Sunday, December 21, 2008

At the Tuileries


Among the many out-of-print books that are now online is Imbert de Saint-Amand's Marie-Antoinette at the Tuileries (1893). In spite of the panegyrics, there are many quotes from original letters as well as day-by-day accounts of the life of the royal family during their life under virtual house arrest from October of 1789 until the end of 1791. The following passages describe the tightening of security around the family after their escape attempt in June 1791. The queen, especially, was closely guarded (as anyone can see, it would have been impossible for her to have entertained Count Fersen, as some authors claim.)
It had been resolved that [the queen] should have no personal attendant except the lady's maid who had acted as a spy before the journey to Varennes. A portrait of this person was placed at the foot of the staircase leading to the Queen's rooms so that the sentinel should permit no other woman to enter. Louis XVI was obliged to appeal to Lafayette in order to have this spy turned out of the palace where her presence was an outrage on Marie Antoinette. This espionage and inquisition pursued the unfortunate Queen even into her bedroom. The guards were instructed not to lose sight of her by night or day. They took note of her slightest gestures, listened to her slightest words. Stationed in the room adjoining hers they kept the communicating door always open so that they could see the august captive at all times. (pp223-224)
The family continued to assist at daily Mass, albeit with difficulty.

The precautions taken were so rigorous that it was forbidden to say Mass in the palace chapel because the distance between it and the apartments of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette was thought too great. A corner of the Gallery of Diana, where a wooden altar was erected, bearing an ebony crucifix and a few vases of flowers became the only spot where the son of Saint Louis, the Most Christian King, could hear Mass. (pp.225-226)
However, their fortitude was admirable.
The royal family endured their captivity with admirable sweetness and resignation and concerned themselves less about their own fate than that of the persons compromised by the Varennes journey, who were now incarcerated....Louis XVI, instead of indulging in recriminations against men and things, offered his humiliations and sufferings to God. He prayed, he read, he meditated. Next to his prayer book his favorite reading was the life of Charles I either because he sought, in studying history, to find a way of escaping an end like that of the unfortunate monarch, or because an analogy of sorrows and disasters had established a profound and mysterious sympathy between the king who had been beheaded, and the king who was soon to be so. (pp. 226-227)
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7 comments:

SF said...

May we all posses the grace to comport ourselves as did the King and Queen if we are ever confronted with similar evils.

DisneyWorld Dreaming said...

Thanks for this article, Maria Elena. As always, I am so impressed with both your writing and unique research skills.

I always find it incredulous that to this very day, in the year 2009, there exists still an active assumption that Queen Marie Antoinette had an untoward relationship with Fersen. From insinuations to claims that at least one of her children was fathered by Fersen, the slander continues. Some of these cruel comments are made by those who only know what little they have read or heard; some are made by those who really should, and perhaps do know better. It brings to mind the last years of the queen's life, when cruel slanderers passed around cheap and disgusting pamphlets, with the intent of destroying an innocent woman. These who do such things seem to have no fear of God who warns us in His Ten Commandments to refrain from "bearing false witness against they neighbor." The false witness continues. But I am content and confident that King Louis & his Queen, and their beautiful children are at rest in the Presence of Our Lord Jesus.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you for your kind words, DWD! I agree with you about the Royal Family.

Juliet Grey said...

I must download this book!

And I am still on the fence about her relationship with Fersen. I think there was a special bond that developed very slowly over time and it forced a tremendous crisis of conscience and faith in both of them. It was not remotely black or white. Many, many of Fersen's letters to her were destroyed by his sister and much of his journal was redacted. I think that it would be an error to state unequivocally that there was absolutely no physical relationship of any kind. But the nature of it and when it developed is another matter. With the terror and tumult of MA's life, despite her deep faith, she was a woman, and Fersen was the one person who she could always rely on.

elena maria vidal said...

Hi, Juliet! The book of Imbert de Saint Amand on the young Marie Antoinette is good, too as are his books about her daughter. I know that right now you are engaged in some really exciting research!

I have written several posts, most of which are on the blog sidebar, about why I think the Fersen theory to be false. The more I continue to read and learn about Marie-Antoinette, the more it becomes clear to me that the story of the Fersen affair is just not credible.

