Marie Antoinette: What Femicide Looks Like In Politics

How the French Revolution feared and destroyed a political woman.

Using sugar, shopping, and flirting to run away from your troubles is not the most unthinkable idea. Being stuck in an unhappy relationship and bullied for being different, Marie Antoinette lived a life perhaps covered our most universal experiences. For a queen, she was strangely relatable — and sadly so. Her misery only ended at the guillotine, at the age of thirty-seven.

Marie was married off to the future French king, Louis XVI when, at fourteen, her Austrian mother used her to politically reconcile with the French. At that time, it was common practice around Europe to secure political stability through the intermarriage of royal blood. Marie’s wedding with Louis was a disaster; hundreds of people trampled over each other in a riot as the fireworks sparked off and a storm loomed close by.

Marie Antoinette
Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette in the 2006 film. PHOTO spotern.com/fr

As a princess and later a queen, Marie was treated with suspicion for being Austrian. To add salt to the wound, Louis turned out to be quite the unappealing husband. He struggled with low self-esteem as a timid and awkward man. Marie was disappointed and learned to look elsewhere for excitement: in indulgence. She became an object of hatred by the public for her heavy obsession with sweet delicacies, fashion, and parties — and understandably so, as her “girlish” expensive hobbies were completely funded by people’s taxes. One night, she was so eager to arrive at a party that she turned back the clock on the wall, tricking Louis to go to bed early.

The French Revolution shattered the luxury Marie had become all too accustomed to. The wealthy, male bourgeoisie grew resentful of the monarchy and its power, arresting the king and his wife, Marie. The king was tried and executed shortly after the revolutionaries take over the monarchy and the Republic was established. Marie, however, lived for another nine months before also meeting a similar fate.

Marie Antoinette Portrait
Marie Antoinette Portrait. FACEBOOK @mariegossip

It was unusual in the history of European monarchies for a queen to be tried at court and executed. A woman was not considered a political figure who could commit political crimes. Louis, the king, was already dead and harmless; the new court now had to come up with a good reason to also kill the former queen. The hatred for her among the public was extreme; the queen was blamed for everything that went wrong with the French monarchy, which the new Republic wanted nothing to do with. Her splurging habits were, while only a small dent in the already crippling French economy, the convenient scapegoat for people to direct their frustrations. Only after the last drop of public anger was squeezed could France start anew, and Marie was that last drop.

Marie’s trial was an interesting one. It was, of course, conducted by a court that consisted of males. The charges against her included: corruption, favoritism, theft, and sexual abuse. Incest was, among them, the strangest and most unfounded charge. Her eight-year-old son had once been encouraged to testify against her, declaring that Marie had taught him how to masturbate. It was now believed that she did it not for her own pleasure but to keep up the boy’s health, as the next king of France. She, however, never had the opportunity to redeem herself in court.

Marie Antoinette Macaroons La Duree
Macarons designed after Marie Antoinette by the French dessert brand, Ladurée. FACEBOOK @MaisonLaduree

Could merely partying and a little corruption (which was far from unheard of) warrant such hatred, especially after the monarchy was long abolished? It’s impossible to understand this nationwide hatred directed at one woman without taking a hard look at what was behind it, which was fear. This was more than just fear of power; Marie at the time of her arrest was already quite powerless. It was the fear of the Woman, with a capital W.

The Woman has sexual power. The Woman, according to the men at the time, uses her sex to manipulate the men in her life. Marie was accused of coercing the king into behaving the way he did: useless and disloyal to the French people. Marie’s sexual freedom, demonstrated through her love affairs, was a sign that she was corrupting more than just her husband. Without restraint, the Woman could infiltrate the whole royal court of France.

Palace of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles. Credit: Lyon Nishizawa

For example, dissimulation was considered a feminine trait. Dissimulation is when one acts and talks a certain way in public, while secretly holding a different agenda. Dissimulation, with all its lies and corruption, was associated with the monarchy. The opposite of dissimulation is transparency, which was supposedly a masculine trait. If the Republic truly sought to break free from the old, monarchial way of life; then it had to cleanse itself of dissimulation, and do so by ridding itself of the Woman. If left to her whims, the Woman would corrupt the newly-born masculine Republic with her inherent dishonesty.

The accusation of incest against Marie was what horrified the court the most. A mother using her sexual power on her son is the most symbolic way in which a Woman can pass down her power. Channeling power through a male child, the Woman wields that power which she had been denied all along. If the queen does this to the future king, then the state, unarmed, would be under the harness of the Woman’s sexual power. So petrifying was this terror that the Republic did not care of the truth of this accusation; merely the idea had to be planted in their minds for them to send her to the guillotine. “Forever odious,” public prosecutor Antoine-Quentin Fouquier-Tinville said of Marie.

“Marie-Antoinette…has been since her time in France, the scourge and bloodsucker of the French.”

During the time she was queen along with heated criticisms, illustrated pornography of Marie having affairs with members of the royal court were circulating ferociously throughout the French public. Look at what she does, they said. Look at what she’s doing to us.

Marie Antoinette Pornography
Marie and General La Fayette having an affair in a pornographic print from 1790. Credit: Erenow

Marie Antoinette, as a queen, was indeed quite frivolous and irresponsible. Yet, the hatred she garnered from all over France and her succeeding execution were so asymmetrical to her supposed crimes, so unwarranted and confusing, that it remains a puzzle until one looks at it from a gendered eye. Marie was a sacrifice. The French Republic traded in her life to keep up the men-vs-women differentiation they desperately sought, thereby cordoning off all political life from the Woman.

Marie’s stories were constructed by men, who hated the monarchy and who, above all, feared the Woman. They constructed Marie’s political, sexual, and maternal lives; they produced lies and kept blowing on them until they caught fire. There’s no evidence that Marie ever said, “Let them eat cake.”

Lyon Nishizawa

Contributor

Lyon is a lifelong traveler, who looks at each destination as her next classroom and playground. She is fascinated by the stories, music, and languages of the world. Her parents are Japanese, but she spent her childhood in multiple cultures and identifies as a third culture kid.

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