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.

Engraving of the wedding of Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette
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.

A painting of Marie Antoinette riding a horse.
Print Collector/Getty Images

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.

An illustration of the palace of 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.

The execution of Marie Antoinette
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.

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BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images
BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images

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11 Fascinating Facts About Tamagotchi

Tamagotchi is the toy that launched a thousand digital pet competitors.
Tamagotchi is the toy that launched a thousand digital pet competitors.
Chesnot/Getty Images News

They blooped and beeped and ate, played, and pooped, and, for ‘90s kids, the egg-shaped Tamagotchi toys were magic. They taught the responsibility of tending to a “pet,” even though their shrill sounds were annoying to parents and teachers and school administrators. Nearly-real funerals were held for expired Tamagotchi, and they’ve even been immortalized in a museum (of sorts). Here are 11 things you should know about the keychain toy that was once stashed in every kid’s backpack.

1. The idea for the Tamagotchi came from a female office worker at Bandai.

Aki Maita was a 30-year-old “office lady” at the Japanese toy company Bandai when inspiration struck. She wanted to create a pet for kids—one that wouldn't bark or meow, make a mess in the house, or lead to large vet bills, according to Culture Trip. Maita took her idea to Akihiro Yokoi, a toy designer at another company, and the duo came up with a name and backstory for their toy: Tamagotchis were aliens, and their egg served as protection from the Earth’s atmosphere. They gave prototype Tamagotchis to high school girls in Shibuya, and tweaked and honed the design of the toy based on their feedback.

2. The name Tamagotchi is a blend of two Japanese words.

The name Tamagotchi is a mashup between the Japanese words tamago and tomodachi, or egg and friend, according to Culture Trip. (Other sources have the name meaning "cute little egg" or "loveable egg.")

3. Tamagotchis were released in Japan in 1996.

A picture of a tamagotchi toy.
Tamagotchis came from a faraway planet called "Planet Tamagotchi."
Museum Rotterdam, Wikimedia Commons//CC BY-SA 3.0

Bandai released the Tamagotchi in Japan in November 1996. The tiny plastic keychain egg was equipped with a monochrome LCD screen that contained a “digital pet,” which hatched from an egg and grew quickly from there—one day for a Tamagotchi was equivalent to one year for a human. Their owners used three buttons to feed, discipline, play with, give medicine to, and clean up after their digital pet. It would make its demands known at all hours of the day through bloops and bleeps, and owners would have to feed it or bathe it or entertain it.

Owners that successfully raised their Tamagotchi to adulthood would get one of seven characters, depending on how they'd raised it; owners that were less attentive faced a sadder scenario. “Leave one unattended for a few hours and you'll return to find that it has pooped on the floor or, worse, died,” Wired wrote. The digital pets would eventually die of old age at around the 28-day mark, and owners could start fresh with a new Tamagotchi.

4. Tamagotchis were an immediate hit.

The toys were a huge success—4 million units were reportedly sold in Japan during their first four months on shelves. By 1997, Tamagotchis had made their way to the United States. They sold for $17.99, or around $29 in today's dollars. One (adult) reviewer noted that while he was "drawn in by [the Tamagotchi's] cleverness," after several days with the toy, "the thrill faded quickly. I'm betting the Tamagotchi will be the Pet Rock of the 1990s—overwhelmingly popular for a few months, and then abandoned in the fickle rush to some even cuter toy."

The toy was, in fact, overwhelmingly popular: By June 1997, 10 million of the toys had been shipped around the world. And according to a 2017 NME article, a whopping 82 million Tamagotchi had been sold since their release into the market in 1997.

5. Aki Maita and Akihiro Yokoi won an award for inventing the Tamagotchi.

In 1997, the duo won an Ig Nobel Prize in economics, a satiric prize that’s nonetheless presented by Nobel laureates at Harvard, for "diverting millions of person-hours of work into the husbandry of virtual pets" by creating the Tamagotchi.

6. Tamagotchis weren't popular with teachers.

Some who grew up with Tamagotchi remember sneaking the toys into school in their book bags. The toys were eventually banned in some schools because they were too distracting and, in some cases, upsetting for students. In a 1997 Baltimore Sun article titled “The Tamagotchi Generation,” Andrew Ratner wrote that the principal at his son’s elementary school sent out a memo forbidding the toys “because some pupils got so despondent after their Tamagotchis died that they needed consoling, even care from the school nurse.”

7. One pet cemetery served as a burial ground for expired Tamagotchi.

Terry Squires set aside a small portion of his pet cemetery in southern England for dead Tamagotchi. He told CNN in 1998 that he had performed burials for Tamagotchi owners from Germany, Switzerland, France, the United States, and Canada, all of whom ostensibly shipped their dead by postal mail. CNN noted that "After the Tamagotchis are placed in their coffins, they are buried as mourners look on, their final resting places topped with flowers."

8. There were many copycat Tamagotchi.

The success of the Tamagotchi resulted in both spin-offs and copycat toys, leading PC Mag to dub the late ’90s “The Golden Age of Virtual Pets.” There was the Digimon, a Tamagotchi spin-off by Bandai that featured monsters and was marketed to boys. (There were also Tamagotchi video games.) And in 1997, Tiger Electronics launched Giga Pets, which featured real animals (and, later, dinosaurs and fictional pets from TV shows). According to PC Mag, Giga Pets were very popular in the United States but “never held the same mystique as the original Tamagotchi units.” Toymaker Playmates's Nano Pets were also a huge success, though PC Mag noted they were “some of the least satisfying to take care of."

9. Rare Tamagotchis can be worth a lot of money.

According to Business Insider, most vintage Tamagotchis won't fetch big bucks on the secondary market. (On eBay, most are priced at around $50.) The exception are rare editions like “Yasashii Blue” and “Tamagotchi Ocean,” which go for $300 to $450 on eBay. As Complex notes, "There were over 40 versions (lines) of Tamagotchi released, and each line featured a variety of colors and variations ... yours would have to be one of the rarest models to be worth the effort of resale."

10. A new generation of Tamagotchis were released in 2017 for the toy's 20th anniversary.

The 2017 re-release of the Tamagotchi in its packaging.
Bandai came to the aid of nostalgic '90s kids when it re-released a version of the original Tamagotchis for the toy's 20th anniversary.
Chesnot/Getty Images

In November 2017, Bandai released a 20th anniversary Tamagotchi that, according to a press release [PDF], was "a first-of-its-kind-anywhere exact replica of the original Tamagotchi handheld digital pet launched ... in 1996." However, as The Verge reported, the toys weren't an exact replica: "They're about half the size, the LCD display is square rather than rectangle, and those helpful icons on the top and bottom of the screen seem to be gone now." In 2019, new Tamagotchis were released; they were larger than the originals, featured full-color displays, and retailed for $60.

11. The original Tamagotchi’s sound has been immortalized in a virtual museum.

The Museum of Endangered Sounds is a website that seeks to immortalize the digital sounds that become extinct as we hurtle through the evolution of technology. “The crackle of a dial-up modem. The metallic clack of a 3.5-inch floppy slotting into a Macintosh disk drive. The squeal of the newborn Tamagotchi. They are vintage sounds that no oldies station is ever going to touch,” The Washington Post wrote in a 2012 profile of the museum. So, yes, the sound of that little Tamagotchi is forever preserved, should it someday, very sadly, cease to exist completely.