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Hi

At school, I've chosen to do a project on Marie Antoinette for history. I have to study a debate about a well known historical event or person. I am assessing whether Marie deserved her negative reputation.

I have come across, and read, many biographies and texts that sympathize with Marie and ultimately support the view that she doesn't deserve the reputation she garnered.
However, apart from Zweig's biography, I have not found (yet!) much literature - biographies, eye witness accounts etc. - that criticize Marie. Perhaps because this view was accepted many years ago, it has made it harder for me to find historians or other figures that blame Marie for her reputation and criticize her?

So I would really really appreciate if any of you Antoinette experts could help out a worried student - and provide me with any information or titles or authors who criticise Marie and support the view that she deserves her negative reputation?

Contemporary accounts, letters, biographies - I am in need of them desperately and would be eternally grateful. I don't want to be forced to change my project to something else because I can't develop the counter-argument --- I'm really enjoying reading about Marie and her life - I was always an admirer of her and right now, I am engrossed in her life. Just having trouble finding literature that criticises her - which is strange?

Also - I have read "The Wicked Queen" by Chantal Thomas and while I understand it was a study of the ways in which people spread stories about Marie, I am unsure as to whether, in her book, Chantal is for or against the queen?

Thanks in advance


Mon Oct 15, 2012 5:52 pm
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Honestly, I don't think there is any work by an honest historian who comes to the conclusion that Antoinette was absolutely guilty of all the charges before posterity. The argument doesn't sync with the facts.

That said, even though she wasn't 'guilty' this doesn't mean that she always finds herself beloved. Albert Mathiez's "The French Revolution" is relatively hostile. Although he does refer to her as "the poor queen" this rabid red unearthed some juicy accusations against her - that is, he goes into brief detail in regards to the treason she did commit rather than the treason she was said to have committed. He also opens up his work with a litany of different courtier's expenditure, including Marie Antoinette's.

So, while the work isn't about Marie Antoinette but about the French Revolution as a whole, and while Mathiez doesn't repeat calumny, he is certainly hostile. If we could ask him, I imagine he would say something along the lines of, "No, she isn't guilty of the stuff posterity says she was guilty of, but she was guilty of all this which is worse!" Will that support your thesis at all?

As a footnote, I've been told that Hilaire Belloc and Andre Castelot were relatively hostile in their biographies as well, but I've read neither of them so I don't know for certain.

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Tue Oct 16, 2012 8:15 pm
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Welcome, Whisperingshands!

Vive is right, I think. You will not find a scholarly work that confirms any accusations of, for instance, carelessness, cruelty or sexual depravity because these are myths and have been disproved time and again.
However, even her most loving biographers must acknowledge her humanity and her faults. Even Madame Campan, a most passionate admirer, criticizes her youthful indifference to intellectual pursuits. Desmond Seward, who obviously adores her, condemns the frivolity she displayed as a young girl in his excellent (but very short and often over-simplified) biography. Any biographer who can be taken seriously must take these things into account.
Many Catholic authors are sometimes willingly forgetful of her mistakes, many French authors are often far too critical of Antoinette. Most are guilty of sensationalism. I am afraid there are few books on the life of Marie Antoinette that can be called perfect, or none. Goodness, I am taken aback by your search for more critical material, as I feel bombarded by it and I'm always on the look-out for more forgiving accounts of her life! :lol:

Quote:
Also - I have read "The Wicked Queen" by Chantal Thomas and while I understand it was a study of the ways in which people spread stories about Marie, I am unsure as to whether, in her book, Chantal is for or against the queen?


I have always believed Ms. Thomas to be an admirer, at least in part. Her novel "Farewell, My Queen" is very well-loved by many of us, and gives a sympathetic portrayal of Antoinette, mostly free of any stereotyping. I am currently reading "The Wicked Queen", but I cannot yet say if she is an admirer or not.

I am sorry I could not be of more assistance, but I am not so well-versed in critical authors! :oops:


Wed Oct 17, 2012 12:58 am
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If I understand this correctly - you are taking place in a debate and you must argue against the Queen, that she was bad and therefore deserved her fate.

