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Marie Antoinette and her Children

Over the course of her life, Marie Antoinette gave birth to four children and suffered two miscarriages in 1779 and 1783. Her second child was the long awaited Dauphin, Louis Joseph, who was born in October of 1781. She gave birth to another son in March of 1785, Louis Charles, and a second daughter in July of 1786 named Sophie Helene. Her youngest daughter did not live to one year old, and died in June of 1787. The Dauphin died at seven years old in August of 1789, making his brother Louis Charles the Dauphin. 

The film Marie Antoinette from 2006 focuses mainly on her relationship with her oldest daughter. Louis Joseph is present in a few scenes but the other two are only referenced. Drawing from Madame Campan’s account, the film shows Marie Antoinette whispering to her infant daughter Marie Therese that although she was “not what was desired,” she is no less dear to her. In the next scene after her daughter’s birth, Marie Antoinette tells her attendants she wants to feed her daughter herself, but is told that etiquette prevents her from doing so. This shows that she wanted to have a more active role in her children’s life than was expected of her according to court etiquette. The next scenes show her doing just that as she spends time with her daughter in the gardens of La Petit Trianon, teaching her how to feed the lambs and get eggs from a chicken’s nest. In these scenes at La Petit Trianon, her daughter is her only companion and has her undivided attention. 

The contrast between her love of her daughter and court etiquette means to prove that Marie Antoinette wanted to be a mother to her children by showing she wished to be more involved in their lives than etiquette stated she should be. In this way, the film established that she loved her children as a way to establish some positive characteristics for her to offset the scenes of her partying and gambling. Since the film used Marie Antoinette’s love for her children as way to redeem her character, motherhood must still seen as a positive trait today as it was in the eighteenth century. 

Marie Antoinette and her son from the 1938 film

Marie Antoinette tucking her son into bed in the 1938 film

The second half of the 1938 film about Marie Antoinette’s life begins with the birth of the Dauphin. As the queen gave birth to her son, in a large crowd of people, as was the custom, one of the courtiers present asks his companion, “must the queen’s child be born in public?” and the other courtier answers that “the French monarch belongs to the public” and so he “must be born in public.” The film does not address, as the 2006 film does, how Marie Antoinette tried to raise her children herself and shield them from public scrutiny, but it does portray her sincere love for her children. While still living at Versailles, there are scenes that establish her love for her children in a subtle way, such as when the film depicts her lovingly tucking her son into bed and taking the toy from his hands that he fell asleep with.

Later in the film, while the royal family is imprisoned and sharing their last meal together before Louis XVI’s execution, Marie Antoinette and her husband try to protect their children from the truth of what will happen in the morning, their father’s execution, and she takes comfort in them once his execution is complete. The film then has men from the convention come later that day to take her son from her, which she reacts violently to. Marie Antoinette tries to shield her child from the men, as any devoted mother would, even fighting them off for a time before resigning herself to it and trying to be brave for him. After her trial, Axel von Fersen hears that her son was forced to give false accusations against his mother at her trial, which is what finally “broke her heart.”