As an aid to students, teachers and parents dealing with the challenges of home learning, we have constructed an A–Z of the World taken from E. H. Gombrich’s, A Little History of the World. Day by day, we will be sharing a bite size introduction to a historical figure, event or period – using Gombrich’s magical words – along with links to free resources, so that readers of all ages can discover more. Today, Gombrich covers Marie Antoinette.
E. H. Gombrich: Marie Antoinette was a very young girl, barely fourteen years old, when she became the wife of the future king of France. And, of course, she thought everything was as it should be. She threw herself delightedly into all the fairy-tale masked balls and operas, she acted in plays, she was an enchanting shepherdess and thought life in the French royal palaces was altogether wonderful.
‘Things cannot go on like this, there will be a terrible revolution if you do not do something to prevent it.’
Nevertheless, her elder brother, the emperor Joseph II, and her mother repeatedly warned her to live simply and to avoid stirring up resentment amongst the poor with foolish extravagance and frivolity. In 1777, the emperor Joseph wrote her a long and serious letter saying: ‘Things cannot go on like this, there will be a terrible revolution if you do not do something to prevent it.’
Yet things did go on like that, for twelve more years. And the revolution when it came, was all the more terrible for it. In 1793 King Louis XVI was brought before the People’s Tribunal and condemned to death. Soon afterwards Marie Antoinette was beheaded. In dying they both displayed more dignity and greatness than they had during their lives.
Free Resources to Learn More about Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution
At the time of publication, these resources were free to use (some for a limited time only, during the COVID-19 pandemic).
BBC History Extra
The life and death of Marie Antoinette: everything you need to know
BBC Teach (KS3/GCSE)
The French Revolution – Andrew Marr (video)
BBC Curriculum Bites
The French Revolution (videos)
Marie Antoinette biography
Google Arts and Culture
Marie Antoinette with her children, painted by Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun
French Revolution (video)
The Yale Blog
Fashion Victims: Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette
This page provides access to a list of free online resources. It is not intended to endorse any particular resource.
All the descriptions in this A-Z are taken from E. H. Gombrich’s A Little History of the World.
Philip Pullman described the book as, “A brilliant piece of narrative, splendidly organised, told with an energy and confidence that are enormously attractive, and suffused with all the humanity and generosity of spirit that Gombrich’s thousands of admirers came to cherish during his long and richly productive life. It’s a wonderful surprise: irresistible, in fact.”
Following in the footsteps of E. H. Gombrich’s worldwide bestseller A Little History of the World, the books in our Little Histories series explore the history of the world’s most remarkable people, events and ideas. With engaging personal insights, our authors will take you on a whistle-stop journey from ancient times to the present – exploring all of life’s big subjects from archaeology to science. Other Little Histories available include, Philosophy, Economics, Science, Literature, Language, Religion and Poetry. More details about the whole series can be found on the Little Histories website.
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