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Marie Antoinette and the Downfall of the French Monarchy

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Marie Antoinette and the Downfall of the French Monarchy
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Author(s): Imbert de Saint-Amand
Date Published: 2010/10
Page Count: 256
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-273-4
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-274-1

The ill-fated Queen of France

In popular memory some historical figures, Richard III and George Armstrong Custer among them, are fated to be forever viewed negatively. Some act or phrase—often of dubious veracity—adheres and subordinates all else concerning them. Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI, an Austrian princess was lucklessly doomed to be married to a King of France as the monarchy was about to be bloodily sliced away by a peoples revolution and courtesy of Monsieur Guillotine’s ingenious invention. Allegedly upon hearing that the poor had no bread, she callously commented, ‘Let them eat cake’ and so every school child (if secretly) thought she deserved all that came her way. Predictably the truth bears closer examination—in fact that phrase was in print in France long before young Marie Antoinette set foot in the country. In truth, her honeymoon period with the French people was short lived and she became victim to all manner of rumours and accusations throughout most of her reign. Nevertheless, she was a liberalising influence on the King and court, was interested in arts and sciences and in difficult times demonstrated more political judgement and leadership than her vacillating husband. As tensions mounted in France she calmly continued with her civic and charitable responsibilities. This is a fascinating account of the fall of the Bourbon monarchy from the Queen’s perspective—a good, intelligent person in the wrong place at the wrong time. Available in softcover and hardback with dust jacket.

Poor Marie Antoinette! Could one believe that a Queen of France would be reduced to keeping a little dog in her bedroom to warn her of the least noise in her apartment? The Dauphin, delighted to have his mother sleep so near him, used to run to her as soon as he awoke, and clasping her in his little arms would say the most affectionate things. This was the only moment of the day that brought her any consolation.<br>
By the end of July, both the Queen and her children were obliged to give up walking in the garden. She had gone out to take the air with her daughter in the Dauphin’s small parterre at the extreme end of the Tuileries, close to the Place Louis XV. Some federates grossly insulted her. Four Swiss officers made their way through the crowd, and placing the Queen and the young Princess between them, brought them back to the palace. When she reached her apartments, Marie Antoinette thanked her defenders in the most affecting terms, but she never went out again.<br>
After June 20, the garden, excepting the terrace of the Feuillants, which, by a decree of the Assembly, had become a part of its precincts, had been forbidden to the populace. Posters warned the people to remain on the terrace and not go down into the garden. The terrace was called National Ground, and the garden the Land of Coblentz. Inscriptions apprised passers-by of this novel topography. Tri-coloured ribbons had been tied to the banisters of the staircases by way of barriers. Placards were fastened at intervals to the trees bordering the terrace, whereon could be read:<br>
Citizens, respect yourselves; give the force of bayonets to this feeble barrier. Citizens, do not go into this foreign land, this Coblentz, abode of corruption.<br>
The leaders had such an empire over the crowd that no one disobeyed. And yet it was the height of summer, the trees offered their verdant shade, and the King had withdrawn all his guards and opened every gate. Nobody dared infringe the revolutionary mandate. One young man, paying no attention, went down into the garden. Furious clamours broke out on all sides. “To the lamp-post with him!” cried someone on the terrace. Thereupon the young man, taking off his shoes, drew out his handkerchief and began to wipe the dust from their soles. People cried bravo, and he was carried in triumph.<br>
Marie Antoinette could not become resigned to this hatred. Often she frightened her women by wishing to go out of the palace and address the people. “Yes,” she would cry, her voice trembling, as she walked quickly to and fro in her chamber, “yes, I will say to them: Frenchmen, they have had the cruelty to persuade you that I do not love France, I, the wife of its King and the mother of a Dauphin!” Then, this brief moment of generous exaltation over, the illusion of being able to move a nation of insulters quickly vanished. Her life was a daily, hourly struggle.<br>
The wife, the mother, the queen, never ceased to contend against destiny. She hardly slept or ate; but from the very excess of danger she drew additional energy, and moral and material force. As she awoke at daybreak, she required that the shutters should not be closed, so that her sleepless nights might be sooner consoled by the light of morning. The most widely diverse sentiments occupied her soul. A captive in her palace, she sometimes believed herself irrevocably condemned by fate, and sometimes hoped for deliverance.<br>
Toward the middle of one of the last nights preceding the 10th of August, the moon shone into her bedchamber. “In a month,” she said to Madame Campan, “I shall not see that moon unless I am freed from my chains.” But she was not free from anxiety concerning all that might happen before that. “The King is not a poltroon,” she added; “he has very great passive courage, but he is crushed by a false shame, a doubt of himself, which arises from his education quite as much as from his character. He is afraid of commanding; he dreads above everything to speak to assemblages of men. He lived uneasily and like a child, under the eyes of Louis XV. until he was twenty, and this constraint has had an effect on his timidity. In our circumstances, a few clearly spoken words addressed to the Parisians who are devoted to us would immensely strengthen our party, but he will not say them.”<br>
Then Marie Antoinette explained why she did not put herself forward more: “For my part,” said she, “I could act, and mount a horse if need were; but, if I acted, it would put weapons into the hands of King’s enemies; a general outcry would be raised in France against the Austrian woman, against female domination; moreover, I should reduce the King to nothingness by showing myself. A queen who is not regent must in such circumstances remain inactive and prepare to die.”<br>
The danger constantly increased. At four in the morning of one of the last days of July, warning was given at the palace that the faubourgs were threatening, and would doubtless march against the Tuileries. Madame Campan went very softly into the Queen’s room. For a wonder, Marie Antoinette was sleeping peacefully and profoundly. Madame Campan did not rouse her.<br>
“You were right,” said Louis XVI.; “it is good to see her take a little rest. Oh! her griefs redouble mine!”<br>
At her waking the Queen, on being informed of what had passed, began to weep, and said: “Why was I not called?”<br>
Madame Campan excused herself by saying: “It was only a false alarm. Your Majesty needed to repair your prostrate strength.”<br>
“It is not prostrate,” quickly replied the courageous sovereign; “misfortune makes it all the greater. Elisabeth was with the King, and I was sleeping! I, who wish to perish beside him! I am his wife; I am not willing that he should incur the least danger without me!”<br>
On Sunday, August 5,—the last Sunday the royal family were to spend at the Tuileries,—as they were going to the chapel to hear Mass, half the National Guards on duty cried: “Long live the King!”<br>
The others said: “No, no; no King, down with the veto!”<br>
The same day, at Vespers, the chanters had agreed to swell their tones greatly, and in a menacing way, when reciting this versicle of the Magnificat: Deposuit potentes de sede—“He hath put down the mighty from their seat.”<br>
In their turn the royalists, after the Dominum salvum fac regem, cried thrice, turning as they did so toward the Queen: Et reginam. There was a continual murmuring all through the divine office. Five days later, the same chapel was to be a pool of blood.