A new look which fundamentally overturns our understanding of this famously "out of touch" queen
Who was the real Marie-Antoinette? She was mistrusted and reviled in her own time, and today she is portrayed as a lightweight incapable of understanding the events that engulfed her. In this new account, John Hardman redresses the balance and sheds fresh light on Marie-Antoinette’s story.
Hardman shows how Marie-Antoinette played a significant but misunderstood role in the crisis of the monarchy. Drawing on new sources, he describes how, from the outset, Marie-Antoinette refused to prioritize the aggressive foreign policy of her mother, Maria-Theresa, bravely took over the helm from Louis XVI after the collapse of his morale, and, when revolution broke out, listened to the Third Estate and worked closely with repentant radicals to give the constitutional monarchy a fighting chance. For the first time, Hardman demonstrates exactly what influence Marie-Antoinette had and when and how she exerted it.
Hardman (The Life of Louis XVI) attempts to redeem Marie Antoinette's much maligned reputation in this dense portrait of the queen's adult life in France. Hardman begins by detailing her profligate spending and personal vendettas in the years after her husband, Louis XVI, ascended to the throne in 1774. The French court inherently distrusted the Austrian-born "Madame Deficit," as she came to be known, despite the fact that she eventually assimilated to the point where she had to relearn her native German language. But when the king sank into despair after the 1787 Assembly of Notables failed to endorse comprehensive tax reforms, it was the queen, Hardman argues, who promoted the constitutional monarchy through her dialogue with revolutionary leader Antoine Bravard. Drawing on Marie Antoinette's letters to Bravard and her lover Axel von Fersen, Hardman suggests that she effectively ran the French government for a short period in 1791. Hardman's willingness to accept the contemporary notion that Marie Antoinette's "frigidity" played a part in the royal couple's early fertility problems somewhat undermines his revisionist arguments, as does his admission that the queen was "largely unprepared" for the task of "turn the tide of revolutionary fervour." Academics well-versed in the French Revolution will appreciate Hardman's diligent marshaling of the period's many twists and turns, however.