This Week in History: 16 October 1793, Marie Antoinette is Executed by Guillotine

This Monday marks the 224th anniversary of the execution of Marie Antoinette, following a two-day trial for an array of sensational charges, which included exporting treasury money to Austria, planning the massacre of the national guards and unlawfully declaring her son the new king of France.

The latter charge was raised by her son Louis Charles, who is believed to have been pressured into doing so. Antoinette refused to respond to this charge, appealing to all mothers in the courtroom for sympathy.

Antoinette was the last Queen of France before the French Revolution, born in Austria in 1755. Despite her initial popularity during her early reign, beginning in 1774 when her husband Louis-Auguste ascended the throne, the population gradually became disenchanted with her. She was accused of promiscuity and holding sympathies for France’s enemies, particularly Austria.

An incident that came to be known as ‘The Affair of the Diamond Necklace’ in 1785 pushed Antoinette further into public scrutiny. It was implied that the Queen was involved in a crime to defraud a jeweller of the value of an expensive diamond necklace. The necklace was commissioned by King Louis XV, the predecessor of  Antoinette’s husband, for his mistress Madame du Barry.

However, after his death the necklace remained unpaid for, and French citizens of the time believed that the Queen was trying to claim these jewels. These events contributed to the population’s overwhelming disillusionment with the monarchy, one of the main causes of the French Revolution.

On 14 October 1793, when Antoinette’s trial began, her lawyers had only been given a day to prepare. Some historians also believe that the outcome had already been decided in advance by the Committee of Public Safety.

On 16 October, Antoinette was declared guilty of three of the charges she faced. She was executed by guillotine on that very same day at 12:15pm. Her last words were ‘pardon me, sir, I meant not to do it’ after she accidentally stood on the executioner, Henri Sanson’s foot. Her body remains in an unmarked grave in the Madeline cemetery, Paris, which was closed the following year in 1794.

Image: Amber Young

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