“Pardon me Sir, I did not mean to do it!”, she said to the executioner whose foot she accidentally stepped on minutes before she was guillotined. These were the last words of Marie Antoinette, the queen that had a huge hand in sparking off the French Revolution of 1789.
Marie Antoinette, the Queen of Bourbon-ruled France was charged on many grounds such as organizing mass orgies (not joking!) in Versailles, secretly funding Austria to attack France and for even having an incestuous relationship with her own son. No wonder the comers thought that the young prince seemed rather grown-up for his age! However, in response to this accusation, the Queen said, “Nature itself refuses to such a charge laid against a mother.”
Even though she miserably failed as a mother and as a wife, she did succeed in triggering a series of catastrophes in France. It is rumoured that she had an affair with a Cardinal in order to obtain a priceless diamond necklace. This incident was famously branded as ‘The Affair of the Diamond Necklace’. She desperately tried to build an Austrian alliance also because of which she was nicknamed ‘l’Autrichienne’ or ‘The Austrian’.
Throughout the 1780s, when crop failures led the increase in the prices of bread and ‘Bread Riots’ were widespread, she said the six (four in English) words that ensured that her popularity quotient dipped lower than before. When informed of the poverty within the nation, all she had to say was, “If they don’t have bread, let them eat cake!” (Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!”)
Nonetheless, Her insensitivity was often overshadowed by her frivolous attire. She was the queen bee of retail therapy (imagine Paris Hilton) and was even nicknamed ‘Madame Deficit’ for spending lavishly on the latest gowns and jewels (again, Paris Hilton!). How ironic is it that while the Queen exceeded her clothing budget every year, the commoners were called ‘sans-culottes’ or ‘without underpants’?
Basically, the scene was thus: economic turmoil and sewage flowing down vermin-infested streets. The peasants or the Third Estate paid taxes for wine, salt, bread and almost everything else so that the Queen could afford her poofy wigs and her apparent ‘frugal’ demeanour.
Here’s a fun fact – when Marie Antoinette was born, there was an earthquake at Lisbon that was considered as a bad omen by many. However, the image of France as we know it today has taken a turn so immense that one associates Chanel, the Eiffel Tower and the small cafés flanking the streets of towns of Bordeau and Nice to it. However, it is evident that the paparazzi, the glitterati and the rumour mills that functioned way back in the 17th century are so dominant even now. Well, time surely runs in circles!