Happy birthday, Marie Antoinette! 

When everyone else is losing their heads, it is important to keep yours.

Marie Antoinette

The disgraced queen of France (born November 2, 1755) has fueled the popular imagination for centuries and been the subject of countless books. There’s irony, of course, in this comment—since she was killed at the guillotine—but it remains an apt sentiment for today’s fast-paced world. Scholars consider her extravagant lifestyle a factor in provoking the unrest that led to the French Revolution (“Let them eat cake!” goes the legend). More than 200 years later, we can still catch glimpses of her personality in bound volumes of her letters, which reside at university libraries.

Marie Antoinette with the Rose
Portrait by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783.
Long after her death, Marie Antoinette remains a major historical figure linked with conservatism, the Catholic Church, wealth, and fashion. She has been the subject of a quantity of books, films and other forms of media. Politically engaged authors have deemed her the quintessential representative of class conflict, western aristocracy and absolutism. Some of her contemporaries, such as Jefferson, attributed to her the start of the French Revolution. For others, Marie Antoinette was a victim of her family ambition and the general situation in France. However, even her critics have recognized her qualities as a mother and her courage in dying. 

Courage! I have shown it for years; think you I shall lose it at the moment when my sufferings are to end?

In the United States, expressions of gratitude to France for its help in the American Revolution and Marie Antionette was the driving force behind France’s support of “America”.

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