16 Similarities of Marie Antoinette in Today’s Women

16 Similarities of Marie Antoinette in Today’s Women

Trista - October 6, 2018

In the murky world of modern politics and the rising role of women in high offices, Marie Antoinette’s position might bear a striking resemblance to a modern politician: Hillary Clinton. Comparing the public females reveals that the two actually have much in common, and also the reality that women in politics face many of the same challenges today as they did in the 18th century.

16 Similarities of Marie Antoinette in Today’s Women
Hillary and Bill Clinton on their wedding day. NY Daily News

1. Both Women Were Hesitant About Getting Married

Marie Antoinette was pledged to be married to Louis XVI when she was only ten years old and didn’t have much say in the matter. However, the young princess wasn’t too keen on the idea of getting married, which meant leaving her family and home country of Austria and exposing the rest of her life to a gaping public. How much of her life would be revealed to the world? Well, for starters, the wedding ceremony ended with a going-to-bed ritual. She was led to bed with her new husband when they were expected to consummate the marriage. A curtain was drawn around the bed, but on the other side of the curtain were members of the royal family.

Likewise, Hillary Clinton wasn’t too thrilled about the idea of getting married, even though Bill had proposed multiple times. She was already building up a promising career in Washington, D.C., and didn’t want for her achievements to be in the shadow of a husband. However, when the future Secretary of State passed the Arkansas bar exam but failed the D.C. one, Hillary agreed to marry Bill and move to Arkansas. Even then, she was concerned about what the prospect of marriage would mean for her political career.

16 Similarities of Marie Antoinette in Today’s Women
Profile of Marie Antoinette by Josef Hauzinger 1776. Bundesmobilienverwaltung – Federal Administration of Moveables

2. Marie Antoinette Actually Was Deeply Concerned About France’s Lower Classes

Saying the lines, “Let them eat cake!” would have been highly uncharacteristic for Marie Antoinette, who was entirely engaged in charitable causes that benefitted France’s large peasant population. Though she did partake of an unsustainably lavish lifestyle, as did her husband and centuries of kings and queens before her, she routinely donated towards charitable causes. Her bedchamber maid described her as being a generous soul who hated to miss an opportunity to do good. She would regularly dress as a milkmaid and milk the goats that she kept at Versailles when she found royal life to be too suffocating.

Similar to the “milkmaid charade,” Hillary got much flak for playing dominos and dancing with impoverished populations in places like Harlem during her 2016 presidential campaign. Many people felt that it was an act that hid the fact that she, like Marie Antoinette, was entirely out of touch with the American people. However, in 1994, the then-first lady presented a healthcare reform plan that addressed the nation’s broken system 15 years before Obamacare. When she was campaigning with the public for acceptance of the reform plan, resistance and vitriol were so intense that she had to wear a bulletproof vest. Both women had the public’s interest in mind throughout their careers; however, history has remembered them less than favorably.

16 Similarities of Marie Antoinette in Today’s Women
A painting of Marie Antoinette with roses. Vigée-Lebrun/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

3. Both Women Were Seen As Their Husband’s Wives, Not Politicians

Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France before the French Revolution destroyed the monarchy in 1789, was hardly regarded as a politician. During that time, women tended to be seen as nothing more than a support for their husbands, especially when their husbands were powerful ruling monarchs, like King Louis XVI. However, many things can be credited directly to Marie Antoinette and not to her husband.

Though she was working in politics even before her marriage to the future president, many don’t see her political career as having begun until she served as the First Lady of Arkansas. She went on to help her husband secure the presidency in the 1992 election and attained many distinctions in her role as FLOTUS over the ensuing eight years. Following the end of his tenure, when she won a seat in the United States Senate, many felt that she was merely riding on her husband’s coattail and had no legitimacy to the prestigious position. During her presidential campaign in 2016, she was routinely undermined by women who believed that feminism was an aberration. A significant platform of Donald Trump’s campaign was the promise to lock up Hillary Clinton in jail.

16 Similarities of Marie Antoinette in Today’s Women
Portrait of Marie-Antoinette of Austria. Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty (1740-1786) / Wikimedia Commons

4. Marie Antoinette’s Dominant Role Conflicted With Public Sentiment

King Louis XVI was characterized as a weak monarch who had never even been interested in affairs of the state. He was often depicted as being a rotund, portly man who loved few things more than a good meal. He paid no attention or regard to the brewing foment that ultimately became the French Revolution and did nothing until mobs of people were already at Versailles.

