A brisk October morning on the Place de la Révolution, Paris. Crowds are gathering for today’s spectacle, an event they have grown accustomed to in such tumultuous times.
Before their eyes they will witness another bloody act of revolution and retribution; The execution of Queen Marie-Antoinette.
Nine months following the execution of her husband, King Louis XVI, she will gaze upon Parisian faces for one last time before the guillotine swiftly removes her head.
It is an act that today one would view as ghastly and brutal, but many in France in the late 18th century believed it was an act justified by years of excess, corruption and brutality against the French peasantry.
Marie-Antoinette is a fascinating character, and if her life had not been so well documented many would be forgiven for assuming she was a fictional character. She was the quintessential privileged noble who firmly believed her right to rule and enjoy the fruits of others labour was a god given right.
Her extravagances are renowned not only in France but across Europe. Grand balls, luxurious attire and an arrogance unmatched among European nobilities.
Her lavish spending was so renowned it earned her the title of ‘Madam Déficit’.
In modern culture she has been portrayed in film and television, and is regarded as a fashion icon of the time.
Marie-Antoinette lived a life of luxury while the people of France starved, and although no different to her counterparts in other absolute monarchies, for many revolutionaries her image and lifestyle was a national illness they sought to remedy.
Upon being informed that the French peasantry had no bread to eat, she is alleged to have scoffed and said “let them eat cake.” – A popular story regarding the late queen, but one that can never be verified and is more than likely to be anti-monarchist spin.
This apparent arrogance and disregard further fuelled revolutionary fervour in France, and her insistence that her husband reject reform developed further into greater anger.
Crucially, it is her stance on the unfolding events that places her firmly on the losing side of history and lead her to this final moment.
In 1791 King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette attempted to flee to Austria where her father, Emperor Francis I, had once reigned. They were captured by revolutionary forces however and returned to Paris. The following year, the monarchy was abolished and both were tried for treason.
During her journey to that final destination perhaps she pondered her decisions in life, perhaps she sat soundly in the knowledge that she had lived a life of true luxury. What is for certain however, is that when the guillotine fell, Europe would descend down a dark path of war and division.