6. Marie Antoinette was blamed by French society for the political and financial ills of the country and was later held responsible for stoking the underlying motivations which resulted in the French Revolution
Marie Antoinette (November 2, 1755 – October 16, 1793) was the daughter of Maria Theresa, Empress of Austria, and Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, and the Queen of France prior to the French Revolution; married to heir-apparent Louis-Auguste at the age of 14 in 1770, she was elevated just four years later to the title of Queen of France and Navarre. Originally popular within French society, by the 1780s her reputation had suffered significantly. At court, Antoinette was increasingly disliked for her unorthodox and excessive use of royal patronage; in particular, the appointment of the Duchesse de Polignac as Governess of the Enfants de France was met with severe disapproval due to the Duchesse’s comparatively modest birth. Her position suffered further due to her role in the dismissals of reformist ministers of finance Turgot in 1776 and Necker in 1781, who were seen as attempting to reign in the perceived indulgent spending of the royal family.
Within wider society, Marie Antoinette‘s standing grew even more tenuous, with rumors of infidelity spreading rapidly. Pamphlets describing her alleged sexual deviancy, among other members of her court, became items of common parlance across France, claiming intimate knowledge of her affairs with a variety of public figures; these rumors were unaided by her nationality, with French society viewing rival Austria as morally corrupt and Antoinette’s supposed lesbianism was considered the “German vice”. Complicating these mutterings, Antoinette gave birth in March 1785 to Louis Charles, Duke of Normandy, exactly nine months after a key speculative lover, Axel de Fersen, had returned to court. In combination with several other high-profile incidents, including the “Affair of the Diamond Necklace” and the noted extravagant expenses of the royal family, and the queen, in particular, Marie Antoinette became a figure of great dislike and a focal point of anti-monarchist criticism.
Known as “Madame Déficit” by the time of the French Revolution, with the financial crisis blamed heavily on her political interference and undue spending, on August 13, 1792, Marie Antoinette was imprisoned along with her husband in the Temple Prison; with the monarchy abolished on September 21 the trial of Marie Antoinette begun on October 14, 1793, culminating in a conviction for high treason and her execution by guillotine on the Place de la Révolution.