Marie Antoinette Of France History Essay

Marie Antoinette of France is a prominent tragic figure in French Revolution for her death at the guillotine which was compelled by the Revolutionaries. The propaganda before and during the French Revolution utilised the misconceptions of the Queen, established primarily by the antagonism between France and Austria, in attempt to exploit Marie Antoinette as a scapegoat of the poverty and the outbreak of the Revolution. Despite her faithful duty as the deliverer of the French royal line, she was deeply resented firstly by the conservative aristocrats then the entire nation. This brings in the enquiry of: to what extent does propaganda successfully depict the factual image of Marie Antoinette in 1770-1793? Surely, the propaganda played a great role in terms of brainwashing the nation to perceive the Queen as the living symbol of both moral and physical corruption and infidelity. However, to what extent was it able to depict and convey the actual image of Marie Antoinette? The examination of origin, purpose, values and limitations of two major sources portraying the role of propaganda will determine its accuracy of the portrayal of the Queen.

Summary of evidence

Marie Antoinette, born as the Archduchess 2 November 1755, became the Dauphine of France, in the year 1770, [1] through the marriage arranged by her mother, the Empress Maria Theresa of the Habsburg Empire, in attempt to reconcile the Austro-French relationship. However, the marriage ultimately increased the tension between two countries and reinforced the resentment of Austria from the aristocracy class from the court resulting in court rumours on Antoinette, such as her hidden identity as the Austrian Spy. Despite her role as the spouse of King Louis XVI and the Queen of France, her reputation was shattered and low. As her stay in the French court lengthened, the rumours turned into the propaganda that influenced the public of France. Not to mention the court rumour, pamphlets such as libel circulated in both verbal and visual forms. The reports on the “grandiose feasting, against the background of a Petit Trianon pasted with diamonds and glittering with gold” [2] established another reason for the citizens of France to rail against the foreign Queen intervening in their motherland. The rumour intensified amongst the public to strongly detest her through the utilisation of Marie Antoinette as the scapegoat of the whole financial situation of France.

Furthermore, her involvement in the Diamond Necklace affair reinforced her appearance as the symbol of living corruption and infidelity. Despite the polite rejection made by her considerate and firm decision shown by her personal comments: “we have more need of ships than diamonds,” [3] and “She found her jewel cases rich enough,” [4] the public refused to perceive her as the innocent in the incident as her reputation created by the rumours stereotyped her as “Madame Deficit.” [5] 

Scandalous pamphlets, Libel, were the sources of explicit pornography which had “specific, local (and), satirical targets [6] ” By the time she intensified her “frivolousness, indecency, denaturation, scorn for her husband and squandering of the realm, sexual audacity and murderous lunacy,” she became the regular protagonist in pamphlets. Libel contributed towards convincing the public to believe her portrayal as the living symbol of the corruption and untrustworthy monster in the form of monarch.

The messages from the potential revolutionary as an educating reinforcement of resentment towards the monarchs were successful as they depicted her evil nature associated with drunken orgies and adultery [7] . Furthermore, the messages created the most famous quote of the Queen “Let them eat cake” [8] by portraying her ignorance to face the state of nation and, also revealing her “crimes lies not in an act, but in a quality of being.” [9] 

Evaluation of Sources

“Marie Antoinette: The Journey [10] ” originates as the results of an extensive research done by Antonia Fraser whom has “nine acclaimed historical works [11] ” in 2001. The purpose of the biography is to evaluate by how far was Antoinette a victim of misogyny or her own actions, thus determine whether she had the “extravagance and frivolity (which) helped to bring down the French monarchy [12] .”Moreover, the purpose can be extended to examine the accuracy of the rumours and of any derogatory criticisms made, such as “sexual slurs made against her [13] .” The source is indeed valuable as it incorporates Fraser’s comprehensive range of sources embedded within it. Furthermore, the purpose of the biography is valuable as it continues to narrate the myth of her life in an unlimited perspective by evaluating both sides towards the story. However, the source has limitations, as the biography was written by a novelist not a certified historian. This hence reduces the reliability of the factual knowledge mentioned in the biography, even if she is prominent for her historical biographies. In addition, the source was published centuries after the actual event, thus the hindsight narration somehow weakens the precision of the analysis of Marie Antoinette’s life.

