How Tall Was Marie Antoinette? | Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century: How Tall Was Marie Antoinette?

July 18, 2016

How Tall Was Marie Antoinette?

Joseph Ducreux After French, 1735-1802, Marie Antoinette as a Young Girl. Dates not recorded, oil on canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

How tall was Marie Antoinette?



"She has a most graceful figure; holds herself well; and if, as may be hoped, she grows a little taller, she will possess every good quality one could wish for in a great princess. Her heart and character are both excellent."¹

This statement was made when she was around 13 years old. There have been many debates on how tall Marie Antoinette actually was, the number is unknown for sure. Fan speculation has found her to be anywhere from 5' 2.5" to as tall as 5'6"!

Attributed to Elisabeth Louise Vigee-Lebrun, Marie Antoinette. Pastel on paper. Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, Bournemouth, UK,  Bridgeman Images.

5'6'' would be rather tall for the 18th century lady. As she had been observed and described we must remember she would always be found in her miles-high poufs. Marie Antoinette was also known to wear shoes with a slight heel, as evidenced from these pairs of shoes (notice, tiny feet!). Along with posture fit for a queen (and helped by those corsets), she would certainly appear tall to contemporaries. She also had better nutrition than most. It can be agreed she was somewhere between the two but I would say closer to 5' 2.5''.

The King was known to be very tall. It is likely that with her poufs and royal posture the Queen also appeared tall when standing by the King.

Antoine-François Callet, Portrait of Louis XVI of France. 1781, oil on canvas. Kunsthistorisches Museum. Photograph by Yelkrokoyade, used under CC BY-SA 3.0

"Louis XVI was tall, well proportioned, and possessed of unusual bodily strength' his mother being of the electoral family of Saxony, whose stature is well known to be considerably beyond the ordinary size." ²
"All the contemporary descriptions agree:...'He was a fat man, five foot six to seven inches tall...'"³

By the 18th century, height was in a bit of a decline looking at average heights between the 9th -18th centuries. Yes, people grew shorter. The 18th-century population was on average 2.5 inches shorter than their medieval ancestors. For those born around 1760 in Southern France, the average height was 5'4" and those born in Austria in 1780 the average height was 5'3".

Perhaps if there was a measurement of her death mask at Madame Tussaud's we can get an idea of Marie Antoinette's height based on the ideal cannon of proportions!


References

¹Abbé de Vermond, Marie Antoinette's tutor, quoted in Stefan Zweig, Eden Paul, and Cedar Paul, Marie Antoinette: the portrait of an average woman. (Garden City, N.Y.: Garden City Pub. Co., 1933), 5.

²Griffiths, Ralph, Griffiths,G.E. "The Monthly Review, Or, Literary Journal." The Monthly Review, Or, Literary Journal. (1752). 462      

³Bernier, Olivier. Pleasure and Privilege: Life in France, Naples, and America, 1770-1790. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1981. 22

⁴Komlos, John, and Inas Rashad Kelly. The Oxford Handbook of Economics and Human Biology. 2016.

2 comments

  1. I wonder if the height decrease in the 18th century was universal or only in Europe? I know the Turkish sultans all started out as literal giants in the 15th and 16th centuries, even by today's standards, but after intermarrying with European women, they decreased in height as well. However, I don't know if the decrease was by the 18th century or later.

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