“What’s sad about her has nothing to do with the content of her character.” Special guest Dana Schwartz tells Mike and Sarah how an Austrian princess became a French scapegoat. Digressions include Rubik’s Cubes, Taylor Swift and Tom Stoppard. The use of the word “bawdy” exceeds all previous episodes combined.
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Sarah: Mike, and I are your two lead sled dogs, and Mike's the good dog on the team and I'm the terrible dog. And he's like, look the trail is this way. And I'm like, look at this mushroom.
Mike: Welcome to You're Wrong About, the podcast where we let the women of history eat as much cake as they want.
Sarah: Oh, it's problematic, Mike.
Mike: That sounded disapproving.
Dana: I liked it! I thought it was tongue in cheek and self-aware.
Sarah: Okay. All right. I'm just going to support Dana’ approach to this cause she's our expert today.
Mike: Because I know that quote is wrong, but I don't know in what way.
Sarah: Okay, good.
Dana: See, I'm the guest. So I'm just going to suck up to Michael, no matter what.
Sarah: This has already become an autocratic society with only three people in it. That's worrying. Welcome to You're Wrong About. We already did that part.
Mike: You can say your name.
Sarah: I'm Sarah Marshall. And I'm working on a book about the Satanic Panic.
Mike: I'm Michael Hobbes. I'm a reporter for the Huffington Post.
Dana: I'm Dana Schwartz. I'm the guest this episode.
Sarah: And what do you do when you're not a guest?
Dana: I am a TV writer and I also host the podcast, Noble Blood, about historical stories about the lives of Nobles and Royals.
Mike: Thank you for coming on.
Dana: Thank you so much for having me. I was gushing before we started recording, but I made a huge fan.
Sarah: Oh, we're here out of your show.
Dana: This is so sweet. This is so fun.
Mike: Although I've actually been avoiding certain topics of your show because I don't want to be spoiled for this episode, which is about Marie Antoinette.
Dana: Yes. Aye. Spoiler alert, love Marie Antoinette. She was the first, very first episode I did. And then I literally just like, couldn't resist that like I think 15 episodes in, I was like, but there's another Marie Antoinette story I want to tell! That episode just because I wanted to show.
Sarah: Yeah, it’s your own show and having your own show is about doing maligned women's stories. I mean, Marie Antoinette is one of the first maligned women I ever studied and learning how to write about her, taught me how to write about Tonya Harding. And, you know, she's, she's part of that galaxy for me. So I'm so excited. So I have knowledge, but it's rusty knowledge.
Mike: And I have none.
Sarah: Scrape together, whatever you think you have.
Mike: I did see the Sophia Coppola movie, which I don't remember very well because I think I had the flu when I was watching it. So I was kind of in and out of consciousness.
Sarah: That's a good way to watch it. Cause you're like, look at all the colors.
Mike: I mean, isn't the myth of her basically that she is basically that she is a Monarch and a tyrant and the, let them eat cake thing, the story is that the peasants of France are starving, and she says this completely bone headedly clueless thing of, well, they can just dip into their giant reserves of cake that they have sitting around. And so the idea was that she was this rich lady who was totally out of touch with real issues of poverty and disaffection among her populace.
Sarah: Yeah. I mean, she was like Ivanka Trump, like tweeting a picture of like, why not make a blanket fort with your rich little children
Mike: Yeah. Yeah. But so where should we, where should we start in busting the myth?
Dana: I think first, I think the myth of like why Marie Antoinette fascinates us is like an important question. Because out of every historical figure people know Marie Antoinette, and she’s every young celebrity in Hollywood, every young female celebrity has been styled like Marie Antoinette in a magazine photo spread. Like she's just like bigger than herself.
She has come to represent this incredibly evocative thing of being glamorous and being out of touch in a way that like people use Marie Antoinette and they don't talk about Louis XVI as much, her husband. It's interesting.
And I think the two reasons that people are fascinated by her is one because she was glamorous and beautiful, which she was, which people love. And also, she had a really gruesome, tragic ending. It's a little like Marilyn Monroe in this sense. Like people do love, in spite of themselves, like the true crime fascination. We love a bloody beheading. Someone at the top of the food chain getting their comeuppance.
Sarah: I’m going to try and remember something that Joyce Maynard said in a documentary about Pam Smart. I think the quote is that people love the story of a beautiful woman brought down.
Dana: It's like envy and then her comeuppance. And so I think that she, as a figure, has come to represent something outside of herself in a way that then has exaggerated her character.
But also it's important to realize like during her lifespan, a lot of figures only become caricatures, like later in life, like looking back at them as historians. But like Marie Antoinette, during her life, there are contemporary articles, and caricatures, and cartoons. Like she was a representative figure in her own lifetime much in the same way I feel like Tonya Harding was.
Mike: So she also had a sweatshirt that said, ‘no comment’.
Dana: Yes, if she could have, she would have.
Sarah: Well, she did. I mean, Mike you're right, because she did express herself through fashion because that was one of the only avenues of expression that she had.
Dana: And through portraiture. It's very interesting, if you trace the portraits, the official Royal portraits, the symbolism of like now she's holding her children. Now there's a globe. Now there's a book. Like the way she communicated with the outside world was very deliberate. And she did try to do her best to spin things. It was like, I'm a mother of four, I'm maternal, I'm a good wholesome woman. There was that sort of propaganda from her side. And then we get the reaction from the other side.
Mike: But that's interesting. So basically the myth of Marie Antoinette began to form during her life. This wasn't something that happened a hundred years later.
Dana: Yeah, absolutely.
Sarah: Because she was a heavily mythologized figure. And when we think about it, Mike, do you know about how she ended up in the French Royal family? Did you ever read like a dear America, like Royal diaries, whatever they were called books?
Mike: No, I didn’t even know that she was not in the French Royal family.
Dana: Yeah. So should we dive in a little biographical information?
Mike: Yeah. Give me the bio.
Dana: So she was born in 1755, November 2nd. And she was the, I think the youngest daughter of 15 of Maria Theresa of Austria. Yeah. So Maria Teresa of Austria absolutely killed the queen game, which is, have as many babies as possible and then spread them out over Europe to forge your alliances.
Sarah: I bet her mom was in a bad mood all the time because she had prolapse, right? Like put odds on prolapse.
Dana: And also not all those children survive. This woman was in a perpetual state of having and rearing and mourning children. And yet it was one of the most preeminent diplomatic figures in Europe at the time. So her mother, incredibly powerful. Marie Antoinette, as the youngest daughter, wasn't actually ever expected to make a marriage as good as the one to France because there was a war going on between Austria and France at the time. You know, they were sort of general enemies, but also because she had a bunch of older sisters.
So Marie Antoinette's education when she was younger wasn't one anticipating that she was going to be the queen of a nation. Yes, smallpox happened, as it does. And so one of her older sisters was about to marry a man, Ferdinand IV of Naples, and her sister died of smallpox. But because the Naples delegation didn't want that alliance with Austria to die, they were like, just send one of your other sisters. So Marie Antoinette’s next older sister, the one who probably would have gone to France, went to Naples. Leaving their youngest daughter, Marie Antoinette, unmarried. And so after the seven years’ war, when France and Austria ended hostilities, they were like, great, here's our youngest daughter, she's 13, let's marry her to your prince.
Mike: How old was the prince?
Dana: He was actually about the same age. He was maybe a few years older. Yeah. But they were both very, very young teens. Marie Antoinette, while she's still in Austria, has a proxy marriage with her brother, which is a super common thing at the time.
Dana: Because you don't want to risk it. You don't want to risk waiting until they get there for the marriage to take place. So they're like, okay, there's a boy nearby. And so he'll pretend to be your fiancé and you'll get married.
Mike: Oh, for like the party for the ceremony.
