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Castrum Doloris of Louis XII and Anne de Bretagne

Left to right, effigies of Jean II le Bon, Philippe VI de Valois, Philippe V le Long, Jeane d’Evreux, Charles IV le Bel and Blanche de France

Cadaver effigies of Henri II and Catherine de Medicis

Marie-Antoinette

November 2, 1755-October 16, 1793 Louis XVI

August 23, 1754-January 21, 1793

Ask the proverbial man-on-the-street to name a few famous French figures and near the top of the list will be Marie-Antoinette. She is probably best remembered for her infamous quotation let them eat cake and meeting her demise in 1793 via the guillotine.

Marie-Antoinette was an Austrian-born princess, who, at age fourteen, was married to Louis-Auguste, Dauphin of France. Upon the death of Louis’ grandfather, King Louis XV in 1774, Louis-Auguste became the King of France as Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette became Queen of France. Marie-Antoinette had a rather complex upbringing. Like most members of the aristocracy, she had a rather regimented and ritualized as well as privileged lifestyle. However, when she was not engaged in her courtly duties, her family encouraged her to don more bourgeois attire, play with non-royal children and frolic in the garden. While this was hardly the life of a peasant, it did plant a seed of appreciation of the more relaxed lifestyle of commoners.

After becoming queen, Marie-Antoinette became well known for her lavish lifestyle, which some say was a reaction to her less-than-satisfactory nuptial relations with Louis. She also had a well-documented abrasive relationships with other members of the court. Her relief from the regimented lifestyle came in 1774 when Louis gave her free reign to renovate the Petit Trianon, a modestly proportioned residence some distance away from the Grand Palace of Versailles. A few years after remodeling the Petit Trianon, she took on another project that harkened back to her carefree youth in Vienna, the construction of a picturesque hamlet that became known as the Petit Hameau or Hameau de la Reine (The Queen’s Hamlet), which has been preserved and restored at Versailles. Alas, her faux-peasant lifestyle didn’t endear her to the revolution-oriented populace, and like 40,000 others, she was executed during the Reign of Terror. Louis, of course, fared no better. After the French Revolution abolished the absolute monarchy and installed a constitutional monarchy, Louis XVI became not only ineffective but also indecisive. He was arrested on August 10, 1792, tried and found guilty of high treason and executed on January 21, 1793. Marie would follow him eight months later.

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