Your best defense to this allegation would start with her childhood portraying her as a spoiled brat.....which she kind of was. Develop her into the lazy teen - send her off to Paris to wed Louis XVI and give examples of how she offended people. Louis' brothers and Auntie's had lots to say about her...her behavior with Madame DuBarry could be spun into an attitude of her superiority and stubborn behavior.
The people...give examples of how the population started to turn on her and things said about her....The Diamond Necklace Affair, LaMotte wrote about the Queen (I have never seen these writings....but they were not nice.) The Revolutionaries and what they said about her...Madame De La Tour Du Pin tells a story of her mother's death and an incident with the Queen that leaves MA in an unflattering light. Jacques Hebert wrote plenty.....you will have to try to weave some truth out of some lies. End your argument with David's sketching of Marie Antoinette in the tumbrel on the way to execution and how it was said that she was haughty right up till the end. You'll just have to pull bits and pieces from different sources and weave it all together.

I do wish you were on the other side of this debate - it disturbs me to tell you how to make Marie Antoinette look bad.....but unfortunately legal training has taught me to be able to make an argument out of anything! Good Luck to you - I hope we have given you some ideas.


Wed Oct 17, 2012 1:13 am
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Amongst the biographers that were critical of her, I would mention the Girault de Coursac, though they were very much supportive of Louis XVI.


I am at odds with what was written above. I think many early and nowadays historians were and still are critical of Marie-Antoinette. Michelet is the classic example of the Republican historian, and was indeed critical of the Queen.

The subject is no longer so controversial in France as it used to be, so things have simmered down. But the opposition between Republicans and the more moderate political thinkers is still very much relevant. There is even a revival of the Republican idea in France, due to the current feeling of insecurity the French are experiencing.

The bottom line is that the Republicans will dislike the Queen and maintain that the death sentence was fair because the support she receives from many admirers sullies the Revolution, conveying the idea that what happened at that time was not always fair, which everybody knows, without being willing to admit it.
Secondly, although the general concessus is that most of the accusations leveled at her were, if not sheer fantasies, blown out of all proportion when compared to her actual behaviour, she still was, fundamentally, guilty of treason and that was what she had to answer for at her trial. Let us not forget : in spite of all the lampoons, slanders and lies that tarnished her reputation and paved her way to the scaffold, the only accusation her death sentence was based on was treason. And this accusation has now been proven substantially true. So there is still much ground to take up the cudgel for the Revolutionnaries in this controversy.

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Last edited by Ludy on Wed Oct 17, 2012 12:58 pm, edited 3 times in total.



Wed Oct 17, 2012 12:26 pm
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A funny event to show that the subject is still discussed in France. A friend of mine, who is a stauch Republican as well as a young historian posted on facebook "with all the things happening at once, I forgot to commemorate October the 16, when the Austrian woman finally got what she deserved". Interestingly he argued that had the trial taken place today, with him being a juror, he would NOT have voted for her, but would have been in favor of sending her back to her home country. However, her death was all in all logical and well deserved in the context of the time.

To back up his opinion, he mentioned Eric Zemmour, a very famous and influential French journalist and historian. The latter said " the current fascination with Marie-Antoinette underlined the decline France has fallen in", adding "the crime she committed is unforgivable".

I am more or less on the same wavelength.

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Wed Oct 17, 2012 12:42 pm
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I was under the impression that OP's question was in regards to whether or not Marie Antoinette's standing reputation before posterity is deserved. Her standing reputation before posterity is not so much the counter-revolutionary who strove to bring the collapse of the Revolution and reinstate Absolute Monarchy, but a spendthrift airhead. This accusation, that she was the worst of the courtiers of Versailles, is unfair - the other one, I freely admit, has its grounds, I just repeat that I didn't think this was what was addressed. I tend to stand on the opinion I fed to Mathiez earlier. Antoinette wasn't the woman who spent France to ruin, but she arguably did things that were much worse .

