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Marie Antoinette's Last Letter

When Marie Antoinette returned to the Conciergerie in the early hours of the morning of 16th October 1793, after being sentenced to death, she was allowed paper and ink. She used them to write a last farewell letter to her sister-in-law, Madame Elizabeth. The letter is very moving and in it Marie Antoinette expresses the sorrow she feels at leaving her children, she asks forgiveness for all her faults and the hurt she may have caused, without intending it, to all those she knows and asks Elizabeth to forgive her son for the accusations extorted from him by his jailers and declares she dies in the Catholic Apostolic and Roman religion.

Here’s the original, in French:

Ce 16 octobre, à quatre heures et demie du matin.

C’est à vous, ma soeur, que j’écris pour la dernière fois. Je viens d’être condamnée, non pas à une mort honteuse – elle ne l’est que pour les criminels, mais à aller rejoindre votre frère. Comme lui innocente j’espère montrer la même fermeté que lui dans ses derniers moments. Je suis calme comme on l’est quand la conscience ne reproche rien. J’ai un profond regret d’abandonner mes pauvres enfants. Vous savez que je n’existais que pour eux et vous, ma bonne et tendre soeur, vous qui avez par votre amitié tout sacrifié pour être avec nous, dans quelle position je vous laisse ! J’ai appris par le plaidoyer même du procès que ma fille était séparée de vous. Hélas ! la pauvre enfant, je n’ose pas lui écrire, elle ne recevrait pas ma lettre, je ne sais pas même si celle-ci vous parviendra. Recevez pour eux deux ici ma bénédiction ; j’espère qu’un jour, lorsqu’ils seront plus grands, ils pourront se réunir avec vous et jouir en entier de vos tendres soins. Qu’ils pensent tous deux à ce que je n’ai cessé de leur inspirer : que les principes et l’exécution exacte de ses devoirs sont la première base de la vie, que leur amitié et leur confiance mutuelle en fera le bonheur. Que ma fille sente qu’à l’âge qu’elle a, elle doit toujours aider son frère par les conseils que l’expérience qu’elle aura de plus que lui et son amitié pourront lui inspirer ; que mon fils, à son tour, rende à sa soeur tous les soins, les services que l’amitié peuvent inspirer ; qu’ils sentent enfin tous deux que dans quelque position où ils pourront se trouver ils ne seront vraiment heureux que par leur union ; qu’ils prennent exemple de nous. Combien, dans nos malheurs, notre amitié nous a donné de consolation ! Et dans le bonheur on jouit doublement quand on peut le partager avec un ami, et où en trouver de plus tendre, de plus uni que dans sa propre famille ? Que mon fils n’oublie jamais les derniers mots de son père que je lui répète expressément : qu’il ne cherche jamais à venger notre mort.

J’ai à vous parler d’une chose bien pénible à mon coeur. Je sais combien cet enfant doit vous avoir fait de la peine. Pardonnez-lui, ma chère soeur, pensez à l’âge qu’il a et combien il est facile de faire dire à un enfant ce qu’on veut et même ce qu’il ne comprend pas. Un jour viendra, j’espère, où il ne sentira que mieux le prix de vos bontés et de votre tendresse pour tous deux. Il me reste à vous confier encore mes dernières pensées. J’aurais voulu les écrire dès le commencement du procès, mais, outre qu’on ne me laissait pas écrire, la marche a été si rapide que je n’en aurais réellement pas eu le temps.

Je meurs dans la religion catholique, apostolique et romaine, dans celle de mes pères, dans celle où j’ai été élevée et que j’ai toujours professée, n’ayant aucune consolation spirituelle à attendre, ne sachant pas s’il existe encore ici des prêtres de cette religion, et même le lieu où je suis les exposerait trop s’ils y entraient une fois. Je demande sincèrement pardon à Dieu de toutes les fautes que j’ai pu commettre depuis que j’existe ; j’espère que, dans sa bonté, il voudra bien recevoir mes derniers voeux, ainsi que ceux que je fais depuis longtemps pour qu’il veuille bien recevoir mon âme dans sa miséricorde et sa bonté. Je demande pardon à tous ceux que je connais et à vous, ma soeur, en particulier, de toutes les peines que, sans le vouloir, j’aurais pu leur causer. Je pardonne à tous mes ennemis le mal qu’ils m’ont fait. Je dis ici adieu à mes tantes et à tous mes frères et soeurs. J’avais des amis, l’idée d’en être séparée pour jamais et leurs peines sont un des plus grands regrets que j’emporte en mourant ; qu’ils sachent du moins que, jusqu’à mon dernier moment, j’ai pensé à eux.

Adieu, ma bonne et tendre soeur ; puisse cette lettre vous arriver. Pensez toujours à moi ; je vous embrasse de tout mon coeur ainsi que ces pauvres et chers enfants. Mon Dieu, qu’il est déchirant de les quitter pour toujours ! Adieu, adieu ! je ne vais plus m’occuper que de mes devoirs spirituels. Comme je ne suis pas libre dans mes actions, on m’amènera peut-être un prêtre ; mais je proteste ici que je ne lui dirai pas un mot et que je le traiterai comme un être absolument étranger.

An English translation, by Charles Duke Yonge

16th October, 4.30 A.M.

It is to you, my sister, that I write for the last time. I have just been condemned, not to a shameful death, for such is only for criminals, but to go and rejoin your brother. Innocent like him, I hope to show the same firmness in my last moments. I am calm, as one is when one’s conscience reproaches one with nothing. I feel profound sorrow in leaving my poor children: you know that I only lived for them and for you, my good and tender sister. You who out of love have sacrificed everything to be with us, in what a position do I leave you! I have learned from the proceedings at my trial that my daughter was separated from you. Alas! poor child; I do not venture to write to her; she would not receive my letter. I do not even know whether this will reach you. Do you receive my blessing for both of them. I hope that one day when they are older they may be able to rejoin you, and to enjoy to the full your tender care. Let them both think of the lesson which I have never ceased to impress upon them, that the principles and the exact performance of their duties are the chief foundation of life; and then mutual affection and confidence in one another will constitute its happiness. Let my daughter feel that at her age she ought always to aid her brother by the advice which her greater experience and her affection may inspire her to give him. And let my son in his turn render to his sister all the care and all the services which affection can inspire. Let them, in short, both feel that, in whatever positions they may be placed, they will never be truly happy but through their union. Let them follow our example. In our own misfortunes how much comfort has our affection for one another afforded us! And, in times of happiness, we have enjoyed that doubly from being able to share it with a friend; and where can one find friends more tender and more united than in one’s own family? Let my son never forget the last words of his father, which I repeat emphatically; let him never seek to avenge our deaths.

I have to speak to you of one thing which is very painful to my heart, I know how much pain the child must have caused you. Forgive him, my dear sister; think of his age, and how easy it is to make a child say whatever one wishes, especially when he does not understand it. It will come to pass one day, I hope, that he will better feel the value of your kindness and of your tender affection for both of them. It remains to confide to you my last thoughts. I should have wished to write them at the beginning of my trial; but, besides that they did not leave me any means of writing, events have passed so rapidly that I really have not had time.

I die in the Catholic Apostolic and Roman religion, that of my fathers, that in which I was brought up, and which I have always professed. Having no spiritual consolation to look for, not even knowing whether there are still in this place any priests of that religion (and indeed the place where I am would expose them to too much danger if they were to enter it but once), I sincerely implore pardon of God for all the faults which I may have committed during my life. I trust that, in His goodness, He will mercifully accept my last prayers, as well as those which I have for a long time addressed to Him, to receive my soul into His mercy. I beg pardon of all whom I know, and especially of you, my sister, for all the vexations which, without intending it, I may have caused you. I pardon all my enemies the evils that they have done me. I bid farewell to my aunts and to all my brothers and sisters. I had friends. The idea of being forever separated from them and from all their troubles is one of the greatest sorrows that I suffer in dying. Let them at least know that to my latest moment I thought of them.

