On this day in 1793, the disgraced
queen of France, Marie Antoinette, climbed the stairs of the guillotine to her
death. Although she is iconic throughout the world for purportedly speaking the
line “let them eat cake,” she has also long been iconic in lesbian subcultures for her “romantic friendships” with other women.
Marie Antoinette at age 12 by Martin van Meytens, c. 1767-1768 (x).
During Marie Antoinette’s
lifetime, pamphlets – publications not so different from today’s gossip
magazines – were running rampant with stories of the Queen’s wild
orgies that were supposedly being held behind the gates of the Palace of Versailles, as
well as stories of her supposed lesbianism. Her co-stars in these pamphlets
were the Princesse de Lamballe and the Comtesse de Polignac, two women who were
Marie’s closest friends and confidantes at different points throughout her
life. The pamphlets grossly exaggerated Marie Antoinette’s characteristics and used
their yarns of her sexual promiscuity and hedonistic lifestyle as a way to
display their dissatisfaction with the state of the monarchy as a whole.
Pornographic propaganda against Marie Antoinette depicts her in sexual acts with another woman (x).
Whether Marie Antoinette did have
a romantic or sexual relationship with the Princess de Lambelle or the Comtesse
de Polignanc is beside the point; it is the myth and the imagery of the
secretly sapphic Queen of France that has made such an impact on lesbian subculture
that is has reverberated throughout the centuries. One author writes, “By the
end of the century, not only were the rumors about Marie Antoinette’s
homosexuality still alive, she had become for certain of her female admirers a
kind of secret heroine—an underground symbol of passionate love between women.”
In 1901, Marie Antoinette’s legacy became even more intertwined with lesbian
culture when two women partners claimed to have seen her ghost in the gardens
of Versailles in the Moberly-Jourdain Incident.
After her 20th century biographers focused on Marie’s relationships with other women in
attempts to “de-lesbianize” her legacy, they ultimately cemented her status as a
sapphic figure. This status can be seen
in more contemporary modern culture in Madonna’s famous performance at the 1990
MTV Awards, the 2006 novel Abundance by Sera Jeter Naslund, and the 2012 movie Farewell,