Dana: For like an official, religious ceremony.
Mike: Okay. And then they like swap in the real boy when they get to France.
Mike: So when she's 13, she sort of fake marries her own brother. And then they sent her to France to marry the Dauphine, who is the grandson of the current King. Yeah.
And this is actually, a depiction of her coming to France is actually very accurate in the Sofia Coppola version where they ride her into the forest between France and Austria and make her change out of every single thing she's wearing that's Austrian, send back her Austrian maids and ladies, her friends, make her give up her dog, Mops, who was her little companion at this time.
Sarah: Mops. And mops was a pug. So I just picture that she has, you know, a pug is like a dog that you can hold on to like in your arms.
Dana: This is a 13 year old girl leaving behind everyone she has ever known and loved, presumably. I mean, with the assumption that she is never going to see them again, because for most of them, with the exception of her brother, she won't. She's not going to see her mom again. She's not going to see her sister again. You are giving up your entire life.
Mike: But why, though? Why can't they come visit? I don't get it.
Dana: I guess because travel was really dangerous and hard at that time. And people would be busy.
Mike: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know. It's not like they had anything else to do. But yes, I know. Right.
Sarah: And also, I do feel like there is this pageantry being carried out that does really express this idea of like she is French now. And it almost feels like she's not even supposed to go back to her home country because that would contaminate her, because the symbolism of it is like they have to go to this island that is exactly between us Austria and France. And like, she has to take off all her original clothes and be put in all new, all French clothes and she has to give up Mops. And what really gets me about all this is that like, there is no way to explain to Mops that this has to be done because the little boy in France is descended from God and his wife needs to be made French now so that he can rule his people as God told him to. Mops doesn't understand that because it's bullshit.
Dana: But you’re dead right on the symbolism of it. One, because France and Australia had just ended hostilities. But to most of the French people, Austria was still an enemy. You know, like this was a diplomatic maneuver that was happening up at the top. But for most common people, they were not fans of Austrian people. And so the idea that their queen would be Austrian was something that they were trying to hide as much as possible. I mean, she literally, they changed her name. She's Maria Antonia and she becomes Marie Antoinette, which is like the French version of that.
And again, at this point, we have to remember she's 13 years old. She has not really been educated super well, because women's education, you're not learning literature and philosophy and politics, you're learning how to entertain and how to host and etiquette. And even because she was sort of late to the game when it came to French etiquette, she wasn't super well-educated in that either.
Sarah: It's like Wellesley in Mona Lisa Smile.
Dana: Yes, and she didn't have Julia Roberts.
Sarah: One of the young Marie Antoinette stories that I really love is the story that is told in Amadeus by Emperor Joseph, who's played by the principal from Ferris Bueller, who's her brother. And which is apparently true, that the young Mozart gave a concert for the Austrian Royal family. And at some point he tripped and fell, and Marie helped him up. And he said, “Will you marry me? Yes or no.” And my personal fanfiction about all this is like, what if they did have this like long standing affair over time and really had like a correspondence with like fart jokes in it?
Dana: My understanding of this, wasn't she like seven and he was like five during this also?
Dana: Which makes it adorable. So you're imagining just these two children. He's a prodigy and she's a little princess.
Sarah: Little lonely princess and a lonely prodigy with overbearing parents. And then you could like retcon in stuff about certain Mozart pieces and be like, ah, it's about the Marie Antoinette feels. Which is kind of historically irresponsible, but we need to have fun, now more than ever.
Mike: So what happens after she gets to France and marries this young Joffrey?
Dana: So she comes to this incredibly opulent court, you know, Versailles is, the context of Versailles was it was originally a hunting lodge.
Mike: Like the size of the Pentagon. And it's a hunting lodge.
Sarah: You know how people who have these massive mansions in Newport, Rhode Island say that their cottages.
Dana: But the thing about Versailles that I think people need to, the context of it is like Louis, the 14th turned Versailles into this massive like opulent residence, not only for the Royal, but for the entire court, because in his mind, he's like, I don't want people scheming to usurp me out there. I want everyone here.
Sarah: Oh my God, did he invent reality shows? He’s like, let's get all the crazy, flamboyant, power hungry people together so we can all betray each other in a closed and very gossipy system.
Dana: 100%. And also his genius insight really was, he's like if I Institute a rigorous set of arbitrary rules, like the ranking member of the home as they walk in, you have to bow this way and like only this person can give the king his shirt and this person can put on the king shirt and this person, you know, brings the king to the toilet.
Sarah: Yeah. That's like the Bachelor. It's the Bachelor.
Dana: It’s these ridiculous set of rules. And he's like, if people are focused on these rules, they're not going to be focused on overtime throwing me.
Sarah: Ah, oh my goodness. Brilliant.
Dana: It’s an elaborate Barbie game to distract the powerful people from doing anything that might actually matter.
Sarah: I love that he was able to understand and manipulate the fact that like, he was like, you know what? People will always choose drama over like, who controls Prussia.
Dana: Yeah. Very selfish, myopic drama.
Mike: So does she physically move into Versailles?
Dana: Yeah. Everyone lives in Versailles. It's like it is the Real World House.
Mike: Wow. Okay. So she starts living there with her 13 year old husband who she presumably has never met before?
Dana: No, they meet for the first time at the edge of the forest. When she arrives, she changes her name officially to Marie Antoinette. And then I think she's 14 when they actually get married at Versailles and after their wedding, of course there is the ritual bedding ceremony where the two of them are put to bed and everyone watches.
Sarah: I forgot about this part. This is so weird.
Mike: Wait, they actually literally watched them have sex?
Dana: No, no, no. They pull the curtains of like the four poster bed. They put them to bed, everyone like laughs and makes body jokes. And then they pull the curtains. This wasn't the case, as we'll get to with Marie Antoinette and her husband. In some Royal families, then the next morning they would need to like show the bloody sheets that had happened. Oh, it's so gross because if a marriage isn't consummated, chaos happens as we saw in England, you know, you get an Anne Boleyn Catherine of Aragon situation where you can overthrow dynasties based on whether or not people had sex.
Mike: I also just love, because I've been reading 1491 lately, I just love that when Europeans come in contact with the “new world”, they're going to be like, oh, these indigenous societies are so uncivilized. And then you look at what they're actually doing. And it's like, oh no, everybody needs to like put them in bed so the 13 year olds can have sex and check the blood the next day to make sure they had sex. We’re cool.
Dana: Make the teenagers have sex, that’s how our system of governance works.
Sarah: But these Muslims believe that God appeared to a man named Muhammad. I mean can’t thou imagine?
Dana: But critically, she and her husband do not have sex.
Sarah: Because he's a very shy boy.
Dana: He’s a very shy boy, he is a “Wells for boys”, as I would call it. If you're familiar with that SNL sketch.
Sarah: No. What is that?
Dana: It's an SNL sketch about like Fisher Price wells for boys. Like a plastic well, for like sensitive boys want to gaze into the water instead of playing with regular toys.
Sarah: Yes, he so is. And do you think that like, it's fair to say that that little Dauphine Louis likes trains.
Dana: The really sad joke is he loves locks. It's like his hobby.
Mike: Locks? The salmon or the padlock?
Dana: Padlock padlocks, no Jews had not come to France yet. They had, but not for that joke.
Sarah: But not to Versailles.
Dana: And as it gradually became obvious that he and Marie Antoinette had not had sex, that becomes the base of a lot of bawdy jokes. Because the key doesn't go into the lock.
And so the thing that we need to remember about Marie Antoinette as being a queen, is the role of queen is not a role of governance. It's not a role, she's not doing the books. She's not manning the economy. Her job, truly, is to be an alliance between the nation she came from and the nation she arrived at. Check. And then to make heirs, young, new Dauphins. And if she doesn't have sex, that marriage is not valid. It's an annulled marriage. So her entire purpose in France is null and void. They could just send her back to Austria whenever they want like an Amazon return.
