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230 years: The execution of Marie Antionette

Authored by Alice Broome
Published on 16th October, 2023 3 min read

230 years: The execution of Marie Antionette

Today (16/10/2023) marks the 230th anniversary of the execution of Marie Antionette. 

Born into Austrian aristocracy, Marie Antionette married Louis-Auguste, heir to the French throne, in 1770 aged fourteen. Four years later her husband was crowned Louis XVI and so Antionette became Queen of France. 

She soon became a controversial figure. Shortly after his coronation, Louis XVI gifted Antionette the Petit Trianon, a small château on the grounds of Versailles. He gave her permission to decorate the building however she saw fit. Rumours quickly emerged that the queen had covered the walls in gold and diamonds. 

Antionette’s reputation as an extravagant spender grew. She lavished excessive amounts on fashion, gambling, and other luxuries. Antionette was one of the most fashionable queens in history — in many portraits she is depicted sporting her iconic pouf hairstyle. This decadent lifestyle was contentious given France’s worsening economic crisis. Many people blamed Antionette for the downfall of the economy, arguing that she was wasting the monarchy’s money on unnecessary luxuries, thereby leaving the country unable to pay its debts. Antionette was also accused of being more sympathetic to her native Austria than to France.

Insidious pamphlets about the queen proliferated. These advanced fictional stories of her adultery with both men and women. The parentage of all of her children was questioned and in 2016 researchers at France's Research Centre for the Conservation of Collections (CRCC) announced that they had found evidence that she did indeed have an affair with Axel de Fersen, a Swedish count.[1] 

The French Revolution erupted on 5 May 1789. On 5 October 1789 a crowd surrounded Versailles and forced the royal family to move to the Tuileries Palace. They lived under house arrest whilst violent opposition to the institution of the monarchy grew throughout France. 

On 21 June 1791 the royal family attempted to escape Paris and flee to royalist Montmédy. Less than 24 hours later the entire family was arrested at Varennes and taken back to Paris. They were held at the Tuileries Palace under intense surveillance. On 10 August 1792 armed revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries. The Swiss Guards who defended the palace tried to fight back whilst the royal family sheltered in Le Manège, the meeting place of the Legislative Assembly. An estimated 800 people died during the insurrection.[2]

Six weeks later, on 21 September 1792, the royal family was abolished by the new National Convention. The next day, France became a republic. 

Louis XVI was charged with treason against the French Republic and was executed by guillotine on 21 January 1793. His wife’s trial began on 14 October. Two days later she was found guilty of “conspiring with foreign powers, the depletion of the state treasury, and of committing high treason by acting against the security of the French state”.[3] Later that day, Marie Antionette was guillotined. 

[1] Henry Samuel, “Marie-Antoinette's torrid affair with Swedish count revealed in decoded letters”, The Telegraph, 12 January 2016, available at

[2] Harrison W. Mark, “Storming of the Tuileries Palace”, World History, 23 September 2022, available at

[3] Harrison W. Mark, “Trial and Execution of Marie Antoinette”, World History, 7 November 2022, available at

Authored by Alice Broome

Alice Broome

Alice Broome is an Editorial Assistant at British Online Archives. She is a Philosophy, Politics, and Economics graduate from the University of York.

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The British Online Archives Notable Days diary is a platform intended to mark key dates and events throughout the year. The posts draw attention to historical events and figures, as well as recurring cultural traditions and international awareness days, in both religious and secular contexts.

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