Farewell, my good and tender sister. May this letter reach you. Think always of me; I embrace you with all my heart, as I do my poor dear children. My God, how heart-rending it is to leave them forever! Farewell! farewell! I must now occupy myself with my spiritual duties, as I am not free in my actions. Perhaps they will bring me a priest; but I here protest that I will not say a word to him, but that I will treat him as a total stranger.

The letter was kept by Robespierre. It never reached Elizabeth..

Marie Antoinette's Beauty & Fashion Secrets

Marie Antoinette was famous for her beautiful looks and charm, but such beauty, as women know all too well, is rarely natural. It often requires a little helping hand. And, as Queen of France, Marie Antoinette had many people, and a huge budget, to help her look her best. Yet, her tastes were simple. And she would have gladly done without all the pomp and fuss that surrounded her toilette. Here’s what that involved:

Skincare

There’s only so much makeup can do for you if you don’t take proper care of your skin. Marie Antoinette knew this and, each morning, cleansed her face with Eau Cosmetique de Pigeon (yes, it was really made with pigeons!). The Toilette Of Health, Beauty, And Fashion shared the recipe, first used by Danish women, with their readers:

“Take juice of water-lilies, of melons, of cucumbers, of lemons, each one ounce; briony, wild succory, lily-flowers, borage, beans, of each a handful: eight pigeons stewed. Put the whole mixture into an alembic, adding four ounces of lump sugar, well pounded, one drachma of borax, the same quantity of camphor, the crumb of three French rolls, and a pint of white wine. When the whole has remained in digestion for seventeen or eighteen days, proceed to distillation, and you will obtain pigeon-water, which is such an improvement of the complexion.”

After cleansing her skin, she would apply Eau des Charmes, an astringent, and finally, Eau d’Ange, a whitener. To keep her hands soft, the Queen slept wearing gloves infused with sweet almond oil, rose water, and wax. Unlike most people at Versailles she bathed frequently, but always wearing a flannel chemise to protect her modesty. Once in the bathtub, she would wash herself with a scented (bergamot, amber and herbs) soap, exfoliated her skin with muslin pads filled with bran, all the while sitting on a large pad filled with pine nuts, linseed, and sweet almonds.

Makeup

Once her skincare routine was complete, it was time for makeup. Eau d’Ange probably didn’t whiten her skin that much, so to make her face even paler, a white paint was gently and carefully applied. This was then set with a dust of scented powder. Rouge was then applied to her cheeks. The Empress Maria Theresa wasn’t fond of rouge and would have rather her daughter had stayed away from it, but as Marie Antoinette told her, everyone did it at Versailles. It would have been weird for her not to. Then, khol was used around the eyes to define and enhance them. Finally, a scented pomade was used to give her lips, eyelashes and eyebrows a glossy look.

Perfume

Perfume was a necessity at Versailles. The palace was occupied by thousands of people, few of which paid much attention to their personal hygiene. The whole court stank. To keep the Queen’s room smelling nice required a vast array of fresh flowers, pot pourri, and perfume satchels. These usually smelled of orange blossom, rose, violet, lavender, and lemon, all the scents the Queen loved.

Those aromas also featured prominently in her own perfumes. The queen loved both simple scents, like violet or orange blossom water, and more complicated concoctions featuring iris, jasmine, lily, vanilla, and musk, sometimes infused with spicy accents of cinnamon and cloves.

Fashion

Marie Antoinette had a very vast collection of clothes. As Queen of France, she couldn’t be seen wearing the same frock twice (although she did recycle her favourite gowns). And etiquette dictated that she changed three times a day! She would first don a formal dress, usually made of silk or velvet, to attend Mass. Then, she changed into an informal, more comfortable, muslin or cotton dress for the afternoon.

Finally, she would slip into a very elaborate and luxurious gown to attend dinner, and any balls, concerts, or any other evening event. That’s why she was supposed to order 36 new dresses every summer and another 36 every winter; 4 new pair of shoes every week; and she needed 18 pair of scented gloves at all times.

According to Emile Laglande, Rose Bertin’s biographer, “the Queen usually had for winter twelve state dresses, twelve simple dresses, and twelve rich dresses on panniers, which she used for card-parties or intimate supper-parties. Summer and spring toilettes served for autumn wear also. All these toilettes were remodelled at the end of each season, unless Her Majesty desired to keep some as they were. No mention is made of muslin and cotton, or other dresses of that kind; these had only recently come into fashion, and they were not renewed each season, but were made to serve for several years.”

The Queen’s dress allowance was therefore vast too. The Queen had 120,000 Livres a year to spend only on her wardrobe, but her fondness for Rose Bertin’s designs (which ranged from 1000 to 6000 Livres each!) meant she often exceeded her budget. The two women often worked together to create new gowns and styles. Most of her dresses and accessories were in the pastel shades the Queen loved so much. Her favourite colours were pale green and yellow, lilac, and light shades of grey.

Getting dressed

Every morning, when she woke up, the Queen was presented by the head lady’s maid with her gazette des atours. This was a big book containing fabric swatches from any dress she owned. Marie Antoinette would flip its page and mark with three pins the patterns of the dresses she wished to wear that day. Then, the page of the wardrobe would bring them to the Queen’s room in a basked covered with green cloth.

Only then the Queen would begin getting dressed. This was a public occasion, with her rooms full of courtiers, all hoping to attract her attention and become a favourite. As she told her mother in a letter, “at twelve what is called the Chamber is held, and there every one who does not belong to the common people may enter. I put on my rouge and wash my hands before all the world; the men go out, and the women remain; and then I dress myself in their presence.”

Wardrobe

The Queen’s vast clothes collection was housed in three rooms, “lined with cupboards, some with shelves, some to hang garments”. The rooms also featured large tables “to lay the dresses on to be folded.” The Queen’s closet, like pretty much any other room at Versailles, was open to the public. Anyone who was decently dressed could visit them and marvel at the gorgeous display of clothes.

What do you think of Marie Antoinette’s toilette?

Further reading:
Madame Guillottine
Rose Bertin, the creator of fashion at the court of Marie-Antoinette by Émile Langlade
The Life of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, by Charles Duke Yonge
The Toilette of Health, Beauty, and Fashion

Madame Tison Goes Mad

Madame Tison was one of the people appointed to guard the French Royal family imprisoned at the Temple. Her horrible behaviour towards the prisoners and her spying activities caused her to go mad. Charles Younge, in his biography of Marie Antoinette, thus sums up her sad story:

From the time that her own attendants were dismissed, the only person appointed to assist Cléry in his duties were a man and woman named Tison, chosen for that task on account of their surly and brutal tempers, in which the wife exceeded her husband. Both, and especially the woman, had taken a fiendish pleasure in heaping gratuitous insults on the whole family; but at last the dignity and resignation of the queen awakened remorse in the woman’s heart, which presently worked upon her to such a degree that she became mad.

In the first days of her frenzy she raved up and down the courtyard declaring herself guilty of the queen’s murder. She threw herself at Marie Antoinette’s feet, imploring her pardon; and Marie Antoinette not only raised her up with her own hand, and spoke gentle words of forgiveness and consolation to her, but, after she had been removed to a hospital, showed a kind interest in her condition, and amidst all her own troubles found time to write a note to express her anxiety that the invalid should have proper attention.

Marie Therese of France, Marie Antoinette’s daughter, offers more details:

About this time, Madame Tison went mad. She was uneasy about my brother’s illness, and had been long tormented with remorse: she got into a state of languor, and would not take the air. One day she began to talk aloud to herself; alas! that made me laugh, and my poor mother and aunt looked at me with an air of satisfaction, as if they observed with pleasure this short moment of gaiety.