Marie Antoinette made up for her husband’s incompetence as a statesman and ruler through a dominant position even though some modern scholars claim that her political role was exaggerated. She played her hand in everything from finances to France’s support of the United States in the American Revolution to the ending of conflicts in Bavaria. Marie Antoinette hosted the Holy Roman Emperor for six weeks in 1777. All of her achievements came while she held no official political role, not at all unlike the challenges faced by today’s first ladies. Nevertheless, she met a public that wasn’t too keen on women holding so much political clout.

Likewise, many experts have noted that in proportion to any improper actions, the public backlash that Hillary Clinton has received is incredibly disproportioned with her male colleagues. Compare her scandals with other American presidents, and one has to wonder how much gender bias has to do with how the American public views politicians.

16 Similarities of Marie Antoinette in Today’s Women
Bill Clinton admitting to an affair with Hillary by his side. The NY Post

5. Both Women Were Blamed For Their Husbands’ More Personal Issues

Remember the Monica Lewinsky scandal: when a 19-year-old White House intern was thrust into the public spotlight for having an affair with President Bill Clinton, who went on to lie under oath? Hillary Clinton took much blame for her husband’s problems, being accused of not being a proper wife who took care of her husband and met his needs.

Marie Antoinette did not become pregnant until eight years after she was first married to the king, and this created a public scandal. After all, the queen pretty much had only one job: create a royal heir and raise him to adulthood. Moreover, at this task, she was failing. However, the fault could have laid with the king, who suffered from a condition called phimosis, which makes an erection and sex painful. He eventually had surgery to correct the situation. Some believe the couple didn’t even consummate their marriage for seven long years; however, very quickly after the king’s surgery, Marie Antoinette became pregnant with her first child.

Still, both Hillary Clinton and Marie Antoinette were blamed for their husbands’ personal deficiencies, be it the inability to remain faithful or to consummate a royal marriage. Even today in a #MeToo movement, some people choose to remember Hillary as an unconcerned wife who caused her husband’s infidelity.

16 Similarities of Marie Antoinette in Today’s Women
Painting of Marie Antoinette playing the harp by Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty. Nobility

6. Marie Antoinette Was Unfairly Accused of Creating the Tremendous National Debt

Marie Antoinette’s memory is sullied by the accusation that she was the cause of France’s ballooning national debt. In fact, that is one of the charges that was brought against her and that she, under coercion, pled guilty.

The queen did like the more delicate things in life and threw extravagant parties. However, France’s economy was in trouble long before she joined the royal court. King Louis XVI promoted involvement in the American Revolution, which to this end it was, in effect, a proxy war between France and its historical rival, Great Britain; the decision drained the national treasury. The weak king, who was disinterested in politics and the working of the state, and who also was unaware of the social foment and dissent that was brewing against him, decided to raise taxes as a means of funding France’s involvement. The result was a higher cost of grain, combined with less money for the poor of France to buy the bread that formed the bulk majority of their diets.

In this time of extreme discontent and looming starvation for the average Frenchman, Marie Antoinette’s expensive clothes, outrageous hairstyles, and lavish parties looked like a slap in the face. It was, in fact, during this time that she supposedly said, “Let them eat cake!” However, when you look at the mathematics of the French economy at the time, Marie Antoinette’s excesses contributed little to the spiraling national debt. That said, they certainly didn’t help.

Likewise, Hillary Clinton has often been criticized for her alleged role in the increasing national debt, though the accusation is undoubtedly false. Obamacare, which she adamantly supported, did little to raise the national debt. The wars in the Middle East, which continued while she served as Secretary of State and indeed had taxed the American economy, had begun under her Republican predecessor, George W. Bush. Furthermore, they were a continuation of policies that can be traced to two other Republican presidents: George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, under whom the national debt increased from 26% to 40% of GDP. Hillary Clinton’s support of the wars translates to indirectly growing the national debt.

16 Similarities of Marie Antoinette in Today’s Women
The Trial of Marie Antoinette by Pierre Bouillon. histoire-des-femmes.com

7. When Things Got Bad, Marie Antoinette Became Stronger Than Her Husband

History remembers as King Louis XVI as being weak and impotent as a king, and this reputation was probably justly earned. While her personal indulgences largely defined the first few years of Marie Antoinette’s life in the royal court, she went on to become an energetic individual who was able to do many of the things that her husband was either unable or unwilling to do. At the very end, she remained incredibly devoted to her family and would not leave her children behind. Throughout her imprisonment, she wrote voluminously to try to save the lives of aristocrats and members of the royal family.

