Louis XV died in 1774, and Louis-Auguste succeeded him to the French throne as Louis XVI, making Marie Antoinette, at 19 years old, queen of France. The personalities of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette could not have been more different. He was introverted, shy and indecisive, a lover of solitary pleasures such as reading and metalwork; she was vivacious, outgoing and bold, a social butterfly who loved gambling, partying and extravagant fashions.
When the king went to bed
before midnight, Marie Antoinette's nights of partying and carousing had
yet to begin. When she woke up just before noon, he had been at work
for hours. When word reached Empress Maria Theresa in 1777 that her
daughter and Louis XVI had not yet consummated their marriage, Maria
Theresa immediately dispatched her son, Joseph II, Marie Antoinette's
older brother, to France to act as a sort of marriage counselor.
Whatever his counsels, they apparently worked. A year later, Marie
Antoinette gave birth to a daughter, Marie Therese Charlotte.
in 1780, Marie Antoinette began spending more and more time at the
Petit Trianon, her private castle on the grounds of the Palace of
Versailles, almost always without the king. Around this time the first
rumors surfaced about her relationship with Swedish diplomat Count Axel
von Fersen. During the 1780s, with the French government sliding into
financial turmoil and poor harvests driving up grain prices across the
country, Marie Antoinette's fabulously extravagant lifestyle
increasingly became the subject of popular ire. Countless pamphlets
accused the queen of ignorance, extravagance and adultery, some
featuring salacious cartoons and others dubbing her "Madame Deficit."
1785, an infamous diamond-necklace scandal permanently tarnished the
queen's reputation. A thief posing as Marie Antoinette had obtained a
647-diamond necklace and smuggled it to London to be sold off in pieces.
Though Marie Antoinette was innocent of any involvement, she was
nevertheless guilty in the eyes of the people. Refusing to let public
criticism alter her behavior, in 1786 Marie Antoinette began building
the Hameau de la Reine, an extravagant retreat near the Petit Trianon in
On July 14, 1789, 900 French workers and peasants
stormed the Bastille prison to take arms and ammunition, marking the
beginning of the French Revolution. On October 6 of that year, a crowd
estimated at 10,000 gathered outside the Palace of Versailles and
demanded that the king and queen be brought to Paris. At the Tuileries
Palace in Paris, the always indecisive Louis XVI acted almost paralyzed,
and Marie Antoinette immediately stepped into his place, meeting with
advisers and ambassadors and dispatching urgent letters to other
European rulers, begging them to help save France's monarchy.
plot hatched primarily by Marie Antoinette and her lover, Count Axel
von Fersen, the royal family attempted to escape France in June 1791,
but they were captured and returned to Paris. In September of that year,
King Louis XVI agreed to uphold a new constitution drafted by the
Constituent National Assembly in return for keeping at least his
However, in the summer of 1792, with France at
war with Austria and Prussia, the increasingly powerful radical Jacobin
leader Maximilien de Robespierre called for the removal of the king. In
September 1792, after a month of terrible massacres in Paris, the
National Convention abolished the monarchy, declared the establishment
of a French Republic, and arrested the king and queen.