One of history's most misunderstood figures, Marie Antoinette continues to symbolize the glamour, the extravagance, and the decadence of French society before the French Revolution. Yet there was a poignant innocence about Antoinette, sent away in her early teens from her home in Vienna to the chillingly formal French court.
Married to the maladroit, ill-mannered dauphin and condemned to childlessness by his inability to beget an heir, Antoinette sought pleasure in costly entertainments and grotesque eccentricities of dress. Along with most members of the court, she spent lavishly while her husband's subjects, overtaxed and increasingly hostile toward their sovereign and his mismanaged government, blamed her for France's plight and accused her of every imaginable vice.
In time, Antoinette matured into a capable and courageous queen, though her husband, Louis XVI, remained timid and inept at a time when France needed bold and visionary leadership. When the forces arrayed against the monarchy finally closed in, however, Antoinette followed her husband to the guillotine, an aged, white-haired widow not yet forty.
In To the Scaffold, acclaimed biographer Carolly Erickson provides an unusually nuanced portrait of a lost queen, a portrait that is psychologically acute, richly detailed, and finally, deeply moving.