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Late September sunlight filters onto the blue velvet furnishings of the jewel-box theater built for Marie Antoinette at Versailles. The painted, original backdrop depicts a rustic farmhouse hearth, and I can just imagine the young queen reveling in her role as a shepherdess while her witty friends and dull husband, French king Louis XVI, applaud politely. At the time I was there, the theater was closed to most visitors it is now open to the public from April 1 through October 31 , and I wanted to take full advantage of my access.

Have a good, long look," said Christian Baulez, Versailles' chief conservator. On the way out, Baulez, who has worked at the former royal palace for four decades, locked the gate with a heavy iron key. It's a state of grace, an aura you sense—even after 40 years here. I did not commune with Marie Antoinette's ghost, as some claim to have done. But I had to admit that there is a poignancy about the playhouse and its fantasy world. Less than a decade after the theater's inauguration in , the curtain would come crashing down on the French monarchy and its Austrian-born queen, who seemed to grow in moral stature as she approached the guillotine.

With the possible exception of the Corsican-born Napoleon, another outsider who overstayed his welcome, no one haunts French history like the Hapsburg princess. The frivolous, high-spirited tomboy who arrived at Versailles at age 14 was quickly embraced by her subjects. Yet by the time of her execution 23 years later, she was reviled. Thrust into a social and political hurricane, Marie Antoinette, biographer Stefan Zweig wrote in the s, was "perhaps the most signal example in history of the way in which destiny will at times pluck a mediocre human being from obscurity and, with commanding hand, force the man or woman in question to overstep the bounds of mediocrity.

Marie Antoinette's fairy tale turned tragedy has spawned biographies, fictionalizations, operas, plays, ballets and memoirs. Even her hairdresser and her executioner published ghostwritten recollections. And, like the gowns the queen ordered each year, the story is a perfect fit for Hollywood. But it is her furtive love life that arouses the deepest interest—and sympathy. Tarred by pamphleteers for sexual wantonness, she was actually rather prudish, at least according to her brother, Austrian emperor Joseph II.

Although Marie Antoinette initially condescended to her husband, she eventually developed a genuine fondness for him. For his part, Louis was completely devoted to her and never took a mistress, exhibiting a restraint virtually unheard of in an 18th-century French king.

Whatever Marie Antoinette's faults—in addition to her renowned extravagance, she was unable to comprehend the French people's thirst for democracy—she did not respond to news that starving Parisians had no bread by saying: "Let them eat cake. Still, for more than two centuries, historians have debated whether Marie Antoinette bore the blame for her fate or was a victim of circumstance.

Although she remained a fervent supporter of absolute royal power and an unrepentant enemy of democratic ideals, her many acts of compassion included tending to a peasant gored by a stag and taking in a poor orphan boy and overseeing his education. The softhearted queen, it seems, hungered more for tenderness than power. The opposite might be said of her mother, Austrian empress Maria Theresa, who regarded her eight daughters as pawns on the European chessboard, to be married off to seal alliances.

She barely paused in her paperwork to give birth on November 2, , to her 15th child, In France, Louis Auguste, the year-old grandson of French monarch Louis XV, became a prime matrimonial candidate when, in , his father, Louis Ferdinand, died, making the grandson heir to the throne. Within months, year-old Antoine was unofficially pledged to Louis to cement the union of the Hapsburgs and Bourbons—bitter rivals since the 16th century. But "her character, her heart, are excellent," he reported.

He found her "more intelligent than has been generally supposed," but since "she is rather lazy and extremely frivolous, she is hard to teach. For her May wedding, she was escorted to France amid an entourage that included 57 carriages, footmen and horses. The awkward, myopic heir apparent suffered from feelings of unworthiness, despite a facility for languages and a passion for history, geography and science. Louis Auguste de Bourbon and Marie Antoinette were married on May 16, , in the royal chapel at the palace of Versailles.

The next day, news that the union had not been consummated spread through the court. It was only the beginning; by all accounts, the marriage went unconsummated for seven years.

