After the Seven Years’ War, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria decided to put an end to hostilities with France and seek an alliance between both territories. Both she and Louis XV of France wished to stop Prussia and Great Britain from gaining more power and so they decided to join forces. The only way of ensuring definitive peace between France and Austria was uniting the two families and so both rulers arranged the marriage of their heirs. Louis XV asked for the hand of Maria Antonia, the youngest daughter of the Empress and Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, for his eldest grandson, French Dauphin Louis. Maria Antonia had to renounce her claims to the Habsburg throne and adopted a French name: Marie Antoinette.
On 19 April 1770, Louis, aged 15, and Marie Antoinette, aged 14, got married by proxy in Vienna. However, the official wedding and its celebrations took place a month later, on 16 and 17 May in the Palace of Versailles. The ceremony was held at the Royal Chapel and officiated by the Archbishop of Reims in the presence of the French royal family. Afterwards, they attended a feast served in the Royal Opera House. The celebrations continued until the 30th of May when an accident with fireworks killed 132 people.
Initially, the marriage did not count with the approval of the French public, as the population was critical of the Austrian alliance and thus saw Marie Antoinette as a foreigner. Still, the common people took a liking to her right after her first official public appearance in 1773 in Paris thanks to her beauty and charisma.
Marie Antoinette’s influence on French politics
After Louis XV passed away in 1774, Louis was crowned King Louis XVI of France and Marie Antoinette became Queen of France. The Queen used her new position of power to intercede in the political affairs of the country, apparently intending to benefit Austria. In 1178, she convinced her husband to mediate in the War of the Bavarian Succession on behalf of her home country, which ended with Austria gaining a territory of 100,000 inhabitants. Moreover, she also secured Austrian and Russian support for France against the British during the American Revolution.
Marie Antoinette’s political decisions led to a drastic decrease in her popularity, especially after the rumours that she was sending money from the French treasury to Austria were spread. This, together with the luxurious lifestyle she had while the country was facing a financial crisis further damaged her reputation and earned her the name of Madame Déficit during the French Revolution.
The Queen was blamed for France’s economic problems and she became a symbol of the moral decadence of the French royal family, even though it was her rejection of reform and progress that led to the overthrow of the monarchy in 1792. A few months later, both Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were accused of treason and executed at the Place de la Révolution.
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