Mike: So it was like, you have one job, like your job is to breed, and to make nice, and go to parties, and keep everything happy and fun.
Dana: Yeah. And also your fundamental job in this marriage is to secure this alliance between France and Austria. And if you have not had sex, you have not made that marriage. So the thing is, she really tries. She's a very pretty girl, everyone says. She dresses really well. She's really nice. Everyone else seems to like her. But Louis, fundamentally, does not seem interested.
And this goes on for years. A full seven years they're not having sex, she's not getting pregnant. And at this point the word sort of spreads outside Versailles. Like this is the first time we're getting caricatures of Marie Antoinette in popular media and paper where they're making fun of her for being a bad block. Like this blaming the woman. I mean, they're making fun of Louis too, but it's a failure. It's an embarrassment on his part, and a failure on her part.
Mike: Do you have a theory for why he didn't want to sleep with her?
Dana: Yeah. So there's two theories. You know, you don't want to medically diagnose anyone in history because you just, you don't know. But there are two sort of stories that people tell to sort of neatly summarize this.
One is that like, seven years into the marriage, Marie Antoinette's brother comes to visit France, but only to give Louis a stern talking to. Like no one had given Louis a birds and the bees talk. So he just did not know what he was doing.
Mike: Okay. As someone who has been a 13 year old boy, that does not sound convincing to me.
Dana: So some people say that Ben, Marie Antoinette's brother, came. They walked around the gardens. He was like, this is how things are.
Sarah: And you have to picture the principal from Ferris Bueller's day off, for maximum enjoyment.
Dana: The thing that's sort of more likely that people say is that Louis sort of had a slight medical issue. And I don't mean to get too graphic on a podcast, but that his foreskin didn't retract completely.
Mike: Oh, so he like physically couldn't have sex.
Dana: That’s what people say. Or it was sort of painful for him to reach the state of arousal, but he had a little rudimentary surgery, I guess, like a little adult circumcision. And then they started having sex, which is great. The letters between Marie Antoinette and her mother during this like seven year period where she's not having sex with her husband are truly heartbreaking. Because the mom is like, “What are you doing wrong? Why aren't you pleasing your husband? This is your one job. We thought you were pretty. We thought you were likable. You're doing something wrong. Get on it.”
Mike: Right. Of course she takes all the blame.
Dana: Yeah. And it's just sort of heartbreaking that this is a massive failure on her part. But seven years in, I guess they're probably like 20, 21 at this point. They do have sex and she gives birth to a little baby girl, the first of four. So they ended up having kids and she has two sons and two daughters and fulfills her duty.
Sarah: And she's a real Instagram mom of the time, I would say.
Dana: The most Instagram mom. Getting portraits with her babies.
Sarah: And they're all wearing like linin or like what are they going to like sort of Muslim cotton when she's in her shepherdess phase?
Dana: Yeah. Oh my God. Like the exact type of Instagram mom who'd like put her little kids in overalls to go to a pumpkin patch.
Mike: Can I, can I look up a picture? Which picture should I look up? I want to see the Instagram.
Dana: So you'll see one, if you Google “Marie Antoinette family portrait”, you'll see one of her. Michael, if you're looking at her in her red dress, like a big red dress.
Mike: Yes, yes, that's what we're looking at.
Dana: Yeah. Interestingly, if you look in like the bassinet it's empty. It wasn't empty when it was painted, it's because her child died, and they repainted it.
Mike: They photo-shopped out the baby?
Dana: They photo-shopped out the dead baby, which is the saddest thing in the world. That was her fourth kid. Yeah.
Mike: Wow. Yeah. I mean, she doesn't look happy, I guess, but it's not exactly like a candid portrait because these things take like hundreds of hours to make.
Dana: I don't think the style at the time was grand. You want to look serene, right?
Mike: Her skin is like alabaster white and so were all the kids. It's like, they look porcelain.
Dana: Yeah. They're so milky white. I mean, that was the fashion at the time, it was powder on the face. And if you can sort of picture like the French, like beauty marks, like those, like black molds that people would put on their skin in certain places on purpose. It was to show off how white your skin was.
Mike: I didn't know that was a thing that people did.
Dana: Yeah. People would do like, you know, fake Marilyn Monroe's. And here's the whole thing. Like, I feel like it just embodies every nonsense thing about Versailles is like you put it in a different spot on your face to me in a different thing. It's like you put it by your eye and you're feeling flirty. You put it by your chin. You're feeling shy.
Mike: It's like one of these parties where you wear red, green, or yellow, depending on how, like up for it, you are.
Dana: Yeah. It's 100%. Like you have like a heart shaped, you know, beauty marker, the star shape, beauty marker, like without TV and the internet, people were so bored.
Sarah: Dana, at Versailles, like how would you say that people were sort of communicating each other the way that we are communicating on Twitter now? Like how was the gossip traveling and stuff like that?
Dana: I mean in person. I think that part of Versailles, like everyone is living there and gossip is crazy. There's like an entire, in like a Marie Antoinette book, there'll be an entire chapter about her relationship with Madame Du Barry. Which was her relationship with the mistress, the official mistress of the King at the time.
Sarah: Which was a job with like a government salary, right?
Dana: Oh, an official role, you're appointed to mistress. You have a job, you have a salary, you have chambers. It's like, congratulations, here's your 401k. People thought that Madame Du Barry was, you know, tacky. She was very mean. She made fun of Marie Antoinette sometimes, and her mom, at like parties and salons. But the thing about Madame Du Barry is, Marie Antoinette is sort of persuaded by other catty girls not to acknowledge the mistress formally because you know, she's sort of tacky and this becomes a legitimate scandal. Which then is only assuaged by Marie Antoinette going up to Madame Du Barry in public and saying ‘there are a lot of people in Versailles today’ and like crisis averted. The scandal is over. She publicly acknowledged Madame Du Barry.
Mike: Oh, wow. Diplomacy is always about coded language. But back then, it's like even more subtle, like what people are actually saying with these like benign seeming actions.
Sarah: This is how social media drama works today.
Dana: Completely. It's like the equivalent of like a frenemy then liking a friend's Instagram posts. And then there'll be Buzzfeed articles.
Sarah: Like, and then Marie Antoinette watched Madame Du Barry’s Instagram story.
Mike: Did this gossip make it down to like the people? Cause there obviously weren't tabloids at the time, but information did travel throughout France, I guess.
Sarah: Were their tablets at the time? It was like the late 18th century.
Dana: There were broadsheets. I feel like were the tabloids.
Sarah: Oh my God, Mike, you have no idea. The publishing industry was probably more robust then, than it is now.
Dana: But I don't know if the detail, like those specific Versailles details, but the big headlines that the people got about Marie Antoinette is, she's Austrian. We don't like that. And also, she's not having babies.
Sarah: She was the Megan Markle of her time.
Dana: No, she really was like.
Mike: Was the population watching this or like was aware of this on some level?
Sarah: Yes, absolutely. The population was fully aware of Marie Antoinette and her husband. They were drawing caricatures of them. This will only then become more and more exaggerated as the crisis in France takes a turn for the worse, because the thing about building an entire system of governance around gossip and entertaining Nobles is it's not then incredibly competent when it comes to dealing with national crises.
Sarah: Oh my God. It's like there are themes in this story.
