Marie Antoinette’s Revolution and Imprisonment

Diamond Necklace from the “Affair of the Necklace”

While Marie Antoinette spent large sums of money on her private retreats, France was facing a financial crisis due to debts accumulated during war times. This led to the reestablishment of the Assembly of Notables in 1787 in an attempt to pass financial reforms. The Assembly, however, failed. Marie Antoinette, at this time, began to get more involved with politics. Up until this point, she had either given little thought to them or was ignored by her husband and his ministers. However, Louis, being under immense pressure, began to back away from decision making. Marie Antoinette stepped up to help. In doing so, she began to gain more and more power.

Marie Antoinette had begun to attempt to mend her bad reputation, however she thwarted in her attempts by the scandalous “Affair of the Necklace.” Though Marie Antoinette was innocent in the affair, the fraudulent purchase of the necklace in her name set her reputations as a greedy and careless foreigner who cared nothing for the people of France in the minds of the people.

In an attempt to rebuild her image, the Queen began cuting her expenses and distancing herself from those in her inner circle who were known to spend carelessly, such as the Duchess de Polignac. Polignac left France at this time for England.

Despite this, Marie Antoinette’s policies and the Assembly were failing. She became known as “Madame Deficit.” In1787, the Estates General was reconvened for the first time since 1614. Due to a shortage in grain, bread prices began to rise which was an issue the French people hoped to address at the meeting of the Estates General. However, when convened the Estates General informed the Third Estate (representing the common people) that they would only have one vote. Thus, the First Estate (Clergy) and the Second Estate (Nobility) could easily out vote the Third Estate. This made those who made up the Third Estate very angry. They were locked out of the meeting house and retaliated by forming the Assemble National (National Assembly). They took the “Tennis Court Oath” that they would “not to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the kingdom is established.”

Storming of the Bastille

Louis XVI began to try and suppress the Third Estate. However, the people retaliated. The last straw came on July 11th when Necker, a popular financial minister, was dismissed. Paris was overrun by riots which culminated in the storming of the Bastille on July 14th. News reached Versailles as the King and Queen were partaking of a picnic. It has been said that Louis asked “Is it a riot?” Only to be met with the reply “No, majesty, it is a revolution.”

Many nobles, including the King’s youngest brother, fled France. Marie Antoinette, however, stayed behind. In August, a constitutional monarchy was established with the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Despite these successes, the bread shortage was still a pressing problem. On Oct. 5th, a mob descended upon the palace of Versailles. Marie Antoinette barely escaped to the King’s chambers before a mob of women entered her room demanding her life. They trashed her ornate bedroom, ripping her bed to shreds. The crowd outside chanted for the Queen to reveal herself. She bravely walked onto the King’s balcony and slowly bowed before the mob. This seemed to temporarily appease the crowd, however they demanded that the King and Queen return to Paris with them.

The next morning, the King, Queen, their children, Madame Elisabeth (the King’s sister), and a few retainers were taken by coach to Paris. The heads of two guards who had been killed in the attack on the palace were paraded on pikes near the family’s carriage.

Return from Varennes to Paris

Once in Paris, the family was housed at the Tuileries Palace. While in residence here, Marie Antoinette stayed out of politics, rather devoting all her time to her children. Despite this, her image was being torn apart by the Paris press. She was accused of numerous affairs and even incest with her son.

While in residence, there were numerous plots to get the royal family out of France. The Queen refused to leave without the King, therefore it wasn’t until June 1791 that the family agreed to flee. However, the plan was a failure. Though they did get out of Paris, the King was recognized in Varennes, captured, and quickly taken back to Paris.

Back in Paris, the King and Queen had lost all standing with the people. Marie Antoinette hoped her brother Leopold II would intervene on her behalf with the Revolutionaries, however he only provoked them. In 1792, France declared war on Austria. The King again tried to suppress the reforms, vetoing many measures. Despite her non-involvement, Marie Antoinette became known as “Madame Veto.”

Storming of the Tuileries

Finally, in June the Paris mob had had enough. On the 20th they stormed the Tuileries Palace. Again, Marie Antoinette and the royal family was face to face with a blood thirsty mob. Many were killed during the attack, including the King’s loyal Swiss guards. However, the royal family was taken to the Legislative Assembly. The family was then moved to the Temple and placed under arrest. At this point, many of the family’s retainers, including Marie Antoinette’s loyal friend the Princess de Lamballe, were taken and imprisoned at La Force. In September, the prison was attacked and all inside killed, including Lamballe.

On September 21, 1792, the monarchy was official dissolved. The King was informed that he was to be placed on trial. He was taken from his family and tried in December. He was condemned and sentenced to death. On January 21, 1793, Louis was executed at La Place de la Revolution (now La Place de Concord) by guillotine.

Marie Antoinette was now known as “the Widow Capet.” She soon learned that she, too, was to be placed on trial.

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