As to her trial, I tend to sit on the opinion that yes, Marie Antoientte was guilty of treason. I've read several Republican historians who argued that Antoientte may have even surrendered some of the "battle-plans" (I'm sure there's a more official term for this) to the Austrians. I've not seen that included in any biography on Marie Antoinette, but then, I've never seen it disproven either. But even if it's untrue, that's just one picturesque example.

Reign of Terror or no, if any one of us did what she did in our own countries today, we could very well be shot. Treason is always punishable by death. And I do not think the United States should be referred to as my "murderer" if, after I committed the crimes of Antoinette, it gave me a trial, proved the charge of treason, and subsequently carried out of my sentence.

But I don't believe the Republicans proved the charge of treason.

She was executed for treason, and she did commit treason, but this was not proven during her trial. I believe Robespierre was correct to be so infuriated with Hebert; by attacking Antoinette's reputation rather than her actions, the radical gave the ci-devant queen a throne in posterity.


Although I'm not sure Hebert could have proven the charges in October 1793, because I don't believe they had all the evidence that we have access to today - but I could be wrong.

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Wed Oct 17, 2012 1:40 pm
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The charges of treason have been proven, although not by the time of her trial, given that they are contained in letters sent to the enemy. She did send battle plans to the enemy, although the information she provided them was outdated and worthless. By that time she was out of touch and generally not apprised of the military events by anyone, not even by her own husband.

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Wed Oct 17, 2012 2:00 pm
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I also think that many of the accusations leveled at her are substantially true, although inevitably exagerated.

As far as extravagance is concerned, she was more so than any queen before her, although admittedly less so than many royal mistresses -but the comparison is irrelevant. Seldom did previous queens go into debt, let alone buy a mansion in their own name. There are countless examples of how the charges of extravagance are accurate.

As far as promiscuity is concerned, if carrying on with another man amounts to being promiscuous, then she might well have been so. Whatever her relationship to Fersen, she did entertain ambiguous relationships with many of her male admirers, although we'll never know for sure how far this went.

I do not think I was off topic. Her reputation in France is summarized in three words : extravagance, promiscuity, treason and I have addressed all these issues now.

If you want to read biographies that are slightly more critical of Marie-Antoinette,the brothers Goncourt and Girault de Coursac should satisfy you.

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Wed Oct 17, 2012 2:14 pm
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As far as extravagance is concerned, she was more so than any queen before her, although admittedly less so than many royal mistresses -but the comparison is irrelevant. Seldom did previous queens go into debt, let alone buy a mansion in their own name. There are countless examples of how the charges of extravagance are accurate.


The comparisons are not irrelevant! Why should Antoinette have a reputation as a ruinous spend-thrift when Empress Josephine's expenditures were infinitely worse? Why should Josephine enjoy a fairly good reputation when Antoinette does not? No one can argue that Marie Antoinette didn't spend fat wads of cash (because she certainly did), but it can be argued that she is unfairly blamed for France's financial ruin.
Antoinette is not the only person in history who has wasted money on things she didn't need. She wasn't Saint Francis, but most people aren't.

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As far as promiscuity is concerned, if carrying on with another man amounts to being promiscuous, then she might well have been so. Whatever her relationship to Fersen, she did entertain ambiguous relationships with many of her male admirers, although we'll never know for sure how far this went.


So, are you saying she never should have had male friends? Apparently having gallant men in one's company is the same as being promiscuous.


Wed Oct 17, 2012 4:13 pm
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Ludy wrote:
The charges of treason have been proven, although not by the time of her trial, given that they are contained in letters sent to the enemy. She did send battle plans to the enemy, although the information she provided them was outdated and worthless. By that time she was out of touch and generally not apprised of the military events by anyone, not even by her own husband.


Oh, I know the charges have since been proven. I was saying that the charges were not proven at her trial. I have no moral issue with the Revolutionaries trying Marie Antoinette, but I have a legal quibble with her execution. They got the fair end by illicit means.

As the battle-plan charge, whether or not they were of any value to the invading Austrians is of little importance to me. She hoped they were and it's that intention that made her dangerous. That, combined with her correspondence with the enemies which you briefly elaborated on. I'm not unaware of her other dabbles in treason, the battle-plan one just always stuck out to me.

