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Corruption of Motherhood

While motherhood and domesticity were almost always seen in a positive light, during her lifetime, rumors and gossip about Marie Antoinette’s relationship with her children aimed to corrupt even that aspect of her character. For example, although the queen expected the news of her pregnancy to be met with solely positive reactions, her unpopularity in France did not let even this celebrated event go unmarred. Rumors began swirling that the child was not legitimate, oftentimes claiming the Duc de Coigny was the true father (Lever 118). While almost certainly untrue, these rumors demonstrate that even after providing the much-anticipated pregnancy, Marie Antoinette’s public image did not drastically improve. Also, years later while on trial, the queen found herself accused of incest with her son as way to retain power over him (Lever 300). This charge was later dismissed; in fact, Marie Antoinette managed to rally some of the women present at the trial to her side by appealing to their virtue as mothers:

“The common women in the courtroom—though they loathed the former suddenly moved to compassion for her as a shamelessly maligned mother. This vile accusation against Marie Antoinette made them all feel under attack” (Lever 301).

During her trial, when public hatred for her was at a peak, it was only through appeals of motherhood that she was able to bring out compassion in some of her accusers.