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Historical Essays on the Life of Marie–Antoinette, of Austria (1783)


Although by law, political power could not pass through the Queen’s body (only male heirs could succeed to the throne in France), there was great political interest in the body of Louis XVI’s Queen, Marie Antoinette, a Habsburg princess whose marriage into the Bourbon household solidified a diplomatic alliance between France and Austria. From nearly the moment she arrived at Versailles in 1770, she was widely suspected of deviousness, and by the late 1770s (by which time she had become Queen), her reputation was being maligned in clandestinely published, pornographic pamphlets known as "libels." The Historical Essays on the Life of Marie–Antoinette of Austria, first published in 1783 and immediately suppressed by the royal censors, was republished secretly several times in the ensuing years, and as many as 20,000 copies may have been in circulation by 1789. It compared Marie Antoinette to the Countess du Barry, suggesting that they had the same fondness for nighttime walks in the gardens of Versailles, which often degenerated into orgies with courtiers of all sexes, ranks, and ages. Again, what is of interest is not whether or not the stories were true but that they further contributed to the view that the monarchy was degenerating—physically, morally, and politically.


The public calls the hero wicked, and the wicked a hero; it also calls the virtuous a harlot and a harlot virtuous. . . . So were the Countess Du Barry and Marie Antoinette. Through her dissolute and revolting debauchery, Du Barry amazed the universe in the alleys, and the crossroads of Paris. She did all these things in evil ways. The same debauchery and agitation of passions were observed in Marie Antoinette's life. Men, women, everything was as she liked. She was satisfied with everything. Her clumsiness as well as her careless mistakes involuntarily gave her behavior the publicity du Barry sought. These two famous women were much alike when it came to misleading and degrading the one they owed respect to. Until his death, du Barry fooled Louis XV. She would sleep with any valet as well as with courtiers. Marie Antoinette also was unfaithful to Louis XVI and fooled him too. . . .

Marie Antoinette arrived in France in 1768 in order to marry. This marriage was the most amazing that could ever be imagined. At this point it is interesting to talk about the life at the Court during these years. This will explain the reasons for this marriage and why it ended up in such a dissolute way.

The Duke of Choiseul, who was considered to be as good as Richelieu and Mazarin, was a sort of Prime Minister. Louis XV was the weakest of men and the most despicable prince of his century. This Duke, who was as scheming as he was bold, had paid for his favor through submission, a servile obedience, and the accomplishment of the most awful political crime one could ever imagine. Even though he had power, he was afraid of du Barry's intrigues. He despised her and even insulted her in public.

The Du Barry organized a conspiracy. Her side was powerful. The Duke had enemies. He had made some reforms and he had been in office for a long time—at court, people like to see change. Finally he was afraid of a coming fall. It was natural he was looking for a protection. He thought he had found one by organizing the marriage of the pretty archduchess and the Dauphin. . . . this marriage made the Duke become odious to the eyes of the nation.

Du Barry was a courtesan criticized because she was a villain and because of her debaucheries . . . . This woman was scheming and haughty. She was used to dominating everybody around her and she wanted to extend her domination on Marie Antoinette. . . . She had judged—according to the weakness of the son—how easy it would be to dominate his spirit. It was done. The Prince was under the yoke, and France was going to be racked by the pride and the ambition of these two persons. . . .

Marie Antoinette had to become pregnant. This constituted the essential instructions she had received from her mother when she left Vienna. She allowed her august husband to use every possible resources on this matter: they were as short as empty. A lover was then necessary. He had to be handsome, kind, and avowed. . . . Everybody argued about this pregnancy. The women who were around her did not forgive her for having a lover. This is how these religious women were.


Anonymous, Essais historiques sur la vie de Marie-Antoinette, d'autriche (London, 1789), 1–69.

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"Historical Essays on the Life of Marie–Antoinette, of Austria (1783)," in World History Commons, [accessed August 7, 2022]