The French queen Marie Antoinette has long been a subject of fascination in popular culture, with her extravagant lifestyle and eventual beheading during the French Revolution. However, a new television series on BBC iPlayer called “Marie Antoinette” coming on screens on March 19 is drawing criticism from historians for its portrayal of the queen as a feminist. The series provides a revisionist take on the real events surrounding Marie Antoinette’s life and reign, prompting many to wonder: what really happened to this infamous historical figure? Read further to find out!
Early Life And Marriage
Marie Antoinette was born Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna in Vienna in 1755. She was just 15 years old when she was married to Louis XV’s eldest son, Louis the Dauphin of France, in 1770. Due to their extravagant lifestyle, the young couple, especially Antoinette, were blamed by the French people for the country’s problems.
While the series has taken a specific approach to the material, it is still based on real events, including Antoinette being forced to leave Vienna and marry the French Dauphin. The series has been praised for exploring “the trauma and feeling of abandonment that this person must have felt,” with the queen being depicted as “modern, emancipated, and fought for equality and for her personal freedom,” according to star Emilia Schüle.
Marriage And Rumors
In reality, Antoinette’s marriage was unhappy and difficult. Louis was an inattentive husband, and the couple struggled to consummate their marriage.Rumors about the queen’s infidelity were spread by rivals to the throne, possibly due to the belief that Louis XVI was impotent.
Despite rumors of her alleged infidelity, Marie Antoinette went on to give birth to three children, namely her daughter Marie-Thérèse Charlotte in 1778, the Dauphin Louis in October 1781 (who unfortunately passed away in 1789), and her youngest child and future heir, Louis XVII, born in March 1785.
Trial And Death
When the King and Queen attempted to flee Paris in 1791, they were apprehended by the revolutionaries and brought back to the city. Following the overthrow of the monarchy in 1792, the entire royal family was imprisoned in a tower. In December of the same year, Louis XVI was put on trial and subsequently executed in January 1793.
After a trial where she faced various accusations, including one where her youngest son was coerced to accuse her of sexual abuse and incest, Antoinette was executed by guillotine in October 1793. At 37 years old, she was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death.
Marie Antoinette series
While the Marie Antoinette series doesn’t reach this point in its first season, the French queen is best known for her death by guillotine and the attribution of the phrase “let them eat cake” to her, which is widely disputed by historians. The French Revolution, which was spurred on by years of high taxes and resentment towards the royal family’s opulent lifestyle, ultimately led to the queen’s demise.
The series is created by British screenwriter Deborah Davis, who also wrote the 2018 period drama The Favorite. The Marie Antoinette series takes a stylized and anachronistic approach to the source material, much like The Favorite. However, the series is still based on real events, including Antoinette’s forced marriage to the French Dauphin.
Despite the controversy surrounding the series’ portrayal of Marie Antoinette, it is clear that the queen remains a compelling figure in popular culture. As historians continue to debate her legacy and the events of her life, it is worth exploring the true story behind the myth of Marie Antoinette. Whether as a feminist icon or a cautionary tale about the dangers of excess and privilege, her story continues to captivate audiences centuries after her death.