Dana: But the things that sort of are important to remember about Marie Antoinette at the time is this is when her, you know, she's an 18 year old girl. She becomes the height of fashion and that's the real story. And that's sort of why I think the version of Marie Antoinette that's synonymous with, you know, the idea of Marie Antoinette in popular culture is, she spends a ton of money on dresses and elaborate hairdos that are then drawn up. Her hair-dos are even crazier than whatever you're imagining. She had a personal style. This was sort of the birth of the personal stylist. So she had a personal hairstylist who would put ships in her hair and put like, her hair would include like, you know, fabrics. And it, they were like works of art that she would be doing. And she loved to gamble and like to flirt. And she was very pretty. And so any flirtations she had would be noted and how much she was spending on clothing. But the thing that I think out of context that people need to remember is that was what a queen was supposed to do. I mean, the queen was supposed to be the most beautiful and the most fashionable.
Sarah: And she's supposed to be driving all these economies.
Dana: Yeah. She would elevate artists or artisans. That was like a thing, you know, like certain makeup lines, they weren't lines, but you know, like certain products and certain apothecaries. And again, like the hairstylist who was like a person that she brought up to her level, like she was not taught that her role as a queen was to do anything other than exist in this sphere of fashion and gambling and champagne.
Mike: Because she's not the head of government, she's the head of state. So it's not as if this is distracting her from coming up with like a fiscal budget that year, this is the central role that she plays in society at the time. Like she's a ceremonial Monarch, this is what she's supposed to be doing.
Sarah: Well, there's also a scandal when she starts wearing lots of like light cotton and muslin and stuff during her shepherdess period and the manufacturers of luxury fabric. If I'm remembering correctly, they got really upset and they're like, people aren't going to buy luxury fabric anymore. And it's your fault.
Dana: Yeah. She is a punching bag for absolutely whatever you want at this point. I think that we could talk about the shepherd phase, which is just very, very funny to me.
Sarah: It's like one of my favorite parts of the Marie Antoinette story.
Dana: After her husband's grandfather, the king, dies, Louis becomes the king and Marie Antoinette officially becomes the queen.
Mike and Sarah together: How old is she?
Dana: 18, almost 19.
Sarah: Wow. Teen Queen.
Dana: Teen queen. And her husband then gives her the Petit Trianon which had been built for Madame de Pompadour, who was an early mistress of Louis XV. But Marie Antoinette does this thing at the time that's very popular, which is to create basically like a poor person playground for herself, where she builds a little village in which she can play villager, like play like a little shepherdess. The aesthetics are really bad.
Mike: It's bad.
Dana: The thing also is like, she built it like Disneyland where like they had a servant who was hired to bake bread only so that it constantly smelled like baking bread. Also the best part is that she liked that the chickens would lay eggs and like she loved like bringing her friends and showing her the eggs, but a servant would take the eggs, wipe them down and then put them back.
Sarah: Of course she did. Aw, that's on my apocalypse bingo. We're going to see Instagrammers doing that in one month.
Mike: Right. But it's basically like, whatever tiny whim your mind can come up with, your wealth is such that there is going to be someone you can hire to deliver that.
Sarah: Yeah. And you're like, I want barnyard animals, but clean. And you're like, okay. So like, it's like an interesting thing to be confronted with and you're like, I could mock that, and I will for a minute, but also like you're a child. You were like even more of a child when you entered into this terrible stupid world, which you were really born into. So like, yeah. Why don't you have like a perfumed little lamb? Why not?
Dana: People also don’t realize this was a pretty common thing at the time among the wealthy.
Sarah: Yeah. It's not like she's crazy. It's just that her society was crazy.
Dana: But yeah, I loved playing farmer. It's like, also, like there was this like sort of collective fixation on the rural, like Michael, do you know, like Rococo arts? Can you like picture that in your head?
Mike: Yeah. My boyfriend went to art school. I knew all the schools now.
Sarah: Are you imagining like a slipper being thrown at you by a girl on a swing? Because I am.
Dana: Rococo maybe began a little bit before Marie Antoinette was born, but like this period was one very much in which like the idea of like the perfect rural, you know, little picnic was sort of this, this heightened ideal of like, let's just get away from it all.
Sarah: It is like an Instagram mom aesthetic because it's like the whole world is reduced to like sunlit babies.
Dana: Have either of you read the play Arcadia, which I'm obsessed with, which is a wonderful play by Tom Stoppard. But it focuses and has like a subplot about this very real thing that people did in like 1800 where they would have hermitages and they would at their, on their property, they sort of would build their backyard so it looked like this romantic like ruin and then they would hire a human being to pretend to be a hermit, I guess, not for pretend, to actually be a hermit in their backyard and live in a little cottage because they thought it was like cute and adorable.
Sarah: Mike, who does that remind you of?
Mike: Wait, what? Mark Zuckerberg hunting people.
Sarah: Kato Kaelin. You're like, he's a simple soul. Just look at him.
Dana: Yeah. And the idea is like, that person would be there for like folksy advice. Yeah.
Mike: I don't know if this is just a sign of inequality that this is inevitable, but there is a thing of how the rich take on the trappings of the poor, as a kind of aesthetic. And I remember in the late nineties, we had a wave of fashion designers that made sort of hobo chic outfits where like people looked like homeless people, but it was like high fashion, tens of thousands of dollars for these outfits. And it was the same kind of thing where it's like, you're taking this aesthetic of authenticity and you're appropriating it for like complicated, probably, Freudian reasons. But it just seems like that's a weird through-line of the wealthy.
Mike: 100%. Although I do think it's also important to remember, like Marie Antoinette lived at Versailles and was in this bubble of Versailles 24/7. And the thing about Versailles that you need to remember is when you're a queen, you are woken up by people. You are dressed by people. When you eat breakfast, people are watching you. And like every tiny little step that you do is like with ceremony and like with pomp and circumstance, like literally putting on a shirt in the morning took like six people. And the only, the highest ranked person in the room could actually touch the shirt. So like on some level, I bet, like going to a little rustic Hamlet and like, just like living her little life was like a nice escape for her.
Mike: Yeah. It sounds appealing. Away from all the gossip too. Cause if you put your shirt on in like a weird way, that morning probably becomes like a story that runs through the entire palace for a month.
Dana: Yeah. Yeah. She's the primary source of gossip. I think around this time also we were talking about like tabloids and the equivalent of tablets would be like these like pamphlets and around this time would be very, very popular pamphlets about the Queen in terms of like, that she was a sexual deviant.
Sarah: Oh, did they imply that she was a lesbian?
Dana: They absolutely did. Because she was Austrian.
Mike: First of all, she's Austrian,
Dana: Lesbianism is, as we all know, “the German vice”. There would be these pamphlets at the time, really, really explicit pamphlets, not only of her in like lesbian orgies with her friends, but also that she was having affairs with…if you are familiar with the critically acclaimed Broadway musical Hamilton, there's the character Lafayette, who's French, who was a figure of French court. And there's this great cartoon that I love where I think he is riding a penis like an ostrich.
Mike: What? Like it's a giant penis and he's sitting astride it?
Dana: I want you to Google ‘Marie Antoinette Lafayette cartoon’.
Sarah: Oh, dear. My heart is in my throat. Oh, okay. Wait. Here's my question. Is he some sort of Pegasus and the penis is part of his body or is it, because it's a penis that has the back legs of a horse coming out? It's a penis and testicles, I should say, that has the back legs of a horse coming out of the testicles. And that's how it's walking around. And is he like, “Hey, Marie, have sex with my horse”. Or is it like, “Hey, this is my new horse. This is how I got here.”
Dana: It’s his new horse because of their sexual deviance. And so sexual deviants are…
Sarah: Riding around on their penis horses, and that's how you spot them.
Dana: So that's just sort of an example. And then some of them have giant, there's some like giant vagina propaganda too. But the idea that really is disseminated broadly, like you were talking like what is like the average person's relationship to this. And like the average person is hearing that she is a sexual deviant who is, you know, having affairs and is a lesbian.
Sarah: She wants to touch the giant penis horse.
Mike: You know lesbians, love their giant penises. Nothing characterizes lesbians.
