Reputations and Realities: Marie Antoinette

An examination of the role of Marie-Antoinette as the decadent Queen of France.

This paper describes the portrayal of Marie-Antoinette in the French press and in popular opinion from her reign as queen to her execution. Her image is shaped around her portrayal as a decadent monarch and as the “Other” (both woman and foreigner). Although the paper’s primary argument is for this division in Marie-Antoinette’s image in popular opinion, it also subtly argues that the portrayal of the Queen reflects many of the anxieities of the time and that her actual personage in many ways contradicted the rumours.
“Although recent historians have revealed that Marie-Antoinette was in many ways thriftier than many nobles at the time, the pamphleteers used her as a representation of the decadence of monarchy. In popular opinion the queen was frequently portrayed as extravagant in dress and of indulging in a taste for jewels, though Mercy, the Austrian ambassador in Paris, reported that he had found, “her Majesty very much disposed to avoid all needless or superfluous expense” . Mercy was also able to show that Marie-Antoinette, “had never chosen or demanded a single dress but had left everything to her lady of the bedchamber”, and in going through the accounts it was found that the expenses were carried out largely by the queen’s maids, who demanded large quantities of ribbons and materials which were never used.”