Did Marie Antoinette deserve her infamous reputation?

Marie Antoinette is one of History’s most infamous figures. History has her painted as flirtatious spend-thrift adulteress, who participated in many promiscuous affairs and wasted an awful lot of money. However, beneath her depicted personality there is someone else entirely, a caring and devoted mother, but also a brave and courageous woman.

Marie Antoinette was born to the great Austrian empress Maria Theresa on November 2, 1755. She was never expected to be a Queen; however, she was a pawn in a plan of her Mother’s which involved marrying all her female children off to rich noblemen from other countries, in order to strengthen Austria’s alliances. She left home at the tender age of fourteen, to be married to Louis XVI of France. In the early stages of her reign, she was much adored by the people of France, for her willingness to interact with her people. However this love soon turned to hatred.

She did alienate people in the French court, and often invited an exclusive group of friends to her property in Versailles, and people who weren’t included began to taunt the queen, with words that would be put into extremes in later years. She was rumoured and suspected to have had a few affairs with a number of men, particularly Count Fersen with whom she was close friends with. However, this was never proven with historical evidence.

She also indulged in many luxuries such as fine jewellery, rich silks and elaborate clothing, in addition to gambling. Whilst many of her subjects were starving, hungry and bedraggled, she consistently spent money, sometimes even money that she did not have. She was most famously recorded to have said ‘Let them eat cake’ when told about the hungry peasants, begging for bread, however she did not say that, for it was actually said by a Spanish princess a hundred years antecedent. She also failed for many years to produce an heir (through no fault of her own) and refused to tolerate the sillier traditions and people in the court at Versailles.

However, she wasn’t all that the pamphlets claimed her to be. She was not harsh or cruel, for she was a devoted mother with a loving and caring nature. Secondly when the great mob of people stampeded into the palace, demanding her to be slain and slaughtered, she stood on the balcony with musket and loaded pistols pointing at her, and she just stood there, knowing that she could die at any second. Even when the revolt had come to murder her, they all lowered their weapons and shouted ‘Long Live the Queen.’ She was very brave and influential.

Thirdly, she never committed incest or abused her son, and this was almost definitely a lie by the revolt in order to make sure the jury was convinced of her death sentence. She was also very noble and not as self centred a s she is remember today for she had several opportunities to escape alone but refused to do so without her family. The affair of the necklace was also a set so as to frame her again for doing something she didn’t do.

I believe that Marie Antoinette was a victim of bad timing. I also believe that she was used as a type of scapegoat, for at a time when everything was going wrong for France, the people longed for someone they could blame, and she seemed the perfect target. Most of the accusations made about her were either exaggerations or completely fake. Her reputation for infidelity and wastefulness was used by her enemies to infuriate the masses against the monarchy. It is not true that she was completely innocent, for she was an avid gambler and spender, and this may have had some effect on the economic downturn of France in the 1700’s, however I do not believe that she deserved the degree of abuse and reputation that she received.

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