Marie Antoinette – 5 Locations That Shaped The Infamous Monarch
If there’s one thing people now know about Marie Antoinette it’s that she never actually said, “Let them eat cake.” But if this – and that Kirsten Dunst movie – represent the sum of your knowledge, a visit to any or all of the following places should prove highly illuminating. For once you shine a light on her fantastical life, you start to see that a woman who has been widely written-off as vain, vapid and disgustingly self-obsessed was, in truth, far more sinned against than sinning.
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The Hofburg Palace – The pride of Vienna and one of the great palaces of Europe, it’s here that Maria Antonia Josephna Johanna was born on 2 November 1755. That she would live most of her adult life 600 miles away is remarkable providing one remembers that, in the 18th century, such distance must have felt like a trip to the other side of the world. Paris? She might as well have been relocating to Papua New Guinea.
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Ile Aux Epis – The islet in the Rhine where, in 1770, Marie was handed over to the French, her marriage to the future Louis XIV having been arranged to secure peace between France and Austro-Hungary. If the affair has something of the feel of a hostage exchange, it’s because for all intents and purposes, that’s exactly what it was. Visit the setting today and you’ll find a majestic suspension bridge which, as it spans one of the continent’s mightiest rivers, also unites two of its greatest nations.
Image credit: Dennis Jarvis
The Palace Of Versailles – Although notionally Marie’s home from 1770 until 1793, Versailles must have frequently felt more like an enclosure than a residence. To fully appreciate the intrusiveness of palace life, hurry to the King and Queen’s extravagant bed chamber where, on their wedding night, an audience gathered to watch them consummate their union. Little wonder the poor chap couldn’t rise to the occasion, a misfortune that fuelled palace gossip for years to come.
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Le Petit Trianon – Built in the grounds of Versailles, the Trianon was commissioned by Louis as a gift for his wife. As anyone who’s seen Sofia Coppola’s Marie movie will appreciate, the house has a reputation as a place of utterly wretched excess. Walk through its elegant corridors, however, and it becomes increasingly clear that the Trianon was less a house of fun as a place where the sole thing Marie Antoinette indulged herself in was that which her life otherwise denied her – privacy.
Image credit: Jean-Marc Astesana
Hameau De La Reine – If the popular image is to be believed, ‘the Queen’s Hamlet’ – set in the shadow of the Petit Trianon – is the mock farmstead where one of the richest women in Europe whiled away her days pretending to be a shepherdess. But if the Hameau has an undeniable fantasy aspect to it, you can but wonder how shocking life among the great and good must have been to leave Marie Antoinette longing for the simple life of a serf.