About a week or so ago, I received a comment from an anonymous, pseudonymous person arguing passionately in favor of the theory that Marie-Antoinette had an affair with Count Fersen. I have written several articles, most of which are on the blog sidebar, about why I think this 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 not credible. If people are determined to grasp at straws in an attempt to prove that the Queen and Count Fersen were lovers, then there is nothing I can do about it. I will, however, go over some of the points that the anonymous writer brought up, most of which I have already covered elsewhere.
It was claimed by the writer that Marie-Antoinette threw her husband out of bed and therefore was running off to sleep with Fersen. Simone Bertière mentions how Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette refrained from marital relations after the birth of baby Sophie in 1786, probably due to the Queen's health and fragile emotional state. Jean Chalon relates what a difficult time it was for her - the year 1786 - Louis-Joseph's health was failing, the baby Sophie was not thriving. Marie-Antoinette, aware of the horrible calumnies being spread about herself in the wake of the Diamond Necklace scandal, declared to Madame Campan in September of 1786, "I want to die!" When Madame Campan brought her orange flower water for her nerves, she said, "No, do not love me, it is better to give me death!" She may have had post-partum depression or even suffering from a breakdown.
Chalon also shows how Marie-Antoinette became more pious following baby Sophie's death; she gave orders that the fasts of the Church be more carefully observed at her table than previously. She began making public devotions and prayers with her household in the royal chapel. Desmond Seward relates this as well. Abstaining from the marriage bed was how practicing Catholics, then as now, spaced pregnancies for reasons of grave necessity. It is not proof that she had exchanged Louis for Fersen. This has nothing to do with the earlier issues which occurred before Madame Royale was born, of the problems which Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette had in consummating their marriage. Madame Bertière explains the reasons why it took so long to consummate the marriage, which have been discussed here as well.
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.
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.
According to Marie-Antoinette’s maid Madame Campan, the queen spent her nights at the Tuileries reading in order to calm her agitated mind. Madame Campan also writes in her Memoirs of how the Queen found a confessor who had not taken the constitutional oath, whom she would secretly receive. For Easter of 1792, she would not make her Easter duty in public but arranged to hear Mass privately with a non-juring priest. As Madame relates:
The Queen did perform her Easter devotions in 1792; but she went to the chapel attended only by myself. She desired me beforehand to request one of my relations, who was her chaplain, to celebrate a mass for her at five o’clock in the morning. It was still dark; she gave me her arm and I lighted her with a taper. I left her alone at the chapel door. She did not return to her room until the dawn of day.So instead of liaisons with a lover, Marie-Antoinette was at that season of her life preparing her soul for the sufferings and death which lay ahead, of which her keen sense of the escalating events gave her a strong premonition. Nevertheless, descriptions of the Queen’s religious faith by Madame Campan are often interpreted by some authors as an attempt to win the favor of the queen’s daughter, the Duchesse d’Angoulême. Yet it is acceptable to draw conclusions as if from the air, when it comes to non-existent evidence of Fersen’s alleged romance with the anguished Queen. I see no reason why Madame Campan would have fabricated such events, which are similar to other reports of Marie-Antoinette’s religious beliefs and practices, especially her own final testament.
Furthermore, at the Tuileries, as at Versailles, a private passage linked the Queen’s room to her husband’s. According to Madame de Tourzel, the royal governess, in her Memoirs, one of the first things Marie-Antoinette did after being forcibly dragged to the Tuileries was to have a private staircase constructed between her room and the King’s. It would not be very convenient to dally with a lover when a husband might walk in at any moment from behind the hidden door in the paneling.
As the Duchesse de FitzJames, a great-niece of Fersen, is quoted by Nesta Webster from a 1893 French periodical La Vie Contemporaine:
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.Share