Sunday, October 16, 2011

Understanding Marie-Antoinette

Marie-Antoinette on the day of her death, approaching the tumbril
I have always believed that the only way to fully understand Marie-Antoinette is to understand her in the light of the faith to which she adhered. In his first public speech in 1929 Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira eloquently describes how Marie-Antoinette's religion dictated her behavior, in marriage, during the fiascoes of the Revolution and at the hour of death. It is a superb article although I venture to mention two points on which I disagree. The article refers to Louis XVI as weak. I just wish to add  that early in his reign, Louis XVI often displayed confidence and resolution in his decisions, especially in legislating reforms for his people, in the matter of Bavaria and in the War for American Independence. However, the time of his oldest son's death in June 1789 coincided with the Estates-General and the outbreak of the Revolution. Louis sank into what I think can be considered clinical depression which, combined with the tuberculosis that he had become infected with as a child, left him in a very bad state.

As for Madame de Polignac, she is not someone I would necessarily characterize as "frivolous" as the article says. For one thing, she was much older than Marie-Antoinette. In spite of her annoying, ever-present in-laws,  Madame de Polignac was not a bad soul. She preferred simple attire and actually encouraged the Queen in that direction. She was a good mother which was why Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI wanted her to be the Governess of the royal children. When Madame de Tourzel became governess after Madame de Polignac's departure in 1789, she found that the royal children knew their lessons, which means they received careful training under Madame de Polignac's watch.

The following are some excerpts from Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira's magnificent homage to Marie-Antoinette:
Amid the collapsing social and political edifice of the Bourbon monarchy, when everyone feels the ground crumbling beneath their feet, the joyful Archduchess of Austria and youthful Queen of France, whose elegant bearing resembles a statuette of Sevres porcelain and whose laughter conveys the charms of cloudless happiness, drinks with admirable Christian resignation, aplomb and dignity, from the bitter yet immense cup of gall with which Divine Providence decides to glorify her....

Louis XVI...was known for his austere conduct and for the piety, kindness and honesty that adorned his character. His bitterest opponents were able to raise only three charges against him: being apathetic, a glutton and a highly skilled locksmith. In the new princely family, formed without deep bonds of affection, the Christian spirit that imbued the spouses more than compensated for the absence of love. Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were always exemplary spouses who built the undeniable happiness of their family life on the solid foundations of mutual respect and absolute morality....

Not for an instant did the dethroned sovereign cease to be Queen. Greater in suffering than in glory, confronting unarmed with her son in her arms the furious mob of drunkards that invaded the royal palace, she showed herself to be from a race that fears no danger, particularly when embodying a just cause. With royalty dragged into the Paris mud and Louis XVI’s weak personality bent low under the weight of misfortune, Marie Antoinette became the sole bastion of resistance. Turning her misfortune into a dazzling throne for her personality, armed in the face of suffering only with the sublime breastplate of faith and Christian resignation, she fearlessly confronted the tidal wave about to overwhelm France....

That sovereign sought to save her throne until the last moment, not out of personal interest but for love of the monarchical principle. And she did it without hesitation, encouraging everyone and never despairing even as the mob dragged her out of the Tuileries, where she had been imprisoned, and took her with cries and jeers into the deadly and grim shadows of the Temple prison; and even as she saw, struck with horror and remorse, at the tip of a rod between the window bars of her dungeon, the severed head of the courageous Princess of Lamballe, eyes gouged out, wig sprinkled with blood, and lips completely livid – attesting to her best friend’s bitter and unmerited death. Behold, gentlemen, the torture of your Queen. It was complete, nothing was lacking; and she endured everything with calmness and resignation, prying, from time to time, cries of admiration from her own adversaries.

As a wife, Marie Antoinette suffered the greatest of martyrdoms. After being the target of most cruel insults, her husband, to whom she devoted all the feelings of an exemplary Catholic wife, was eventually dragged to a death regarded as glorious by posterity but which at that moment seemed utterly depressing....

Yet, gentlemen, it was as a mother that Marie Antoinette suffered her most horrific torture. When the Convention tried to separate her from her son, she covered the innocent prince with her own body, fighting for two hours against the brutal Simon, the shoemaker, and his cohorts. She only let go when her strength failed her. There followed long months of separation. Left alone, terribly alone, locked up with armed guards in a cell in the horrific Temple prison, the unfortunate woman had prayer as her sole, albeit powerful, consolation. To this day, France keeps her daily Missal upon which there surely fell the bitter tears of that mother who, at the height of misfortune and abandonment, always thanked God for the helplessness in which she found herself.

Finally, she was judged by the “Committee of Public Safety” for betraying her country, being a new Catherine de Medici, a bad wife and mother, and especially for the less admissible reason that she opposed the heretical goals of a certain secret charitable association which is not entirely unknown.

During the proceedings, her suffering attains an apex. Brutalized by alcohol, her son had been turned into a little animal, constantly trembling with fear....

 Death finally came. In His immense goodness, God had prepared a worthy place in heaven for her who had suffered so much and loved Him more when He sent her trials than in the fullness of pleasure. October 16, 1793 saw the end of her long martyrdom as the guillotine blade, at the same time criminal and charitable, cut off the thread of her extraordinary life. (Read entire article.)
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3 comments:

lara77 said...

I will always believe that Her Majesty was never more a Queen then when the trials and tribulations of the revolution began for the Royal Family. I think of Madame DuBarry and her screaming as she was led to the guillotine. Queen Marie Antoinette showed the French People and the world what breeding, class and heritage were all about.

Matterhorn said...

What a magnificent article.

Marie-Antoinette must be the most tragic royal consort in history.

elena maria vidal said...

I think so, too.