Celebrating the Life and Death of the Queen Who “Let Them Eat Cake!”
I pass the building often, usually while on the 96 bus on route to the Left Bank, but hadn’t thought to visit it for perhaps as many as 20 years until the Conciergerie, the royal residence and prison, offered up its current exhibit, “Marie-Antoinette, Métamorphoses d’une Image,” on till January 26th. Marie-Antoinette was (and still is) a fascinating character in French history, so much so that hundreds of books have been written about the Austrian woman who became France’s last queen.
I became enthralled with her after having seen Director Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film rendition of “Marie-Antoinette” starring Kirsten Dunst. The New York Times called it a “sympathetic portrait of her [Sofia’s] heroine as a poor little rich girl.” Maybe that’s why I’ve always felt terribly sorry for her. Married at the age of 14 to Louis-Auguste, she had four children, but only after eight years of marriage. (Wonder what that says about the king? There is a lot of speculation about his ability to perform!) And let’s do the math: that meant she was only 22 years old at the time of having her first child, Marie-Thérèse, but in 1778, 22 wasn’t as young to become a mother as it is now. A lot was expected of this young, innocent woman who inherited her position in royalty and the throne.
Marie had quite a reputation for living a life of decadence and promiscuity (maybe we have the king to blame for that?). The “Affair of the Diamond Necklace” further ruined her reputation as the gossip of the day implicated that she defrauded the king’s jewelers, Boehmer and Bassenge, with an expensive diamond necklace originally created for Madame du Barry. It’s a long and sordid tale, but it wasn’t long before she became nicknamed “Madame Déficit” as the country was in financial crisis while she was lavishly spending on such frivolity.
In response to her tarnished reputation, she gave in to involving herself more in politics, caring for and educating her children. What many people don’t know about the woman who reportedly said “Let them eat cake,” is that she adopted another four children — an orphan, a slave boy, a servant’s daughter, and a foster child. That didn’t prevent her from losing her head, however.
The royal family was attacked and imprisoned at the Conciergerie in August of 1792. Louis XVI was beheaded in January of the following year, but Marie-Antoinette was held there until the following October. As it turned out, her trial began on October 14th (my own birthdate!) and then two days later, at 12:15 p.m. on 16 October 1793, she met her maker and off came her head…by guillotine, of course, on the Place de la Révolution (renamed in 1830 to Place de la Concorde). Her last words are recorded as, “Pardonnez-moi, monsieur. Je ne l’ai pas fait exprès” or “Pardon me, sir, I did not do it on purpose.” Sadly, her body, along with many others, was thrown into an unmarked grave in the Cimetière de la Madeleine located on rue d’Anjou in the 8th arrondissement (closed the following year, on 25 March 1794).
Marie has been depicted in thousands of ways and that’s what the exhibition is all about. With about “200 works, artifacts, heritage, and contemporary archives, never-before-seen interviews, film extracts, and fashion accessories,” it shines a light on the icon we have come to know and love. The Conciergerie itself is the oldest remaining part of the Palais de la Cité, or royal residence of the kings of France. I watched it undergo a massive cleaning and restoration in recent years, hence my absence from a visit until now.
For a very enlightening look at the Conciergerie, visit this website.
And for more information about the exhibition, visit this site-specific website.
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
P.S. We’re soon to tape another several House Hunters International episodes here in Paris and vicinity and we’re looking for properties in which we can tape to show comparisons! Here’s what we need:
1. For filming February 3-5, a small studio or one-bedroom apartment that normally rents for approximately 1,000€ or less, near La Sorbonne in the 5th, or anywhere in Paris for that matter, and hoping to have a bathtub and washer/dryer!
2. For taping March 7-10, a two or three-bedroom home or apartment valued at approximately 220,000€, that has great views (this is very important) located in any of the Paris suburbs with easy access to Paris.
Taping takes about 4 hours, with a small crew and light equipment. We’ve never had any damage done to anyone’s property. And then you get to see your property immortalized on House Hunters International!
If you have such property or know of one, please contact us immediately.