10 Facts About Marie Antoinette

Born Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna, Archduchess of Austria, the woman known as Marie Antoinette became Queen of France and Navarre on May 10, 1774. Her marriage to Louis-Auguste was designed to create peace between Austria and France after the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756 and the onset of the Seven Years’ War. She survived shifting political sands of palace intrigue and upheaval between European countries but couldn’t survive the revolution boiling over in her own adopted nation. Here are 10 facts about a woman we love to make up myths about.

1. Marie Antoinette was only 14 years old when she married the future Louis XVI.

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Marie Antoinette became a queen as a pawn, a child bride at 14 paired with a 15-year-old Dauphin to seal the union between two countries that had previously been at odds. The marriage took place by proxy on April 19, 1770 in Vienna, with Marie Antoinette’s brother standing in for the groom; a ceremonial wedding occurred May 16 at the Palace of Versailles.

2. Marie Antoinette wanted to ride horses but rode donkeys instead.

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Looking to connect with her hunting enthusiast husband, Marie Antoinette sought to learn horseback riding, but was told (particularly by her escort to France, the Count of Mercy-Argenteau) that it was far too dangerous. Fortunately, riding donkeys was deemed acceptable, so the court sought calm, pleasant donkeys for Marie Antoinette to ride. She grew so enamored of her donkey-accompanied treks into the woods that she would host processions into the forest as often as three times a week with onlookers gathered for the spectacle.

3. Marie Antoinette gave generously to others.

The flattened historical view of Marie Antoinette as a puff-headed monster who loathed the poor obscures her generally kind, giving nature. She founded a home for unwed mothers, visited and gave food to poor families, and, during the 1787 famine, sold off the royal flatware to buy grain for those in need. Her generosity wasn’t solely institutional, either. One story shows her jumping quickly to the aid of a vintner who was hit by her carriage, paying for his medical care, and supporting the family until he was able to work again.

4. Marie Antoinette's spending wasn't the main cause of the French Revolution.

It’s easy to see Marie Antoinette and all of Louis XVI’s court as profoundly out of touch with the people of 18th century France because they continued a lavish tradition of royalty in the face of crushing debt and rampant squalor. However, the idea that Marie Antoinette’s expensive whims were to blame for the country’s economic woes is a myth.

When the couple ascended to the throne, the country was already in deep trouble financially, and Louis XVI’s monetary policies failed while he sent massive amounts to support the American Revolution. Propaganda of the time that was typically aimed at kingly mistresses was aimed at Marie Antoinette (since Louis XVI had no mistresses), and populist presses depicted her as being even more extravagant than she was.

5. Marie Antoinette never said "let them eat cake."

Anti-royal propaganda of the era was so effective that we still believe it to this day, including the idea that Marie Antoinette’s response to the plight of the French not being able to afford bread was “Let them eat cake.” The next time a friend brings that up at a party (happens all the time, right?) you can bet all the money in your pocket that it’s not true. Or, at least, that there’s no record of her having ever said it. On the other hand, stories of oblivious royals suggesting richer pastries when bread’s not available date back to the 16th century, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau told a similar story about “a great princess” in Confessions, but it’s doubtful he was referring to the then-teenaged Marie Antionette.

6. Marie Antoinette had a peasant farmyard built at Versailles.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Marie Antoinette can’t escape all accusations of extravagance, though. Like other royals, she had expensive tastes, but her construction of a replica of a peasant farmyard where she and her friends could dress up like shepherdesses and play at being poor farmhands was beyond the pale. Built in 1783, Le Petit Hameau (“The Little Hamlet”) looked like a real farm except the farmhouse interior’s opulence was fit for a Queen.

7. Marie Antoinette loved children.

Despite not consummating their marriage until seven years in, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI eventually had four children: Marie Thérèse in 1778, the Dauphin Louis Joseph in 1781, Louis Charles in 1785, and Sophie in 1786. Sophie died before her first birthday, and Louis Joseph died at age 7 (probably from tuberculosis), but Marie Antoinette also adopted several children. They included the daughter of a maid who died, and the three children of an usher following his death. When some loyalists attempted to rescue her from the Revolutionary forces, she responded that she “could not have any pleasure in the world” if she abandoned her children.

