Should you go looking for the prison cell in which Marie-Antoinette spent her last few months, it no longer exists. Imprisoned in the former medieval fortress of the Conciergerie on the Quai d’Horloge in the centre of Paris before her ‘trial’ and death, the dank and dark cell in which she rested, alone, unable even to kiss her children goodbye, was later turned into a memorial. The death of Marie-Antoinette by the sharp blade of the guillotine may have been quick, but her death sentence began well before.
On 2 November 1755, a tiny but healthy baby girl entered the world. Not an ordinary world, hers was the sprawling royal Hofburg complex in Vienna where kings and queens had been born since the 13th century. Nor was she an ordinary baby girl; she was Marie-Antoinette, Archduchess of Austria, who would be crowned Queen of France whilst still a teenager. She was born into privilege and wealth but would end her days in a dank prison on the Seine river; her life would be horrendously cut short by a revolutionary government thirsting for revenge. Here is the first of a series of articles on the life of Marie-Antoinette – daughter, wife, queen, mother, a fashion icon and a hated symbol of a repressive regime.