16 October 1793: Marie Antoinette is beheaded

 

438px-Jacques-Louis_David_-_Marie_Antoinette_on_the_Way_to_the_Guillotine
Drawing by Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), who was one of the crowd when he sketched “Marie Antoinette on her way to the guillotine” on 16 October 1793.

 

Marie Antoinette (2 November 1755 – 16 October 1793) was the last Queen of France before the French Revolution

After the fall of the monarchy on 10 August 1792, the dethroned Queen was imprisoned in the Tower of the Temple, along with king Louis XVI, and their children.
Nine months after her husband’s execution, Marie Antoinette followed him to the guillotine and was beheaded on the “Place de la Révolution” (Place de la Concorde) on 16 October 1793.

On the morning of that day, Marie Antoinette was declared guilty of the three main charges against her: depletion of the national treasury, conspiracy against the internal and external security of the State, and High treason because of her intelligence activities in the interest of the enemy. Preparing for execution, her hair was cut short on the neck to allow for a quick, clean cut of the guillotine blade. She put on a plain white gown, with a white handkerchief on her shoulders, and a white cap adorned with a black ribbon on her head.
She was placed in an open cart, with her arms tied behind her, and was publicly driven through Paris to the execution site, A constitutional priest was assigned to her to hear her final confession. but she politely declined his services.
She tried to maintain her composure, despite the insults of the mocking crowd, but she felt humiliated and agitated. On reaching the scaffold she inadvertently trod on the executioner’s foot. “Pardon me,” she said, courteously. “I meant not to do it”.
At 12:15 p.m. the blade of the guillotine fell on Marie-Antoinette, two weeks before her 38th birthday.

Her trial had started two days earlier, and some historians believe that its outcome had been decided in advance by the Committee of Public Safety.
Among her crimes against the French republic were high treason, sexual promiscuity and incest, a charge made by her son Louis Charles, who was forced to testify that his mother had molested him The former Queen very pale, physically exhausted, but still imposing in her patched-up black dress, defended herself with energy and dignity. But the last accusation drew an emotional response from Marie Antoinette, who refused to respond to this charge, and cried : “I appeal to all mothers!”

For many revolutionary figures, Marie Antoinette was the symbol of what was wrong with the old regime in France, and the cause of the financial difficulties of the nation . She remains a controversial figure and for some she still represents absolutism, conservatism, wealth, and fashion, but for others she was a victim of her family’s ambition and of the general situation in France. Even her critics have recognized her qualities as a mother and her courage in dying.

There is no evidence that she ever uttered the phrase “Let them eat cake”, on learning that the French peasants had no bread. The remark had already appeared in philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “Confessions”, when she was only nine years old!

 

 

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