Sunday, June 24, 2007

Marie-Antoinette and Diana, Princess of Wales


2006 was dubbed by some as the "year of Marie-Antoinette," due to the resurgence of interest in the Queen of France caused by the hapless Coppola film. All that year, people were comparing Marie-Antoinette to the late Princess of Wales. They were calling Marie-Antoinette "a Lady Di before her time." Those who have really studied the queen's life find such a comparison to be appalling. It is nothing against Diana, honestly. But in order to defend the queen, I myself have in the past used some harsh words about poor Diana and I intend to rectify that now.
Yes, it is true that there are similarities; it is eerie how many there are. They were both blonds with sapphire eyes, and resembled each other a little. Incidentally, Marie-Antoinette and Diana were related, through the Stuarts. (There's that tragic blood of Mary Stuart asserting itself, again.) Each had issues of being abandoned by and separated from their mothers as children. They both were married at a young age to aloof, intellectual men. Neither woman was intellectual, at all, but each required a great deal of attention. Both were emotionally needy. Both loved children, especially their own children. Both enjoyed helping the poor and were renowned in their lifetime for their charity work. Both loved to dance and had a circle of colorful friends, friends who were not always considered the best of society. They each loved fashion. Both died in their late thirties, leaving two children behind. They both died in Paris, almost in the exact same spot in Paris, certainly in the same neighborhood.

There are, however, many differences. Although Marie-Antoinette was separated from her mother at age fourteen, and even before that did not see her on a daily basis, her mother was a strong presence in her life. From afar, the Empress Maria Teresa gave detailed advice about religious practice, love-making, court etiquette, politics, everything. It was incredibly annoying at times but I think, in the long run, Marie-Antoinette emerged with a strong inner sense of her religious and marital duties. I do not know if Diana received the same type of guidance; perhaps to some degree. Diana seemed to have more of an emotional void than Marie-Antoinette ever did.

Marie-Antoinette was married to man who was her same age and who was as innocent herself. Diana married a man who was much older, in love with another woman, and used to another woman. Poor Diana could not take Camilla's place. Marie-Antoinette had Louis to herself; she and Louis finished growing up together; they learned about marriage together, they had their children, raised them and buried two, and so by the time the troubles started it was unthinkable for them to leave each other. They were both Catholic, their religion was important to them; they prayed together, went to Mass together and were faithful spouses. At least, there is no reliable evidence to the contrary.

And here is where the two women cannot be compared at all. Diana was deeply wounded by Charles' infidelity; she had lovers, she gave scandal, they both gave scandal and the marriage fell apart. Not surprisingly. Diana continued her charitable works and never lost the love of the British people. Marie-Antoinette, in spite of her fidelity to her husband and her duties, became hated by many French people. But Marie-Antoinette was a foreigner in a foreign land. Furthermore, she stood for everything the revolutionaries wanted to destroy, whereas Diana became the icon of the modern woman, taking control of her own destiny.

Marie-Antoinette carefully prepared for death in her prison cell, as her last letter and the testimony of eyewitnesses give evidence. What time did Diana have to prepare for death? Probably not much. It all happened so suddenly, although I understand a priest was praying at her side when she died. In the hour of death, I think the Queen of France was the more fortunate. Share

12 comments:

Terry Nelson said...

Very well put and with great charity. Interesting comparison.

Melody said...

Elena, I thought of you this weekend when I attended the travelling exhibit, "Spared by the Storm", at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, NE, (www.joslyn.org/neworleans). I saw a 10 foot tall state portrait of Marie Antoinette by Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun (not the same one which you have pictured here) circa 1788. Sad to think her life ended so tragically not that many years later.

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks so much, Terry!

Melody, thank you for thinking of me. How I would have liked to have seen that exhibit. I will check out the website. I think I know which portrait you mean.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, it the one of her in the dark blue velvet dress. I love that one!

alaughland said...

Excellent commentary. I do not understand why people thing there is a similarity.

I see a similarity between M.A. and Alexandra, murdered along with Nicholas and her children during the Russian Revolution. She was a princess from a foriegn land, despised by the people, and who became a scapegoat for everything that went wrong leading up to the Revolution.

elena maria vidal said...

Alexandra was descended from Mary Stuart, too.

pimprenelle said...

Thank you for clarifying the whole situation, dear ! You are right. There is nothing substantial to compare...

Especially when their deaths are concerned ! Lady Spencer died with her last lover. Marie Antoinette was beheaded by her own people gone mad...

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks, Pimprenelle! I know we are usually in agreement about such matters pertaining to the queen.

elena maria vidal said...

I just received a clever but sadly anonymous comment. I am so sorry that the person was brave enough to criticize but not brave enough to leave a name.

Cay said...

What a well-thought out post. I never thought to compare these two. Thank you, Elena.

Matterhorn said...

This is such a lovely, thoughtful, and charitable post. I really admire how you were able to make these distinctions without sounding harsh towards Diana. Yes, Marie-Antoinette was certainly more fortunate in the end...

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Matterhorn!