Though Hillary Clinton may not have achieved the same political achievements without her marriage to Bill Clinton, she arguably became much stronger than him. Not only does she have an unrivaled political resume, but she helped make it possible for more women to become active in politics and public life. Women are sweeping the 2018 congressional primaries and are expected to have the highest numbers ever in the United States House of Representatives and Senate. This wave can attest to how much she achieved by proxy for other aspiring female politicians. Hopefully, those women will face fewer gender-based setbacks because of Hillary’s trailblazing.

16 Similarities of Marie Antoinette in Today’s Women
Marie Antoinette by Joseph Ducreux 1769. Wikipedia

8. Marie Antoinette Was Accused Of Treason

When the French Revolution began, the royal family lived under virtual house arrest and served as little more than a puppet or signatory for the new government, under Maximilien Robespierre, that was coming to rule France. During that time, the king and queen secretly wrote letters and sought the help of others, especially in Marie’s native Austria, who might be able to get them out of France. Nevertheless, they were finally imprisoned about three years later, and shortly after that, the king was executed. When the queen was put on trial, the indictment that brought her down was that of treason. Behind the charge of treason were the communications she had sent out trying to secure the release of her family.

In the height of the email scandal that Hillary Clinton found herself in, she, too, was accused of treason. In fact, news channels like Fox brought analysts on to explain why she was guilty of treason and should be executed. However, she was found not guilty of any crimes. On the contrary, she had requested the NSA to make her smartphone more secure because she, like predecessors Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell, was using it after hours on official business.

16 Similarities of Marie Antoinette in Today’s Women
Marie Antoinette with her children. Wikimedia

9. Spreading Lies About Marie Antoinette Was A National Past Time

Much of the hatred spread against Hillary Clinton has been proven time and again to be false. Still, the rumors persist, and even after she has somewhat retired from public life, many people still clamor to lock her up and throw away the key.

Marie Antoinette faced a similarly dissenting public who spread horrific rumors about her. One of the most prolific — one that persists to this day — was that she was an adulteress. Despite current research revealing that she may have had an affair with Austrian statesman Axel von Fersen, stories of her infidelity were often spread by the king’s brothers, who stood to inherit the throne should he fail to produce a legitimate male heir.

Marie Antoinette’s son, Louis Charles, was sickly from birth, and the public knew that during bouts of illness, he was allowed to sleep in her bed. When she was in prison and on trial, the court used her care for her sick son as the basis for claiming that she had an abusive, incestuous relationship with him.

Louis Charles was imprisoned separately from his mother, and he was ill during most of his imprisonment until he succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 10. Under unknown conditions, he was coerced into agreeing with the accusation and testifying against his mother.

16 Similarities of Marie Antoinette in Today’s Women
Marie Antoinette par Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun 1783. Wikimedia Commons

10. Marie Antoinette’s Charity Work Was Viewed as a Means of Self-Aggrandizement

The story goes that Marie Antoinette, in an effort to identify herself with the underprivileged, lower classes of France, dressed as a milkmaid and went on to milk goats who had been heavily perfumed to hide their “goaty” smell. While that story makes her look even more pampered and out of touch, the fact is that she contributed heavily to alleviating the suffering of the needy, especially children. She helped fund education for poor children and taught her children to care for those less fortunate. However, many people viewed her charity work as nothing but a front to make her look better in the eyes of the public while only caring about herself and personal ambitions.

Hillary Clinton has seen similar troubles, as she was accused of using her charity, The Clinton Foundation, to launder money. The charity focused on efforts that improved child development, especially among children in poverty, as well as healthcare, particularly among those dealing with HIV/AIDS and their loved ones. However, none of the Clintons have received salaries from The Clinton Foundation, and the organization gets better watchdog ratings than the American Red Cross. Still, rumors persist, just as they did for Marie Antoinette.

16 Similarities of Marie Antoinette in Today’s Women
Marie Antoinette by Louis Marie Sicard 1787. Wikipedia

11. Marie Antoinette Was The Royal Scapegoat

In the French monarchy, it was normal, even customary, for the king to take a mistress. Famous mistresses of the French king, like Diane de Poiters and Madame de Pompadour, held high positions within the royal court. They also tended to take the blame for just about anything that went awry in the palace, as they were often at fault for domestic issues within the royal family. This blame could go as far as being scapegoats for international disputes and internal problems within the state.

King Louis XVI never took a mistress, though, possibly because of his well-known health problems that prevented consummation of his marriage with Marie Antoinette for seven years. Because there was no mistress to serve as the royal scapegoat, that role often fell to Marie Antoinette. She is remembered for the lavish excesses that she took upon herself, which had defined the French monarchy for centuries before her time. However, compared to the men and women that came before her, she contributed to only a minor fraction of France’s national debt.