Sarah: Well, listen, haven't you watched Fox news? It's not about consistency, just throwing a bunch of spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks.
Dana: She's the biggest celebrity in France at this time. And so yeah, she sort of becomes this object of derision.
Sarah: Do you think that hating her is a way of being patriotic? In a way?
Dana: I mean, for sure, like you were talking earlier, we were talking earlier about like, why don't her family visit more? It's like when her brother visited that then prompted like a whole wave of rumors that she is an Austrian spy. But this idea really is that she is manipulative, that because she's Australian, she is absolutely an Austrian spy, even though she is really, I mean, not to, you know, derive her intelligence, but she's not, she wasn't educated in political affairs. That's not her sphere at all. She is not a spy for anyone. She is a 19 year old girl trying her best.
Mike: And of course it's the same thing we see now, I think where rather than just sort of keeping the dislike within normal confines of like, I'm not wild about this person, but the fact is like she was raised in court. She's kind of a doofus. I'm not wild about her and sort of leaving it there. No, it has to be like, oh, she's cheating on him. She's a traitor, she's a lesbian. It's like just every bad thing that we can think of. It all sounds plausible.
Sarah: She’s a lesbian who craves penis horse.
Dana: And this is about the time where, because that becomes her popular image, that she is just a sex-crazed maniac where she starts painting official portraits of her with her, I think probably at this time, just two children. That she, you know, thinks like, all right, my official portraits, now we're going to start portraying me as a mother in a very like PR move.
Mike: Like when Tom Cruise stopped giving interviews after he talked to Matt Lauer.
Dana: This is about when I would talk about my favorite scandal of all time, something called the affair of the diamond necklace. Is that something that you know about, Michael?
Mike: Not remotely.
Dana: So there's two pieces of important context to start the story. And one in like 1772 or whatever, when King Louis, the 15th was still King. So this is, you know, Marie Antoinette's husband's grandfather. He was like, I'm going to give my mistress, Madame du Barry, an amazing necklace. I'm going to make it the most expensive diamond necklace ever, like the equivalent of like $15 million. But between the time that he commissioned it and it was actually completed, he died, which meant that the jewelers had now made this enormous expensive necklace for no one.
They come to the new Queen, Marie Antoinette, who would be the only person who could afford this necklace. And they were like, do you want this diamond necklace? And Marie Antoinette, for one, was like, I hate Madame Du Barry, I don't want her sloppy seconds. And also right now, the entire country sees me as this frivolous, ridiculous woman who spends too much money. So no, I'm not going to spend $15 million on a necklace. Apocryphally, she said France should use that money for warships. But the idea is that even if she said it, she probably was secretly thinking like, I don't want Madame Du Barry’s necklace.
Another piece of context is there is a Cardinal named Cardinal De Rohan. And Cardinal De Rohan, before he was a Cardinal, maybe after he was a Cardinal, I don't know how being a Cardinal works, but he had gone to Austria as like an Envoy or ambassador. And he was just like a piece of shit there. He was flirting with ladies, and he was drinking, and he snuck a bunch of friends in under like the diplomatic passport that he wasn't supposed to. And when he came back to France was bad talking Marie Antoinette’s mom.
Sarah: There needs to be like a totally vicious, like Entourage-like show just set in Versailles. That’s just like people being awful in Versailles.
Dana: He just like, he is truly just a dude who failed his way to the top. And now our story begins with a young trickster named Jean De La Motte. And she hears about this necklace and decides it's the perfect opportunity for a scam. She becomes a, depending on who you talk to, either a mistress of Cardinal De Rohan because Cardinals of course had mistresses or a friend. And she says, you know, I'm actually a close personal friend of Marie Antoinette. And he's like, that's super important. It's really important. She hates me. But for me to get ahead in my political career, she really needs to forgive me. Now that she's Queen, this is really screwing me. Like she, you know, Marie Antoinette was styming his political career because he sucked, and he was upset about that. And he's like, I really need Marie Antoinette to forgive me.
So Jean de la Motte is like, “Great, I will deliver a letter to my close personal friend, Marie Antoinette, to try to persuade her to forgive you.” Unbeknownst to the Cardinal, the letter of course never gets delivered to Marie Antoinette, but is answered by none other than Jean de la Motte herself, pretending to be the Queen. And so they start giving letters back and forth with Jean de la Motte, just pretending to be the intermediary, but really just... and lo and behold, these letters become kind of intimate.
Mike: Oh, so it's like phone sex.
Dana: It's like phone sex. It's catfishing. Cardinal de Rohan becomes convinced that he's having like a really intimate affair via the letter with the queen of France, Marie Antoinette, a person who dislikes him.
Sarah: It's You've Got Mail. That's what it is.
Dana: So as these letters become more warm and intimate, the Cardinal is like, “We have to meet in person.” He's convinced that Marie Antoinette is in love with him. So this becomes like a farce, like an eighties comedy where Jean de la Motte is like, “What are we going to do?” They hire a prostitute, who in Paris was sort of famous for her resemblance to Marie Antoinette.
Sarah: And they found her by watching like 18th century French Jerry Springer, and like, look there.
Dana: And so they find this prostitute who I guess bears a passing resemblance to the Queen. And I guess at this time, like there's no photographs. Like people don't know super well what people look like.
Sarah: That's true. I bet when like daguerreotypes came out, all the scammers were like, “Oh crap, no good.”
Dana: So they have a secret midnight meeting by the light of the moon in the gardens of Versailles. The Cardinal offers the prostitute, who he thinks is Marie Antoinette, a rose and she accepts it. And at that point, Jean de la Motte comes out and he's like, oh no, someone's coming. Someone will discover you. You have to run, bye.
Mike: I mean, I'm just here to help, just helping you get out.
Dana: And throughout all of this, she's been like extorting money from him saying it's like for the Queen's charities. Then of course she decides to turn her focus to this necklace. But she basically, as Marie Antoinette, comes to the Cardinal and goes, there's this necklace that I really want, but I can't buy it right now because everyone thinks I spend too much money, but I really want it. Could you buy it for me? And I'll pay you back. I just don't want to buy such an expensive necklace when, you know, so many people are poor because it would look so bad and the Cardinal does it and he delivers the necklace to a guy that he assumes is the servant of the Queen but is actually Jean de la Motte’s boyfriend.
Mike: This is dope.
Dana: Then they bounce. Marie Antoinette is not paying him back. And he starts panicking and then he comes to court and is like, “Hey Marie Antoinette, I know you said not to talk to you in public, but you got to pay me back.” And point she's like, what? But the crazy thing is, as it comes out, and of course Maria Antoinette is not at fault. She was not involved in this and did not know it was going on. The man, remember, this is a guy that she has, kind of hated, for her entire life. And she's like, okay, one. gross that you thought we were in love. Two, you thought a prostitute was the Queen? That's treason. You need to get in trouble for this.
So, because she sort of publicly was like, Cardinal de Rohan needs to be in trouble for this, the propaganda at the time is like this was all a secret ploy by Marie Antoinette. They say that she had arranged this entire thing. She had hired Jean de la Motte, I guess, to frame this Cardinal that she had always hated and, or secretly she had just wanted the necklace all along.
Mike: Yeah. So the conspiracy theory is that she did this thing that would make herself look bad to make herself look good.
Dana: Yeah. But the end result of this trial in which she really did nothing wrong is people hating Marie Antoinette.
Sarah: And I bet if you were talking to an average French lady, you'll be like, what do you think of Marie Antoinette? And they'd be like, I hate her. And you'd be like, oh, how come? And they'd be like, well, that diamond necklace thing.
Dana: The thing that I think people are realizing kind of now in the pandemic, in our current state of the world, is like wealthy people are less adorable now.
Sarah: Where you're like, there's people that are dying, Kim.
