As I tried to convey in my novels, Marie-Antoinette was a lady of immense charm. What exactly IS charm? Here are some definitions:
1. The power or quality of pleasing or delighting; attractiveness: a breezy tropical setting of great charm.
2. A particular quality that attracts; a delightful characteristic: A mischievous grin was among the child's many charms.
The queen of France definitely possessed those subtle qualities which win hearts. There is much talk about how and why Marie-Antoinette was hated by the French people, but it is forgotten that she was also greatly loved by many, especially after they came face-to-face with her. Men were ready to die in order to save her. Another reason for the Fersen legend is that people assume that since Count Fersen risked his life and made many sacrifices for Marie-Antoinette and her family it must have been because she was sleeping with him. Yet she had the identical effect on other men, as well, men who were not even part of her circle of friends, and with whom she was not romantically linked in the rumor mill.
Mirabeau and Barnave, two dedicated revolutionaries, were won over by the Queen after meeting her, and afterwards did everything they could to save her. As C.-F. Beaulieu writes in his Essais historiques sur les causes et effets de la Révolution française (Paris : Maradan, 1801-1803) Barnave was quite taken with the entire royal family, especially after spending hours in the coach with them after the capture at Varennes in June 1791. "The Queen treated him with affectionate politeness which had led to her being given the title of 'Mary full of grace (Marie pleine de graces).'" Later, in the Temple prison, the guard Toulan, a zealous revolutionary, was completely smitten by the Queen, and risked his life to retrieve Louis XVI's wedding ring for her. He tried to help her escape, and the Chevalier Jarjayes as well, but the queen would not leave her children.
Nesta Webster, in Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette before the Revolution draws an intriguing comparison between Marie-Antoinette and her devout sister-in-law:
Madame Elisabeth was undoubtedly a saint, and her unblemished reputation, which no one dared assail, has been contrasted with the character for frivolity attributed to Marie-Antoinette. But if Marie-Antoinette had displayed throughout the piety of Madame Elisabeth, if she had never indulged in those four years of "dissipation," never gambled, never exceeded her dress allowance, never figured on the stage at Trianon, would she have escaped calumny? When one considers the forces ranged against her one is inclined to answer "no." It must be remembered that Madame Elisabeth gave no cause for envy, she had obstructed no one's path to the throne, and she had none of the personal charm and elegance that distinguished Marie-Antoinette. A woman who goes like wine to the heads of men is naturally more vulnerable to the tongue of calumny than one whom no one would associate with romance....Marie-Antoinette had the power of inspiring passionate and almost uncontrollable adoration.
Marie-Antoinette is not the only one in the history of queens, great ladies, and women in general, who had the ability to inspire chivalrous devotion in men. It is a devotion that has nothing to do with the bedroom and everything to do with appealing to an innate masculine urge to protect and help women in trouble. Certainly, Mary Queen of Scots likewise possessed a similar personal charisma. The speech of Elizabeth Tudor to her troops as the Spanish armada approached is another example. Queen Marie of Romania also had the gift of inspiring heroism in her supporters. So did Marie-Antoinette's mother, the Empress Maria Theresa, especially when she presented herself before the Hungarian nobles. These women, in spite of being queens, were not rivals with men; they were not trying to be like men or supplant traditional male roles. They inspired valiance, however, just by being women.