Marie Antoinette was born November 2, 1755 in Vienna, Austria. She was the youngest and most beautiful daughter of Francis Stephen I and Maria Theresa, Emperor and Empress of the Holy Roman Empire. Marie Antoinette was brought up believing her destiny was to become queen of France. She married the crown prince of France in 1770. Four years later she became queen when her husband was crowned King Louis XVI (House of Bourbon).
The stories of Antoinette's excesses are vastly overstated. In fact, rather than ignoring France's growing financial crisis, she reduced the royal household staff, eliminating many unnecessary positions that were based solely on privilege. In the process she offended the nobles, adding their condemnation to the scandalous stories spread by royal hopefuls. It was the nobility that balked at the financial reforms the government ministers tried to make, not the King and Queen, who were in favor of change. In truth, Antoinette and Louis were placed in harms' way not only by elements of their personalities, but by the changing face of political and social ideology in the 18th and 19th centuries.
In 1789 a mob descended on the palace at Versailles and demanded the royal family move to the Tuilerie palace inside Paris. From that point on the King and Queen were virtual prisoners. Antoinette sought aid from other European rulers including her brother, the Austrian Emperor, and her sister, Queen of Naples. After a failed attempt to flee Paris in 1791 Antoinette continued to seek aid from abroad. When Austria and Prussia declared war on France, she was accused of passing military secrets to the enemy. On August 10, 1792 the royal family was arrested on suspicion of treason and imprisoned. On January 21, 1793 King Louis XVI was convicted and executed on the guillotine.
Marie Antoinette was cruely treated during her final days of captivity. Her best friend, the Princess de Lambelle, was killed and her severed head was put on a pike and paraded in front of the Queen.
Her children (Marie Therese and Louis XVII) were taken from her. Louis XVII was subjected to abuse by the family's jailers and later died, supposedly of Tuberculosis and malnutrition. Marie Therese, her firstborn daughter was the only family member to survive. For additional information about Marie Antoinette and Louis's children, click here.
Antoinette followed her husband to the guillotine on October 16, 1793. She was executed without proof of the crimes for which she was accused. She was only 37 years old.
The Bourbon monarchy was restored in 1814 after the fall of Napoleon I. The succession went to the closest living relative of Louis XVI who became Louis XVIII. He had escaped to Britain where he sat out the Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. The new monarchy had a bumpy road, lasting until 1848 and the ascension of Napoleon III. After Napoleon III abdicated in 1871, France became a republic.