Maria Antonia Josefa Joanna von Habsburg-Lothringen (1755–1793), sometime Queen of France and Archduchess of Austria, also called the Widow Capet, is known to most of us as Marie Antoinette. She probably never said: ‘Let them eat cake.’ She is unlikely to have indulged in bestiality with her pet sheep; she probably didn’t sexually abuse her son; she may not even have been unfaithful to her husband; she may have been an innocent victim of the the ‘affair of the necklace’: but she had undoubtedly been conspiring for the Austrians, under the holy Roman emperor Leopold II (her brother) to invade revolutionary France. So her fate was sealed and she was guillotined in the Place de la Révolution, Paris on 16 October 1793, aged thirty-seven.
On top of her difficulties with her own citizenry this lady has had a consistently bad press for the last two hundred years. More recently, academic opinion on her character and culpability has been more divided with one historian describing her as ‘a woman more sinned against than sinning’. Whatever, that quotation and her fate has ensured her immortality, at least on celluloid.