Misrepresentation and Her Effects on the French Revolution
While Marie Antoinette may have inspired hatred and disgust in the monarchy by the French people, the drastic misconceptions surrounding her involvement in sparking the French Revolution are endless. The public used her as a scapegoat to blame all of their problems on. In reality, she did very little of what she was accused. Economic problems and bad politics are actually greatly responsible for the rise of the French people. However, despite her innocence, public opinion and doubt in the monarchy only exacerbated the situation.
Widespread public opinion of Marie Antoinette leads one to believe many a falsehood about her life as the Queen of France. She often remembered as a selfish tyrant that did not care if her country starved. The infamous line “let them eat cake” is probably the biggest misconception about Marie Antoinette. Not only was this one mocking sentence never spoken by Marie Antoinette, but it likely derived from vicious propaganda from illegally distributed pamphlets. Her arranged marriage to the Dauphin, Louis XVI of France was but a political strategy to solidify an Austro-French alliance. Upon her first arrival in France, she was treated as “youthful goddess of beauty and virtue.” The press referred to her as a celestial being, not able to sing her praises enough it would seem. By the time
Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were married in 1774, the official press no longer had any further interest in her at all. There was little opportunity for the public to forge an actual opinion of her since she was kept at the palaces most of the time. Enemies within the palace only served to create and fuel rumors. Marie Antoinette frequently ignored court etiquette and would choose dance partners that were not from the oldest families. She was accused by those anxious to become part of her circle of only liking young people and disregarding all the rules of politeness. These women refused to ever appear in her court again, and the next day already a song circulated ridiculing the young queen. They wanted nothing more than to have her sent back to her native land and be rid of her. Her husband’s delay in consummating their marriage did not help public opinion either. His failure to consummate meant that she must be promiscuous to make for it. Those that knew intimate details of the King and Queen’s life divulged secrets and ruined Marie Antoinette’s reputation forever and the King became an object of derision. Even when she did finally become pregnant in 1778, illegally distributed pamphlets circulated exclaiming how the child could not possibly be the King’s. The Official press did nothing to deny such rumors and made barely any announcement at all about the birth of their first child, only that the newly born Princess was healthy. Marie-Antoinette’s behavior was misinterpreted and exaggerated in such a
way that the pamphlets moved from simply mocking the Queen to increasingly more vile until finally they were so degrading that she no longer would appear in public. These pamphlets often depicted her as a wild beast that fed on the French people. They painted her as a sex-craved nymphomaniac and often as a lesbian, likened to known prostitutes.1 These pamphlets even went so far as to call her the daughter of Satan. The fact that the king could be so blindly faithful to such a wretched wife made him a dunce in the public eye; he must be corrupted by feminine power. In an attempt to murder Queen Marie Antoinette, a group broke into the palace but the Queen was able to escape through a back pathway. In retaliation, they destroyed her room, paying special attention to defiling her bed, seen as a symbol of her supposed debauchery.2 One particularly important event that further tarnished Marie-Antoinette’s reputation in the public eye was the Diamond Necklace Affair. She was accused of a taking a clandestine meeting with Cardinal...