What Happened to Marie Antoinette's Children?

CC via 2.0 // Wikimedia Commons
CC via 2.0 // Wikimedia Commons

The tragic tale of Marie Antoinette's death during the French Revolution is the stuff of legend. But while the story of Marie Antoinette ends with her beheading in 1793, the tragedy of her family continued to unfold long after her death.

Marie Antoinette and her husband, the Dauphin, were married for seven years before consummating their marriage -- much to the chagrin of Marie's family, particularly her critical mother, the Empress Maria Teresa of the Holy Roman Empire. Marie's place in the royal household of France and Franco-Austrian relations absolutely depended on her producing a male heir, even before her husband became the King of France in 1774. Despite the rocky start, Marie and Louis XVI would have four children -- only one of whom lived to adulthood.

Marie Antoinette's first child was a girl, named Marie Thérèse after Marie's mother. When she was born on December 9, 1778, Marie Antoinette suffered a convulsive fit and collapsed, not surprising after 12 hours of labor in her stuffy room and the possibly dangerous incompetence of her doctor. The Queen wasn't informed the sex of the child until hours later. But when she woke, she reportedly said, "Poor little girl, you are not what was desired, but you are no less dear to me on that account. A son would have been property of the state. You shall be mine." There certainly would have been witnesses to the episode: Court custom at the time dictated that queens gave birth in full view of their courtiers.

Louis Joseph, the King's male heir and the next Dauphin of France, was born three years later, followed by Louis Charles in March of 1785 and Sophie in July of 1786. But Sophie, who was born premature, died just a month shy of her first birthday, and Louis Joseph, who'd been a delicate child most of his life, died two years later, at the age of 7, likely from tuberculosis.

Revolution

While Marie was fulfilling her wifely duties and setting fashion trends in the court at Versailles, France was starving. While Louis XVI continued to send money abroad to support the Americans in the American Revolution, France's national debt exploded; taxes grew, settling most unfairly on the poor; and rampant unemployment combined with poor crops meant that by the late 1780s, France was a powder keg of dissension, anger and resentment. And Marie, with her courtly ways, detached Austrian air, and unfortunate proclivity for spending masses of money, became the scapegoat.

On July 14, 1789, the fuse was lit with the storming of the Bastille; by October, Marie, her husband and her two surviving children were removed from Versailles and moved to the Tuileries in Paris, placed under house arrest. In 1792, the King was deposed and the family was imprisoned in the Temple in Marais.

Louis XVI was executed on January 21, 1793; Marie followed 10 months later, on October 16. On June 8, 1795, their son, the Dauphin and the boy royalists had named Louis XVII, died at the age of 10, most likely of tuberculosis exacerbated by his brutal prison conditions.

Marie Thérèse: The Survivor

Now Marie Thérèse, the oldest of Marie Antoinette's children, was a true orphan. Her parents killed, her brothers and sisters all dead, she was left for a time alone in the Temple prison, before being released at the age of 17 in December of 1795. Soon after, she was married to the Duc d'Angoulême, nephew to the new King, the self-styled Louis XVIII, and now heir to the throne of France. As the Duchesse d'Angoulême, however, her life did not improve: Her marriage was an unhappy one and never consummated, the tragic circumstances of her early life had left her bitter and angry, and she was to spend most of her life exiled from France. She had not inherited her mother's famed beauty -- she suffered from bad teeth, a red face, and a rather masculine build -- or her grace, though for a time, as her husband's claim on the throne became even more assured, she bore her mother's title: Madame la Dauphine.

In 1830, Marie Thérèse technically did achieve the title of Queen of France — for about 20 minutes, long enough for her husband the Duc to sign the abdication papers. She died in October 1851, at the age 72, still in exile. In her last testament, she forgave those who'd made her life so miserable, following, she said, the example of her parents.

Where Exactly Is Anne Boleyn's Body?

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Anne Boleyn had a pretty rough 1536. First, a pregnant Anne discovered her husband was having an affair with Jane Seymour, one of her ladies in waiting. Some believe the shock and betrayal caused Anne to suffer a miscarriage in early February—and at least one report says it was the boy Henry VIII so desperately wanted. The birth of a healthy baby boy probably would have saved Anne’s life, but since she was unable to produce a male heir to the throne, her husband decided to simply replace her. Anne found herself imprisoned in the Tower of London on May 2, accused of adultery, incest, and high treason. Her marriage was annulled on May 17, and she was relieved of her head on May 19.

To add insult to all of this injury, no one bothered to give Anne a proper burial. Though the execution itself was meticulously planned, it hadn't occurred to anyone that there was no coffin until after Anne’s head rolled. After rummaging around the grounds, someone eventually scrounged up an old arrow chest to cram the corpse into.

She and her brother were then buried in an unmarked grave in front of the altar at St. Peter’s ad Vincula, within the Tower of London, and then completely forgotten about for the next 300-plus years. It wasn’t until Tower repairs in 1876 that Anne resurfaced—maybe.