Despite the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Hillary Clinton still was the scapegoat of Washington, D.C., being blamed for all kinds of national and international problems, like the Benghazi attack, for which she was not a causative factor.

16 Similarities of Marie Antoinette in Today’s Women
The Gardens at Versailles. France by Marina

12. Marie Antoinette Insisted On Her Privacy

Marie Antoinette grew up in Austria, where the royal family was much more accustomed to privacy, a healthy domestic life, and what people today might call “family values” than was the French royal court at Versailles. Experience for the French royal family was more akin to celebrities facing an onslaught of paparazzi for a raving public that can’t wait for more gossip and rumors. They were on constant display. Add that to the stifling routine of outdated, antiquated rituals that consumed much of Marie Antoinette’s day and the elaborate forms of etiquette and elegance, and the result is a woman who just needed a break. She insisted on having privacy.

Unfortunately, any introvertedness or need for alone time tends to be seen by the public as a sign of weakness, emotional instability, or just plain rudeness. Marie Antoinette got the flak for her personal retreats at the hideaways that she and King Louis XVI fashioned for her. Some people felt that she was snubbing them, possibly sensing herself superior, especially when only her closest friends were allowed to retreat with her. They thought that she was exclusive and elitist. Others just saw this area as a ripe opportunity for gossip and slander. One result was slightly salacious libel that caricatured her in less-than-flattering, often wicked ways.

Fast forward to 2016, shortly after Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election to Donald Trump. One photo that went viral was of her sitting at a table by herself, looking at her phone. People took this as fodder to publicly accuse her of being lonely, tired, depressed and altogether done with her political career. However, she is a female politician being scorned and shamed for perfectly normal, human characteristics.

16 Similarities of Marie Antoinette in Today’s Women
“The Queen’s necklace”, reconstruction, Château de Breteuil, France. Wikipedia

13. Marie Antoinette Was Falsely Accused In A Scandal Blown Way Out Of Proportion

When Marie Antoinette first came to the royal court, she quickly earned a sour reputation among the French people for childish behavior, excessive opulence, and an inability to become pregnant. That reputation spiraled downward over the so-called Diamond Necklace Affair of which she was actually innocent.

Marie Antoinette’s husband’s predecessor, King Louis XV, commissioned an elaborate diamond necklace for his mistress, Madame du Barry, one which was worth approximately $14 million in today’s money. However, the king died before the chain was complete, and his disgraced mistress was exiled from the court. So what to do with the $14 million gift for which the jeweler had to be compensated? Easy. Sell it to Marie Antoinette. She should be easy to convince to buy it; after all, no one liked the more exceptional things in life quite like the new queen. However, she refused to buy it, insisting that the money could be spent better on affairs of the state, like equipping the French navy.

Two nefarious individuals, Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Remy along with her co-conspirator and lover, Cardinal de Rohan, made their way into the royal court by loudly bragging about their close relationship with the Queen of France. Jeanne borrowed large sums of money from the royal treasury, insisting it was authorized by the queen for her charity work, to purchase beautiful items for herself that brought her back into the high class of society. She even went so far as to hire a prostitute who resembled Marie Antoinette to play her part in several different encounters. The jewelers who had made the $14 million necklace decided that they could use Jeanne and Rohan to sell it to the queen.

However, when the time came to pay for the jewelry, the money that Jeanne had taken from the treasury came up short, and supposed correspondences with the queen that they had forged were uncovered. Still, the public was incensed and was all too happy to blame Marie Antoinette’s lavish spending on herself instead of taking care of the country.

In the 21st century, when Hillary Clinton was found to have used her private server rather than a heavily encrypted government server to send official emails. She was publicly accused of sharing government secrets, even though she was innocent. Nevertheless, despite the FBI finding her not guilty, the damage to her reputation was done. This scandal could have been a causative factor in her losing the 2016 presidential election.

16 Similarities of Marie Antoinette in Today’s Women
Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, King and Queen of France
Boizot, Louis-Simon. V&A’s Collection

14. Marie Antoinette’s Marriage Was Part of a Peace Treaty

Marie Antoinette was promised to Louis XVI when she was only ten years old and married when she was 14. In those days, marriages between royals of different countries — in this case, Austria and France — were common as parts of peace treaties. Her marriage helped to secure an alliance between the French Bourbons and the Austrian Hapsburgs, who had had a feud for nearly 200 years. To many, her marriage was nothing but a façade, a sham designed to keep the peace but that meant nothing to her on a personal level.

