Skip to main content

Madame Deficit

"Marie Antoinette was becoming more and more unpopular. In the midst of the financial crisis, she was blamed for all the kingdom’s woes. Her expenditures were denounced as the bottomless well that had absorbed the public resources” (Lever 189).

Marie Antoinette as "Madame Deficit" from the 2006 film directed by Sofia Coppola

Marie Antoinette as "Madame Deficit"

from the 2006 film directed by Sofia

Coppola.

The American Revolutionary War had put a significant strain on France’s budget and state expenses continued to rise during the 1780’s. Although court expenditures comprised only about 6% of the state budget, the extravagance of the nobility caused hostility and bitterness towards them from the French people (Lever 185). Most of this hostility, though, was concentrated towards Marie Antoinette. She was targeted as a scapegoat for all the economic hardships in France, even earning her the nickname “Madame Deficit” because of her infamous spending habits (Lever 190). Because of this, she starred in many critical pamphlets during the 1780’s that denounced aspects of her character, including her “imprudence” (Goodman 105).

Although the country’s history of decadence and luxury within the Court of Versailles goes back to Louis XIV and earlier, it was Marie Antoinette who was finally held accountable and denounced for her luxurious, expensive, lifestyle (Flores 619). It was this intense hatred of her opulence that gave rise to the swirls of rumors about her and helped form the image of her we have today. Modern culture views her as somehow more luxurious, more wasteful, and more fashionable than any queen, courtier, or favorite before her, which is why she is an icon of fashion and luxury in popular culture today. Where the French population denounced her extravagance, though, we celebrate her expressive fashions and sense of style.