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Marie Antoinette

"I have just been condemned, not to a shameful death, which can only apply to felons, but rather to finding your brother again...I seek forgiveness for all whom I know for every harm I may have unwittingly caused them...Adieu, good, gentle sister...I embrace you with all my heart as well as the poor, dear children."
-Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette was born Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna on November 2, 1755 in Vienna, Austria, the daughter of powerful Maria Theresa. Right from the start, Antoinette exhibited a grand interest in music and the arts, and even played duets with Mozart from time to time. When she was only 14 years old, in 1769, word came from Versailles that King Louis XV had asked her to marry Dauphin Louis-Auguste. She accepted and departed on April 20, 1770, arriving near Strassburg on May 7. This began the public's critism for Antoinette, first because for the first 7 years of their marriage, she had not borne her husband a child. Yet not many people knew that this was because the Dauphin hadn't yet consummated the marriage. Instead, Antoinette turned to grand balls, the theater, and card games.

In 1774, King Louis XV died, and Antoinette and her husband became King and Queen. Soon after hearing the news, Antoinette's mother, Maria Theresa, began to write letters of advice, which Antoinette very much ignored. Instead, she chose to turn to fashion, another concept which people criticized. Yet, her royal excesses were very much overstated. In reality, another action that brought on criticism was her cutting down the number of royal staff members, which happened to offend the nobles. She also never said "Let them eat cake" when she was told of starving prisoners.

Probably the biggest cause of criticism was what is called the "Diamond Necklace Affair." In short, Antoinette had a noble necklace offered to be made for her out of diamonds. When she accepted and then found that the necklace was a fake, she became very angry at the con artists, Jeanne de la Motte and Cardinal de Rohan. In the end, Jeanne de la Motte was convicted, but sadly, Cardinal de Rohan was acquitted.

In 1789, the French Revolution was beginning to emerge as the state went bankrupt. In October, Antoinette and the rest of the royal family were moved from Versailles to Paris and kept under guard like prisoners. On June 20, 1791, they tried to escape, but their attempt failed, and about a year after, on August 10, 1792, Antoinette and her husband were taken from their home and arrested for treason. On January 21, 1793, her husband was beheaded and she knew her time would come soon.

On October 14, 1793, she stood before the tribunal, the medieval court that would judge her, and even though she knew what the verdict would be, that she too would die by the blade of the guillotine, she was able to stand her ground and demonstrate her tremendous inner strength and seriousness. At 4:30 a.m., on October 16, 1793, her execution day, Antoinette inscribed a letter to her sister-in-law, asking for forgiveness and explaining how she felt about her inevitable death (see the quote below Antoinette's picture). Then, at 10:00 a.m., quietly and bravely, only speaking once to apologize for stepping on the executioner's foot, only 37 years old, without any proof of the crime she was accused, Antoinette was beheaded.

Marie Antoinette didn't really do anything material that would make her one of the 100 most important women of history, although she did greatly influence the art of the era. She is on this list because of her inner strength that I admire. She could stand before the tribunal of her enemies and remain strong. Her children were taken away from her, her best friend Princess de Lambelle was murdered with her head paraded in front of Antoinette on a pike, and yet Antoinette remained strong. She would not speak at her execution, except to speak words of apology towards the one who was to end her life. Those were her last public words, ones that truly capture why she is on this list.

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