Likewise, many people have questioned Hillary Clinton’s marriage to Bill, especially after the Monica Lewinsky scandal publicly exposed his infidelity. Amongst other things, they said that her marriage was a fake designed to help her own ambitions and keep the peace. After all, nothing sullies a political career or creates more fodder for gossip quite like a high-profile divorce. She has even been accused of being a closet lesbian who married Bill to help her keep up appearances and who excused his infidelity because she was privately having lesbian affairs, even during the Lewinsky scandal.

16 Similarities of Marie Antoinette in Today’s Women
The last Communion of Marie Antoinette in prison (La Reine Marie-Antoinette communiant dans sa prison). Painting by Michel-Martin Drolling, hanging in the Expiatory Chapel for Marie-Antoinette at the Conciergerie in Paris

15. Marie Antoinette Believed Suffering Made Her Stronger

Despite all of the public scandals and outrage surrounding her time in the royal court, Marie Antoinette remained a poised, calm, and healthy individual throughout her reign as queen. She believed that the hardships that she faced — from having an entire country against her to being married as part of a peace treaty and having a chronically sick child — had given her the endurance and perseverance that she needed to fulfill her role, while also bringing her more into touch with the needs of her country’s people. Shortly after the French Revolution began while imprisoned, Marie Antoinette wrote a letter in which she claimed that suffering causes people to realize their true selves. Soon before she was beheaded, she wrote to her sister that she was calm and her conscience was clear.

After being touted as the national scapegoat by an eager public, Hillary Clinton probably shares the sentiments expressed by Marie Antoinette. In fact, after the email scandal, she declared that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The challenges that she faced as a female politician undoubtedly increased her resolve to pave the way for other women to rise through the ranks and achieve their goals.

16 Similarities of Marie Antoinette in Today’s Women
Portrait of Marie Antoinette painted in 1785 for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun – Private Collection

16. Did She Really Say Let Them Eat Cake?

Marie Antoinette and Hillary Clinton have both been criticized for seeking out international political alliances, mostly to further their own ambitions, while ignoring the pressing needs of their people. One of the most often-quoted lines attributed to a historical figure is, “Let them eat cake!” and has been assigned to Marie Antoinette as a scathing type of epigraph on her life.

The story is that while the queen was living in the lap of luxury, partaking of old rituals, and splurging on her excessive wardrobe and hairstyles, her people were starving; this much is not disputed. When peasants gathered outside her window demanding bread, she famously yelled at them, “Let them eat cake!” Apparently, the queen was so out of touch with her people that she had no idea that there was no money for their daily bread.

However, the line’s origins are about as dubious as the fate of the Lindbergh baby. The line had been in print since at least the time when Marie Antoinette was a 10-year-old girl in her native Austria. That she never said the line most famously attributed to her, the one that supposedly sparked the French Revolution, is not unlike many of the criticisms that Hillary Clinton has faced throughout her political career.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources

“Marie Antoinette,” from Encyclopedia Britannica. June 22, 2018.

“The French Revolution,” from Encyclopedia Britannica. February 7, 2018.

“Marie-Antoinette,” by History.com Editors. The History Channel. August 21, 2018.

“How the demise of her healthcare plan led to the politician Hillary Clinton is today,” by Amy Goldstein. The Washington Post. August 25, 2016.

“Why Jeff Sessions said, ‘Lock her up’ — and why it matters,” by Chris Cillizza. CNN Politics. July 24, 2018.

“What’s behind the claim that Hillary Clinton got ‘$84 million of potentially illegal campaign contributions?” by David Weigel. The Washington Post. December 27, 2017.

“House Benghazi report faults military response, not Clinton, for deaths,” by Lauren Gambino and David Smith. The Guardian. June 28, 2016.

“Trump brings up Clinton’s health, questions if she’s ‘loyal’ to Bill,” by Jeremy Diamond. CNN Politics. October 2, 2016.

“US Debt by President by Dollar and Percent,” by Kimberly Amadeo. The Balance, September 8, 2018.

“Hillary Clinton emails – what’s it all about?” by Anthony Zurcher. BBC. November 6, 2016.

“Donald Trump’s Pals Say Hillary Clinton is a Lesbian Murderer,” by Olivia Nuzzi. The Daily Beast. May 13, 2016.

“US mid-term elections: Women break records for nominations.” BBC. August 8, 2018.

“Hillary Clinton Accused of Treason by Sebastian Gorka on Fox News’ Hannity” by Graham Lanktree. Newsweek. October 27, 2017.