Contrary to what you learned in History classes in the US, Marie Antoinette never said “let them eat cake” in response to starving French peasants not having bread. However, she should have, because it would have proven she was an idiot not just a greedy no-good foreigner.
And therein lies the real problem with Marie Antoinette. Maria came from the Austrian Empire. She spoke Austrian which is similar to German. Married at 14 for political alliances, the young Queen hated King Louis. She probably liked French peasants more than her husband, which I understand since Kings aren’t known for their awesome husband skills.
Unfortunately, she also hated France. A lot. So much so that she refused to learn French, insisting that members of the court learn Austrian instead. And quite sadly, she wasn’t an idiot, which probably would have served her better in both court and with the French people.
Even the nobles were calling for her head by the time the revolution in France kicked off because as much as she hated them, they hated her back.
Then there was the matter of Marie Antoinette’s upbringing. France had a lot of power, especially religious power, but it did not have the money of the Austrian empire, which is why she is reviled by history.
Marie believed that her status as a member of the Austrian empire would silence any of her critics, after all, her family had more money than all of France. It didn’t because she was naive in her thinking. She was still young at the time. And the French did not always understand how it worked, which didn’t help.
Marie Antoinette was used to the finer things in life, much finer things in life. Despite her marriage to Louis and France, her parents would still occasionally send her money because their daughter deserved certain things and Louis and France weren’t providing them.
It is true that she nearly bankrupted the monarchy with her expenditures which were beyond excessive. She also liked to flaunt all her new and pretty things – still young and naive and living in a country where she couldn’t understand anything anyone said to her.
So when her parents sent her money to buy the extravagant things she wanted and they felt she needed, she didn’t pop that money into France’s coffers and pay for it out of there, which might have saved her head. Instead, she just bought the new stuff and said that the people of France loved her so much they wanted her to have these things.
Somehow, she failed to realize that the people of France were starving to death – possibly due to the language barrier – and actually didn’t give a rat’s ass what Marie Antoinette thought she had to have, they just saw her extravagant spending and blamed her for their starvation… Which in their defense, was partly true…
But that’s because she was a foreigner. They didn’t raise a fuss over Louis’s extreme spending at first, because he was a French king and not some Austrian ingrate living in their country on their dime.
If Marie and Louis had stepped outside the palace and announced that “Hey, her parents are helping pay for Versailles,” they might have kept their heads, although probably not because by then, everyone hated the two monarchs. Also, it’s possible that Marie, Louis and infant Louis might have kept their heads, if they had left France and returned to Austria when things got to the breaking point. The offer was made by Marie’s family. They chose to ignore it, saying the people loved them… Maybe Louis also didn’t speak French. Because when Marie wasn’t building expensive palaces and buying dresses embroidered with gold, the people didn’t actually care about her or Louis. They were more focused on the nobles that were sucking them dry.
The country was happy when she gave birth to a son, Louis 15th. They had a new king in their future. Tragically, that happiness was short lived. There was a moment there though where Marie Antoinette and Louis 14th could have been redeemed. If Marie had spearheaded a relief effort like modern monarchs, the entire tide of the French Revolution might have changed. Maybe she should have been having the royal bakers make cakes to hand out to the people of France. She could have gotten the nobles involved, except Robespierre, who had his own reasons for wanting to see the Monarchy fall. They could have all had their private bakers baking cakes to pass out to the starving population. It would have been better than trying to bake bread with acorns and tree branches.
Unfortunately for her, she didn’t think of a charity drive to save her adopted people. However, the French did give her one courtesy… They guillotined her before her young son Louis the 15th. They made her watch them behead her husband, which probably didn’t matter much to her. But they did not make her watch the execution of her child, who was still an infant at the time, if memory serves me right. I do know without a Google search that he was very young when he faced the guillotine.
And Robespierre, the noble that started the most trouble was found flayed alive in a bathtub, so I feel he got his comeuppance. Some history texts gloss over this and say with his wrists and throat slit, but the truth was, he was almost unrecognizable at first as a human being because they cut him open and let him bleed to death in a bathtub… sternum to stem style. Some reports say they took his heart after it stopped beating, which is probably true… waste not, want not… and cannibalism did unfortunately happen during the Starving Years. PS: Several snobel insisted the child Louis the 15th be guillotined along with his family even though he had nothing to do with the reasons his family was on trial… the idea was the brain child of Robespierre, so don’t mourn for him too much.. Karma’s a bitch.
And that is why, with all his flaws, Napoleon Bonaparte and his wife-ish like companion Josephine was considered a serious improvement over the Monarchy. For the record, the French sorta knew Napoleon was nuts and that he was Italian, not French, but they were okay with that after the debacle of the years previous, at least he tried to feed them on more than acorns, treebark, and branches baked into a bread.
PS: someone pointed out that I obviously have issues reading Roman Numerals, which I do. Marie was married to Louis the 16th.