Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Marie Antoinette and the decline of the French Monarchy

Marie Antoinette and the decline of the French Monarchy

Carlene Phillips, Nancy Lotz
For ages 12 and up
Morgan Reynolds, 2004   ISBN: 978-1931798280

Maria Antonia, the last daughter born to the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, was a pretty creature, fun loving and not over fond of books and schoolrooms. Antoine, as her family called her, had a reasonably happy childhood until, when she was thirteen, things began to change. As was expected of a princess, Antoine had to make a useful marriage for her country and her mother decided that Antoine was going to help strengthen the relationship between Austria and France by marrying her young daughter to the dauphin of France, Louis Auguste, heir to the throne.

Antoine, or Marie Antoinette as she was to be called now, had a lot to learn before she left home. Her mother quickly realised that Marie’s education had been woefully inadequate for a future queen of France. Marie became a wonderful dancer, had great poise and beauty, and was in short very decorative. Was she going to be able to manage the role of being a queen however?

We know now that Marie was unfortunately not up to the dreadful responsibility that was laid on her shoulders. She could not really understand the political situation in France and her husband was weak and ineffective, unwilling and unable to make the painful but much needed changes that were necessary to help France recover from severe financial and social decline.

The authors superbly capture the sense of unreality, of fantasy, that must have surrounded the royal family, and later the feeling of helplessness and complete loss as the revolution burned every brighter and every more violent and bloody. The authors describe not only Marie’s immediate circumstances but the political situation in Europe at the time, giving a clear picture of how poor Marie was practically doomed from the start because of all that had gone before and because her husband was just not up to the challenges forced upon him. It is clear that Marie, because she was not properly equipped for the task of being the queen of a troubled country, made many mistakes. Marie was therefore a victim of her times and not the tyrant she is often portrayed as being, and she is therefore worthy of our pity and respect.