But the poor woman’s derangement soon became serious: she raved of her crimes, of her denunciations, of prisons, scaffolds, the Queen, the royal family, and all our misfortunes. Conscious of her crimes, she thought herself unworthy to approach us; and she believed that the persons against whom she had informed had perished. Every morning she was in anxious hope of seeing the municipal officers whom she had denounced; and, not seeing them, she went to bed every night in a deeper melancholy. Her dreams must have been dreadful, for she screamed in her sleep so loud, that we heard her.

The municipal officers permitted her to see her daughter, of whom she was very fond. One day, that the porter, who was not apprised of this permission, had refused to let the daughter come into the prison, the officers, seeing the desperate grief of the mother, sent for the girl at ten o’clock at night. This untimely visit alarmed her still more; it was with great difficulty they persuaded her to go down stairs, and on the way she repeated to her husband, “We are going to prison.” When she saw her daughter, she did not know her; the fancy of being arrested had seized her mind.

She was coming back again with one of the officers, but in the middle of the stairs she suddenly stopped, and would neither go backwards nor forwards. The officer, alarmed, was obliged to call for assistance to remove her up stairs; but nothing could induce her to go to bed, and during the whole night she disturbed us by raving and talking incessantly. The next morning the physician pronounced her quite mad.

She was for ever at my mother’s feet, asking her pardon; and nothing, indeed, could exceed the compassion which both she and my aunt showed to this poor creature, of whose previous conduct they had had too much reason to complain. They watched and attended her while she remained in this state in the Temple; and they endeavoured to pacify her with the warmest assurances of their forgiveness. The next day, she was removed from the tower to the palace; but her disorder increasing every hour, she was at last sent to the Hotel Dieu, where a woman belonging to the police was placed to watch her, and to gather whatever she might, in her phrensy, say concerning the Royal Family.

Further reading:
Royal memoirs of the French revolution: Private memoirs of what passed in the Temple from the imprisonment of the royal family to the death of the Dauphin, by madame Royale, duchess of Angoulême
The Life of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France by Charles Duke Yonge

Emperor Joseph Visits Versailles

From the time of Louis XVI.’s accession to the throne, the Queen had been expecting a visit from her brother, the Emperor Joseph II. That Prince was the constant theme of her discourse. She boasted of his intelligence, his love of occupation, his military knowledge, and the perfect simplicity of his manners. Those about her Majesty ardently wished to see at Versailles a prince so worthy of his rank.

At length the coming of Joseph II., under the title of Count Falkenstein, was announced, and the very day on which he would be at Versailles was mentioned. The first embraces between the Queen and her august brother took place in the presence of all the Queen’s household. The sight of their emotion was extremely affecting.

The Emperor was at first generally admired in France; learned men, well-informed officers, and celebrated artists appreciated the extent of his information. He made less impression at Court, and very little in the private circle of the King and Queen. His eccentric manners, his frankness, often degenerating into rudeness, and his evidently affected simplicity,—all these characteristics caused him to be looked upon as a prince rather singular than admirable.

The Queen spoke to him about the apartment she had prepared for him in the Chateau; the Emperor answered that he would not accept it, and that while travelling he always lodged at a cabaret (that was his very expression); the Queen insisted, and assured him that he should be at perfect liberty, and placed out of the reach of noise. He replied that he knew the Chateau of Versailles was very large, and that so many scoundrels lived there that he could well find a place; but that his valet de chambre had made up his camp-bed in a lodging-house, and there he would stay.

He dined with the King and Queen, and supped with the whole family. He appeared to take an interest in the young Princess Elisabeth, then just past childhood, and blooming in all the freshness of that age. An intended marriage between him and this young sister of the King was reported at the time, but I believe it had no foundation in truth.

The table was still served by women only, when the Queen dined in private with the King, the royal family, or crowned heads. I was present at the Queen’s dinner almost every day. The Emperor would talk much and fluently; he expressed himself in French with facility, and the singularity, of his expressions added a zest to his conversation. I have often heard him say that he liked spectaculous objects, when he meant to express such things as formed a show, or a scene worthy of interest. He disguised none of his prejudices against the etiquette and customs of the Court of France; and even in the presence of the King made them the subject of his sarcasms.

The King smiled, but never made any answer; the Queen appeared pained. The Emperor frequently terminated his observations upon the objects in Paris which he had admired by reproaching the King for suffering himself to remain in ignorance of them. He could not conceive how such a wealth of pictures should remain shut up in the dust of immense stores; and told him one day that but for the practice of placing some of them in the apartments of Versailles he would not know even the principal chef d’oeuvres that he possessed.

(The Emperor loudly censured the existing practice of allowing shopkeepers to erect shops near the outward walls of all the palaces, and even to establish something like a fair in the galleries of Versailles and Fontainebleau, and even upon the landings of the staircases.)

He also reproached him for not having visited the Hotel des Invalides nor the Ecole Militaire; and even went so far as to tell him before us that he ought not only to know what Paris contained, but to travel in France, and reside a few days in each of his large towns. At last the Queen was really hurt at the Emperor’s remarks, and gave him a few lectures upon the freedom with which he allowed himself to lecture others.

One day she was busied in signing warrants and orders for payment for her household, and was conversing with M. Augeard, her secretary for such matters, who presented the papers one after another to be signed, and replaced them in his portfolio.

While this was going forward, the Emperor walked about the room; all at once he stood still, to reproach the Queen rather severely for signing all those papers without reading them, or, at least, without running her eye over them; and he spoke most judiciously to her upon the danger of signing her name inconsiderately.

The Queen answered that very wise principles might be very ill applied; that her secretary, who deserved her implicit confidence, was at that moment laying before her nothing but orders for payment of the quarter’s expenses of her household, registered in the Chamber of Accounts; and that she ran no risk of incautiously giving her signature.

The Queen’s toilet was likewise a never-failing subject for animadversion with the Emperor. He blamed her for having introduced too many new fashions; and teased her about her use of rouge. One day, while she was laying on more of it than usual, before going to the play, he pointed out a lady who was in the room, and who was, in truth, highly painted. “A little more under the eyes,” said the Emperor to the Queen; “lay on the rouge like a fury, as that lady does.” The Queen entreated her brother to refrain from his jokes, or at all events to address them, when they were so outspoken, to her alone.

The Queen had made an appointment to meet her brother at the Italian theatre; she changed her mind, and went to the French theatre, sending a page to the Italian theatre to request the Emperor to come to her there. He left his box, lighted by the comedian Clairval, and attended by M. de la Ferte, comptroller of the Queen’s privy purse, who was much hurt at hearing his Imperial Majesty, after kindly expressing his regret at not being present during the Italian performance, say to Clairval, “Your young Queen is very giddy; but, luckily, you Frenchmen have no great objection to that.”

I was with my father-in-law in one of the Queen’s apartments when the Emperor came to wait for her there, and, knowing that M. Campan was librarian, he conversed with him about such books as would of course be found in the Queen’s library. After talking of our most celebrated authors, he casually said, “There are doubtless no works on finance or on administration here?”

These words were followed by his opinion on all that had been written on those topics, and the different systems of our two famous ministers, Sully and Colbert; on errors which were daily committed in France, in points essential to the prosperity of the Empire; and on the reform he himself would make at Vienna. Holding M. Campan by the button, he spent more than an hour, talking vehemently, and without the slightest reserve, about the French Government. My father-in-law and myself maintained profound silence, as much from astonishment as from respect; and when we were alone we agreed not to speak of this interview.

