One of my favorite historical periods is the French Revolution. You have beautiful Versailles with all its well-dressed courtiers at its center, a selfish queen – Marie Antoinette – and everyone else being abused and then rising up. The subject of fairy tales, right?
But when you look a little closer you realize history may be twisted a bit and things aren’t as clear as we think we know. Marie Antoinette never did say “Let them eat cake!”, was a mere child when she arrived to be married to the future King and according to recent historians was neither as callous nor frivolous as she has been made out to be. The same has been recently said for the “evil seductress" Ann Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII, but that’s a story for another day!
When we get to the French Revolution, I cannot help but see parallels to what is happening in the U.S. today. Many felt disenfranchised then as they do now. There’s rioting and social unrest. People want change.
While many want to blame Marie Antoinette and the nobility for France’s dire financial circumstances at the time, they clearly were not primarily to blame. Few realize that the biggest tax on France’s budget at the time was not Marie’s fancy parties and clothes, but the monies spent by France helping the revolutionaries in the U.S. during our revolution against the British! A huge population growth caused unemployment. The weather also caused crops to fail which helped to cause the price of bread to rise.
Even more so, the public did not originally blame or hate Marie! Her downfall was started by the other nobles! Prejudice ran deep, and Marie was Austrian – a long time enemy of France. In fact, her marriage was set up to help unite the countries. Nevertheless, she was always considered an outsider because she was not from France and never really accepted by many, solely due to her birthplace.
The media appears to have also been out of control at the time and the media was no fan of Marie’s “Pamphleteering” was the big thing then – not social media or cable news. These pamphlets, which often featured drawings, made and showed the crudest allegations you can imagine in unheard of detail! We don’t even see this type of stuff today!
I think most of us also think that the French Revolution was one big victory, but it wasn’t initially so. After the overthrow of the monarchy, things actually got worse and The Reign of Terror came in. Over 16,000 people were executed – many in horrific fashion. France went to war with a number of European countries. France went through a number of different governments, with the Revolution considered ended when a Consulate of three members took over – including Napoleon Bonaparte. By 1804 Napoleon became Emperor, but was later exiled and King Louis XVI’s (Marie Antoinette’s husband) brother King Louis XVIII was put back on the throne briefly in 1814, then again fully in 1815. It goes on…
Yet despite all of this when we think of Marie we think of the gorgeous Palace of Versailles. It is my absolute favorite place in the world! The architecture is exquisite and the more you know, the more you can see in your mind the real people who lived and worked there. My favorite place is Marie’s Hamlet which is a true storybook village. I want to put on an airy white peasant dress when I’m there! Today (Pre Covid) they have big furry chickens and long-haired bunnies on the farm and one of the biggest piggies I have ever seen!
The grounds are to die for and (Pre-Covid) you could rent a boat and row yourself in the Grand Canal. Simply put, it is a place where everything is beautiful, and you too can pretend to be a Queen for a while. For more about the Palace check https://en.chateauversailles.fr/ !
The clothing of the fashionable set at the time was absolutely divine! Low low necklines and huge skirts to the ground prevailed. Hats and gloves were necessities. Hairstyles went to towering heights! Few are aware though, that in her later years Marie, ever the trend setter, turned to simple gowns made of material previously only used for underthings! A famous portrait of her in such a dress helped start the trend when it was publicly displayed and caused a great scandal!
I have long wanted to do a Marie Antoinette collection. I try to make my collections wearable and not appear to be costumes, so there’s a fine line when following historical inspiration. The ruffles and lace, pretty pastels favored by Marie and fuller bell-shaped skirts seep into my modern take on Marie. I hope you love it as much as I do!