France’s Rise and Marie’s Demise

While the famous saying “let them eat cake” did not actually come from Marie Antoinette, it perfectly encapsulates France’s opinion of Marie during the revolution. People were starving and overtaxed, and as desperation increased, Marie and her fineries quickly became a scapegoat. To rile agitation, presses began illegally printing pamphlets – libelles – spreading all kinds of rumors about Marie. Allegations of promiscuity and lesbianism were common, and the images of her got quite lewd. (Her and Louis’ inability to produce an heir for seven years only increased the people’s certainty that Marie must have had extramarital affairs.) Two of the most common pamphlets were called “The Royal Dildo” and “The Royal Orgy.” Xenophobia was also an issue, as many of these libelles drew close attention to her Austrian heritage. Whatever the libelles were about, however, they all had one goal.

For many peasants, Marie’s immoral character was what kept them from getting enough to eat. The only acceptable solution was to bring her to the Guillotine, and many people suggest that libelles were the catalyst to Versailles’ downfall.


One of the most popular allegations against Marie was that she was a lesbian. Here she is with the Princesse de Lamballe, one of her closest friends. The text reads, “I do not breathe more than to kiss you, my beautiful angel.”

King Louis XVI and his family -
(Image courtesy of Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris)

This cartoon shows Marie leaping from Versailles with her husband and son to her brother-in-law, bribed by bag of money, over her alleged scandals and the tribulations of France.

(Image courtesy of This Is Versailles)

Homosexuality at the time was considered the “German disease,” so portraits of Marie as a lesbian attacked her Austrian heritage as well as her character.

(Image courtesy of Leah Marie Brown Historicals)

A classic double entendre: here Marie is, quite literally, a harpy.

(Image courtesy of Leah Marie Brown Historicals.)

The phallus’s ostrich form in this libelle is a play on words with “Austrichienne,” or “Austrian Bitch,” which was a common insult.

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