The Emperor was fond of describing the Italian Courts that he had visited. The jealous quarrels between the King and Queen of Naples amused him highly; he described to the life the manner and speech of that sovereign, and the simplicity with which he used to go and solicit the first chamberlain to obtain permission to return to the nuptial bed, when the angry Queen had banished him from it. The time which he was made to wait for this reconciliation was calculated between the Queen and her chamberlain, and always proportioned to the gravity of the offence. He also related several very amusing stories relative to the Court of Parma, of which he spoke with no little contempt.

If what this Prince said of those Courts, and even of Vienna, had been written down, the whole would have formed an interesting collection. The Emperor told the King that the Grand Duke of Tuscany and the King of Naples being together, the former said a great deal about the changes he had effected in his State. The Grand Duke had issued a mass of new edicts, in order to carry the precepts of the economists into execution, and trusted that in so doing he was labouring for the welfare of his people.

The King of Naples suffered him to go on speaking for a long time, and then casually asked how many Neapolitan families there were in Tuscany. The Duke soon reckoned them up, as they were but few. “Well, brother,” replied the King of Naples, “I do not understand the indifference of your people towards your great reforms; for I have four times the number of Tuscan families settled in my States that you have of Neapolitan families in yours.”

The Queen being at the Opera with the Emperor, the latter did not wish to show himself; but she took him by the hand, and gently drew him to the front of the box. This kind of presentation to the public was most warmly received. The performance was “Iphigenia in Aulis,” and for the second time the chorus, “Chantons, celebrons notre Reine!” was called for with universal plaudits.

A fete of a novel description was given at Petit Trianon. The art with which the English garden was not illuminated, but lighted, produced a charming effect. Earthen lamps, concealed by boards painted green, threw light upon the beds of shrubs and flowers, and brought out their varied tints. Several hundred burning fagots in the moat behind the Temple of Love made a blaze of light, which rendered that spot the most brilliant in the garden. After all, this evening’s entertainment had nothing remarkable about it but the good taste of the artists, yet it was much talked of.

 The situation did not allow the admission of a great part of the Court; those who were uninvited were dissatisfied; and the people, who never forgive any fetes but those they share in, so exaggerated the cost of this little fete as to make it appear that the fagots burnt in the moat had required the destruction of a whole forest. The Queen being informed of these reports, was determined to know exactly how much wood had been consumed; and she found that fifteen hundred fagots had sufficed to keep up the fire until four o’clock in the morning.

After staying a few months the Emperor left France, promising his sister to come and see her again. All the officers of the Queen’s chamber had many opportunities of serving him during his stay, and expected that he would make them presents before his departure. Their oath of office positively forbade them to receive a gift from any foreign prince; they had therefore agreed to refuse the Emperor’s presents at first, but to ask the time necessary for obtaining permission to accept them. The Emperor, probably informed of this custom, relieved the good people from their difficulty by setting off without making a single present.

Further reading:
Memoirs Of Marie Antoinette, by Campan

Rose Bertin, Minister Of Fashion

Chanel. Dior. Givenchy. Gaultier. Today French fashion designers are renowned and loved the world over. But the first to be celebrated, and to bring haute couture to the forefront of popular culture was a poor but ambitious young woman, Rose Bertin.

Born on 2 July 1747 at Abbeville, Picardy, Rose moved to Paris to try her luck. She was apprenticed to a milliner, Mademoiselle Pagelle, and was so good at her job that later she became her business partner. She dressed, and cultivated good relations, with some of the most influential women at the French court, like the Princess de Conti, the Duchesse de Chartres, and the Princesse de Lamballe.

When, in 1770, Rose opened her own shop, Le Grand Mogol, on the Rue Saint-Honoré, they, and many other ladies at Versailles, followed her and became faithful clients. But her real big break came two years later, when the Princesse de Lamballe introduced her to the dauphine, Marie Antoinette.

The young woman loved Bertin’s work. After Louis XVI’s coronation, Marie Antoinette and Bertin met twice a week to discuss the dressmaker’s new creations. While talking about dresses and poufs, the two women became friends, and the Queen started confiding in her milliner.

Together, they also launched many fashions. At the time, women wore “pouf”, raised hardos made possible by pads and pomades. For the Queen, Bertin went one step further (or better, three feet higher). Not only were poufs now insanely high, they were also decorated with all kinds of objects to showcase current events. The pouf a la circonstance commemorated the change of reign, the pouf aux insurgents was in honor of the American Revolutionary War, and a French naval vessel represented the Queen’s support for the America in the war for their independence (France was helping them).

But the most famous was probably the pouf a l’inoculation, which celebrated the Kings’ vaccination, which took place in June 1774. “It represented a rising sun, and an olive-tree laden with fruit, round which a serpent was twisted, holding a flower-wreathed club. The classical serpent of Esculapius represented medicine, and the club was the force which could overcome disease. The rising sun was the young King himself, great-grandson of the Roi-Soleil, to whom all eyes were turned. The olive-tree was the symbol of peace, and also of the tender affection with which all were penetrated at the news of the happy success of the operation which the King and the Royal Family had undergone.”

Her hairdos were outrageous, but so were her dresses. They were so wide women had troubles passing through doors. Bertin had such an influence on the Queen’s wardrobe, and as a result, on French fashion, to gain the nickname “Minister of Fashion”. Her name became synonymous with sartorial elegance, not only in France, but all over Europe. Her dresses were commissioned from all corners of the continent, including London, Vienna, Venice, Saint Petersburg, and even Constantinople.

Pandores, dolls made of wax over jointed wood armatures or porcelain, were dressed in the latest fashions and sent to foreign courts and noblewomen so that they could keep up to date with the latest Parisian styles and commission them. This type of dolls remained popular until the appearance of fashion magazines.

Things took a turn for the worse when the Revolution broke out. When Marie Antoinette was imprisoned she couldn’t afford Bertin’s super expensive gowns anymore. But she continued to commission small orders, usually of ribbons and simple alterations, to her dressmaker. Bertin’s also provided the mourning outfit the Queen wore after the execution of her husband, Louis XVI.

As the Revolution turned more and more violent, many of her customers, included the Queen, were executed. A lot of dressmakers were forced to close their shops. Not Bertin. She moved her business to London, were she sold clothes to the émigrés. Once the Revolution was over Rose returned to Paris. Among her new customers was Joséphine de Beauharnais, the future French empresses.

But the Revolution had changed things forever. Fashion, during the ancient regime, had been excessive and outrageous. Now people favoured simpler styles. As the century came to an end, she transferred her business to her nephews and retired. She died in 1813 in Épinay-sur-Seine.

Further reading:
Rose Bertin, the creator of fashion at the court of Marie-Antoinette by Émile Langlade
Titillating Titbits About The Life And Times Of Marie Antoinette

Louis XVIII, The Last King Of France To Die Still Ruling

Prince Louis Stanislas Xavier, Count of Provence, always coveted the crown. Yet, no one thought he would really become king. Born on 17 November 1755 in Versailles, he was the third surviving on of the Dauphin Louis and his wife Maria Josepha of Saxony and far too removed from the crown for him to seriously aspire to it. But then first his oldest brother, the Duke of Burgundy, and then his father, died. Only his other elder brother, the future Louis XVI, and his grandfather, King Louis XV, stood between him and the crown.

Louis Stanislas was more confident than his older brother. Maybe that’s due to his special relationship with his governess, Madame de Marsan, Governess of the Children of France, who had charge of the royal boys until they were deemed, at about 7, old enough to start studying with a tutor (his was Antoine de Quélen de Stuer de Caussade, Duke of La Vauguyon). Louis Stanislas was Madame’s favourite.

Louis Stanislas was also the smartest and brightest of the royal boys. He enjoyed the same education as his older brother, even though he wasn’t destined to become king. He excelled in the classics. He particularly liked history and literature, loved Horace (he could quote his verses from memory), was fluent in three languages (French, Italian, and English), and knew the Bible well.

