Title: Marie Antoinette: Was She or Wasn't She? Credit: Craig Young Features Friday 31st December 2004 - 12:00pm1104447600 Article: 556 Rights
Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) Was Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) a lesbian? Some historians say yes, some biographers are sceptical. To complicate matters, eighteenth century lesbians called themselves 'romantic friends.' Antonia Fraser wrote a recent biography of this tragic figure. She believes that Marie Antoinette's alleged same-sex preferences were nothing but anti-royalist, quasi-pornographic revolutionary propaganda. Against this, Marie Antoinette was daughter to Empress Marie Therese of the Holy Roman Empire, a commanding figure, from whom she inherited her administrative skills, aesthetic tastes and purported extravagance. Unfortunately, Marie Antoinette had the misfortune to live in a France at the mercy of climatic turmoil, which led to homelessness, famine and outbreaks of typhus and cholera epidemics. Added anti-Austrian xenophobia meant that her foreign, regal lifestyle was subject to considerable antagonism. Whatever her faults, is strong maternal influence sufficient reason to suggest closeted lesbianism? However, there is also the matter of her intense female friendships with the Princesse de Lamballe and Duchesse de Polignac, amongst others. While the latter escaped the revolutionary terror, the Princesse wasn't as lucky. Decapitated, the mob paraded her head, stuck on a spike, in front of the imprisoned and widowed queen, her alleged lover. Was there any substance to these claims? How did eighteenth century lesbians of social standing perceive themselves? At the same time as Marie Antoinette lived, Lady Eleanor Butler and Lady Sarah Ponsonby ran away to a Welsh rural idyll and lived in a celebrated romantic friendship as society hostesses together. They counted the Duke of Wellington amongst their friends, and it was that historic figure who arranged for Sarah to continue receipt of Eleanor's Civil List endowment when Sarah was left widowed after her older lover died. Sarah had previously been disinherited by her family, and would otherwise have been destitute. From this historic lesbian story of love and spousal status, we can see that 'romantic friendship' had strong expressive and emotional same-sex bonds that were often idealised, while any erotic component was hidden amongst the celebration of devotion and long-term relationships. Marie Antoinette had similar intense female friendships, and her husband, Louis XIV, was weak and highly strung. Was her marriage for show, and did Marie Antoinette find real passion and commitment with the Princesse de Lamballe, Duchesse de Polignac, and other female 'romantic friends' of her time? Recommended Reading: Antonia Fraser: Marie Antoinette: A Journey: London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson: 2001. Martha Vicinus: Intimate Friends: Women Who Loved Women: 1778-1928: Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 2004. Craig Young - 31st December 2004    
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