"as Marie Antoinette could play at being a milkmaid"

Marie Antoinette was married to Louis XVI of France, reigning as queen between 1774 and 1792. Initially liked by the French people, her popularity went into swift decline in the 1780s against a background of economic difficulty and an increase in revolutionary discontent. After the overthrow of the monarchy and the execution of her husband, she was tried by a revolutionary tribunal and sent to the scaffold.

One of the factors that may have contributed to her unpopularity was the rustic retreat she had built in the grounds of the Palace of Versailles in 1785. In the Hameau de la reine (the Queen's hamlet), she created the illusion of a country idyll away from the pressures of courtly life. Everything was set up like a real farm, and she would often dress in peasant clothing and carry out the duties of a milkmaid. As the country veered towards revolution, the Queen's pretence of peasantry did not go down well with the public, who saw the whole affair as patronising and frivolous.