10 May 2009

History Lessons

Something you may or may not know about me: I graduated from the University of Toronto with an Honours Bachelor of Arts Degree in History and Anthropology. Neither of these fields have really served me well in my adult life as I was pulled first in a rather more practical direction working office jobs that paid well enough to enable me to to pay off my student loans, and then later as I was pulled in a creative direction.

Sadly I concede that $40,000 is a lot of money to waste on an education, and it is time that I put some of my studies to good use. Therefore, today's post shall be a lesson in history. For those with little interest in history, allow me to tempt you with a vibrant melange of pretty pictures, which one must admit, does certainly help the learning process. If nothing else, click on the photos within the post to be redirected to some stunning history inspired creations found on etsy.

Now, you may have deduced from the photo montage above(click on it until May 12 to be directed to etsy treasury) that this lesson is to be about one of Europe's most reviled and revered queens. Let me mention that the "reverence" part did not necessarily apply while she was alive.

In Vienna, on November 2, 1755 was born Arch Duchess of Austria, Maria-Antonia. Maria-Antonia was a beautiful young girl, fond of and talented in music, but lacking apparently, in basic literacy due to a poor supervision over her early education. She is said to have had an awe-inspired fear of her mother, Maria Theresa, Empress of Austria. It is also acknowledged that it is her mother's maneuverings that ultimately led to Marie-Antoinette's downfall. It was her mother who sought to cement the various complex alliances in which she had entered into in the 1750's, a result of the Seven Years' War. These alliances included Austria's traditional enemy, France. The solution was the arranged marriage of Maria-Antonia and the young Dauphin, Louis-Auguste of France.

On May 16, 1770, at the Palace of Versailles, Maria-Antonia, still a young teenager wed the Dauphin and became Marie Antoinette. It was assumed by custom that consummation of the marriage would take place on the wedding night. This did not however occur, and became a topic of gossip, scorn and consternation for the next seven years.

It must be stated that initially, the citizens of France, captured by her beauty and lively personality, took a great shine to the young Dauphine. Crowds clamoured to catch a glimpse of her in person during her first official appearance at the Tuileries in Paris. In the early years, Marie-Antoinette was also highly praised for her charitable nature. This same favour did not extend to court life, where the court elders were unhappy with the match, as many courtiers had instead, been working toward a match with a Saxon princess.

With the criticism of court, increasing pressure from her mother, and a lack of affection and passion from her husband, Marie-Antoinette looked to more material ways to find personal satisfaction. In 1774 the extravagance for which she become legendary took root. Lavish balls and theatrical events, and naturally, the appropriate costumes needed, heaped additional cost upon the Palace of Versailles. The expenses grew to such an extent that by 1777 she would urge the dismissal of ministers who tried to curb her spending escapades. People saw her as not only corrupting the court, but also squandering the money of France for her fun and enjoyment.

Her tarnished reputation did recover to some degree after the consummation of her marriage to the Dauphin finally occurred seven years into the marriage and when shortly after she became pregnant. She gave birth first to a boy who would die at the age of eight, and then a daughter who died in infancy. Another son, who became dauphin was born in 1785. During this time the reigning king passed away and Louis XIV and Marie-Antoinette became King and Queen. The current monarchs had impressively regal shoes to fill.

As these personal events were unfolding, numerous political events were also unfolding throughout the country. Marie-Antoinette's staunch defense of the Franco-Austrian alliance, and her loyalty to her home-country did little to curry favour. Politicians were increasingly calling for reforms that would limit the royal power. These reforms were outrightly rejected, most vehemently by the Queen herself. The King himself has been described as apathetic toward this and many other issues of the day. By 1789, while France was on the brink of Revolution, she would advocate royal compromise with the revolutionary States-General. It was too little, too late.

In fall of 1789, a mob forced the royal family from Versailles to the Tuileries Palace in Paris where they were virtual prisoners for the next two years. During this time Marie was secretly negotiating with foreign powers, including her brother, who was now the king of the Hapsburg Empire, for the safety of Louis. In June of 1791, she arranged for the family to flee from Paris to the eastern borders and hopefully into Austria. At this time while Louis was forced to accept the new French constitution, Marie-Antoinette was favoring the French Declaration of War against Austria in 1792. Her hope was that Prussia and Austria would declare war on France, easily defeat the unorganized revolutionaries and restore the monarchy. To achieve this she supplied military secrets to Austria, an act of treason.

Her hopes were never realised and on August 10, 1792, Parisian mobs permanently destroyed and abolished the monarchy. The royal family was arrested on suspicions of treason and imprisoned. by late September, a republic was declared. On January 21, 1793, King Louis XIV was convicted of treason and executed on the guillotine.
Marie-Antoinette's trial began on October 14 and the charges brought against her included incest, unnatural sexual practices and treason to the State. The most absurd and insulting charges was that she was having sex with her ailing son while still in prison. Within an hour of hearing the final testimonies, court was reconvened, and a judgement of guilty was passed.

October 16, her hair cut and her hands tied, she was placed upon an open cart which was slowly driven around Paris for three hours during which time she had to endure the jeers and abuse of the assembled crowds. The cart ride ended at the steps of the guillotine. Marie-Antoinette ascended the stairs, head held high. With the swoosh of the blade, the reign and era of Marie-Antoinette came to a ghastly end.

Perhaps you notice that the infamous phrase of "Let them eat cake" is missing from this excerpt of her life.

There is good reason for this as contemporary historians have failed to find evidence that these words can in fact be attributed to Marie-Antoinette. In popular culture, it is this phrase couple with her opulent tastes and extravagant lifestyle that have maintained Marie-Antoinette's status as a royal legend.

1 comment:

RKP said...

I love that you included my shoes in your little history lesson. :) Thanks for putting my shoes out there!

- OxfordHeaven (Rachael)