Archduchess of Austria and Queen of France
The future Queen of France was born on All Souls’ Day, 2nd November, 1755, in Vienna as the youngest daughter of Maria Theresa and the Emperor Franz Stephan. She was baptized under the names Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna. A glorious future seemed to await the little Archduchess. Not only would she grow up in the bosom of a large and affectionate family, but from the very beginning her mother intended to marry her youngest daughter to the glittering Crown of France. The traditional marriage politics of the Habsburgs would secure her beloved daughter a brilliant position and help guarantee the peace and stability of Europe at the same time.
In view of these intentions, it is surprising that not greater attention was paid to the young Archduchess’s education, especially since Maria Antonia exhibited little ability or inclination to concentrate, nor any great desire to apply herself to her studies. Music alone was capable of arousing moderate interest in the young princess. She showed some talent here and even played duets with the young Mozart in the Palace of Schonbrunn.
In 1769 the much longed for news arrived from Versailles. After tedious and lengthy negotiations, King Louis XV had requested the hand of the Archduchess Maria Antonia for his grandson and heir, the Dauphin Louis-Auguste.
The 14 year old girl, who had hardly been prepared for her new exalted rank, bade farewell to her mother and family in Vienna on 21st April, 1770, and with an impressive bridal train began her fateful journey to the Kingdom of France. She travelled up the River Danube and via Munich and Augsburg, stopping at Gunzburg, Ulm and Freiburg in what was then still Austrian territory. On 7th May, near …
…XVI) again…………I seek forgiveness from all whom I know for every harm I may have unwittingly caused them………….Adieu, good, gentle sister……I embrace you with all my heart as well as the poor, dear children….”
Madame Elisabeth never received the letter. In 1794 she would follow Louis and Marie Antoinette to the guillotine.
At 10 a.m. on 16th October, 1793, the “widow Capet” was taken from the Conciergerie prison where she had been held during her trial, and with hands bound behind her, was placed in the tumbrel for her last journey in this world.
Marie Antoinette, Archduchess of Austria and Queen of France, went quietly and bravely to her death. A tragic end to a fateful journey begun so promisingly almost a quarter of a century before — with her bridal train from Vienna to Versailles in 1770.
Marie Antoinette was not yet 38 years old.