By this time, Louis XV had died of smallpox, in and his teenage grandson had acceded to the most powerful throne in Europe. After encouraging her daughter to "lavish more caresses" on her husband, Maria Theresa dispatched her son, Joseph II, as she put it, to "stir up this indolent spouse.

Many historians conclude that Louis suffered from phimosis, a physiological handicap that makes sex painful, and that he eventually had surgery to correct the problem. Biographer Fraser, however, contends that the pair were simply, as Joseph reported to his brother Leopold, "two complete blunderers.

Added to any sexual frustration Marie Antoinette may have felt was her homesickness "Madame, My very dear mother," she wrote, "I have not received one of your dear letters without having the tears come to my eyes.

She sought escape in masked balls, opera, theater and gambling. Where Louis was indecisive, thrifty and over-serious, Marie Antoinette was quick to make up her mind, extravagant and lighthearted. He loved being alone, tinkering with locks; she craved the social whirl. When Louis went to bed, around 11 p.

By the time she awoke, around 11 a. And what exorbitant tastes she had! She bought a pair of diamond bracelets that cost as much as a Paris mansion. She sported towering bouffant hairdos, including the "inoculation pouf," a forbidding confection that featured a club striking a snake in an olive tree representing the triumph of science over evil to celebrate her success in persuading the king to be vaccinated against smallpox. Informed of her daughter's behavior by Mercy, Maria Theresa fired off letter after letter warning Marie Antoinette to mend her ways.

Cloistered in the luxury of Versailles, the royal couple was oblivious to their subjects' plight. A failed harvest had made the price of grain skyrocket, and mobs were rioting in the streets of Paris, demanding cheap bread. Crushing taxes were also taking their toll on the populace.

Meanwhile, the queen gambled recklessly, ordered expensive jewelry and clothes and spent a fortune on creating her own private domain at Versailles—the Petit Trianon. Louis XVI had given it to Marie Antoinette in June , a few days after he became king, when she asked for a hideaway. How could the queen spend the nation's money, at a time of financial crisis, on her private hideaway, critics asked.

But Marie Antoinette seemed blind to the criticism. She directed architect Richard Mique and artist Hubert Robert to conjure up a sylvan fantasy of artificial streams, grottoes and winding paths.

During nighttime galas, a Temple of Love rotunda and a glass music salon were illuminated by wood fires hidden in trenches in the ground. In , the two designers created what, from the outside, appeared to be a hamlet the Hameau of cracked and tumbledown cottages, which, in fact, were appointed with comfortable couches, stoves and billiard tables. A working farm completed what Zweig satirized as "this expensive pastoral comedy," though tales of the queen herself herding sheep are false, Baulez insists.

To this day, the Petit Trianon—silk hangings, wall coverings, porcelain dinner services, furniture—bears Marie Antoinette's stamp, with flower-mad motifs in cornflower blue, lilac and green.

She had the tastes of an actress, not an austerely regal queen. In one salon is the exquisite harp Marie Antoinette played well enough to accompany Antonio Salieri, the Hapsburg court composer and Mozart rival she invited to visit. In an adjoining room, Baulez shows me the infamous pale blue boudoir with mirrored interior shutters that the queen could raise and lower at will.

Fersen was the more frequent guest. The queen went so far as to furnish an apartment above hers for him. By October , they were exchanging clandestine letters about such prosaic domestic details as where to put a stove. Unraveling the details of their relationship has kept biographers guessing for more than years, largely because Fersen destroyed substantial portions of his journal and a great-nephew to whom his letters were entrusted censored some and suppressed others.

They had met at a Paris opera ball in January , when Fersen, the year-old son of a wealthy Swedish nobleman, was making the grand tour. The young queen invited him to several balls at Versailles, but not long after, he left for England.

