I’m a huge history lover, particularly when it comes to Marie Antoinette and the Palace of Versailles. Perhaps you’ve seen one of the many time period movies about the doomed queen, or even Sofia Coppola’s hip film starring Kirsten Dunst, which retells the story of the iconic queen of France. To most people, Marie Antoinette is simply the queen who said, “Let them eat cake” and lost her head, even though the former isn’t actually true. Quick briefing: she married the future king, Louis XVI, when she was only 14-years–old, and she was eventually crowned queen at the age of 19. As the price of bread went up in France and the national debt exploded, the people began to turn on the queen, blaming her for their problems. As time passed, the monarchy was eventually overthrown and Marie Antoinette and her husband Louis XVI were beheaded.
There were many rumors and scandals surrounding her reign at Versailles, many of which aren’t true (or there wasn’t substantial evidence to back up the claims). Here are a few lesser-known facts about the ill fated last queen of France and the palace of Versailles:
Her stalker: For 10 years, a creepy nobleman followed Marie Antoinette around court, staring at her throughout meals and Sunday mass, walking around the moat of the Petit Trianon (which served as her escape from Versailles and was a gift from her husband), and doing his best to be as near the queen as possible. Due to his high rank at court, he was able to do so without getting into trouble, and Marie Antoinette put up with him because she felt a sense of obligation, even though she did mention to others on numerous occasions that his presence made her “uncomfortable.”
Her private retreat: A gift from her husband in 1775, the Petit Trianon was a retreat area on the grounds of Versailles. The seven-room residence was designed to offer a natural getaway from the fast-paced life at the main palace. The structure was originally built by the former king, Louis XV, as a gift to his mistress Madame du Pompadour, and by the time it was gifted to Marie Antoinette, she redesigned the Trianon gardens in an English style and also had a Temple of Love that featured a statue of Cupid.
Her exotic animals: At Versailles, exotic animals were kept in a royal menagerie for public entertainment. At various times, the menagerie consisted of such animals as lions, tigers, a zebra, a rhinoceros, an elephant and several ocelots. At the time, exotic animals were viewed as a sign of prestige, due to the fact that they were difficult to obtain and expensive to maintain.
Her famous words: There is no evidence to support the claim that Marie Antoinette ever uttered, “Let them eat cake!” As her popularity with the public decreased, the gossip around Versailles and Paris grew out of control, and pamphlets began to circulate that depicted the queen in a less than favorable manner as a form of propaganda. In fact, the infamous phrase had been used before to describe previous royalty who were considered to be out of touch and indifferent towards the public. French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau had used the term to describe Marie-Therese, the Spanish princess who married King Louis XIV in 1660, along with two of Louis XVI’s aunts.
Her fairy-tale village: While at Versailles, the queen commissioned the building of the Petit Hameau, which was a replica village that included a farmhouse, gardens and real cows. Marie Antoinette would play dress-up here with her friends, pretending to be milkmaids and shepherdesses. This eventually contributed to her nickname “Madame Deficit”, due to her frivolous spending while the rest of France suffered and starved.
Her accusations: In addition to being accused of high treason, the former queen was also found guilty of sexual promiscuity and supposed incestuous relations with her son Louis-Charles. It took just two days for an all-male jury to find her guilty on all charges, and she was quickly condemned to death by guillotine.
Her final days: After her husband had been beheaded, Marie Antoinette was transferred to a dark and dingy cell and had her children taken away from her. She wasn’t allowed any comforts, even a blanket, and her long locks were chopped off the morning of her execution before she was carted into the middle of Place de la Revolution, where she died by the guillotine. Her last remaining possessions included two books, locks of hair from her children, a few items of jewelry and a gold watch.