The Prince excelled in intellectual pursuits but wasn’t fond of physical activity. But he loved eating. So, although not bad looking, Louis Stanislas started to put on weight. He wasn’t the most attractive of suitors, but then his wife, Princess Maria Giuseppina of Savoy, wasn’t particularly attractive either. Mostly because her hygiene was very poor. She rarely wore perfume or even bathed, and never brushed her teeth. She was boring and, coming from a smaller court, ignorant of the many customs that regulated life at Versailles.

The couple tied the knot on 14 May 1771, but didn’t consummate their marriage for years. Yet, the Count of Provence did boast of exploits in the bedroom just to spite his older brother, who had yet to consummate his own marriage to Marie Antoinette. The two brothers often quarrelled, as did their wives. In the end, Louis Stanislas managed to overcome his aversion towards his wife and got her pregnant twice. Sadly both pregnancies ended in miscarriages.

In 1774, Louis XV died. As the new king, Louis XVI, was still childless, Louis Stanislas was, for the moment, heir to the throne. He thought he now deserved a seat on the council, so that he could exercise his influence in politics. But the king had other ideas and refused him the post. Greatly offended, the Count of Provence started travelling around France. When, in the following year, Queen Marie Antoinette gave birth to two son, Louis Stanislas fell once again down the line of succession.

Kept away from politics, the Count enjoyed a retired and sedentary lifestyle. He read a lot, gambled and lost huge sums of money, and spent time with his mistress, Anne Nompar de Caumont. But, in 1878, he had his chance to finally get involved in politics. He was among the notables who opposed the new taxes required to keep the French government afloat. New taxes would now have to be approved by the Estates Generals.

In the next Assembly of Notables, Louis Stanislas was the only one to support giving more representation to the common people in the Estates Generals. This measure was supported by the finance minister, Jacques Necker, who managed to convinced the King to adopt it. The Estates Generals convened. The Third Estate demanded tax reforms, something Louis Stanislas was absolutely against. He advised his brother not to compromise with them and give in to their requests.

Revolution broke out. As their younger brother fled, Louis Stanislas stayed by Louis XVI’s side at Versailles until the flight to Varennes. The Count of Provence and his wife left at the same time as the King and his family, but were luckier. They managed to arrived safely at their destination in Belgium. As his brother was held prisoner of the Revolutionaries, the Count proclaimed himself Regent. He also asked the various European monarch for help, money, and soldiers.

When Louis XVI died too, the Count of Provence was proclaimed king Louis XVIII of France by royalists. He moved to Verona, in the then Republic of Venice, and managed to have his niece Marie Therese, the only surviving child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, freed from her prison. He wanted her to marry her first cousin, Louis-Antoine, Duke of Angoulême, the son of the Count of Artois. To convince her, he told her that was what her parents had wanted. Marie Therese agreed.

When, in 1796, Napoleon invaded the Republic of Venice, Louis XVIII was forced to flee once again. He wrote again to Napoleon, asking him to restore him as rightful king but to no avail. Napoleon wanted him to renounce his right to the throne but that didn’t happen either. “I may have lost my country, I may have lost my possessions, but I still have my honor, and with it I will die,” Louis said. Instead, Louis XVIII and his family travelled from one European country to another. As they fell under the control of Napoleon, they were kicked out and forced to look for a new home.

Soon, Great Britain remained the only country still fighting against Napoleon, so Louis XVIII and his family settled there. The King also realised that, if he wanted back his throne, some things had to change. Too much had happened for the monarchy to be restored as it once was. He started hinting that, once he was back on the throne, he would retain some of the changed wrought by the Revolution. For instance, he wouldn’t return the lands confiscated by the Revolutionaries to their rightful owners, but the latter would be financially refunded for their loss.

This allowed him to attract the support of those who were disillusioned with Napoleon’s regime without alienating ardent royalists. But when the moment for him finally came to rule, once Napoleon was defeated, Louis XVIII was held back in England by an attack of gout. He sent his bother, the Count of Artois, in his place to set up the new government.

When he finally returned, amid the cheers of the crowd, he did so as a Constitutional monarch. He issued the Charter of 1814, which included many progressive reforms: freedom of religion, a legislature composed of the Chamber of Deputies and the Chamber of Peers, and a somewhat free press. It was the best compromise between the old and new order that could have been reached. Sill, of course, many weren’t pleased. For the royalists, too much had been conceded. For the republicans, too little.

Louis XVIII had barely had time to sit on his throne when Napoleon escaped from Elba, where he had been exiled. He was forced to flee France once again. This time, Napoleon was swiftly defeated, and Louis VIII was able to take back his throne. In 1824, his health began to fail. Very obese, he suffered from gout and gangrene. He died on 16 September 1824, passing the crown to his younger brother, Charles X. He was the last French monarch to die while still ruling.

Further reading:
Louis XVIII by Mary F. Sanders
Tea At Trianon
The Mad Monarchist

Life In The Temple Prison

The Temple had been, as its name imported, the fortress and palace of the Knights Templars, and, having been erected by them in the palmy days of their wealth and magnificence, contained spacious apartments, and extensive gardens protected from intrusion by a lofty wall, which surrounded the whole. It was not, unfit for, nor unaccustomed to, the reception of princes; for the Count d’Artois had fitted up a portion of it for himself whenever he visited the capital. And to his apartments those who had the custody of the king and queen at first conducted them.

But the new Municipal Council, whom the recent events had made the real masters of Paris, considered those rooms too comfortable or too honorable a lodging for any prisoners, however royal; and the same night, before they could retire to rest, and while Louis was still occupying himself in distributing the different apartments among the members of his family and the few attendants who were allowed to share his captivity, an order was sent down to remove them all into a small dilapidated tower which had been used as a lodging for some of the count’s footmen, but whose bad walls and broken windows rendered it unfit for even the servants of a prince.

Besides their meanness and ruinous condition, the number of the rooms it contained was so scanty, that for the first few days the only room that could be found for the Princess Elizabeth was an old, disused kitchen; and even after that was remedied, she was forced to share her new chamber, though it was both small and dark, with her niece, Madame Royale; while the dauphin’s bed was placed by the side of the queen’s, in one which was but little large. And the dungeon-like appearance of the entire place impressed the whole family with the idea that it was not intended that they should remain there long, but that an early death was preparing for them.

Even this distress was speedily aggravated by a fresh severity. Four days afterward an order was sent down which commanded the removal of all their attendants, with the exception of one or two menial servants. Madame de Tourzel, the governess of the royal children, was driven away with the coarsest insults. The Princess de Lamballe, that most faithful and affectionate friend of the queen, was rudely torn from her embrace by the municipal officers; and, though no offense was even imputed to her, was dragged off to a prison, where she was soon to pay the forfeit of her loyalty with her blood.

From this time forth the king and queen were completely cut off from the outer world. They were treated with a rigor which in happier countries is not even experienced by convicted criminals. They were forbidden to receive letters or newspapers; and presently they were deprived of pens, ink, and paper; though they would neither have desired to write nor receive letters which would have been read by their jailers, and could only have exposed their correspondents to danger.

After a few days they were even deprived of the attendance of all their servants but two—a faithful valet named Cléry (fidelity such as his may well immortalize his name), to whom we are indebted for the greater part of the scanty knowledge which we possess of the fate of the captive princes as long as Louis himself was permitted to live; and Turgy, a cook, who, by an act of faithful boldness, had obtained a surreptitious entrance into the Temple, and whose services seemed to have escaped notice, though at a later period they proved of no trivial importance. […]

After a time the ingenuity of Cléry found a mode of obtaining for them some little knowledge of what was passing outside, by contriving that some of his friends should send criers to cry an abstract of the news contained in the daily journals under his windows, which he in his turn faithfully reported to them while employed in such menial offices about their persons as took off the attention of their guards, who day and night maintained an unceasing espial on all their actions and even words.

