Monday, July 14, 2008

Marie-Antoinette and the Revolution

I keep reading on various sites phrases such as "Marie-Antoinette obstinately fought for the divine right of kings." Yes, it seems to be the general consensus that Marie-Antoinette did not support the French Revolution; she even had the temerity to think that monarchy was a good idea. Surprise, surprise. How could anyone expect the "Daughter of the Caesars" to see things differently? Her father was the Holy Roman Emperor, her mother an autocratic sovereign in her own right, and yet people censure Marie-Antoinette for not rejoicing when France became a Republic. Especially, it should be kept in mind that the Revolution was introduced to her in a manner of extreme violence, with herself and her family being dragged to Paris with the heads of guards on pikes before them. That the queen would dedicate herself to trying to save her family from further violence by working against the Revolution should not come as a great shock.

There are several points that need to be considered here. First of all, Marie-Antoinette was indeed an Austrian Archduchess, raised to be the consort of the European ruler. She had it instilled in her mind from early on that she was meant to be a queen, although it was not until late in her childhood that it was decided that she was to be the bride of the Dauphin of France. Therefore, Marie-Antoinette was brought up with the idea that it was the monarchy which protected the rights of the people, particularly from the excesses of greedy nobles and barbarous invaders. Without the monarchy's protection, the people would become pawns in games between politicians who would take power for themselves and become dictators. Or so she was taught to see it.

Among European monarchs who were contemporaries of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, the more "enlightened" ones, such as Marie-Antoinette's brother Joseph II, and Catherine the Great of Russia, open to the teachings of the deists and philosophes, were also the most despotic. The Enlightened Despots loved to talk about the rights of man but in actuality ruled with iron hands, especially in contrast to the benevolence of Louis XVI. Marie-Antoinette herself was not closed to the new ideas; she read Rousseau and was favorable, at least for awhile, to the charitable projects of the freemasons; both she and Louis were great advocates of reform and progress.

However, the escalating violence of the Revolution and the laws against the Church, as promulgated by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy in 1790, killed any support the queen might have had for the Revolution. Nevertheless, she corresponded with prominent revolutionaries such as Barnave, in order to have some influence on the course of events. She called the constitution passed on September 14, 1791 "a tissue of impracticable absurdities," as she wrote to the Austrian ambassador; even the revolutionaries came to regard it so, and scrapped it. She wanted the foreign powers, particularly her brother the Emperor, to form a congress which would put pressure on the revolutionaries and restore order. However, she thought that any attempts of military invasion on the part of the Louis XVI's brothers would lead to more violence against the crown and her fears were proved to be right. (see Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette During the Revolution by Nesta Webster.) Share


lara77 said...

Thank You so very much for your comments on Queen Marie Antoinette and the revolution. How the history books have twisted the truth about King Louis XVI and his Queen! On July 14th I wore black and prayed for all the innocent victims of the revolution through the years of Napoleon. Murders,desecrations, wars brought to foreign lands, etc.In memory of Their Most Christian Majesties I did wear a miniature French fleur de lys crown pin and fleur de lys earrings. May all the victims of the revolution and Napoleon rest in peace.

Aron said...

Indeed, I echo lara77's sentiments. It is so rarely that one reads or hears Marie Antoinette's motives and understanding (s) set out so succintly. As if she should have jumped at the chance to wave the tricolour...! Incidentally, I also observe the anniversaries as best I can. Since black arm-bands and similar items seem to have vanished, may one inquire as to from whence you obtained your Fleur-de-Lys crown pin, Lara?
May they indeed rest in peace.
~Aron <><