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As far as extravagance is concerned, she was more so than any queen before her, although admittedly less so than many royal mistresses -but the comparison is irrelevant. Seldom did previous queens go into debt, let alone buy a mansion in their own name. There are countless examples of how the charges of extravagance are accurate.


I've noticed that I am the most likely person on this forum to try and mitigate Antoinette's expenditure, which is peculiar. You're not the first to correct me, Ludy, and you won't be the last. Hopefully this repetition will help me remember the facts!

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I do not think I was off topic.


And I hope you don't think I was trying to reprimand you! I was just explaining my reasons for my blanket "no honest scholar condemns Antoinette" comment. I think you and I are actually in complete agreement, I'm just not explaining myself clearly.

Madame Vigée-Le Brun wrote:
The comparisons are not irrelevant! Why should Antoinette have a reputation as a ruinous spend-thrift when Empress Josephine's expenditures were infinitely worse? Why should Josephine enjoy a fairly good reputation when Antoinette does not?


I don't know; why does the Republican Jean Carrier get such a bad rap for the Republican Weddings/Noyades while Napoleon is hailed as a hero when they both drowned the same amount of defenseless prisoners? (2,000) Since Napoleon also committed this atrocity does this mean we should lift the burden of shame from Carrier's name? After all, he was no worse than Napoleon. Bit of backwards logic, there. All this means is that we should condemn Napoleon too.

An extreme example but the first that came to my mind. Just because Josephine spent a lot of money too doesn't make it okay for Antoinette to have done it too, it just means that Josephine is perhaps due for a hostile biography.

...Yes, I know in this singular post I did an about-face when it comes to Antoinette's expenses, but it's really something I should read up on. But if the only defense that can be made is that Josephine was worse, then I'm not convinced.

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Wed Oct 17, 2012 7:39 pm
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Madame Vigée Lebrun, I am placing myself with regards to the mores of the times, and not to our current mores. First of all, it was not right for a Queen of France to welcome men in her private appartments whilst being on her own, as she did when she came down with the flue. Having said that, all I am saying is that with regards to the mores of the time, a woman carrying on with another man was deemed promiscuous. Now, it is not known for certain wether or not Marie-Antoinette and Fersen did or did not have sexual intercourses, but in any way, she enjoyed a great deal of intimacy with him. She exchanged letters with him that included tender words, and might well have done so before with Coigny. She went further than any queen before as far as sexual liberty was concerned. Only Anna of Austria and Buckingham can be mentioned, and not only did they had only one short tryst, but it was the only time she ever did that. At that time, for a queen of France it was unacceptable. Times have changed for good.


I do not see your point when you bring up Joséphine, as first of all I was talking about royal mistresses. Joséphine was neither royal (her husband being a general and an emperor) nor a mistress, as she was duly married to him. Besides, I was comparing Marie-Antoinette to the previous queens. People were judging Marie Antoinette based on how the previous queens were behaving. Joséphine did not exist at the time.

Now if you want me to appraise Joséphine's behaviour, even if this is irrelevant for this thread, I would say that I do not approve of her, nor have I ever been a fan of Joséphine. She was indeed extravagant, and vain. I would add that she did not have much of a personnality. I think that Marie-Antoinette was the last Queen of France in the truest sense. People certainly had fewer expectations about Jospéhine, and the couple she formed with Napoleon was more of a bourgeois one than a royal one. The subsequent attempts made by Napoleon to restore the royal etiquette proved a failure, and there was never much symbolic attached to Joséphine as an empress. She had been married to another man before she married Napoleon, she had already had children, lovers etc. There was nothing mystical. She was married to a man who had proceeded to take power through his own merit, and was but a woman. Joséphine was loved because she was French, she interfered little with politics and never betrayed the country or her husband, which a lot of people at that time did, including Marie-Louise. She was also the wife of man who was incredibly loved and popular, which Louis XVI was not. All in all, things were completely different.


