Note on Sources for “Marie Antoinette’s Head”

Cover AmazonTo address the question of Leonard’s possible “apocryphal” memoirs, I would like to provide the preceding notes to my book which explain the memoir’s importance, and its limitations, for “Marie Antoinette’s Head.”


Exaggeration and hyperbole always pose problems when constructing a biography, especially one that relies on centuries-old memoirs, letters, and secondhand accounts of events. Even government documents can be misleading when they are written in the midst of the type of regime and social change that took place during and after the French Revolution.

The literature on the Revolution is vast, but that which focuses on Marie Antoinette’s hairdresser, Léonard Autié, is somewhat limited. The amazing hairstyles were a big story in their day, with extensive coverage in the press, but little was written about the man behind these creations. Fortunately, Baron Lamothe-Langon published Léonard’s memoirs, “Souvenirs de Léonard, coiffeur de la reine Marie Antoinette,” eighteen years after his death in 1838. The ghostwriter purported that he used Léonard’s journals and notes to achieve the two-volume work, but his critics claimed that it was apocryphal, embellishing the hairdresser’s role in history.

Nevertheless, I relied heavily on Souvenirs de Léonard, using its timeline and cast of characters. But, keeping its critics in mind, I also extensively consulted the court memoirs and letters of Léonard’s contemporaries to investigate any doubtful claims and resolve any conflicts. Any discrepancies are duly noted in this biography. Unless otherwise noted in the endnotes, the dialogue retrieved from the Souvenirs de Léonard is unverifiable because the work itself has been deemed unreliable in its original form. However, all dialogue has been transcribed verbatim from original sources, and dialogue from any French sources has been diligently translated into English. All references have been cited with endnotes and a comprehensive bibliography.

Since 1838, only Louis Péricaud and Gustave Bord have revisited Léonard’s story in any detail, focusing on his theater venture and his role in the royal family’s affairs, respectively in 1908 and 1909. Although this book addresses the famous hairdresser’s life and is not intended to be a reference in French history, it does shed light on the trials and tribulations of the last Queen of France from another angle—that of her confidant and coveted hairdresser.

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