“The Royal Bordello” in “The wicked queen: the origins of the myth of Marie Antoinette” has its origin as one of the propaganda pamphlets that circulated in public during the Queen’s reign, and now is stored as Bibliothèque Nationale, Enfer 605, variant Enfer 606 [14] . Its primary purpose was to besmirch Marie Antoinette’s public image and further criticise her debauched desire for adultery. Furthermore to inform and convince the public outside the walls of Versailles about how the monarch abuses her authority and the ability to accommodate men in attempt to fulfil her personal wants. The source is valuable as her character traits, set up by the description of the Queen’s decadent sex life with multiple men, reveal a dimension of her being a sex-thirsty monster that is egocentric to care for her people, hence proving that she is not the victim, she is the origin of all of France’s misfortunes. The limitations of the source are its third omniscient perspective in the narration of the Queen’s sex affairs, assuming to know every detail of Queen’s mind and actions. Moreover, because of the unreliable nature of propaganda, this pamphlet has many exaggerations which distort the distinction between the truth and rumours.


Marie Antoinette’s refusal to comply with the French methodical court etiquettes, yet her unintentional willingness to utilise the symbolic representation of the Queen, to be the scapegoat of the poverty and the outbreak of Revolution, were the major targets of the propaganda. Antoinette indeed was acquisitive in purchasing the latest fashion, [15] and the propaganda turned Queen’s interest in overbuying into the origin of poverty outside the Versailles, such as the largely disputed Diamond Necklace affair. The pamphlets’ clever twist of the common factual knowledge into multiple hyperbolised accounts of Queen’s life aimed to shock the public with exceedingly intimately narrated Marie Antoinette’s demeanour.

Critics such as Mary Wollenstonecraft whom lived in the era, depict Antoinette as a demoted representation of corruption and infidelity through the pornography, adultery, homosexuality and avarice. Subjecting Antoinette to a pornographic heroine, Wollenstonecraft devalues Antoinette’s social hierarchical status, as the Queen, into a lower classed prostitute. Moreover, Wollenstonecraft further condemns Antoinette for her reputation of the living symbol of both moral and physical corruption and infidelity by commenting that “The Queen was even more corrupt than a harlot because at least the harlot is attentive to the rules and etiquette of her trade, whereas the Queen flaunted her dissoluteness. [16] ” The quote is reinforced in one of the widely circulated pamphlets, “The Royal Bordello,” which depicts extreme hetero and homosexual eroticisms promoted by the Queen. Altogether with her association with France’s antagonist, Austria, Antoinette was blamed to be an Austrian spy, contaminating the court with her demeanours and ruining the economy

On the other hand, there is an interpretation that propaganda was not able to fully portray the factual image of Marie Antoinette as she was thoroughly victimised by derogatory criticisms, mentioned in the libels. Edmund Burke is another critic who depicted Antoinette purely based on the “allegorical body of the Queen [17] .” He once described Antoinette as a “delightful vision…glittering like the morning-star, full of life and splendour, and joy. [18] ” This was possible to be said by propaganda, as Burke believed Antoinette embraced “two bodies: one royal, the other female, [19] ” meaning Antoinette was a human although she had her social status so superior; she still was a human who committed sin like the public, according to the religion of the time. She was royal due to the authority she had but was subjected to commit crimes. Hence as Burke mentioned, “citizens should treat a queen with reverence regardless of her character as an embodied individual.” Hence both perspectives shown in the sources evaluated previously, in addition to the historiography mentioned in the analysis reveal that Marie Antoinette has been factually portrayed with an exposure to the two dimensions of her personalities: the Monarch and a woman.


Continuously allowing the pamphlets to ruin her royal image by having wild orgies, extreme hetero and homosexual life and overspending, Marie Antoinette was able to utilise herself as the scapegoat of the poverty and the symbol of both moral and physical corruption and infidelity. Handed over at the age of fifteen, Antoinette was not able to live with the superficially strict French. By giving up her entire possession that enabled her of the reminiscence of Austria, the queen embraced a new way of finding comfort and pleasure: social corruption that existed under the surface. Extensive rumours have ruined her public reputations as the Queen of France, since she failed to show the traits of conservative, passive and gracious Queen; but with two opinionated voices in the propaganda, Marie Antoinette was able to be truly depicted to an extent that both showed the Queen Marie Antoinette and the woman Marie Antoinette.

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