Dana: Yes, exactly. Where it's like, yeah, there is definitely a point, I feel like when the economy is booming, where we like do really aspirationally love, like chic, rich people with like their shows of wealth and their beautiful homes. And when things are bad, people are like, I don't want to see your nice house. I mean, the thing that we need to remember is Marie Antoinette was incredibly out of touch, but sort of by design. Like the whole point of Versailles was that it would be this little city isolated from the rest of the country. And that is the place that she was raised and born in from the time she was 13. Like she is very out of touch, but not because she made a conscious choice to be out of touch. But then when things are very bad, being out of touch is much less charming or aspirational.
Mike: Yeah. So is this the beginning of the slide toward the Revolution? Like is the diamond necklace thing in some way a catalyzing event or like a little milestone?
Dana: Yeah. Yeah. This is four years before the actual revolution. And so this is, I think the moment where people are like, the monarchy is full of liars, they're manipulating the system. Truly, like this is the point at which she is so unpopular, she can't just go into Versailles and pretend it doesn't exist. People had already thought that she spent too much and was shallow. But at this point, the average person in the public hates her, right? This is her Benghazi, right? All of the revolution comes back to this stupid diamond necklace, that she organized in an elaborate fraud for her own frivolous purchases.
Sarah: Just admit that you hate her for more nebulous reasons, just because of where she is.
Dana: Yeah. I mean, the only sort of sweet thing to come out of this terrible affair is like, it is the only time in writing where I see her husband, Louis, the 16th, like being sweet to her.
Sarah: What does he do?
Dana: He really tries to defend her honor. And he really goes after Cardinal De Rohan. If you look at the way he's questioned, like, I don't know, it's hard to read their relationship. I think they have this sort of like, not super passionate sexual relationship, but they're very fond of each other. You know, they've been married for like 20 years. They really have this genuine fondness and friendship. And there's some like sweet things that he, he sort of handles it sort of sweetly.
Mike: Do people hate him as much as they hate he-
Mike: Because surely, he's doing the same dumb rich people shit.
Sarah: That's a key part of all this, in my opinion.
Dana: And like, he's a bad leader. I mean, the truth is like, I'm not so much like a political or economic historian, but the through line sort of with his style of ruling is he's just not that bright when it comes to matters of the state, he has like, well, you know, like different types of intelligence, like he's good at like making little locks, but he's not good at like big matters of the state.
Sarah: Oh my God. Call the burn unit.
Mike: That’s like saying he can solve Rubik’s Cubes.
Sarah: It seems like he's fundamentally without self-esteem.
Dana: He’s just sort of just like someone where if someone strongly says something, he's like, well, that's what we should do. And then someone will be like, well, we need to also blah, blah, blah. And he was like, great, go ahead. Do that. He just sort of thinks that being a good leader is just saying yes to everyone asking for things.
Mike: Right. But as usual, people who are bad at governing, like, we don't hate them as much as we hate people who are like ostentatiously wealthy.
Sarah: As much as we hate women, Mike, as much as we hate women.
Mike: Yeah. But I mean, I mean, there's also the thing of like, his incompetence is not as visible as hers or like his wealth is not as visible as hers, right. Just simply because men are not expected to do this, like having a ship in their hair, like his job is different from hers. And his job is coded in a way that makes us not notice all of the people he's killing through like bad policies. Whereas we notice her badness because there's all these aesthetics because women are judged on their aesthetic so much more than men. It's so much easier to get mad at aesthetics than it is a constant right.
Sarah: We can see her work. She's fucked because her role is totally focused on public performance.
Mike: Yeah. And that's a gender thing.
Dana: Oh yeah. Yeah. So he is fundamentally just like a nice guy. It seems like the most generous description of him, but a terrible leader and not smart and, not to implicate America in this fight, but we had a little revolution that sort of backfired on the French for two reasons. One, because France sends a ton of resources to us because they hate the British. And then also the people in France are like a revolution? We could have one of those.
Mike: Oh, there is this myth, right. That the French revolution was a sort of copy paste version of the American revolution when, I don't know much about the French revolution, but I'm assuming there's all kinds of domestic reasons why people did it. It wasn't just like, America's cool, so let's do what America did.
Dana: Oh, no. It's also way worse. Like in terms of revolutions, we got off. We got off really well. There was no reign of terror, post American revolution, but also, I mean, the thing is truly like there was a famine in France. You know, we could talk for hours about the factors that led into the French revolution, but like there was massive wealth inequality and resources were scarce and the papers were giving propaganda about how much cake Maria Antoinette was eating at her lesbian orgies.
Sarah: Which, you know what is nice at least about the way things have progressed is that millennials are all comforting themselves by having cake and lesbian orgies in this difficult time. So that's nice. I mean, not all millennials, but I bet I bet quite a number of millennials.
Mike: Because lesbian orgies are free.
Dana: Marie Antoinette as a person, like if we learn about her as a human being, like outside of her, like larger than life reputation, she loved children. She loved her children a ton, like more than women at the time did, like most women at the time just sort of had their babies and then was like, all right, now go, go over there. She also like adopted orphans, like metaphorically, like would pay for their schooling and tuition. But like on a small scale, like that's how Marie Antoinette thought about helping poor people. It's like, she's riding in her carriage and there's like an orphan on the street and she stops and she's like, “Oh, my God, there's an orphan on the street. We need to help him.” And she would pay for his schooling.
Sarah: I think she's kind of like a Disney princess. Like when she happens across something, she's like, oh no, this is unjust, but she's not thinking in global terms.
Dana: That’s exactly it.
Sarah: And she's almost been trained with aversion therapy to be apolitical at this point. She's like Taylor Swift in 2016.
Dana: So she is by all accounts, like a nice person who in the abstract, cares. And then when it's right in front of her, cares about poor people, but does not link that in any meaningful way to systemic changes.
Sarah: Yeah. And then we get into the very dynamic question of, how do we hold accountable people who have more power than they know how to use.
Dana: Yeah. And I think the thing that makes me have a lot of empathy for Marie Antoinette is this idea that like, who among us would do better? Like we all assume that if we were dropped into these situations that we would be the hero.
Sarah: I would simply reign as a good queen of France.
Dana: Yeah. I would simply, you know, rethink the strategic reserves of like grain and tax it at a proper rate. One, none of us know how to do that, but also that was not the role that she was told that she was supposed to occupy from the time she was a child.
Mike: Right. So it's like blaming the famine on Marie Antoinette is like blaming COVID-19 on like Pat Sajak, or something. It's like, that's not what they do.
Dana: Or like on like Lena Dunham. Right. It's like, oh, maybe she like said insensitive things and is out of touch. But like the Corona virus isn't her fault, right?
Sarah: Like if only she'd spoken to her followers and started tweeting at them about masks in December.
Mike: So is this the time when we get to the, “let them eat cake” quote?
Dana: So the “let them eat cake” is like my favorite thing also. Because it's so rare that like the most common thing that we know about a person is completely made up. And it's also very funny that what was a pure propaganda thing was also now the most effective piece of propaganda in the world, in that it's the only thing we remember about her 250 years later.
Mike: Yeah. It's like a 200 year old, urban legend.
Dana: Yeah. But like a purposeful piece of propaganda that was so crazy effective. So, I mean, spoiler alert, she never actually said it. The first time that that phrase actually appears was not in relation really to Marie Antoinette, just sort of in the zeitgeists was Jean-Jacques Rousseau writing his autobiography, telling like a little anecdote. And at this point, Marie Antoinette is like 10. She's probably still in Austria and has not come to France yet. But Rousseau writes like anecdotally, like I remember hearing this story once about a princess who, when she was told that the peasants couldn't afford bread, said let them eat cake. So he, just like a smart writer, was just saying this smart little funny anecdote as a way of being witty and talking about how out of touch the Royals are.
