Marie-Antoinette: A queen of letters

Applications are invited for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award at the University of Oxford, in partnership with the Centre de recherche du château de Versailles, France. This fully-funded studentship is available from October 2022. Further details about the value of an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP award are available on our Studentships page. The Centre de recherche du château de Versailles will cover reasonable travel expenses for agreed visits to Versailles and to archive depots.

Closing date: midday (UK time) Friday 7 January 2022

Project overview

Marie-Antoinette is often seen a fashion icon but much of what is written about her is based on hearsay repeated from one book to the next and sometimes tinged either by hagiographic approaches to the executed queen or libellous revolutionary publications denouncing her supposed libertine ways. Documents and their analysis offer a means to seek out a more balanced vision. Marie-Antoinette’s correspondence allows us to read her own words. Much of it is only known through imperfect editions which do not meet current academic standards. This doctoral project will be centred on a fascinating exchange, that with her most unlikely correspondent, ‘the tiger’ Barnave, the left-wing representative of the people, sent by the Assemblée to escort the royal family arrested at Varennes after fleeing Paris. During the three-day trip, the queen managed to win the politician over. She wrote him 44 letters, which he answered. This secret correspondence was exfiltrated from the Tuileries at Marie-Antoinette’s own behest thanks to Swedish Count Axel von Fersen and is now to be found in the Swedish archives of Vadstena-Löfstad. The only work specifically dedicated to this correspondence is over a century old.

Working directly with the documents, the doctoral student will transcribe and edit the letters. He or she will contextualise them by consulting other archives produced by the correspondents along with contemporary accounts by third parties. This will offer an exciting opportunity to reassess Marie-Antoinette as a correspondent, a woman of letters, but also as a woman with indirect agency (she was an uncrowned consort) seeking political clout in troubled times at great personal risk.

The research Centre at the Château de Versailles has a long-standing desire to see the whole of Marie-Antoinette’s correspondence transcribed and published according to modern academic standards. The doctoral student will be integrated into a group of curators and academics interested in the latter part of the 18th century. The student’s activities including writing blog-posts will give visibility to these activities within the research hub of the Château. Other activities which could be envisaged include outreach, curation of an online exhibition or organisation of conferences (for either academic or non-academic audiences). It is hard to think of a more prestigious institution with which to undertake such work.


The main supervisor is Catriona Seth FBA, Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature ( The student will be based in Oxford's Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, one of the world’s leading centres for the study of multiple literatures and cultures in one of the biggest and most vibrant languages faculties in the world. The Faculty has an active research culture and regularly hosts workshops and conferences that bring together students and faculty members in – and between – individual languages and disciplines. The Modern Languages Graduate Network offers academic and social opportunities for graduate students, including graduate-led seminars, and a mentoring scheme is in place to help new graduates integrate into the Oxford academic community. The Faculty also maintains an active presence in TORCH (The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities) with graduates, early career researchers, and faculty participating in its research networks and programmes.

The student will benefit from the active supervision of two supervisors at Versailles, who will offer direct training and advice regarding the letters project. The partner supervisors are Dr Mathieu da Vinha, Directeur Scientifique, Centre de recherche du château de Versailles and Dr Alexandre Maral, Conservateur du Patrimoine, Directeur du Centre de recherche du château de Versailles. The partner will offer the student a chance to acquire palaeographical skills, skills in archival research, in editorial practice (both digital-born and print), in conservation techniques but also in heritage-based knowledge exchange.

How to apply

We invite applications from candidates from all backgrounds and ethnicities. Applicants will ideally have Mother-tongue or equivalent French and a degree in French and/or history. Prior experience of working with archives would be welcome but is not necessary. Applicants should meet the eligibility criteria for Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC studentships.

For an informal discussion about the opportunity and how you might frame your approach to the CDA project, please contact Catriona Seth ( in the first instance.

You should apply to the DPhil in in Medieval and Modern Languages by Friday 7 January 2022 (midday, UK time), indicate your interest in being considered for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP studentship and submit a completed copy of the OOC DTP Application Form at the same time.

Further details on how to apply through Oxford can be found on our How to Apply page. Please include a reference to the advertised CDA title in your application form; you do not need to include a reference number.