Four years later he returned to the French court as a young military officer and, according to Comte Francois Emmanuel de Saint-Priest—Louis' future minister of the interior—"captured the queen's heart. When he returned to Versailles four years later, in June , he wrote to his sister, swearing off marriage because: "I cannot belong to the only person to whom I want to belong, the one who really loves me, and so I do not want to belong to anyone. As a young princess, she had burst into tears when Mercy had pressured her to get involved in politics; now she scolded the French foreign minister for excluding Joseph II from the peace process with England, though to little effect.

Some two years later, around the time her second son, Louis Charles, was born, Marie Antoinette became the victim of one of the most byzantine swindles in history. A fortune hunter named Jeanne de Lamotte Valois persuaded the gullible Cardinal de Rohan that she was a close friend of the queen's—though Marie Antoinette had never heard of her.

Writing as the queen, de Villette said "she" was too embarrassed to ask Louis for so expensive a present and was relying on the gallant cardinal to obtain it for her. The queen would, of course, repay him. After a clandestine meeting in the palace gardens with a woman hired by Lamotte to impersonate the queen, Rohan was hooked. Lamotte's husband then smuggled it to London to be sold off in pieces. When the jewelers demanded payment in August , Marie Antoinette was livid with rage and Louis ordered Rohan arrested.

The subsequent trial caused a sensation. The Paris Parliament defied the king's command to convict the duped cardinal and acquitted him. And though Marie Antoinette was not on trial, she might as well have been. The upshot was that she was universally regarded as guilty. The affair of the necklace provided further fodder for scandal-mongering pamphleteers and journalists already intent on portraying the queen as greedy and corrupt.

From then on, she could do no right. Her embarrassment made Louis more vulnerable than ever. Beset by severe food shortages, weighed down by taxes, resentful of royal absolutism and inspired by the egalitarian example of an independent United States, French citizens were growing increasingly vocal in their demands for self-government. In May , to avert the nation's impending bankruptcy a series of wars, years of corruption and Louis' support of the American Revolution as a means of weakening England had depleted the French treasury , the king convened the Estates-General, an assembly of representatives of the clergy, nobility and commoners that had not met since As Marie Antoinette's carriage wound from the palace through the streets of Versailles to welcome the gathering, crowds along the way stood in sullen silence.

In a sermon at the town's Church of Saint Louis, the Bishop of Nancy railed against the queen's profligate spending. Dubbed Madame Deficit, the queen was increasingly blamed for the country's desperate financial situation, although she had in fact already cut back on personal expenses.

At the time of the Bishop's sermon, however, the year-old mother was consumed with anxiety over her older son, the gravely ill Dauphin. Within a month, the 7-year-old prince would be dead of tuberculosis of the spine. Historians trace the French Revolution to that summer of On July 14, some Parisian workers, shopkeepers and peasants—fearing that the king, who at the queen's urging had moved a large number of troops to Versailles and Paris, would dissolve the representative National Assembly—stormed the Bastille prison to seize arms and ammunition.

Marie Antoinette tried to convince her husband to put down the insurrection, but not wanting to provoke an all-out conflict, he refused, effectively ceding Paris to the revolutionaries.

By evening, thousands more, some carrying guns, had joined them in front of the palace. But when his coachmen rolled out the royal carriages, the crowd cut the horses' harnesses, stranding him and his family. Around five o'clock on the morning of the sixth, rebels surged toward the queen's bedroom, killing two guards.

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Postby Maugami В» 08.03.2020

By this time, Louis XV had died of smallpox, in and his teenage grandson had acceded to the most powerful throne in Europe. The Company Pocketmags. American South.

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For the former anime family, now prisoners in the Needlrwork tower, the next two months passed improbably in something like domestic tranquility. For more great articles like this subscribe to Edge today. Yet by the time of her execution 23 years later, she was reviled. Around midnight continue reading Fersen's second day, Gambling Antoinette bade him farewell—for the last time. The following January, he had the bodies of his older brother and the queen disinterred and reburied in matazine Saint-Denis Cathedral near Paris, where idealized stone statues of misty royal couple now kneel in prayer above the underground vault.

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