(The FRENCH REVOLUTION – continued)
Marie-Antoinette, Daughter of Maria Theresa, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, Archduchess of Austria, at age twelve at the time of her marriage. She turned 34 in November, 1789
Some royalty and nobles were fleeing to Austria, Russia or Britain. These were people who had bought lace, dresses and other goods, and, with orders down, unemployment began to rise among the women who made these goods. International trade was down. The harvests had failed for the second year in a row. Economic hardship and hunger remained for common people in France. Protestations had not increased the supply of bread. The Church was no longer giving food to the hungry. A rumor was being passed around that aristocrats were conspiring to prolong the hunger in order to bring the common people to their knees and block reforms.
At the royal palace in early October a banquet was held which turned into a demonstration of loyalty to the crown. The Queen, Marie-Antoinette, and her four-year-old son were toasted. After she left, someone, perhaps a little drunk, may have shouted "Down with the Assembly!" In Paris the following day, revolutionist newspapers described the banquet as an orgy that included insults to the revolution. Already annoyed by hunger and deprivation, people in Paris lost their temper. Another mob formed, 7,000 strong, mostly women, armed with sticks, scythes and pikes. The mob marched the twelve miles to Versailles and they invaded the National Assembly, believing they could cajole the assembly into making bread available. They invaded the apartments of royalty, overwhelming and killing bodyguards. They shouted that they were going to cut off the queen's head and fry her liver. Marie-Antoinette fled through a secret passageway, and the mob cut her bed to ribbons. They hated the queen, seeing her as a wicked, defiant woman. They despised her because she was Austrian (a country that had been hostile to France). They believed the rumors and falsehoods that had been around for more than a decade, spread in the equivalent of today's supermarket tabloids, including accusations of affairs, orgies and homosexuality (considered by the French to be a German vice).
Marie Antoinette is not actually known to have said "Let them eat cake." And, rather than ignoring France's growing financial crisis, she had reduced the royal household staff, eliminating many unnecessary positions based on privilege. This had offended court nobles, who retaliated with rumors that added to the scandals against her. Also, in keeping with tastes concurrent with the Enlightenment, she preferred attire simpler than traditional for a queen, and common women vilified her for it.
The day after the mob's attacks at Versailles, the mob of 7,000 or so took the king and queen and the National Assembly (defended by accompanying troops) back with them to Paris. The National Assembly was from then forward to hold its meetings in Paris, and the king and queen, their children and a few servants, were to live in the royal family's old Paris palace, at Tuileries, less splendid than the palace at Versailles and more exposed to the public.
The majority of delegates to the National Assembly felt themselves above and at odds with the Paris mobs. They outlawed, on pain of death, any "unofficial demonstrations." And people in Paris continued to suspect that deputies to the National Assembly were indifferent to their plight and as thinking of themselves as better than they.
Copyright © 2009-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.