All that is irrelevant to the present thread. I am not bashing Marie-Antoinette. All I am saying is that there is no smoke without fire. No, Marie-Antoinette was not the cause of France's deficit. But she was more extravagant and unrestrained in her behaviour than any other queen in the recent history. No, she was no "slut", not even "loose", but she enjoyed a lot of liberties, and her behaviour with men was not compatible with her duties as a queen of France, even if it seems harmless to us.

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Wed Oct 17, 2012 8:01 pm
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Ludy wrote:

Having said that, all I am saying is that with regards to the mores of the time, a woman carrying on with another man was deemed promiscuous.

Are you sure Ludy that you're talking about the right century there? :o

You must remember that for an 18th century man to admit to having been cuckolded was more ridiculous than the very fact itself! It is a well known fact that most married women were someone's one else's mistress, and quite frankly it was fairly well accepted. A loving faithful marriage was not considered "bon ton" in the society we speak of here.

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Thu Oct 18, 2012 8:39 am
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As for MA being a traitor that wholely depends on whose side you look at things from. Were French resistants traitors because they shot Vichy militia men? If one is not in agreement with an imposed system, even if in this case it could be argued that it later acquired to some extent limited democratic legitimacy, then actions against that system cannot be deemed as treachorous. The acknowledged, age old and legally binding system of government was overthrown by a tiny ultra violent minority, clearly spurred on by occult forces such as the Duke of Orleans, so after that we are clearly not in a system of all right on one side and all wrong on the other. As for her expenses, as a Queen in representation her expenditure was clearly more legitimate than that of the Royal favourites.

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Thu Oct 18, 2012 8:56 am
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I really don't much want to get into a debate about the definition of 'traitor' because the argument seems dry and boring - that's the sort of thing I like leaving to Webstar's - and I also believe it's been covered extensively on this forum before in the "Who else here believes Marie Antoinette was wrongfully beheaded?" thread a few months back.

But to defend myself, I have no doubt that Marie Antoinette would not have defined herself as a traitor. She was loyal to the regime she had been reared in, the institution she believed in, and the royal family that was hers.

But no government assigns its charges according to the beliefs of the accused. Otherwise, I dare say there would never be a conviction in any court at all, ever. "He had it coming; it's not murder." "It's only stealing if you take things that the other person wants. They clearly didn't want it, so I'm not a thief."

"It's only treason if you believe in the government that you're trying to overthrow; I'm not a traitor."

The obvious inversion of your quote, "If one is not in agreement with an imposed system, even if in this case...then actions against that system cannot be deemed as treachorous." is that treason can only be properly defined as such if you happen to be in agreement with the government you are trying to overthrow. Of course no one is going to betray a government they support. If this is the definition of treason, one could ever be acused of treason ever. Unless we are going to say that treason is non-existent, this definition cannot hold true.

If my presidential candidate loses the coming U.S election and so I declare his opponent's government illegitimate and subsequently take strides to overthrow it, I should be shot as a traitor. I would perhaps define myself as loyal to true American doctrines or principles and maybe I'd even have a fair argument, but the government would be a fool to spare me just because my definition of traitor does not fit with that of the state's. And, conversely, if by some miracle my rebellion held true and someone tried to overthrow my regime, I shouldn't spare these counter-rebels because they define themselves as loyal and not traitors. It's not the privilige of the accused to define treason. History is written by the victors, and charges are drawn up by those in power.

This isn't to say, of course, that treason is always in and of itself 'evil'; please don't attack me for the negative connotation. To rebel against an evil government is good, but that evil government is still just in labelling the rebels traitors. As Franklin said in the musical 1776, "A rebellion is always legal in the first person, such as "our rebellion." It is only in the third person - "their rebellion" - that it becomes illegal."

Had Marie Antoinette been restored to power she would have the privilige to refer to the Revolutionaries as traitors, and if she proved their treason, their subsequent execution should not be called 'murder.' Conversely, I wouldn't qualify the Revolutionaries as her murderers...

if they had succeeded in proving her treason in court which they failed to do.

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Thu Oct 18, 2012 12:54 pm
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