France's iconic queen, Marie Antoinette, wrongly accused of uttering the infamous "Let them eat cake," was alternately revered and reviled during her lifetime. For centuries since, she has been the object of debate, speculation, and the fascination so often accorded illustrious figures in history. Married in mere girlhood, this essentially lighthearted child was thrust onto the royal stage and commanded by circumstance to play a significant role in European history. Antonia Fraser's lavish and engaging portrait excites compassion and regard for all aspects of the queen, immersing the reader not only in the coming-of-age of a graceful woman, but in the culture of an unparalleled time and place.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Marie Antoinette will always be a historical figure whom one either likes or dislikes, hates or admires, regardless of what new information or insights come to light. However, Fraser's latest work does an exemplary job of painting the woman, mother, and monarch. Marie's mother was the powerful Empress Maria Theresa of Austria-Hungary, who artfully arranged the marriages of all of her children to sustain and enhance the Hapsburg position of power. As the 15th of 16 children, and the youngest daughter, Marie seemed unlikely to marry significantly and thus enjoyed a carefree childhood untroubled by the rigors of reading and studies, filled instead with dancing and merriment. The unfortunate death of an older sister suddenly thrust Marie, at 14, into prominence as a bride for the future King of France, Louis XVI. Her lack of education and training quickly caught up with her and hampered her efforts to become an effective queen. More suited for life as landed gentry, raising children and crops, Louis and Marie were the least likely pair to be successful monarchs during the volatile years of change leading up to the French Revolution. Yet, in death, she displayed a nobility and dignity that transcended the ludicrous and unwarranted charges brought against her. Narrated by Donada Peters, this is highly recommended for both academic and public libraries. Gloria Maxwell, Penn Valley Community Coll., Kansas City, MO Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 18, 2001
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Excerpt from Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser
A Small Archduchess
"Her Majesty has been very happily delivered of a small, but completely healthy Archduchess."
Count Khevenhuller, Court Chamberlain, 1755
On 2 November 1755 the Queen-Empress was in labour all day with her fifteenth child. Since the experience of childbirth was no novelty, and since Maria Teresa, Queen of Hungary by inheritance, Empress of the Holy Roman Empire by marriage, hated to waste time, she also laboured in another way at her papers. For the responsibilities of government were not to be lightly cast aside; in her own words: "My subjects are my first children." Finally, at about half past eight in the evening in her apartments at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Maria Teresa gave birth. It was a girl. Or, as the Court Chamberlain, Count Khevenhuller, described the event in his diary: "Her Majesty has been happily delivered of a small, but completely healthy Archduchess." As soon as was practical, Maria Teresa returned to work, signing papers from her bed.
The announcement was made by the Emperor Francis Stephen. He left his wife's bedroom, after the usual Te Deum and Benediction had been said. In the Mirror Room next door the ladies and gentlemen of the court who had the Rights of Entry were waiting. Maria Teresa had firmly ended the practice, so distasteful to the mother in labour (but still in place at the court of Versailles), by which these courtiers were actually present in the delivery room. As it was they had to content themselves with congratulating the happy father. It was not until four days later that those ladies of the court who by etiquette would formerly have been in the bedchamber were allowed to kiss the Empress. Other courtiers, including Khevenhuller, were permitted the privilege on 8 November, and a further set the next day. Perhaps it was the small size of the baby, perhaps it was the therapeutic effect of working at her papers throughout the day, but Maria Teresa had never looked so well after a delivery.
The Empress's suite of apartments was on the first floor of the so-called Leopoldine wing of the extensive and rambling Hofburg complex. The Habsburgs had lived in the Hofburg since the late thirteenth century, but this wing had originally been constructed by the Emperor Leopold I in 1660. It was rebuilt following a fire, then greatly renovated by Maria Teresa herself. It lay south-west of the internal courtyard known as In Der Burg. Swiss Guards, that doughty international force that protects royalty, gave their name to the adjacent courtyard and gate, the Schweizerhof and the Schweizertor.