Les Femmes de la Décadence: Mythologising Marie Antoinette

From the moment Marie Antoinette left Vienna, she became the bullseye of malevolent scapegoat-seekers. The reputational downfall of Marie Antoinette started at the court of Versailles, from noble tongues to the Parisian gutters, she was singled out, to say the very least, as a foreigner, which was the signature of royal families.

The teenager, who would be the Habsburg’s reject and enfant inutile in her thirties, is shoved into Louis XIV’s provincial golden cage with an all-observant, stiff, corrupt, careless and bored aristocracy and burdened by an inherited and already rotting and miserable state of things nationwide. She was meant to cure France and lead it onward. She did not have the character for this overwhelming task. Her cards were stacked against her and the fate of France had never really been in her hands. Quite the opposite.

She was in many ways subjected to things that plenty of other royal women endured too: being forced to marry, have sex with and procreate with an unknown man (centre stage with a gossiping audience), suffer through the loss of two children, but there were certain forces in her life that gradually and determinedly brought her down and remain almost unparalleled in their viciousness.

Her persona and body became the bestselling target and projection surface for heinous, grotesque, animalistic, debasing and pornographic fantasies, exaggerations, rage, punchlines, misogyny and xenophobia.  As the people of France, starved and poor, absorbed thousands of Anti-Autrichienne pamphlets over the years, she became an almost mythological creature to be abhorred, mocked and overthrown. The true and private identity of Marie Antoinette played no role whatsoever and in its concealment was completely overshadowed by and superimposed with the public caricature invented and rendered ad absurdum by revolutionary cartoonists.

From idealists to heads-for-breakfast-executioners to self-made victims of the monster they evoked, most of the essential revolutionaries became obsessed with chopping off the former Queen of France’s head, dishonour the Widow Capet with all their might, and after attacking her womanhood, sexuality, nationality and physicality, they went as far as blemishing her motherhood.

A revolution was absolutely necessary, and as I am concentrating on Marie Antoinette here, her execution was not. France had made its brutal point with the symbolical assassination of Louis XVI and her murder was pure and hateful bloodlust, killing for killing’s sake, bringing down the colourful and imaginary creature of horror and decadence that festered in the minds of the mob.

Idealism robs itself of all its ideals once it has blood on its hands. Power-drunk deteriorated into blood-drunk instead of enacting all the values that focused on ameliorating lives, not celebrating deaths and mass graves.

Perhaps, one of the most truthful and adequate statements that Marie Antoinette uttered in her life was her apology to her executioner after having stepped on his foot that she did not do it on purpose.


“Marie Antoinette at the Temple Tower” by Alexander Kucharsky (1741-1819)

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