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Marie Antoinette helped provoke the popular unrest that led to the French Revolution and to the overthrow of the monarchy in August 1792.
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Born on November 2, 1755, in Vienna, Austria, Marie Antoinette helped provoke the popular unrest that led to the French Revolution and to the overthrow of the monarchy in August 1792, in part with her famous quote addressing the starving French populace: "Let them eat cake." As a 20-year consort to Louis XVI, she was beheaded nine months after he was, on October 16, 1793, by order of the Revolutionary tribunal.
"No one understands my ills, nor the terror that fills my breast, who does not know the heart of a mother."
"There is nothing new, except what has been forgotten."
"Let them eat cake."
"I put on my rouge and wash my hands in front of the whole world."
"I am calm as people are whose conscience is clear."
"The moment when my ills are going to end is not the moment when courage is going to fail me."
"I have ever believed that if there had been no queen, there would have been no Revolution."
Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France, was born Maria Antonia Josepha Joanna on November 2, 1755, in Vienna, Austria. She was the 15th and second to last child of Maria Theresa, empress of Austria, and Holy Roman Emperor Francis I. Marie Antoinette lived a relatively carefree childhood. She received an education typical of an 18th century aristocratic girl, focusing primarily on religious and moral principles, while her brothers studied more academic subject matter.
With the conclusion of the Seven Years' War in 1763, the preservation of a fragile alliance between Austria and France became a priority for Empress Maria Theresa; cementing alliances through matrimonial connections was a common practice among European royal families at the time. In 1765, the son of French Emperor Louis XV, Louis, dauphin de France (also known as Louis Ferdinand), died, leaving his 11-year-old grandson, Louis Auguste, heir to the French throne. Within months, Marie Antoinette and Louis Auguste were pledged to marry each other.
In 1768, Louis XV dispatched a tutor to Austria to instruct his grandson's future wife. The tutor found Marie Antoinette "more intelligent than has been generally supposed," but added that since "she is rather lazy and extremely frivolous, she is hard to teach." A child of only 14 years, delicately beautiful with gray-blue eyes and ash-blonde hair, in May 1770, Marie Antoinette set out for France to be married, escorted by 57 carriages, 117 footmen and 376 horses.
Marie Antoinette and Louis Auguste were married on May 16, 1770. The young woman did not adjust well, however, to a married life for which she was obviously not ready, and her frequent letters home revealed intense homesickness. "Madame, my very dear mother," she wrote in one letter, "I have not received one of your dear letters without having the tears come to my eyes." She also bristled at some of the rituals she was expected to perform as a lady of the French royal family. "I put on my rouge and wash my hands in front of the whole world," she complained, referring to a ritual in which she was required to put on her makeup in front of dozens of courtiers.
Louis XV passed away in 1774, and Louis Auguste succeeded him to the French throne as Louis XVI, making Marie Antoinette, at 19 years old, queen of France. However, as personalities went Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette could not have been more different. He was introverted, shy and indecisive, a lover of solitary pleasures such as reading and metalwork; she was vivacious, outgoing and bold, a social butterfly who loved gambling, partying and extravagant fashions.
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