8. Marie Antoinette could have been rescued from execution.

After Louis XVI was executed, Marie Antoinette—then called Widow Capet and prisoner 280—was imprisoned in the Conciergerie. Her friend Alexandre Gonsse de Rougeville visited her wearing two carnations, one of which concealed a note promising her bribe money to help her escape. He dropped it while in her cell and either it was picked up by the guards, or Marie Antoinette read it and scribbled an affirmative response that was then read by the guards. On the night of the attempted escape, the guards were bribed and Marie Antoinette was brought down to meet her rescuers, but one of the guards foiled their plan despite already having pocketed the bribe.

9. Marie Antoinette apologized to her executioner.

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

For someone who lived such an extraordinary, lavish life, Marie Antoinette’s final words were profoundly humble. On her way to the guillotine, the very instrument of death that was used to kill her husband 10 months prior, she accidentally stepped on the executioner’s foot and said, “Pardon me, sir. I meant not to do it.”

10. Marie Antoinette was buried in an unmarked grave, but didn't stay there.

After her execution at 12:15 p.m. on October 16, 1793, Marie Antoinette's body was dropped into a mass grave in the Madeleine cemetery, which was closed the following year because it had reached capacity. During the Bourbon Restoration following the fall of Napoleon, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI’s bodies were exhumed on January 18, 1815, and given a royal burial at the Basilica of St. Denis just a few days later. Their remains are still there, but the Expiatory Chapel dedicated to them was designed in 1816 on the site at the Madeleine cemetery where they’d previously been unceremoniously interred.

8 Great Gifts for People Who Work From Home

World Market/Amazon
World Market/Amazon

A growing share of Americans work from home, and while that might seem blissful to some, it's not always easy to live, eat, and work in the same space. So, if you have co-workers and friends who are living the WFH lifestyle, here are some products that will make their life away from their cubicle a little easier.

1. Folding Book Stand; $7

Hatisan / Amazon

Useful for anyone who works with books or documents, this thick wire frame is strong enough for heavier textbooks or tablets. Best of all, it folds down flat, so they can slip it into their backpack or laptop case and take it out at the library or wherever they need it. The stand does double-duty in the kitchen as a cookbook holder, too.

Buy It: Amazon

2. Duraflame Electric Fireplace; $179

Duraflame / Amazon

Nothing says cozy like a fireplace, but not everyone is so blessed—or has the energy to keep a fire going during the work day. This Duraflame electric fireplace can help keep a workspace warm by providing up to 1000 square feet of comfortable heat, and has adjustable brightness and speed settings. They can even operate it without heat if they just crave the ambiance of an old-school gentleman's study (leather-top desk and shelves full of arcane books cost extra).

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3. World Explorer Coffee Sampler; $32

UncommonGoods

Making sure they've got enough coffee to match their workload is a must, and if they're willing to experiment with their java a bit, the World Explorer’s Coffee Sampler allows them to make up to 32 cups using beans from all over the world. Inside the box are four bags with four different flavor profiles, like balanced, a light-medium roast with fruity notes; bold, a medium-dark roast with notes of cocoa; classic, which has notes of nuts; and fruity, coming in with notes of floral.

Buy it: UncommonGoods

4. Lavender and Lemon Beeswax Candle; $20

Amazon

People who work at home all day, especially in a smaller space, often struggle to "turn off" at the end of the day. One way to unwind and signal that work is done is to light a candle. Burning beeswax candles helps clean the air, and essential oils are a better health bet than artificial fragrances. Lavender is especially relaxing. (Just use caution around essential-oil-scented products and pets.)

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5. HÄNS Swipe-Clean; $15

HÄNS / Amazon

If they're carting their laptop and phone from the coffee shop to meetings to the co-working space, the gadgets are going to get gross—fast. HÄNS Swipe is a dual-sided device that cleans on one side and polishes on the other, and it's a great solution for keeping germs at bay. It's also nicely portable, since there's nothing to spill. Plus, it's refillable, and the polishing cloth is washable and re-wrappable, making it a much more sustainable solution than individually wrapped wipes.

Buy It: Amazon

6. Laptop Side Table; $100

World Market

Sometimes they don't want to be stuck at a desk all day long. This industrial-chic side table can act as a laptop table, too, with room for a computer, coffee, notes, and more. It also works as a TV table—not that they would ever watch TV during work hours.

Buy It: World Market

7. Moleskine Classic Notebook; $17

Moleskin / Amazon

Plenty of people who work from home (well, plenty of people in general) find paper journals and planners essential, whether they're used for bullet journaling, time-blocking, or just writing good old-fashioned to-do lists. However they organize their lives, there's a journal out there that's perfect, but for starters it's hard to top a good Moleskin. These are available dotted (the bullet journal fave), plain, ruled, or squared, and in a variety of colors. (They can find other supply ideas for bullet journaling here.)

