Marie Antoinette in the Public Eye

A portrait Marie Antoinette had commissioned of herself and her children compared to a caricature that was drawn of her.

By: Erin Jansen



Marie Antoinette was seen by her mother as a pawn on the chessboard of 18th century Europe. At 14, she was married off to Louis XVI in an attempt to form an alliance between her native country and his: Austria and France. Initially, the public had a positive opinion of Marie Antoinette. Her disposition and beauty easily enraptured the people. However her position on the good side of the people became precarious with the many years spent waiting for the queen to produce an heir.

When Louis XVI and Marie Antionette became king and queen, the people were hopeful and ready for a change of ways in the government. However, with the rapid decline of the financial situation in France, this optimistic opinion was extinguished. Much of the blame for the financial hardships the monarchy encountered was placed on the queen. She was the easiest target: she was foreign and well known for throwing lavish parties and spending copious amounts of money on her wardrobe and her hair. These factors formed the basis of the public opinion of Marie Antoinette, but a series of unfortunate events helped secure her tragic fate. Events such as the building of the Hameau and the Diamond Necklace Affair combined with Marie Antoinette’s inability to commit to flight or reconciliation with the outbreak of the Revolution helped to fan the flames of her negative depiction.

Print Sources

  • Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser
    Fraser’s biography of Marie Antoinette gives a thoroughly detailed overview of the queen’s life and carefully explains the context of the events happening in France at the time. In particular, a chapter titled “Madame Deficit” paints a very clear picture for the reader on how the queen was viewed by the public. Fraser also presents an argument in Marie Antoinette’s behalf: that she attempted to give a political input on behalf of France over Austria on many occaisions, but that no one took her seriously.
    -Fraser, Antonia. Marie Antoinette: The Journey. New York: Talese/Doubleday, 2001.
  • Marie Antoinette by Stefan Zweig
    Zweig’s biography attempts to portray Marie Antoinette as an average person. He argues that her unpopularity stemmed from women she had spurned at court; petty gossip perpetuated awful rumors that led to her downfall. He also states that she was a target for criticism because the public believed the king to be incapable of making political decisions and therefore thought she was behind them.
    -Zweig, Stefan. Marie Antoinette. Amterdam: Forum, 1939.
  • Marie Antoinette and the End of the Old Regime by Imbert de Saint-Amand
    This biography hones in specifically on how Marie Antoinette played a part in and was affected by the French Revolution. Though it spells out the events of her life similar to other biographies, the politics and the happenings of the revolution are brought to light more. As far as the queen’s relations with the public, de Saint-Amand depicts how the negative opinion of the queen affected her daily life. She was disrespected often, for example, being hissed at at the opera.
    -De Saint-Amand, Imbert. Marie Antoinette and the End of the Old Regime. Translated by Thomas Sergeant Perry. New York:
    Scribner’s Sons, 1890.
  • Marie Antoinette by Hilaire Belloc
    Though similar to the other biographies of Marie Antoinette’s life, Belloc’s biography includes a plethora of quotes from primary sources. Belloc also gives the reader an extremely detailed timeline. In reference to public opinion, Belloc argues that the queen gained some popularity with the birth of her son, but that it was diminished when she began attempting to make her opinions heard and played more of a role governing than the public wanted her to.
    -Belloc, Hilaire. Marie Antoinette. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1924.
  • “Terrorizing Marie Antoinette” by Pierre Saint-Amand and Jennifer Curtiss Gage
    Pierre Saint-Amand and Jennifer Curtiss Gage relate Marie Antoinette to Hilary Clinton to help make her story relatable to modern times.
    -Saint-Amand, Pierre, and Jennifer Curtiss Gage. “Terrorizing Marie Antoinette.” Critical Inquiry 20.3 (1994): 379.
  • “The Original Style Queen” by Lori Marso
    Lori Marso analyzes the importance of fashion in Marie Antoinette’s life. She primarily addresses the impacts of the queen’s excessive spending on fashion and how Marie Antoinette used fashion as a tool to influence the way the public viewed her.
    -Marso, Lori. “The Original Style Queen.” The Women’s Review of Books 24.3 (2007): 29-30.

Web Sources

  • “Top 5 Marie Antoinette Scandals” by Candace Keener
    This article is not incredibly in depth, however it does clearly outline the main events that influenced the public’s opinion of Marie Antoinette. Keener argues that Marie Antoinette’s situation was precarious from the beginning due to her and Louis XVI’s inability to conssumate their marriage. Adding to this opinion was her spending habits and the Diamond Necklace Affair. The article also explains how the public manipulated the idea of the queen and how the public wanted to view her.
    -Keener, Candace. “Top 5 Marie Antoinette Scandals.” HowStuffWorks. <>.
  • “The Teen Queen: Marie Antoinette”
    This page helps lay out the important events in Marie Antoinette’s life while also easily giving access to information about other key players in her life and context of the revolution. In the biography portion, it is explained how little power Marie Antoinette had as queen. It is also argued that her many outings and parties are where the negative rumors about her began; the press then spread these rumors. The idea is presented that Marie Antoinette was viewed more as a mistress than a wife.
    -“The Teen Queen: Marie Antoinette.” PBS. <>.
  • “Marie-Antoinette”
    The Palace of Versailles’ website offers a brief biography, highlighting a few key events in Marie Antoinette’s life. In this biography, the ideas that when the queen tried to play a role in politics, no one appreciated her, and that the Diamond Necklace Affair was the breaking point for the public are echoed. Also, it is argued that the public’s negative opinion of her was added to with the outbreak of the revolution because she could not commit to flight or reconciliation.
    -“Marie-Antoinette.” Chateau de Versailles. <
  • “The French Revolution”
    These selected works at the Louvre show the grandeaur of court life at the time. The extravagant furniture pieces would have been the type of ornate objects Marie Antoinette would have splurged on, assiting in earning her the nickname “Madame Deficit.”
    -“The French Revolution.” Louvre. <>.
  • “Set of Jewellery”
    This exhibit in the Louvre shows the type of extravagant jewellery Marie Antoinette would have spent a large amount of money on.
    -“Work Set of Jewellery.” Set of Jewellery. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2012.
  • “Marie Antoinette: the Queen and the Guillotine”
    This article presents a generic overview to Marie Antoinette’s life and references some of the nicknames she received throughout her reign as queen. It also references many of the political happenings of the time.
    -“Bonjour Paris – Marie Antoinette: The Queen and the Guillotine.” Bonjour Paris – Marie Antoinette: The Queen and the Guillotine. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2012.

Related Research Guides

  • “Marie Antoinette, Queen of France”
    This guide expresses the belief that Marie Antoinette’s life was full of scandals and explicitly explains why she was viewed negatively. The argument that the queen’s popularity originally stemmed from her inability to produce an heir is paralleled. Also, it is argued that Marie Antoinette was an easy target for the public’s increasing discontent with the bankrupt government because she was a foreigner.
    -Gilroy, Thomas J. comp. MMV Prof. Pavlac’s Women’s History Site. “Marie Antoinette, Queen of France.” Last modified 2005.

Public Depictions

    Marie Antoinette depicted as a harpy.

    The most simple depiction of Marie Antoinette, this picture shows her being transported to the guillotine.

    Pictures portraying the queen as licentious were common.

    Marie Antoinette was well-known for extravagant hair styles. This commonly angered the public because of her excessive spending on things that were not necessary.

Modern Day Depictions

  • This trailer  is for the 2006 movie Marie Antoinette. Though the film is not completely historically accurate, there are many scenes that give an idea of how the public viewed Marie Antoinette, especially when it comes to her frivolous spending.