Marie Antoinette’s extravagance

(public domain)

Marie Antoinette’s unpopularity largely stemmed from her extravagance, and she had been largely popular when she arrived in France in 1770.

Her so-called frivolity began when she was still in a precarious relationship with her husband. As their marriage remained unconsummated and Marie Antoinette endured the taunts of the court, she only saw one way to deal with it.

As the hairdresser Leonard built her huge hairstyles, Marie Antoinette spent 100,000 livres on fashion accessories alone in 1776. To compare, her entire wardrobe budget for that year was supposed to be 120,000 livres. Every week, bills were sent for four new pairs of shoes, three yards of ribbon daily, and two new yards of green taffeta. She ordered twelve court dresses and twelve riding habits every year. Candles were replaced even if they were unused.1

Then came the diamonds, which her husband often covered for her as the cost far exceeded her allowance. The Count of Mercy wrote, “The monarch received this demand with his customary gentleness, only saying mildly he was not astonished to find the Queen penniless, considering her taste for diamonds.”2

She began to gamble and often lost huge sums of money, such as 500,000 livres in 1777.3 The Count of Mercy wrote, “The Queen now plays very high; she no longer enjoys games where the stakes are limited… Her ladies and courtiers are alarmed and dread the losses to which they are exposed in order to pay their court to the Queen.”4

In 1775, she received the Petit Trianon from her husband, which was a small palace at the end of the Gardens of Versailles. She planted a garden and built a hamlet which consisted of 12 cottages, a mill and a working farm.

As her unpopularity grew, she was accused of acting in the Austrian interests, and it was even claimed that the Petit Trianon contained a wall of diamonds. The gift of the Chateau of Saint-Cloud from her husband, who had bought it at 6 million livres, raised the disgust at her excesses.5 Her brother, Emperor Joseph, wrote, “The queen is a very beautiful and charming woman, but she thinks only of her pleasures, has no love for the king… she does not fulfil either the duties of a wife or a queen.”6

Marie Antoinette’s friends were showered with gifts, but when the Duchess of Polignac demanded an estate worth 100,000 livres a year, even she had to think about it. Although “Even the Queen was rather frightened at this unreasonable demand; but finally adopted the idea, and only thought of ways of carrying it out… in the last four years the members of the family of de Polignac, without any services to the State, and wholly as favours, have received nearly 500,000 livres a year in appointments and similar benefits.”7

There is no doubt that she spent plenty of money, although some could easily be attributed to her role as Queen. Her household consisted of around 500 people and cost 5 million livres. The government’s deficit was at 22 million livres when Marie Antoinette became Queen in 1774, and this was expected to rise by a further 78 million.8

She wasn’t the only one in the family known to spend plenty. King Louis’s aunts, the mesdames, were capable of spending 3 million livres during a six-week stay at Vichy, while the Count of Artois built up 21 million livres in debt. His other brother, the Count of Provence, had a debt of 10 million livres paid off by the King in the 1780s.9

Although she clearly wasn’t the only one guilty of massive spending, public opinion was against her, and she earned the nickname “Madame Deficit.”10 She tried to defend herself by shaping herself into the “Mother of the Children of France”, but it was no use.11 At the end of August 1787, the portrait of Marie Antoinette with her children by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun was supposed to be unveiled, but it had to be withdrawn due to the Queen’s unpopularity. The frame remained empty, and someone took it upon themselves to pin a note to it with the words, “Behold the deficit!”12

  1. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p.178
  2. In the Shadow of the Empress by Nancy Goldstone p.330
  3. How to Ruin a Queen by Jonathan Beckman p.58
  4. In the Shadow of the Empress by Nancy Goldstone p.330
  5. How to Ruin a Queen by Jonathan Beckman p.60
  6. In the Shadow of the Empress by Nancy Goldstone p.337
  7. In the Shadow of the Empress by Nancy Goldstone p.345
  8. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p.159
  9. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p.178
  10. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p.303
  11. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p.304
  12. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p.307

About Moniek Bloks 2741 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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