Marie Antoinette: The Tragic Queen
In the passion and fury of the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette became a symbol of the reviled monarchy. She paid the ultimate price for her position. But who was this woman who garnered the animosity and hatred of the French people? Why was this daughter of the Austrian Hapsburgs the symbol of decadence, excess and frivolity? This episode of Biography examines the life and death of the ill-fated queen, and her role in one of the bloodiest revolutions in European history. Marie Antoinette: The Tragic Queen would be useful for classes on French History, French Culture, European History, and Political Science. It is appropriate for middle school and high school.
Students will learn about the relationship of the French monarchy and the French Revolution. They will explore the dynastic relationships of Europe in the 18th century, as well as the causes of the French Revolution.
National History Standards
Marie Antoinette: The Tragic Queen fulfills the following National Standards for History for grades 5-12: chronological thinking, historical comprehension, historical analysis and interpretations, and historical research capabilities World History era 7.
Marie Antoinette was a member of the monarchy. How is a monarchy, as a system of government, different than a democracy?
The people of France called Marie Antoinette "Madame Deficit." What does this name mean? How does this name illustrate the animosity the people felt for their queen?
Discuss how Marie Antoinette's life was a "personal tragedy played out on a grand scale."
Marie Antoinette was a princess of Austria. She went to France as a teen-ager to marry the heir to the French throne. Why was it so important that she learn the language, culture and manners of her adopted home? How did her mother ensure that she learn all she needed to know?
Although we think of marriage as a union between two people who love one another, marriage throughout history has served other purposes. Discuss how the marriage of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI was more of a political alliance than a love match.
Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were mismatched. Discuss how they were not suited for one another. How did their likes and dislikes differ?
Marie Antoinette lived a life of excess, luxury and frivolity. Compare her life with the life of the French peasants who were her subjects.
Marie Antoinette was a very powerful queen and controlled much of the patronage of the monarchy. What is patronage? How did royalty use patronage to control and maintain their kingdoms?
The French Revolution occurred a few years after the American Revolution. How did the American Revolution influence the people of France?
Discuss how the royal family used a painting of Marie Antoinette and her children as propaganda to improve her image.
Marie Antoinette became the scapegoat of the French Revolution. What is a scapegoat? What are some other examples of using scapegoats in history?
Research the genealogy or family line of Marie Antoinette and create a family tree to illustrate your data.
Compare a map of Europe in the 1770s with a map of Europe today. How has the continent changed? What countries no longer exist? What countries are new?
- Marie Antoinette,
June 14, 1773:
My dearest mother,
I absolutely blush for your kindness to me. The day before yesterday Mercy sent me your precious letter, and yesterday I received a second. That is indeed passing one's fête day happily. On Tuesday I had a fête which I shall never forget all my life. We made our entrance into Paris. As for honors, we received all that we could possibly imagine; but they, though very well in their way, were not what touched me most. What was really affecting was the tenderness and earnestness of the poor people, who, in spite of the taxes with which they are overwhelmed, were transported with joy at seeing us. When we went to walk in the Tuileries, there was so vast a crowd that we were three-quarters of an hour without being able to move either forward or backward. The dauphin and I gave repeated orders to the Guards not to beat any one, which had a very good effect. Such excellent order was kept the whole day that, in spite of the enormous crowd which followed us everywhere, not a person was hurt. When we returned from our walk we went up to an open terrace and stayed there half an hour. I cannot describe to you, my dear mamma, the transports of joy and affection which every one exhibited towards us. Before we withdrew we kissed our hands to the people, which gave them great pleasure. What a happy thing it is for persons in our rank to gain the love of a whole nation so cheaply. Yet there is nothing so precious; I felt it thoroughly, and shall never forget it