Not every European ruler was successful, and one of the most famous unsuccessful European rulers was King Louis XVI of France and his wife Marie Antoinette.
When Louis XVI was born in 1754 he was his father's third son and therefore was never expected to rule. Unfortunately, his two older brothers both died young and his father died of tuberculosis when Louis was only 11 years old, which made him heir apparent. Louis prepared to rule from this point on, but he had already proved to be a shy young man who was not good at making decisions. His tutors were not much help at teaching him interpersonal and decision making skills. He was not prepared to take the crown when his grandfather died in 1774.
|King Louis XVI|
In 1755, the future wife of King Louis XVI was born to the Empress of Austria and the Holy Roman Emperor. Marie Antoinette was the 15th child of Maria Theresa and Francis I. Maria Theresa used her many children as pawns on the giant chessboard that was Europe; she married them off to royal families of other countries to form alliances. When the opportunity presented itself to create such an alliance with France, Marie Antoinette became a pawn when she was just 16.
Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were polar opposites. The king was shy and reserved and preferred to spend his time alone, while Marie Antoinette was social and preferred to spend her time at parties and with other people. In the beginning, the French people were enchanted by the young and beautiful queen, but eventually grew to dislike her as she lived a very extravagant life while the people of France suffered due to the mounting debt of the country. Louis XVI had a cause in this as well; early on he failed to address the massive debt that existed before he took the throne and it kept pilling up during his rule.
|Marie Antoinette and her children.|
In 1789, the French people, fed up with the monarchy and the massive debt of the country, stormed the Bastille marking the start of the French Revolution. Two years later, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were arrested and put on trial for treason. They were both convicted and sentenced to death by guillotine, Louis XVI in January of 1793 and Marie Antoinette in October of that same year.
|The storming of the Bastille.|
Marie Antoinette's legacy lives on today through movies and books. One of the most famous quotes attributed to her is her response to being told that the people of France had no bread to eat, to which she responded "let them eat cake." There is actually no evidence that she said this and it probably began as a rumor spread to tarnish the queen's reputation even more.
The new Creating the Crown exhibit will open to the public on Sunday, July 27, the day after the Museum’s annual fundraiser. For more information please visit our website or contact the Museum at 316.263.1311.