What did Marie Antoinette really wear?

Controversial Austrian: Marie Antoinette died 225 years ago

Hated and humiliated: On October 16, 1793, the dethroned French Queen Marie Antoinette, the youngest daughter of Maria Theresa, is beheaded in Paris. A look back at the turbulent life of "l'Autrichienne", who was only 37 years old.

Hunger, arrogance, hatred. These are three words that are still associated with Marie Antoinette 225 years after her dramatic death under the guillotine. Another H is often added: Habsburg. But who was the woman who was so despised in revolutionary France as hardly any other? Who was the girl who was married at the age of 14 only to be accused of extravagance and frivolity in ridiculous verses? Who was the last queen of the Ancien Régime, of whom posterity usually only knows what to say: "If they have no bread, they should eat cake"? A search for clues.

Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna was born on November 2, 1755 as the youngest daughter of the Habsburg monarch Maria Theresa. She was considered fun-loving, erratic, and far less refined than her mother. The latter was nevertheless willing to pursue politics with the girl - marriage politics. The chosen consort was the heir to the throne of the country in which Austria had been despised as an archenemy for centuries (and vice versa): France. It is hardly surprising that the negotiations of the modalities regarding the marriage between the French King Louis XV. and Maria Theresia turned out to be more than time-consuming and nerve-intensive. In the end, however, it was clear: 15-year-old Ludwig August would first become husband, then king.

Bare on an island, harassed by poetry

The meeting between the two bride and groom is said to have been extremely cool. A pavilion was erected on an uninhabited island in the Rhine, the eastern side of which represented the Habsburg Empire, the western side of which represented France. In the east, the bride, now called Marie Antoinette, had to take off all her clothes and cross the border naked, where she is said to have fallen crying into the arms of her new lady-in-waiting, the Countess of Noailles. A few days later, the 14-year-old met her groom, who was later to record succinctly in his diary: "Meeting with Madame la Dauphine."

As a result, the young people's marriage was not very cordial (hardly surprising for skeptical contemporaries, 139 people were killed in the fireworks after the wedding; that could only be a bad omen) - and extremely unpleasant for the Austrian regent Maria Theresa. Because even seven years after the marriage there was nothing to be seen of an heir to the throne. The danger of the annulment of the covenant due to a lack of marriage was hovering like a sword of Damocles over Versailles - and thus also over Vienna. And even politically, Marie Antoinette's influence, who was instructed by her mother in a number of letters to influence the French official business in the interests of her home country, was hardly present. Candidates suggested by her for ministerial posts were ignored by her husband, from 1774 Louis XVI.

"An Austrian who was trusted to do everything and who slipped a lot behind, an opulently dressed up scapegoat in a long-run-down empire."

Karen Andresen on Marie Antoinette

The lack of offspring strengthened the negative image of the Austrian among the people. Mocking poems and diatribes, however, enjoyed great popularity. The fact that the queen paid more attention to the card game than to her husband was just as widespread there as alleged affairs (including with the Swedish aristocrat Axel von Fersen) the regent and the "collar affair". The latter revolved around the court jeweler Charles Böhmer, who made a necklace from 647 diamonds and hoped that Marie Antoinette, who was fond of expensive clothes and imposing hairstyles, would buy it from him. She didn't. The deceiver Jeanne de La Motte heard about it and started a rumor that the queen had bought the necklace in secret from a cardinal and met him at night in the park. In fact, La Motte stole the jewelery and sold the diamonds.

But even at the royal court itself, Marie Antoinette, who gambled away huge sums of money on the Pharos game while the citizens were starving, attracted resentment. Her husband's aunts called her disparagingly "l'Autrichienne" ("the Austrian"), which sounded sloppily like "l'autre chienne" ("the other bitch").

Karen Andresen took the displeasure that Marie Antoinette faced throughout her life in 2010 in the German magazine "Spiegel" as an opportunity to characterize the hapless ruler with the words: "An Austrian who was trusted to do everything and slipped away a lot, an opulently dressed up scapegoat in a long-run down empire. " Indeed: France's state coffers were so ailing not only because of Marie Antoinette's habits, but also because of a long tradition of waste that was cultivated in Versailles.

In the cart to the guillotine

Back to the desolate married life of the ruling couple: after eight years - and a flying visit by Marie Antoinette's brother Josef II in Paris, who urged her to finally take on the question of the offspring - Marie Thérèse Charlotte was born. Her brother Louis Joseph Xavier François followed in 1781, Louis Charles in 1785 and Marie Sophie Hélène Béatrice in 1786.

The crowd of children was no longer supposed to save Marie Antoinette's reputation: they were scolded by cuckoo children and their mother was accused of lesbian tendencies and abuse of their own son. The fickle king - who sometimes appeared as a sympathizer of the revolutionaries, sometimes of the counter-movement - lost more and more support. Since the storming of the Bastille in 1789, he had to share the Tuileries Palace with the National Assembly. That was not enough for the citizens: They demanded the end of the monarchy, which hinders reforms. The fact that Marie Antoinette had meanwhile simplified her life, wrapped herself in linen, devoted herself to the children, no longer attended the theater and operas, did not appease her. The insight had come too late.

The king was tried. On the morning of January 21, 1793 he was brought to the "Place de la Révolution" (today "Place de la Concorde"), only called Citizen Capet by the insurgents (a reference to the ancestor of the French ruling dynasty, Hugo Capet). where the cheering, dancing people waited. A guillotine severed his neck. Marie Antoinette was to suffer a similar fate nine months later: the 37-year-old was tied up, locked in the cart and driven to the guillotine, where her head was cut off on October 16, 1793. Her body was buried in a mass grave, exhumed decades later and buried at her husband's side.

Zweig: "An actually ordinary woman"

By the way: The sentence with the cake quoted at the beginning was quoted by Jean-Jacques Rousseau years before Marie Antoinette took her place on the French throne. The sixth book of his autobiography, published in 1782, says: "At last I remembered the makeshift of a great princess who was told that the peasants had no bread and who replied: 'Then they should eat brioche!'"

So who was Marie Antoinette really? A final answer is still pending. But it is possible that the author Stefan Zweig is not all that wrong with his assessment from 1932. At that time he stated: "Marie Antoinette was neither the great saint of royalism nor the prostitute of the revolution, but a mean character, an actually ordinary woman, not particularly clever, not particularly foolish, the average woman of yesterday, today and tomorrow."