Marie Antoinette: Facts About Her You May Not Know

Marie Antoinette is often considered one of the most fascinating and interesting women of 18th century France. If you are familiar with her at all, you probably know that she was born on 2 November 1755 and was the fifteenth and second youngest child of Empress Maria Theresa and Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor. She married Louis-Auguste (later Louis XVI) by proxy at age fourteen on 19 April 1770 and met him for the first time about a month later at the edge of the Forest of Compiègne.

Facts About Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette at the age of thirteen; by Joseph Ducreux, 1769. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

When Louis XV died about four years later, Louis-Auguste assumed the throne as Louis XVI. Marie Antoinette then became Queen of the French. She and her husband had four children — Marie-Thérèse Charlotte, Louis-Joseph, Louis-Charles (Louis XVII), and Sophie — with only Marie-Thérèse Charlotte growing to adulthood. However, there are many other interesting things about her, and, so, here are some facts about Marie Antoinette you may not know.

Fact #1: One of Marie Antoinette’s favorite songs was a song that originated in about 1709 titled Marlbrough s’en va-t-en guerre (“Marlborough Has Left for the War” or “Marlborough Is Going to War”) also known as Mort et convoi de l’invincible Malbrough (“The Death and Burial of the Invincible Marlbrough”). Supposedly, Genevieve Poitrine, the nurse of the first Dauphin Louis-Joseph Xavier, learned it in her village. Marie Antoinette heard her sing it one day, wished to learn it, and played it on the harpsichord. Everyone at Versailles then began singing it, including the King, and it became spectacularly popular. Supposedly, its popularity was also why Pierre Beaumarchais decided to introduce it in his five-act comedy, Le Mariage de Fiagro (“The Marriage of Figaro”).

John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Fact #2: The line, “Let them eat cake,” is often attributed to Marie Antoinette. However, she never said it, and, in fact, it is most likely that one of Louis XV’s daughters said it, although it was probably taken of context.

Fact #3: While Marie Antoinette was imprisoned, there were still people who were supportive and honored her. For instance, supposedly her shoe was covered with kisses by poor loyal females while she was imprisoned and provision dealers in the market picked out their choicest fruits, vegetables, and meats saying with tears in their eyes, “They are for our Queen.”[1]

Fact #4: While imprisoned at the Conciergerie, one attempt to help the Queen escape was called the Carnation Plot. After it failed, the Queen’s surveillance was increased and “she was permitted to have neither work, books, nor writing materials. Debarred from everything, yet naturally active, disliking even in the bright and happy days of Versailles and Trianon the want of occupation, Marie Antoinette pulled out the threads from her bedding, and by means of a couple of toothpicks contrived to knit a garter.”[2]

Fact #5: Marie Antoinette had a ship named after her. It was called the USS Queen of France and was a frigate in the Continental Navy. It was originally an old French ship that was purchased by Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane in 1777 and was then outfitted as a 28-gun frigate. In America, the Queen of France conducted several successful missions but was purposely sunk at Charleston to avoid it falling into British hands when that city surrendered on 11 May 1780.

Fact #6: Marie Antoinette was a trendsetter and one unique towering hairdos or headdresses that she wore was the pouf à la Belle-Poule. This pouf centered on current events at the time and involved a victorious naval engagement during the American Revolution where France sided with the American colonists against England. The battle occurred in June of 1778 and the heroic victor of the clash, according to the French, was the French frigate La Belle Poule. To pay homage to France’s victory, Marie Antoinette wore a headdress that replicated the frigate down to its guns, rigging, and mast. To learn more about this pouf and others, click here.

Facts About Marie Antoinette

Pouf à la Belle-Poule. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Fact #7: After Marie Antoinette arrived in Paris, she wanted to ride horses. However, objections against her doing so for fear that she might be harmed resulted in her making a compromise and agreeing to ride donkeys instead. This resulted in her ladies and Louis XV’s daughters (called collectively the Mesdames) also riding donkeys. To learn more about this donkey riding fad Marie Antoinette started, click here.

Fact #8: English author Sir Nathaniel Wraxall asserts that Marie Antoinette liked tall and handsome Englishmen. He noted this in his Posthumous Memoirs that Englishman Hugh Seymour Conway (a navy captain) and Charles Whitworth, 1st Earl Whitworth were favored by the Queen because of their height. Conway supposedly “exceeded in height the ordinary proportion of mankind,”[3] and Whitworth “made a similar impression …. [as] he, too, was highly favoured by nature.”[4] Wraxall also maintains that because of their height Marie Antoinette honored the two men “with marks of her particular notice, appeared to take a pleasure in conversing with [them], and unquestionably displayed towards [them] great partiality.”[5]

Fact #9: Another fact about Marie Antoinette was that she was taught embroidery as a child and later became skilled in petit point, even creating her own designs. In July of 1770, she wrote to her mother Empress Maria Theresa stating: “I am embroidering a waistcoat for the king; but it does not get on very fast; still, I hope that with the grace of God, it may be finished in a few years!”[6] Among the other needle works that she created was a fireplace screen, a silk purse for her children’s governess, and her last piece, a tapestry with a cherub, that was never completed.