From the very first they had to endure strange privations for princes. They had not a sufficient supply of clothes; the little dauphin, in particular, would have been wholly unprovided, had not the English embassadress, Lady Sutherland, whose son was of a similar age and size, sent in a stock of such as she thought might be wanted. But as the garments thus received wore out, and as all means of replacing them were refused, the queen and princess were reduced to ply their own needles diligently to mend the clothes of the whole family, that they might not appear to their jailers, or to the occupants of the surrounding houses, who from their windows could command a view of the garden in which they took their daily walks, absolutely ragged.

Such enforced occupation must indeed in some degree have been welcome as a relief from thought, which their unbroken solitude left them but too much leisure to indulge. Cléry has given us an account of the manner in which their day was parceled out. The king rose at six, and Cléry, after dressing his hair, descended to the queen’s chamber, which was on the story below, to perform the same service for her and for the rest of the family. And the hour so spent brought with it some slight comfort, as he could avail himself of that opportunity to mention any thing that he might have learned of what was passing out-of-doors, or to receive any instructions which they might desire to give him.

At nine they breakfasted in the king’s room. At ten they came down-stairs again to the queen’s apartments, where Louis occupied himself in giving the dauphin lessons in geography, while Marie Antoinette busied herself in a corresponding manner with Madame Royale. But, in whatever room they were, their guards were always present; and when, at one o’clock, they went down-stairs to walk in the garden, they were still accompanied by soldiers: the only member of the family who was not exposed to their ceaseless vigilance being the little dauphin, who was allowed to run up and down and play at ball with Cléry, without a soldier thinking it necessary to watch all his movements or listen to all his childish exclamations.

At two dinner was served, and regularly at that hour the odious Santerre, with two other ruffians of the same stamp, whom he called his aids-de-camp, visited them to make sure of their presence and to inspect their rooms; and Cléry remarked that the queen never broke her disdainful silence to him, though Louis often spoke to him, generally to receive some answer of brutal insult. After dinner, Louis and Marie Antoinette would play piquet or backgammon; as, while they were thus engaged, the vigilance of their keepers relaxed, and the noise of shuffling the cards or rattling the dice afforded them opportunities of saying a few words in whispers to one another, which at other times would have been overheard.

In the evening the queen and the Princess Elizabeth read aloud, the books chosen being chiefly works of history, or the masterpieces of Corneille and Racine, as being most suitable to form the minds and tastes of the children; and sometimes Louis himself would seek to divert them from their sorrows by asking the children riddles, and finding some amusement in their attempts to solve them.

At bed-time the queen herself made the dauphin say his prayers, teaching him especially the duty of praying for others, for the Princess de Lamballe, and for Madame de Tourzel, his governess; though even those petitions the poor boy was compelled to utter in whispers, lest, if they were repeated to the Municipal Council, he should bring ruin on those whom he regarded as friends. At ten the family separated for the night, a sentinel making his bed across the door of each of their chambers, to prevent the possibility of any escape. […]

As time passed on, the prospects of the unhappy prisoners became still more gloomy. On the 21st of September the Convention met, and its first act was to abolish royalty and declare the government a republic, and an officer was instantly sent to make proclamation of the event under the Temple walls; and, as if the establishment of a republic authorized an increase of insolence on the part of the guards of the prisoners, the insults to which they were subjected grew more frequent and more gross.

Sentences both menacing and indecent were written on the walls where they must catch their eye: the soldiers puffed their tobacco-smoke in the queen’s face as she passed, or placed their seats in the passages so much in her way that she could hardly avoid stumbling over their legs as she went down to the garden. Sometimes they even assailed her with direct abuse, calling her the assassin of the people, who in their turn would assassinate her.

More than once the whole family had to submit to a personal search, and to empty their pockets, when the officers who made the search carried off whatever they chose to term suspicious, especially their knives and scissors, so that, when at work, the queen and princess were forced to bite off the threads with their teeth. And amidst all this misery no one ever heard Marie Antoinette utter a word to lament her own fate, or to ask pity for herself.

She mourned over her husband’s fall; she pitied Elizabeth, to whom malice itself could not impute a share in the wrongs of which Danton and Vergniaud had taught the people to complain. Most of all did she bewail the ruined prospects of her son; and more than once she brought tears into Cléry’s eyes by the earnest tenderness with which she implored him to provide for the safety of the noble child after his parents should have been destroyed.

The insults increased, each being an additional omen of the future. The most painful injuries were reserved for the queen. Toward the end of October the dauphin was removed from her apartment to that of the king, that she might thus be deprived of the comfort of ministering to his daily wants. But Louis himself was not spared. One day an order came down to deprive him of his sword; on another he was stripped of his different decorations and orders of knighthood.

The system of espial, too, was carried out with increased severity. Their linen, when it came hack from the washer-woman, and even their washing-bills, were held to the fire to see if any invisible ink had been employed to communicate with them. Their loaves and biscuits were cut asunder lest they should contain notes. The end was approaching. A week or two later the king was removed to another tower, and was only permitted to see his family during a certain portion of the day.

At last it was determined to bring him to trial. On the 11th of December he was suddenly informed that he was to be brought before the Convention; and from that day forth he was cut off from all intercourse with his family, even his wife being forbidden to see or hear from him. The barbarous restriction afforded him one more opportunity of showing his amiable unselfishness and fortitude.

The regulation had been made by the Municipal Council, not by the Assembly; and its inhuman and unprecedented severity, coupled with a jealousy of the Council, as seeking to usurp the whole authority of the State, induced the Assembly to rescind it, and to grant permission, for Louis to have the dauphin and his sister with him.

Yet, lest these innocent children should prove messengers of conspiracy between him and the queen and Elizabeth, it was ordered at the same time that, so long as they were allowed to visit him, they should be separated from their mother and their aunt; and Louis, though never in greater need of comfort, thought it so much better for the children themselves that they should be with the queen, that for their sakes he renounced their society, and allowed the decree of the Council to be carried out in all its pitiless cruelty.

While the trial lasted, the queen and those with her had been kept in almost absolute ignorance of what was taking place. They never, however, doubted what the result would be, so that it was scarcely a shock to them when they heard the news-men crying the sentence under their windows —the only mercy that was shown to either the prisoner who was to die, or to those who were to survive him, being that they were allowed once more to meet on earth.

Further reading:
The Life of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France by Charles Duke Yonge

Marie Antoinette & The Comte d'Haga

The Queen, who was much prejudiced against the King of Sweden*, received him very coldly. All that was said of the private character of that sovereign, his connection with the Comte de Vergennes, from the time of the Revolution of Sweden, in 1772, the character of his favourite Armfeldt, and the prejudices of the monarch himself against the Swedes who were well received at the Court of Versailles, formed the grounds of this dislike.

He came one day uninvited and unexpected, and requested to dine with the Queen. The Queen received him in the little closet, and desired me to send for her clerk of the kitchen, that she might be informed whether there was a proper dinner to set before Comte d’Haga, and add to it if necessary. The King of Sweden assured her that there would be enough for him; and I could not help smiling when I thought of the length of the menu of the dinner of the King and Queen, not half of which would have made its appearance had they dined in private.

The Queen looked significantly at me, and I withdrew. In the evening she asked me why I had seemed so astonished when she ordered me to add to her dinner, saying that I ought instantly to have seen that she was giving the King of Sweden a lesson for his presumption. I owned to her that the scene had appeared to me so much in the bourgeois style, that I involuntarily thought of the cutlets on the gridiron, and the omelette, which in families in humble circumstances serve to piece out short commons. She was highly diverted with my answer, and repeated it to the King, who also laughed heartily at it.

Note:
*King Gustavus III of Sweden visited Versailles in incognito under the name Comte d’Haga.

