Skip to main content

"The Headless Queen"

Picture of Marie Antoinette from "How They Croaked"

Picture of Marie Antoinette from the

children's book How They Croaked:

The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous

Despite all the previously outlined themes she has come to represent today, often the image most associated with Marie Antoinette’s name is “the queen of France who had her head chopped off” (Noh). This could be in part because this shockingly violent end to her life is most often referenced in children’s popular culture today, so it is the image of her that many people grow up with. While references to her death are frequent in children’s films and books, accounts of her life in popular culture geared towards an older audience tend to focus on the other aspects of her life, such as her use of fashion as expression, her relationship with her husband and children, and the ongoing fascination with her sexuality. Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006) is a good example of this, as the film ends with Marie Antoinette leaving Versailles in 1789, not with her death a few years later.

The children’s book How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg includes a chapter on Marie Antoinette titled “I did not do it on purpose,” which were her last words, spoken to the executioner after she accidentally stepped on his foot. The narrative follows her decline in popularity that led to her trial and sentence and focuses heavily on the events leading up to her death at the guillotine. Since it is a book geared towards children, it spares the audience some of the more mature descriptions of the guillotine, but still uses her death as a way of introducing her to children. This creates a lasting impression of Marie Antoinette as the “queen who had her head chopped off” and makes it one of the things she is most famous for.

References to her death are also present in children’s films and television shows. One popular reference is in Walt Disney’s Toy Story. In one scene, when the main character Woody goes to bring his distraught friend, Buzz Lightyear, back to Andy’s room with the rest of the toys, Buzz replies that he cannot because he is having a tea party with “Marie Antoinette and her little sister.” While he says this, he gestures to two headless dolls at the tea table, a reference to Marie Antoinette’s reputation as the “headless queen.” 

Wednesday Addams and her headless doll named "Marie Antoinette"

Wednesday Addams and her headless doll named "Marie Antoinette"

Possibly the best known reference is Wednesday Addams from The Addams Family television show, who named her headless doll “Marie Antoinette.” Also, in an episode of the modern continuation of the television show called Addams Family Values, Wednesday Addams and her brother Pugsley are playing with a guillotine in the attic of their house. First, they use the guillotine on a few pieces of fruit, while Wednesday declares “death to the enemies of the people of the Republic.” Then, she tells her brother to “bring forward the evil one” and Pugsley carries in their youngest brother Pubert dressed as Marie Antoinette, and the two siblings attempt to guillotine “her” for crimes against the republic. 

The Addams Family series, while geared towards children, are known for their macabre themes, so the multiple references to Marie Antoinette’s death at the guillotine is unsurprising. While the second example is a subtler one, adults watching the show would no doubt recognize the reference to Marie Antoinette and it further links the image of Marie Antoinette with her violent death at the guillotine. 

"The Headless Queen"