October 16, 1793: Marie Antoinette is executed.

On this day 220 years ago, the controversial and reviled Queen of France was executed by guillotine nine months after her husband, Louis XVI, met the same fate. During her husband’s tumultuous reign, she earned the ire of the people because of her extravagant and expensive taste, and her apparent obliviousness to the hardship and political upheaval around her. With the abolition of the constitutional monarchy in late September 1792, the royal family was arrested and imprisoned. The deposed king was put on trial, found guilty of high treason, and then sentenced to death by guillotine early the next year.¬†

The “Widow Capet” was held in the Conciergerie, the “antechamber to the guillotine” during the months following her husband’s execution; during this period, her health severely ¬†deteriorated¬† Her trial took place on October 14. Among the accusations leveled against her included the notorious claim that she had sexually abused her son. Firsthand accounts noted the queen’s composure, even the sympathy she briefly drew from the audience after a sympathetic appeal to the mothers among them; regardless, she was found guilty of treason and sentenced, like her husband, to die at the guillotine. She was carried by cart through Paris at noon, and then beheaded in front of a crowd of spectators, who reportedly erupted into cheers as the blade descended and ended the life of a woman who was a symbol of the root of all their strife.¬†

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