Further reading:
Memoirs Of The Court Of Marie Antoinette, Queen Of France by Madame Campan

How disagreeable!: Etiquette At Versailles

The Queen’s toilet was a masterpiece of etiquette; everything was done in a prescribed form. Both the dame d’honneur and the dame d’atours usually attended and officiated, assisted by the first femme de chambre and two ordinary women. The dame d’atours put on the petticoat, and handed the gown to the Queen. The dame d’honneur poured out the water for her hands and put on her linen.

When a princess of the royal family happened to be present while the Queen was dressing, the dame d’honneur yielded to her the latter act of office, but still did not yield it directly to the Princesses of the blood; in such a case the dame d’honneur was accustomed to present the linen to the first femme de chambre, who, in her turn, handed it to the Princess of the blood. Each of these ladies observed these rules scrupulously as affecting her rights.

One winter’s day it happened that the Queen, who was entirely undressed, was just going to put on her shift; I held it ready unfolded for her; the dame d’honneur came in, slipped off her gloves, and took it. A scratching was heard at the door; it was opened, and in came the Duchesse d’Orleans: her gloves were taken off, and she came forward to take the garment; but as it would have been wrong in the dame d’honneur to hand it to her she gave it to me, and I handed it to the Princess.

More scratching it was Madame la Comtesse de Provence; the Duchesse d’Orleans handed her the linen. All this while the Queen kept her arms crossed upon her bosom, and appeared to feel cold; Madame observed her uncomfortable situation, and, merely laying down her handkerchief without taking off her gloves, she put on the linen, and in doing so knocked the Queen’s cap off. The Queen laughed to conceal her impatience, but not until she had muttered several times, “How disagreeable! how tiresome!”[…]

The ladies-in-waiting, who were all obliged to be sworn, and to wear full Court dresses, were alone entitled to remain in the room, and to attend in conjunction with the dame d’honneur and the tirewoman. The Queen abolished all this formality. When her head was dressed, she curtsied to all the ladies who were in her chamber, and, followed only by her own women, went into her closet, where Mademoiselle Bertin, who could not be admitted into the chamber, used to await her. It was in this inner closet that she produced her new and numerous dresses.

The Queen was also desirous of being served by the most fashionable hairdresser in Paris. Now the custom which forbade all persons in inferior offices, employed by royalty, to exert their talents for the public, was no doubt intended to cut off all communication between the privacy of princes and society at large; the latter being always extremely curious respecting the most trifling particulars relative to the private life of the former. The Queen, fearing that the taste of the hairdresser would suffer if he should discontinue the general practice of his art, ordered him to attend as usual certain ladies of the Court and of Paris; and this multiplied the opportunities of learning details respecting the household, and very often of misrepresenting them.

One of the customs most disagreeable to the Queen was that of dining every day in public. Maria Leczinska had always submitted to this wearisome practice; Marie Antoinette followed it as long as she was Dauphiness. The Dauphin dined with her, and each branch of the family had its public dinner daily. The ushers suffered all decently dressed people to enter; the sight was the delight of persons from the country. At the dinner-hour there were none to be met upon the stairs but honest folks, who, after having seen the Dauphiness take her soup, went to see the Princes eat their ‘bouilli’, and then ran themselves out of breath to behold Mesdames at their dessert.

Very ancient usage, too, required that the Queens of France should appear in public surrounded only by women; even at meal-times no persons of the other sex attended to serve at table; and although the King ate publicly with the Queen, yet he himself was served by women with everything which was presented to him directly at table. The dame d’honneur, kneeling, for her own accommodation, upon a low stool, with a napkin upon her arm, and four women in full dress, presented the plates to the King and Queen.

The dame d’honneur handed them drink. This service had formerly been the right of the maids of honour. The Queen, upon her accession to the throne, abolished the usage altogether. She also freed herself from the necessity of being followed in the Palace of Versailles by two of her women in Court dresses, during those hours of the day when the ladies-in-waiting were not with her. From that time she was accompanied only by a single valet de chambre and two footmen. All the changes made by Marie Antoinette were of the same description; a disposition gradually to substitute the simple customs of Vienna for those of Versailles was more injurious to her than she could possibly have imagined.

When the King slept in the Queen’s apartment he always rose before her; the exact hour was communicated to the head femme de chambre, who entered, preceded by a servant of the bedchamber bearing a taper; she crossed the room and unbolted the door which separated the Queen’s apartment from that of the King. She there found the first valet de chambre for the quarter, and a servant of the chamber. They entered, opened the bed curtains on the King’s side, and presented him slippers generally, as well as the dressing-gown, which he put on, of gold or silver stuff. The first valet de chambre took down a short sword which was always laid within the railing on the King’s side.

When the King slept with the Queen, this sword was brought upon the armchair appropriated to the King, and which was placed near the Queen’s bed, within the gilt railing which surrounded the bed. The first femme de chambre conducted the King to the door, bolted it again, and, leaving the Queen’s chamber, did not return until the hour appointed by her Majesty the evening before. At night the Queen went to bed before the King; the first femme de chambre remained seated at the foot of her bed until the arrival of his Majesty, in order, as in the morning, to see the King’s attendants out and bolt the door after them. The Queen awoke habitually at eight o’clock, and breakfasted at nine, frequently in bed, and sometimes after she had risen, at a table placed opposite her couch.

In order to describe the Queen’s private service intelligibly, it must be recollected that service of every kind was honour, and had not any other denomination. To do the honours of the service was to present the service to a person of superior rank, who happened to arrive at the moment it was about to be performed. Thus, supposing the Queen asked for a glass of water, the servant of the chamber handed to the first woman a silver gilt waiter, upon which were placed a covered goblet and a small decanter; but should the lady of honour come in, the first woman was obliged to present the waiter to her, and if Madame or the Comtesse d’Artois came in at the moment, the waiter went again from the lady of honour into the hands of the Princess before it reached the Queen.

It must be observed, however, that if a princess of the blood instead of a princess of the family entered, the service went directly from the first woman to the princess of the blood, the lady of honour being excused from transferring to any but princesses of the royal family. Nothing was presented directly to the Queen; her handkerchief or her gloves were placed upon a long salver of gold or silver gilt, which was placed as a piece of furniture of ceremony upon a side-table, and was called a gantiere. The first woman presented to her in this manner all that she asked for, unless the tirewoman, the lady of honour, or a princess were present, and then the gradation pointed out in the instance of the glass of water was always observed.

Whether the Queen breakfasted in bed or up, those entitled to the petites entrees were equally admitted; this privilege belonged of right to her chief physician, chief surgeon, physician in ordinary, reader, closet secretary, the King’s four first valets de chambre and their reversioners, and the King’s chief physicians and surgeons. There were frequently from ten to twelve persons at this first entree. The lady of honour or the superintendent, if present, placed the breakfast equipage upon the bed; the Princesse de Lamballe frequently performed that office.

Further reading:
Memoirs Of The Court Of Marie Antoinette, Queen Of France by Madame Campan

Was Count Fersen Really Marie Antoinette's Lover?

He was a skilled Swedish statesman and diplomat. A soldier in the War for the American Independence. A devoted and fervent royalist who faithfully served both the Kings of Sweden and France. An innocent victim murdered by a ferocious mob for a crime he hadn’t committed. Yet, to most people, Axel von Fersen is just Queen Marie Antoinette’s lover. Too bad he never was.

Yep, that’s right. There is absolutely no proof that Marie Antoinette and Fersen were lovers. Even historians like Antonia Fraser, who believes they were, had to admit in her biography of the Queen, that the evidence just isn’t there. Instead, everything we know about Marie Antoinette indicates that, regardless of what she may have felt for Fersen (and no one can truly say what is in someone’s heart), she was never unfaithful to her husband.