Mike: Right. Royals as a class, not necessarily Marie Antoinette, just like rich people suck. Here's a funny illustration of how rich people suck.
Dana: Like he could have made that up. And so then later people start attributing it to Marie Antoinette and actually being like, let them eat brioche is the, is the French translation of it. So it's not even cake, it's just a rich butter, an egg bread, which is like a luxury food.
Mike: It's like a kind of bread. Okay.
Dana: So that sort of in the propaganda papers then becomes attributed to her.
Sarah: Because as today, like one person probably reads it and kind of misremembers it and is like, “Hey, she said this, can you believe it?” And then it snowballs.
Dana: Yeah. And also, she's out of touch. I mean, the thing is like, Marie Antoinette's actual attitude is not, let them eat cake, but also like in her letters to her family, there's a quote that I had. ‘It is quite certain that in seeing the people who treat us so well, despite their own misfortune, we are more obliged than ever to work hard for their happiness.’
Mike: Okay. So she's like, not a terrible human being, basically. It's not like she sees people poor and suffering and she's like, fuck these people. She's like, oh, this little orphan, I should do something to help. Like she just can't see the bigger picture.
Dana: She also assumes that her husband is on top of things. She'll go to her husband and be like, people seem sad and poor and he's like, yeah, I'm on it. I'm working hard. And she's like, great. My job is done. Right? So people aren't wrong when they portray her as out of touch. And like, that's, I think why the propaganda against her is so long lasting and effective. And I mean, why it eventually leads to her being murdered in a guillotine. Because like they're not wrong, but it also just doesn't accurately take into account, like the context or like her feelings as a person.
Sarah: She’s an example of something. She's not the cause of it. Like he's the shining star exemplifying a problem, but he's not the cause of the problem.
Dana: Yes. She represents the most convenient form of, you know, a manifestation of an actual problem, but that is using her as a symbol and not a human being.
Mike: So how do we get to the death part? Where does it get real bad?
Dana: So my first episode of Noble Blood, I focused almost exclusively on the six months of her imprisonment. And people got mad at me because they were like, Marie Antoinette was out of touch, and the people of France were starving, and it was justifiable revolution.
Sarah: Yeah. You could acknowledge that and be like, but the end of her life was really, really sad also.
Dana: What happens is there's the March of the fish wives, which is the first physical violent attack on the monarchy, which is the fish wives who are kind of women who sell fish in the market.
Sarah: That's not what it sounds like. It sounds like they're married to the fish. Why are they called that? I've always wondered this.
Dana: Because they’re wives and they work with fishes.
Sarah: I mean, if you work with books, you are not called a book wife. Although maybe you should be.
Dana: So that’s the first like violent assault on the monarchy. Women actually physically marching from Paris to Versailles, which is, you know, maybe 30 miles away. I'm not a hundred percent.
Sarah: Yeah. So the women get the revolution started in a physical way.
Dana: Yeah. Yes. They physically attack the Versailles guards, trying to get their way to the Queen. Saying if we get to the queen, we will kill her. They murder a bunch of guards and hoist their heads on pikes.
Sarah: Wow. Those fish wives were pissed.
Dana: Sexism goes both ways in a crazy way, because they are drawn always as harpy shrews, as like wild Herndon women.
Sarah: I bet they're drawn with big biceps and big eyebrows.
Dana: Yeah. People hate Marie Antoinette, but they also hate these violent, crazy ladies.
Sarah: They're like, I hate all women, I just can't explain it. Because there's something that all women have in common that makes me hate them. I don't know what it is.
Dana: So this March is what forces the Royal family to come to Paris.
Sarah: So they're in a city with the people.
Dana: Yeah. They're forced to be like among the people for the first time ever, which sucks. As things become incredibly, incredibly violent, especially towards the upper class. You know, the guillotine, people are being executed and when they're not being guillotined, they're literally just being ripped apart, like physically ripped apart.
Sarah: Oh boy.
Dana: The story that I opened an episode of my podcast with because I think it just embodies like the genuine cruelty and bloodiness of the revolution, is one of the Queen’s friends and ladies the Princess de Lamballe, who was of course propagandized as being in a lesbian affair with the Queen, was hoisted in front of a big group of people on the street. They demanded that she discredit the Queen. What's that word for that?
Mike: Oh, like renounce?
Dana: Renounce, exactly. Renounce the Queen. And she refuses. And so they literally rip her apart. Like a mob of people shake her head and they say, “We're going to make the Queen kiss her lover.” And they say, oh no, we beat her so bad that she doesn't look like herself. The Queen won't recognize her. So they bring this bloody, ripped off head to a hairdresser and have it styled in the style that the Princess was sort of famous for. And then they hoisted on a pike outside Marie Antoinette's window.
Mike: That's fucked.
Sarah: And the hairdresser has a sign up that's like, due to the Revolution, I am now styling heads to look like the Nobel people they once were so they can be hoisted on spikes if you're doing that. I’m an essential worker.
Dana: Which is not to say I don't understand the impetus of the revolution and I'm, I don't think greedy monarchies are the best system of governance. I'm a Danish words on the record as pro democracy. But I think that we can also acknowledge, the anger was legitimate, but also there is a gruesomeness to these murders.
Sarah: Well, and that even when the anger is legitimate, it falls disproportionately on women in a way that is unjust.
Mike: Right. I mean I hate this thing where like, when you tell historical stories, people call upon you to root for, or against particular actors in them. When like, the most interesting thing about history is that there often is no one to root for.
Dana: Yeah. I mean, my interpretation of events is like, as a movement, the French Revolution had good ideals in general, but on a person to person level, I'm not a fan of like mass executions and ripping people apart.
So then things go from bad to worse for Marie Antoinette, as you can imagine. She's imprisoned in the temple palace, which sort of becomes a palace/prison. And this is when her husband, the King, is tried and executed. And of course her name is no longer the Queen Marie Antoinette. He just became, and he's no longer the King. He becomes Louis Capet. Marie Antoinette is moved from the temple to the conciergerie, which I hope I'm pronouncing right, I never studied French, which is like an actual prison.
Sarah: Did she still have her children at this point?
Dana: This is when her children are taken away. It's very, very, the most heartbreaking thing. And so like, it again is difficult to overstate the amount of hatred that people had for Marie Antoinette. And at this point, her oldest son, who is, I guess technically now the King of France, depending on if you still think that is a thing that exists, is taken away from her, but they keep him purposefully within like audio, distance of her so that she can hear as he's being like beaten and whipped and forced to renounce his mother and his family and say their traitors, he's like nine years old and they're making him drink. They think it's very funny to have the prince become drunk.
Sarah: Oh, it's like Dumbo.
Dana: Yeah. Oh God. She spends basically all of her time pressed up against the wall a certain way so she can look out her door at a particular angle. Because when they bring her son outside once a day, like that's the place where she could see.
Mike: Oh Jesus, do they kill her kids eventually? Are they executed?
Dana: No. He dies of prison fever, as they call it there.
Sarah: And there arises a theory later on when this feral child is found in the forests of France, which is a hard thing to say, the wild boy of Aveyron, who's like taught to communicate in this sort of age of enlightenment scientific experiment. And there is this sort of theory among the people that, no, like actually they faked the death of the Dauphin and then they left him in the forest and he's this boy, somehow, but there's no evidence to support that. It's just something that people tellingly wanted to believe.
Dana: Her daughter lives a little bit longer. And one of her sons lives a little bit longer, but the line doesn't continue.
Mike: Okay. So that's the end of the Antoinette’s.
Sarah: Yeah, her kids don't have kids. So she's sort of tortured in prison, as you can imagine. She sometimes borrows books from the guards and reads adventure books. Any guard who shows her an ounce of kindness is then punished themselves.
