This is the shoe Marie Antoinette lost on the stairs as she was going up toward the guillotine on the morning of her execution on October 16, 1793. She lost her shoe, then she lost her head!
The shoe is now in the collection of the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen, France.
Marie Antoinette (November 2, 1755 – October 16, 1793) was the last queen of France before the French Revolution. She was born an archduchess of Austria and was the penultimate child and youngest daughter of Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Francis I. She became dauphine of France in May 1770 at age 14 upon her marriage to Louis-Auguste, heir apparent to the French throne. On May 10, 1774, her husband ascended the throne as Louis XVI and she became queen.
Marie Antoinette’s position at court improved when, after eight years of marriage, she started having children. She became increasingly unpopular among the people, however, with the French libelles accusing her of being profligate, promiscuous, harboring sympathies for France’s perceived enemies—particularly her native Austria—and her children of being illegitimate. The false accusations of the Affair of the Diamond Necklace damaged her reputation further. During the Revolution, she became known as Madame Déficit because the country’s financial crisis was blamed on her lavish spending and her opposition to the social and financial reforms of Turgot and Necker.
Several events were linked to Marie Antoinette during the Revolution after the government had placed the royal family under house arrest in the Tuileries Palace in October 1789. The June 1791 attempted flight to Varennes and her role in the War of the First Coalition had disastrous effects on French popular opinion. On August 10, 1792, the attack on the Tuileries forced the royal family to take refuge at the Assembly, and they were imprisoned in the Temple Prison on August 13. On September 21, 1792, the monarchy was abolished. Louis XVI was executed by guillotine on January 21, 1793. Marie Antoinette’s trial began on October 14, 1793, and two days later she was convicted by the Revolutionary Tribunal of high treason and executed, also by guillotine, on the Place de la Révolution.
Preparing for her execution, she had to change clothes in front of her guards. She wanted to wear a black dress but was forced to wear a plain white dress, white being the color worn by widowed queens of France. Her hair was shorn, her hands bound painfully behind her back and she was put on a rope leash. Unlike her husband, who had been taken to his execution in a carriage, she had to sit in an open cart for the hour it took to convey her from the Conciergerie via the rue Saint-Honoré thoroughfare to reach the guillotine erected in the Place de la Révolution (the present-day Place de la Concorde). She maintained her composure, despite the insults of the jeering crowd. A constitutional priest was assigned to her to hear her final confession. He sat by her in the cart, but she ignored him all the way to the scaffold as he had pledged his allegiance to the republic.
Marie Antoinette was guillotined at 12:15 p.m. on October 16, 1793. Her last words are recorded as, “Pardonnez-moi, monsieur. Je ne l’ai pas fait exprès” or “Pardon me, sir, I did not do it on purpose,” after accidentally stepping on her executioner’s shoe. Her head was one of which Marie Tussaud was employed to make death masks. Her body was thrown into an unmarked grave in the Madeleine cemetery located close by in rue d’Anjou. Because its capacity was exhausted the cemetery was closed the following year, on March 25, 1794.