(The FRENCH REVOLUTION – continued)

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Marie Antoinette Reviled (1789 continued)


Marie-Antoinette, Daughter of Maria Theresa, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, Archduchess of Austria, at age twelve. She turned 34 in November, 1789.

Some royalty and nobles were fleeing to Austria, Russia or Britain. Orders for luxury goods were in decline, and unemployment began to rise among those who made these goods. International trade was also down. And harvests 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, excited revolutionist newspapers again interpreted without measure. They described the banquet as an orgy and its participants as having insulted the revolution. Already annoyed by hunger and deprivation, people in Paris formed a mob 7,000 strong, mostly women, armed with sticks, scythes and pikes. They marched the twelve miles to Versailles and invaded the National Assembly, believing they could cajole the assembly into making bread available. Their rage was murderous. 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 in international affairs and war. 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 had never said "Let them eat cake." That was another rumor. She had been concerned about France's financial crisis and had reduced the royal household staff, eliminating many unnecessary positions based on privilege, and this offended court nobles who retaliated with rumors that had added to the scandals against her. Meanwhile, concurrent with the tastes of France's more progressive intellectuals, she had preferred attire simpler than was traditional for a queen, and for that she had also been vilified by some common women.

It appears the National Guard under Jefferson's friend the Marquis de Lafayette intervened to save the king and queen. Lafayette had returned to France from America in 1787, had helped write the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and had been appointed head of the National Guard, a people's militia separate from the king's regular army.

The day after the mob's attacks at Versailles, the king and queen and their son, followed by disarmed members of the royal guard and members of the revolution's National Assembly, were marched to Paris, directed and accompanied by the mob of 7,000, including men with sabers and pikes with the heads of two aristocrats carried on pikes at the front of the march.

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.

However much antagonism already existed been the Parisian mob and the mostly middle-class delegates to the revolution's National Assembly, the delegates' antagonism was now greater. Delegates were more afraid of the mob, and 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 © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.