Sarah: So he becomes this symbolic figure who has to be mistreated because the revolution is trying to overcome all of the old ideals of the past regime. And yet still is holding onto the same superstitions of the lost world.
Dana: Completely. And when she shows up for her trial, people say that she is unrecognizable, that whether it's apocryphal or not, her hair is white at this point, even though she's only like 37, but you know, she's been under a tremendous amount of stress and torture. The worst part is she's accused of molesting her son and they make her son who's been tortured testify that she was molested.
Mike: Oh weird. Okay.
Sarah: Marie Antoinette panic.
Dana: Because the charges against her were not enough. They have to just add this thing. I mean, obviously then she's found guilty. Up until this point she sort of had no idea what day she'd be murdered. So she would just wear black every single day. But then before her actual execution, they come in and they make her change into like a plain white dress. They make her change in front of the guards. She asks to relieve herself. They make her relieve herself in front of the guards. And she is driven in an open cart, like a caged open cart, for an hour down the streets of Paris to the guillotine that's been erected in the middle of town for an entire ride with people, jeering and throwing things at her.
Mike: So the humiliation is a huge component of the punishment.
Sarah: That's part of it.
Mike: And like the catharsis for the French society at the time.
Dana: The hatred towards her is just insane. And then she's executed at about noon and her last words, which are, I think just so thematically resonant, is that she steps on the executioner's shoe by accident. And so her last words are, “I'm sorry, sir. I didn't mean to do it.”
Mike: No way.
Sarah: Very Christ-like.
Mike: That's not apocryphal. That's like very perfect.
Dana: I know that it's a real thing. And then her body is thrown into an unmarked grave.
Mike: So do we still not know where it is?
Dana: No. It's exhumed later during the Bourbon Restoration in the 1800s, in like 1815.
Mike: Yeah. The original you're wrong about.
Dana: Yeah. My favorite weird fun fact of history coming together is, you know Madame Tussauds, in London? Like all the wax figures? She was a real person who made wax figures of people. And she's the one who made Marie Antoinette's death mask, because when her body was thrown in an unmarked grave, the French Revolutionaries wanted the metaphorical dead Marie Antoinette that they could like parade around.
Sarah: Oh, just normal stuff. Just like make us a death mask so we can hate her after she's dead and say it to her face.
Dana: So like Madame Tussauds, because she had worked at Versailles and was sort of associated with that, she sort of then became a servant of the Revolution where they're like, “Make death masks for us”, because she was perceived as like a Royal sympathizer. So they made her make death masks of the most famous people who died so they could show them off as trophies.
Mike: So is that what they did with Marie Antoinette?
Dana: Yeah, I think her first wax museum had the actual death mask of Marie Antoinette.
Mike: Oh, the actual one that they paraded in the streets?
Mike: Ew, okay. So does France just like continue hating her for the next kind of foreseeable future until her reputation is exhumed?
Dana: I feel like her reputation is still not exhumed. Like I think that people still hate her, I guess. The layperson’s only association of Marie Antoinette is that she was an over spender who did not care about poor people.
Mike: So it was only with a podcast by Dana Schwartz, at the turn of the century that really changed her reputation.
Dana: I really single handedly did that.
Sarah: Yeah, you're steering the ship. Well, you and Antonio Fraizer. So you're the two. And Sofia Coppola.
Dana: And Sofia Coppola! You know, I'm one of those people who actually really likes that Sofia Coppola movie.
Sarah: Me too. It's a movie for girls.
Dana: It's fully a movie for girls. I think people are mad that it doesn't focus on the revolution. Like it ends right as the revolution starts. So it just focuses on like Marie Antoinette’s peak sort of.
Sarah: Which is like, how crazy that it looks at life as it is from her perspective.
Dana: They were like, oh, they make it look like, just like a teenage gossipy, blah, blah, blah. But like, that's exactly how it was in Versailles. Like that movie is like shockingly historically accurate for a movie like the promotion campaign had her wearing converse or whatever to like show that she was relatable.
Sarah: It's capturing the truth of her spirit. No one understood metaphors, then they were like, converse? Oh no. It's like the water bottle in Game of Thrones.
Mike: I guess the challenge with fictionalizing these kinds of narratives is that if you were to tell them accurately, it sounds like they kind of would be a reality show. They'd be really gossipy and everyone kind of cloistered together and people would be kind of clueless, just because like the division of labor back then sounds like a lot of the people would be focused on frivolous things because they've never received any formal education in anything else. So it would be sort of real Housewives-y.
Dana: Yes, it's stylized, but it's also an incredibly accurate portrayal in my mind of like how her reality was, which like, yeah, her reality, the movie does not focus on poor people because Marie Antoinette's reality did not include poor people. That was not her daily life, her daily life was, I am this 14 year old girl, who's been plunged into this elaborate world that I now have to navigate and try to navigate correctly.
Mike: Right. And we don't have to like root for, or against that. Like that can just be the reality of the situation without necessarily being like, and it was good. She's the hero of the story or she's the villain of the story. She can be neither.
Sarah: Yeah. History isn't sitting around waiting on our approval and like, it's not in our power to like cancel historical figures, like it's all over.
Dana: I think that is the problem where it's like, people then want to celebrate like Marie Antoinette was secretly a feminist hero. Like that's, that's like, but it's like, no, I mean, she's not, she's just a selfish person.
Sarah: Marie Antoinette slays. Yassss.
Dana: Marie Antoinette got a rough go at it, you know, for the last five years.
Sarah: Right. Like, I mean, I feel like what's sad about her has nothing to do with the content of her character or to the extent that it does. It's like, oh, she was just like a regular person. She was a mom, you know, today she would just be like, just a nice, happy, kind of hippie mom who like maybe sold essential oils and like, liked a good sale at Target, and just not someone who was interested in politics or had ever been encouraged to be part of that. And that's like the tragedy of her position in some ways. And we can just be like yep, she was just like a simple soul who was living in a complicated role in a complicated time.
Dana: Yes. She was absolutely not capable of being a nuanced political leader who could solve an economic crisis, but that is also the problem with a monarchy, is that your leader happens by an accident of birth. I think that's less a Marie Antoinette problem and more like, okay, well, your leader should not just be whoever happens to be the son of the current leader.
Mike: It's a political science problem. It's not a Marie Antoinette sucks problem.
Dana: Like as a person, she seems like a nice person. And of course, because of circumstances outside of her control, she became a massive figurehead and lightning rod. And also, you know, I'll go on the record saying, I don't think anyone should be murdered and have their children tortured.
Sarah: Me too.
Mike I'm into that.
Sarah: Let’s just end on a note of agreement.
Mike: So thanks for coming on, Dana. This was great.
Sarah: Did we ever have you say the name of your podcast?
Mike: Where can people find you?
Dana: My podcast is called Noble Blood. But I'm on Twitter and Instagram, and yeah, I'm around.
Sarah: And you're recording at home now, too. What are you working on?
Dana: I am. I'm doing, I don't know when this podcast is going to go, but right now I'm doing a series of the six wives of Henry VIII for Noble Blood.
Sarah: I'm so excited about that.
Dana: Some of the wives are, I find more interesting than others.
Mike: Hot take.
Sarah: And we'll just let that hang there mysteriously and people have to find out who's more interesting.
Dana: I also think there is like this tendency, I find, where it's like, you want to secretly, you want every woman to secretly be a feminist hero.
Sarah: And some of them just suck.
Mike: Some of them suck.
Dana: A lot of men are dumb and boring and sometimes also women are dumb and boring.
Mike: That's the real lesson of this episode. Some women are dumb and boring.
Dana: But isn't that real equality? That everyone is just allowed to be as good or as mediocre as they actually are?
Sarah: Yeah. That’s history.