A chaste woman and a devoted mother

Few women in history were slandered as horribly as Marie Antoinette was. And yet, those who knew her well often commented on her chaste nature. She was so modest and prudish that she even wore a long flannel gown, buttoned from top to button, when having a bath! But the Queen wasn’t a saint. She was frivolous, squandered enormous sums at the gambling table, and loved balls. But her partying lifestyle, which never included lovers anyway, ended when she became a mother.

Marie Antoinette adored her children. She lived for them. She couldn’t bear even the thought of being separated from them. And that’s what would have happened if she had taken a lover. Although Louis XVI was no Harry VIII, adultery, when committed by a Queen, was treason in France too. If caught, Louis would have no choice but to divorce Marie Antoinette and banished her, probably to a convent. She would never have seen her children again. Marie Antoinette would never have taken that chance. Some suggested Louis knew about the affair and chose to ignore it, but that’s just not possible. Louis was a deeply religious man and wouldn’t have been able to just turn the other way. Not to mention that such an affair could have compromised the succession. He wouldn’t have allowed that.

A faithful Queen

Marie Antoinette wasn’t devoted only to her children. She was devoted to her husband too. Although historians have often written off Louis XVI as an ugly, awkward and weak man no woman could possibly ever have found attractive, the King was a gentle man, a caring husband, a loving father, always striving to do his best for both his family and his people. All qualities that would inspire affection, loyalty, and love, if not passion, in any woman. Although the couple was pretty much estranged during the first years of their marriage, they eventually got close and grew to love each other. She certainly loved him enough to die with him. During the revolution, the Queen refused many plans to escape, either alone or with her children, and leave Louis behind, preferring to stay by his side till the bloody end.

No privacy allowed

Even if Marie Antoinette had wanted, despite the possible horrible consequences, to have an affair, she didn’t have the means to do so. Queens of France lacked any privacy at all. They lived their entire lives in the public eye. Marie Antoinette was never alone. Even at her beloved Petit Trianon, where she was able to relax the strict etiquette rules that regulated life at Versailles, the Queen was never left on her own. Some family members, friends, or servants, were always with her. It would have been impossible for her to conduct an affair without anyone noticing or the help of one, or more, accomplices (which would have also increased the risk of discovery).

Not to mention that foreign ambassadors had spies at court who reported to them every move the Queen made. No aspect of her life was too trivial not to be commented on. They even checked the Queen’s bedsheets to know when she slept with her husband! The Austrian ambassador, who spied on behalf of Queen Marie Antoinette’s mother, the Empress Maria Theresa, never mentioned Fersen in his letters, something he would have certainly done if there had been even the slightest hint of scandal about them.

Even more ridiculous are the rumours that Marie Antoinette and Fersen had a last night of passion while she was imprisoned at the Tuileries Palace. Fersen, when writing about that night in his diary, allegedly jotted down “Reste là”, a term he used to indicate he had slept with a woman. But the phrase was erased from his diary, so no one knows for sure if that’s what he had really written. Even if he had, it is unlikely it meant anything more than he had spent the night at the Palace. Marie Antoinette was even more closely guarded than usual at this time. There is no way no one would have noticed the Queen having sex with her lover! Besides, Marie Antoinette was now fearing for her life, and the lives of her children and her husband. It is unlikely that she would have been in the right state of mind to entertain a lover.

No mention at her trial

To me, the most convincing proof an affair never occurred was the fact that Fersen was mentioned at Marie Antoinette’s trial only for the role he had in the flight to Varennes. The revolutionaries hated Marie Antoinette. They accused her of sleeping with everyone she knew and even many she didn’t know, both male and female. They even accused her of having committed incest with her own son. Yet, they never accused her of having had an affair with Fersen, a foreigner and a devoted royalist who did everything he could to help the unfortunate French royal family. Why? Because no proof of their affair ever existed. If even the faintest hint of rumour had reached their ears, you can be sure they would have used it against her.

What about their letters?

The letters the Queen and Count Fersen wrote to each other have been perused by historians to find proof they had an affair. Although they don’t reveal any, people often find what they want to find. Every word and every cancellation has been carefully examined and attributed whatever meaning best suited the researcher’s hopes. So, even though the letters, which were written in a difficult cypher, showed their relationship to have been mainly a diplomatic one, many saw a lot more in them. Erased parts of the Queen’s letters have  been said to contain her declarations of love to Fersen, when it is far more likely they concealed Marie Antoinette’s disagreements with her brothers-in-law, or mentioned revolutionaries enemies or royalists friends. Leaving these references unblotted would have been too dangerous had the letters fallen into the wrong hands.

Some have also seen in the name Josephine, which Fersen used in some of his letters, an alias for Marie Antoinette. But Josephine was probably a maid working for his mistress Eleanor Sullivan, considering that in one of the letters, he gave her instructions about a stove. Antonia Fraser explains this discrepancy but saying that when Fersen talked about Josephine, he sometimes referred to Marie Antoinette, others to the maid. Needless to say, I don’t find it a very convincing explanation, especially because she doesn’t back it up with any proof. In any case, Eleanor is likely the woman Fersen passionately writes about in his letters to his sister Sophie. In those letters, he referred to her as “El” or “elle”. When talking about the Queen, instead, he always used “Elle”, with a capital E, so it is unlikely he was talking about the Queen in these letters. Especially, because the Queen, together with her family, was threatened by the revolution at this time, and would have had no time for love affairs.

Not every letter brought forth as proof has been authenticated either. In 1907, a certain Monsieur Lucien Maury published in Revue Bleue a fragment of a letter he claimed had been written by Marie Antoinette to Fersen. It said: “Farewell, the most loved and loving of men. I embrace you with my whole heart….” The letter, however, wasn’t in the Queen’s handwriting, but only in the cipher she used. The letter, could therefore, have been by anyone knowing the code. In any case, such effusive and exaggerated language was commonly used in letters written to friends at the time, and hardly proof of an extramarital affair.

Why is this myth so popular then?

Scandal sells. Goodness doesn’t. Marie Antoinette wasn’t a remarkable woman. Despite being a Queen, her life was, overall, kind of boring. No wonder many writers and film makers have decided to spice things up with a little affair. That was done so many times that people started believing there must have been at least some truth in the rumours. And, of course, people are more prone to believe the worst, rather than the best, of people.

This myth also appeals to our romantic sensibilities. Marie Antoinette lived most of her life in the heap of luxuries, yet she knew little happiness. She left her family at a young age to marry a stranger, found life at Versailles, with its lack of privacy and scheming courtiers, unbearable, was slandered by her subject because of her foreign birth, imprisoned with her family, separated from them children, and eventually murdered. In an era where romantic love is considered a panacea for all evils, I believe many of us hope that Marie Antoinette had an affair so that, for a few moments at least, she knew the joys of passionate love.

Our society is also obsessed by sex. While no one has a problem believing that two people, who are not in love, can have sex for pleasure, few think it possible that two people in love would abstain from sexual intercourse. And yet, that’s something that happens more often than we think. Real love is not a tumble between the sheets, but unselfishness. An affair would have had devastating consequences for Marie Antoinette. If Fersen had really been in love with the Queen, that alone should have prevented him from touching her. But were Fersen and Marie Antoinette really in love? He was entirely devoted to her, and she surely cared for him, but what they truly felt for one another, only they knew.

I’ll end this post with the words of the Duchesse de FitzJames, a great-niece of Fersen:

I desire first of all to do away with the lying legend, based on a calumny, which distorted the relations between Marie-Antoinette and Fersen, relations consisting in absolute devotion, in complete abnegation on one side, and on the other in friendship, profound, trusting and grateful. People have wished to degrade to the vulgarities of a love novel, facts which were otherwise terrible, sentiments which were otherwise lofty.