Buy It: Amazon

8. Nexstand Laptop Stand; $39

Nexstand / Amazon

For the person who works from home and is on the taller side, this portable laptop stand is a back-saver. It folds down flat so it can be tossed into the bag and taken to the coffee shop or co-working spot, where it often generates an admiring comment or three. It works best alongside a portable external keyboard and mouse.

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Why Does the Supreme Court Have Nine Justices?

Front row, left to right: Stephen G. Breyer, Clarence Thomas, (Chief Justice) John G. Roberts, Jr., Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel A. Alito. Back row: Neil M. Gorsuch, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett M. Kavanaugh.
Front row, left to right: Stephen G. Breyer, Clarence Thomas, (Chief Justice) John G. Roberts, Jr., Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel A. Alito. Back row: Neil M. Gorsuch, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett M. Kavanaugh.
Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States // Public Domain

Some facets of the U.S. government—like presidential terms and post offices—were written into the original Constitution after (often lengthy) deliberations by the Founding Fathers. The number of Supreme Court justices was not one of those things.

The document did establish a Supreme Court, and it stated that the president should appoint its judges; it also mentioned that a “Chief Justice shall preside” if the president gets impeached. Since it was left up to Congress to work out the rest of the details, they passed the Judiciary Act of 1789, which outlined an entire court system and declared that the Supreme Court should comprise one chief justice and five associate justices. As History.com explains, they landed on six because the justices would have to preside over federal circuit courts, one of which was located in each state. Traveling wasn’t quick or easy in the horse-and-carriage days, so Congress wanted to minimize each justice’s jurisdiction. They split the courts into three regions, and assigned two justices to each region.

According to Maeva Marcus, director of the Institute for Constitutional History at George Washington University Law School, the even number of justices was a non-issue. “They never even thought about it, because all the judges were Federalists and they didn’t foresee great disagreement,” she told History.com. “Plus, you didn’t always have all six justices appearing at the Supreme Court for health and travel reasons.”

Over the next 80 years, the number of Supreme Court justices would fluctuate for two reasons: the addition of federal circuit courts, and presidents’ partisan motives. John Adams and his Federalist Congress reduced the number to five with the Judiciary Act of 1801, which they hoped would prevent Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson from getting to fill a seat after he took office that year. By the following year, Jefferson’s Congress had passed another judicial act that returned the number of justices to six, and they upped it to seven after forming another circuit court in 1807.

The nation grew significantly during the early 19th century, and Congress finally added two new circuit courts—and with them, two new Supreme Court seats—during Andrew Jackson’s presidential tenure in 1837. Republican Abraham Lincoln then briefly increased the number of justices to 10 in order to add another abolitionist vote, but Congress shrunk it to seven in 1866 to keep Andrew Johnson from filling seats with Democrats. As soon as Republican Ulysses S. Grant succeeded Johnson, Congress set the number back to nine, where it’s remained ever since.

Sketched portraits of the U.S. Supreme Court justices through 1897.Popular and Applied Graphic Art Print Filing Series, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division // No Known Restrictions on Publication

In 1911, Congress did away with circuit courts altogether, so the number of Supreme Court justices stopped being contingent upon their expansion (though each justice does still oversee a region to help with occasional tasks). As for presidents shifting the number to serve their own goals, it’s now looked down upon as “packing the court.” When Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to increase it to 15 in the 1930s to push his New Deal through the Supreme Court, the Senate opposed the bill by a whopping 70 to 20 votes.

In short, the depth of the Supreme Court’s bench changed a lot in America’s early years not only because the country was expanding, but also because the federal government was still testing out its system of checks and balances. And though presidents do still appoint justices based on their own political party, we’ve gotten used to the idea that the Supreme Court is, at least ideologically, supposed to be unbiased. If Congress and the president kept up the habit of adding and subtracting justices at will, it would tarnish this ideal.

“If Congress increases the size of the Supreme Court for transparently partisan political reasons, it would cement the idea the justices are little more than politicians in robes, and that the court is little more than an additional—and very powerful—arm through which partisan political power can be exercised,” Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, wrote for NBC News. “Indeed, that Congress has not revisited the size of the court in 150 years is a powerful testament to just how ingrained the norm of nine has become—and how concerned different political constituencies have been at different times about preserving the court’s power.”

[h/t History.com]