Facts About Marie Antoinette

Flower embroidery done by Marie Antoinette for a fire screen. Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum.

Fact #10: After Marie Antoinette became Queen attacks by the press began against her, and, eventually, the press accused her of all types of debauchery. Two pamphlets that attacked her were The Royal Dildo and The Royal Orgy. These pamphlets falsely accused her of masturbating profusely, holding orgies, and fornicating with her brother-in-law, the Count of Artois. Other pamphleteers also began to accuse the Queen of vicious sex acts: pleasuring herself with a dildo, being a pedophile, and having lesbian relationships with the Princesse de Lamballe, Madame de Polignac, or Madame du Barry. In 1792, there was also a publication called, List of All the People With Whom the Queen Has Had Depraved Relations.

Paintings of Princesse de Lamballe, Callet (left), Rioult (top right), and Le Brun (bottom right). Public domain.

Fact #11: Marie Antoinette and the Princesse de Lamballe once created a soup. The Queen came from Vienna where soup was very thick, and one night when a thick pea-soup was served, she immediately turned up her nose at the “Potage St. Germain,” as it was called. The Princesse de Lamballe was also served soup. However, hers was a delicate golden-colored chicken consommé with a fine sprinkling of tapioca. Marie Antoinette immediately suggested they mix the soups, and “the result was of such velvety softness and such exquisite flavor that the Queen ordered the dish to be served often.”[7] The Queen supposedly had the name of this soup  inscribed on court menus and called it “Potage Lamballe.”

Fact #12: When it came to fashion Marie Antoinette had more shoes than a normal person and wore a dainty 36 ½, which is around a 5 in an American shoe size. Another interesting thing that she wore is the “serre-tête” shown below. It is a white linen cap with two cords and has a pinned note that says it was worn by the Queen during her imprisonment at the Temple

Marie Antoinette - linen cap

White linen cap wore by Marie Antoinette. Courtesy of Couteau-Bégarie & Associés.

Fact #13: One of Marie Antoinette’s favorite cabinetmaker, or ébéniste, was Jean-Henri Riesener. She loved his work and many of pieces found their way into her residences, including Petite Trianon. Riesener was born in Gladbeck, Westphalia, Germany, but moved to Paris and apprenticed with Jean-François Oeben, who was the grandfather of the famous painter Eugène Delacroix. To learn more about some the pieces that Riesener designed click here.

Fact #14: Marie Antoinette was known to love flowers and it is claimed that in 1784 she ordered more than two thousand dog roses to planted in the gardens of Trianon. Floral themes could also be found indoors wherever she lived and at Petit Trianon she created the “Trellis Bedroom” that embraced a floral theme. To learn more about her passion for flowers, click here.

Trellis Bedroom at Petit Trianon. Author’s collection.

Fact #15: The newlywed Louis-Auguste and Marie Antoinette did not achieve consummation on their wedding night even though they were escorted to their bedroom and left to produce a royal heir. In fact, it took seven years before she came birth to Marie-Thérèse Charlotte of France and part of the reason the couple finally achieved success was due to a frank talk between Louise-Auguste and Marie Antoinette’s older brother, Joseph II, who reiterated their problems in letter to his brother Leopold where he described the pair as “complete blunderers.”

Fact #16: One of the biggest scandals related to Marie Antoinette happened in 1785 and was known as the “Affair of the Diamond Necklace.” Supposedly the Queen participated in a crime to defraud the crown jewelers, but she was not involved and it was a scam that involved several criminals including Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy (also known as Jeanne de la Motte), her husband, and her lover. However, the event tarnished the monarchy and was one of the precipitating events that led to the French Revolution.

Fact #17: The Queen had a secret admirer who commissioned a Breguet pocket watch, known as No. 160. For a variety of reasons there were delays in completing it and it was not finished until 34 years after her death and 44 years after the order was placed. If you’re interesting in learning more about this watch and the details surrounding it click here

Reproduction (No. 1160) of Marie Antoinette’s Pocket Watch. Courtesy of Breguet.

Fact #18: One sad event that many people talk about related to the Queen is when Marie Antoinette’s son was removed from her while at the Temple. In addition, Louis-Charles lived a short life just his older brother, Louis-Joseph, who died at the age eight. Louis-Charles passed away at the eight of eleven from what is today called Tuberculous cervical lymphadenitis. After his death several anomalies helped to create rumors that he was alive and had been spirited out of the Temple.

Fact #19: Before Marie Antoinette was guillotined, she wrote one last letter. It was to her sister-in-law, Madame Élisabeth. To learn what this letter said, click here.

References:

  • [1] “Cambridgeshire,” in Cambridge Chronicle and Journal, 09 December 1865, p. 7.
  • [2] The Literary World, Volume 33-34, 1886, p. 109.
  • [3] Wraxall, Sir Nathaniel William, Posthumous Memoirs of His Own Time, 1836, p. 91.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] Gaulot, Paul, Love and Lovers of the Past, 1904, p. 33.
  • [7] The New France, 1919, p. 294.

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