Bones were discovered under the altar during the renovations, and based on the circumstantial evidence of an arrow chest coffin, bones belonging to a slender woman between the ages of 25 and 35, and a decapitated head, it was assumed that the remains belonged to Anne. However, Henry VIII disposed of his fifth wife Katherine Howard in the exact same manner, and had her corpse thrown in with the pile of bodies accumulating under the altar. Still other women were decapitated and buried in the same place, including Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury; Lady Jane Grey; and Lady Rochford.

Despite the fact that five headless women were buried there at one point, only four bodies were uncovered. The remains of Katherine Howard had seemingly disappeared, perhaps due to the quicklime found in the graves. Regardless of the uncertainty, Queen Victoria had the bodies exhumed and placed in individual coffins. A plaque with the name of the person thought to be inside was affixed to each coffin, and each one was given a proper reburial underneath the altar.

Is it really Anne Boleyn who lies beneath, or did workers really find someone else, giving credence to the theory that Anne Boleyn’s relatives had her body secretly reburied elsewhere? Unless DNA testing is performed on the remains, we’ll probably never know.

Updated for 2019.

The Very Real Events That Inspired Game of Thrones's Red Wedding

Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham, Google Cultural Institute, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Ask any Game of Thrones fan to cite a few of the show's most shocking moments, and the so-called "Red Wedding" from season 3's "The Rains of Castamere" episode will likely be at the top of their list. The events that unfolded during the episode shocked fans because of their brutality, but what might be even more surprising to know is that the episode was based on very real events.

Author George R.R. Martin has said that the inspiration for the matrimonial bloodbath is based on two dark events in Scottish history: the Black Dinner of 1440 and 1692's Massacre of Glencoe. “No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse,” Martin told Entertainment Weekly in 2013. And he’s absolutely right. See for yourself.

The Massacre of Glencoe

The West Highland Way in 2005, view from the summit of the Devil's Staircase looking south over the east end of Glen Coe, towards Buachaille Etive Mòr with Creise and Meall a' Bhuiridh beyond
Colin Souza, Edited by Dave Souza, CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

In 1691, all Scottish clans were called upon to renounce the deposed King of Scotland, James VII, and swear allegiance to King William of Orange (of William and Mary fame). The chief of each clan had until January 1, 1692, to provide a signed document swearing an oath to William. The Highland Clan MacDonald had two things working against them here. First of all, the Secretary of State, John Dalrymple, was a Lowlander who loathed Clan MacDonald. Secondly, Clan MacDonald had already sworn an oath to James VII and had to wait on him to send word that they were free to break that oath.

Unfortunately, it was December 28 before a messenger arrived with this all-important letter from the former king. That gave Maclain, the chief of the MacDonald clan, just three days to get the newly-signed oath to the Secretary of State.

Maclain was detained for days when he went through Inveraray, the town of the rival Clan Campbell, but still managed to deliver the oath, albeit several days late. The Secretary of State’s legal team wasn't interested in late documents. They rejected the MacDonalds's sworn allegiance to William, and set plans in place to cut the clan down, “root and branch.”

In late January or early February, 120 men under the command of Captain Robert Campbell arrived at the MacDonalds's in Glencoe, claiming to need shelter because a nearby fort was full. The MacDonalds offered their hospitality, as was custom, and the soldiers stayed there for nearly two weeks before Captain Drummond arrived with instructions to “put all to the sword under seventy.”

After playing cards with their victims and wishing them goodnight, the soldiers waited until the MacDonalds were asleep ... then murdered as many men as they could manage. In all, 38 people—some still in their beds—were killed. At least 40 women and children escaped, but fleeing into a blizzard blowing outside as their houses burned down meant that they all died of exposure.

The massacre was considered especially awful because it was “Slaughter Under Trust.” To this day, the door at Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe has a sign on the door that says "No hawkers or Campbells."

The Black Dinner

In November of 1440, the newly-appointed 6th Earl of Douglas, who was just 16, and his little brother David, were invited to join the 10-year-old King of Scotland, James II, for dinner at Edinburgh Castle. But it wasn’t the young King who had invited the Douglas brothers. The invitation had been issued by Sir William Crichton, Chancellor of Scotland, who feared that the Black Douglas (there was another clan called the Red Douglas) were growing too powerful.

As legend has it, the children were all getting along marvelously, enjoying food, entertainment and talking until the end of the dinner, when the head of a black bull was dropped on the table, symbolizing the death of the Black Douglas. The two young Douglases were dragged outside, given a mock trial, found guilty of high treason, and beheaded. It’s said that the Earl pleaded for his brother to be killed first so that the younger boy wouldn’t have to witness his older brother’s beheading.

Sir Walter Scott wrote this of the horrific event:

"Edinburgh Castle, toune and towre,
God grant thou sink for sin!
And that e'en for the black dinner
Earl Douglas gat therein."

This article has been updated for 2019.

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