was unable, and the king was too lethargic, to secure the cooperation of competent statesmen in building up a constitutional monarchy, which might perhaps have saved the throne. Despairing at last, she obtained Mirabeau's consent, shortly before his death, to the flight of the royal family, which ended so ignominiously (1791). During the insurrection of June 20, 1792, Madame Elisabeth, the devoted sister of the king, was mistaken for Marie Antoinette by the mob, who shouted A bas VAutrichienne. The people had long been made by her adversaries to believe that she was surrounded by a so-called Austrian cabinet, which was planning the ruin of France; and the mourning at the court over the death of Marie Antoinette's brother, the emperor Leopold, which began March 13, 1792, was jeered at and turned into public rejoicing.
During the attack upon the Tuileries, June 20, she overawed the coarse women who came to insult her by her firm and noble attitude, which she also displayed on Aug. 10, when the palace was sacked, and she and her family took refuge in the national assembly, though she long declined to leave the Tuileries, imploring the king rather to nail her to the walls of the palace. On Aug. 13 the royal family was removed to the Temple prison, where she was separated from her friends, including Mme. de Lamballe, who soon fell a victim to the September massacre, and whose bleeding head was paraded before the queen's windows. She was also speedily separated from her husband, and did not see him again till Jan. 20, 1793, the eve of his execution. In the night of Aug. 1-2, when she was removed to the Conciergcrie, she took leave of Madame Elisabeth and of her daughter; and having long prepared herself for her inevitable fate, she bore all her agonies with stoical fortitude. Before the revolutionary tribunal (Oct. 14), she showed the same calmness and resignation.
Instead of vindicating herself, as her husband had attempted to do, she hardly condescended to reply, excepting in the most laconic manner, to the questions put to her; and she demonstrated by her attitude that she regarded the trial as a farce and her death sentence as a foregone conclusion. Only when she was accused by Hebert (Pere Du-chewr), the principal witness against her, of having debauched her own boy, who had slept in the same bed with her and Madame Elisabeth, her indignant denial of that accusation, and appeal to all the mothers present struck conviction into the minds of the most obdurate, Even Fouquier-Tinville, the public prosecutor, and the most infuriated women seemed to sympathize for once with the unfortunate queen. The trial lasted two days. She insisted that nothing was proved against her, and that she had only done her duty as a wife in obeying her husband. She was found guilty of having conspired against France abroad and at home, and sentenced to death at 4 A. M., Oct. 16. She was then taken to a cell of condemned prisoners at the Conciergerie, where she immediately wrote a touching and spirited letter to Madame Elisabeth, which has been preserved.
Girard, the metropolitan vicar, having been sent to her by the authorities to attend her last moments, he besought her to dedicate her life to God in expiation of her crimes; to which she replied that he should speak of her mistakes, but never of her crimes. Dressed in plain white, and having cut off her beautiful blonde hair with her own hands, she was conveyed to the guillotine like other victims, only that more than 30,000 soldiers were stationed in the streets, and that the cries of Vive la republique ! A bas la tyrannie ! were incessant. She showed neither haughtiness nor humility in her bearing, stepped with firmness upon the scaffold, and her head fell at 12.15 P. M. Her remains were interred in the cemetery of the Madeleine, by the side of those of Louis XVI. In 1815 they were removed to the vaults of St. Denis. - The most faithful likeness of Marie Antoinette is the portrait by the Swedish painter Rossline. It was also drawn by Mme. Vigee-Lebrun, who published souvenirs of the queen. See also Memoires sur la vie privee de Marie-Antoinette, by Mme. Campan (Paris, 1826); Ilistoire de Marie-Antoinette, by Ed-mond and Jules de Goncourt (1859); Maria Theresa und Marie Antoinette: Ihr Brieficech-sel wahrend derJahre 1770-'80 (Vienna, 1865), and Marie Antoinette, Joseph II. und Leopold II.: Ihr Briefwechsel (Vienna, 1866), both by Alfred von Arneth. Arneth's Correspondance de Marie-Therese (3 vols., Paris, 1874) shows that Marie Antoinette was constantly w^atched by her mother, through secret agents, with a view of protecting her.