[In Our Time] Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette

08/11/2018 by BBC Radio 4

Web player: http://podplayer.net/?id=58292778
Episode: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/5/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p06r5160.mp3

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Austrian princess Maria Antonia, child bride of the future French King Louis XVI. Their marriage was an attempt to bring about a major change in the balance of power in Europe and to undermine the influence of Prussia and Great Britain, but she had no say in the matter and was the pawn of her mother, the Empress Maria Theresa. She fulfilled her allotted role of supplying an heir, but was sent to the guillotine in 1793 in the French Revolution, a few months after her husband, following years of attacks on her as a woman who, it was said, betrayed the King and as a foreigner who betrayed France to enemy powers. When not doing these wrongs, she was said to be personally bankrupting France. Her death shocked royal families throughout Europe, and she became a powerful symbol of the consequences of the Revolution.


Catriona Seth
Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature at the University of Oxford

Katherine Astbury
Professor of French Studies at the University of Warwick


David McCallam
Reader in French Eighteenth-Century Studies at the University of Sheffield

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Listen Date: 2018-11-15 to 2018-11-16

This episode is more memorable for trivia than insight.

  • The joke from Blackadder Goes Forth about Baldrick thinking that World War I was shot when a bloke called Archie shot an ostrich? It was actually a repeat of a French pre-revolution pun! Marie Antoinette was called Autrichienne (the Austrich bitch) and an Ostrich / Austrian. Amazing.
  • I ended up being more outraged at Maria Theresa marrying off Marie Antoinette (and honestly I hadn’t realised that they were mother and daughter); and even worse, that Marie Antoinette was basically the substitute player after two older sisters died.
  • Louis XVI didn’t consummate his marriage for seven years?! And nobody on the panel suggested that he was gay? Eesh.
  • Somewhere between trivia and insight was learning that the Austro-Hungarian diplomatic corps was outraged that Marie Antoinette was thinking for herself and acting as Queen of France instead of
  • The one thing which was insightful was the explanation that the queen was only supposed to have babies, and the actual First Lady of the court was the mistress; and when there was no mistress, everything went to shit for the queen. And in a happy coincidence, I ended up seeing the Doctor Who episode with the Madame du Pompadour a night later.
  • It looks like the ‘Let them eat cake’ line is now so thoroughly acknowledged as an urban myth that none of the panelists bothered to debunk it.
  • I wish In Our Time would cover The Scarlet Pimpernel.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s