A passage written by Lady Elizabeth Foster in her diary, claiming that Marie-Antoinette and Fersen were lovers, has sometimes been used as proof of an affair, even in Lady Antonia Fraser's otherwise worthy biography. It is no proof at all; Bess Foster was not part of the Queen's inner circle. Furthermore, according to Amanda Foreman's acclaimed biography of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Bess' version of events in her diary "was more fantasy than truth." (p.177) Georgiana's daughter Harriet described Bess thus: "...More perverted than deceitful...I really believe she hardly knows herself the difference between right and wrong now." (p. 308) Bess is not a reliable source concerning Marie-Antoinette.

Neither is the Comte de Saint-Priest, one of the sources of the original slander. The origins of the legend of Marie-Antoinette’s affair with Fersen began not with her revolutionary foes, who certainly would have picked up on anything of that nature to discredit the Queen at her trial. Fersen’s name came up at the trial only in regard to the fact that he had driven the royal family’s coach out of Paris in June 1791 as they tried to escape. It was the courtier Saint-Priest, who made insinuations about the Queen and Fersen in his memoirs, probably to cover the humiliation that Fersen had slept with Madame de Saint-Priest, his wife.

If there had been any cause for concern about Count Fersen’s presence at the French court as regards the queen’s reputation, the Austrian ambassador Count Mercy-Argenteau would surely have mentioned it in one of the reams of letters to Marie-Antoinette’s mother Empress Maria Teresa, to whom he passed on every detail of the Queen’s life. Count Mercy was more concerned with the Polignac clan and their influence on both the King and Queen. Especially Madame de Polignac posed a threat to Mercy's own influence on the young Queen. (This is actually what Louis XVI wanted, to decrease Austrian influence on Marie-Antoinette.) Count Mercy had spies whom he paid well to gather information, but Fersen was not worth mentioning. Neither is Fersen mentioned in a romantic way by other people close to the queen in their memoirs, such as her maid Madame Campan and the Baron de Besenval, a family friend.

elena maria vidal said...

As for statements by political enemies of the Queen, there were many who sought to discredit her for their own advancement. There are are some who claimed she slept with Fersen at the Tuileries. There is much controversy over a certain night in February 1792, when some biographers, including Stanley Loomis and Vincent Cronin, think that Marie-Antoinette and Count Axel von Fersen may have finally consummated their love in her suite in the Tuileries palace. This theory has occurred over a smudged phrase in Fersen’s diary. However, no one knows for certain if the erased phrase was indeed Resté là, Fersen’s usual term indicating that he had slept with a lady. Also, the queen, following her escape attempt, was more closely guarded than ever, with a sentry keeping watch at her door all night, and checking every once in awhile to see if she was in her room – how could she have entertained a lover? The purpose of Count Fersen’s final visit to his friends Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette was to discuss the dire political situation and persuade them to try to escape again, which Louis would not do. Fersen may have had to linger in the palace overnight in order to avoid the revolutionary authorities, but not in the queen’s bed. At his earliest convenience, he made his way to the welcoming arms of his mistress Eleonore Sullivan and stayed at her house in the attic hideaway.

elena maria vidal said...

As for the letters of the queen and Count Fersen, when they were published by his great nephew Baron de Klinckostrom in the late nineteenth century, they proved the nature of the queen and Fersen’s relationship to be principally a diplomatic one. According to Nesta Webster in Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette during the Revolution the letters were “written in a very difficult cipher to which a particular edition of Paul and Virginie provided the key….In certain of the letters, mainly those from the queen to Fersen, passages have been erased and are indicated by rows of dots in the printed text.” The Baron himself wrote that “the Fersen family has retained the greatest veneration for those holy and august martyrs, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, and there is nothing among the papers remaining from the Comte de Fersen’s which can cast a shadow on the conduct of the Queen.” (see Webster) The erasures of Fersen were most likely sensitive diplomatic issues, not declarations of love, as some romantics have claimed. They concealed allusions to the queen’s disagreements with her brothers-in-law Artois and Provence, or references to the Duc d’Orleans and other revolutionaries, or even mentions of spies or persons whose families would have been compromised had the letters fallen into the wrong hands. The original letters are lost; some say the Baron burned them in order to keep the cipher from being imitated and used for forgeries; others say he burned them to keep people from discovering proof of a love affair, but there was no love affair to be found, by his own admission.

In 1907 a certain Monsieur Lucien Maury published in Revue Bleue what he claimed to be a fragment of a love letter of the queen to Fersen, which includes the words: “Farewell, the most loved and loving of men. I embrace you with my whole heart….” The letter had no signature, was not in the queen’s handwriting, only in the cipher she used, jotted down by Fersen in cipher. There is no proof it was from the queen but could have been from one of the many ladies with whom Fersen dallied over the years.