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Feminine wiles and authority: a comparative study of the reigns of Catherine the Great and Marie Antoinette
Catherine the Great and Marie Antoinette were near contemporaries, and they faced many similar challenges in their respective positions. At first glance, one would expect Marie Antoinette to have been more successful: she was the daughter of Maria Theresa of Austria while Catherine was an obscure German princess. However, Catherine became Catherine the Great while Marie Antoinette’s historical reputation is that of a spendthrift floozy. History has been discourteous to Marie Antoinette, and the tenuous relationship between France and Austria put her at a disadvantage; however, Marie Antoinette failed to take advantage of her educational opportunities. Furthermore, her lack of ambition allowed her political enemies to slander her with impunity. Catherine, however, not only exceeded her tutors’ expectations, but she also refused to allow tradition to circumscribe her education. Additionally, Catherine’s political ambition required her to act in ways that created a public image for her that demanded respect.