2. Marie Antoinette symbolizes a lack of compassion for the less fortunate
The leading revolutionary figures of France, both before and during the French Revolution, used their Queen, Marie Antoinette, as the symbol of France’s woes. To her they attributed the callous response, “Let them eat cake” after being informed the poor lacked bread. She almost certainly never said those words. They first appeared in a tract written by Jean Jacques Rousseau in 1767, years before Antoinette arrived in France from her native Austria. Rousseau claimed the phrase, in which he substituted the word brioche for cake, were uttered by “une grande Princesse” (a great Princess) though he did not specify whom. The words themselves did not reflect the attitudes of Marie Antoinette towards her subject, which were both compassionate and concerned for their welfare. But combined with her expensive tastes and extravagance the words led to her unfair judgement by history.
Her spending brought the condemnation of the Revolutionaries in France, who exaggerated its effect on the country’s financial disasters in the 1780s. She also engaged more in politics during the early days of the Revolution, urging her husband King Louis XVI and his ministers to resist reforms. Eventually she entered into schemes and plots involving the escape of the French Royal Family from the custody of the Revolutionaries. Both her husband and herself were charged with treason, suspected of attempting an alliance with Austria to overturn the Revolutionary government. Both were executed by beheading on the guillotine. During her lifetime, Antoinette supported charities and reform programs to ease the financial plight of the French peasantry. Poor harvests, an irresolute King, and financial disaster doomed them to failure.