Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Duchess of Angouleme, daughter of Marie-Antoinette

Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte de France, Madame Royale, known after her marriage as the Duchesse d'Angoulême, led a life so haunted by rumor that even today many confuse fact with fiction. The legend of Sophie Batta, the "Dark Countess," is even now put forth by many. It is not a new story, and was circulating during the Restoration. The legend claims that the real princess was switched with another girl and lived in Germany, wearing a green veil, while the "Duchesse d'Angoulême" was an imposter. People could not understand how the sad, nervous, tense woman, prone to fainting spells, could be the daughter of the beautiful, charming, vivacious Marie-Antoinette. There was not the same understanding of post-traumatic stress syndrome as there is now, or survivor's guilt, common to those who are the sole survivors of a family disaster.

No one really knows what exactly Marie-
Thérèse was subjected to in the Temple when she was in solitary confinement for a year. The "memoirs" she wrote there were written under the surveillance of a revolutionary spy; Marie-Thérèse later disowned them. (Changing the "story" is also common to those who have been through trauma, as over the years they come to remember more that they blocked out and understand more about the implications of the terrible things that occurred in youth.) Before Madame Elisabeth was killed, she begged her niece Marie-Thérèse never to let the guards find her undressed or in bed. Since the guards would make surprise visits to her cell at all hours of the day and night, the 16-17 year old princess, Madame Royale of Versailles, would sometimes spend the night in a chair, terrified. (See Memoirs of the Duchesse de Gontaut)

When restored to France and the Tuileries in 1814, Marie-
Thérèse wanted everything to be exactly as it was when she had last been there with her family, which was of course, impossible. She was subject to nightmares and hysterical episodes when something would by chance remind her of her family's ordeal. Sometimes she would be heard pacing all night. She tried to reverse the gossip about her mother by her own excruciatingly correct deportment and charitable activites, preferring hospitals and orphanages to the ballroom and the opera box. However, due to propaganda, by 1830 she was called "Madame Rancune" or "Lady Resentment."

She was haunted by the fate of her brother and never certain that he had died in 1795. A funeral Mass and day of mourning was held for her parents, but there was never anything for Louis XVII.

She never had any children due to her bizarre and unhappy marriage, but loved her niece and nephew, Louise d'Artois and the Comte de Chambord, as her own. It was a sad life, but a courageous life, too. She did a lot to rebuild France after all the country had been through with the Revolution and Napoleonic wars.

Marie-Thérèse lacked her mother's grace but carried herself with dignity and pride. She usually wore worn, old dresses but on formal occasions, such as when she went to the opera, she arrayed herself in satins and velvets, covered with Marie-Antoinette's diamonds. She could be glamorous when she chose to be, every inch a princess. "She is a princess of whom we need not be ashamed," commented the Comtesse de Boigne.

Marie-Thérèse was not present at the funeral of her parents. She spent the day of Jan 21 1815 secluded in her private oratory at the Tuileries, the same oratory that had been Madame Elisabeth's. It was a custom for daughters not to attend the funeral of a parent, although in the case of the Duchesse d'Angoulême it may also have been too traumatic; she did not do well in large Parisian crowds. There were rumors that the bodies were not really those of the King and Queen, although Chateaubriand in his Memoires d'Outre-Tombe insists that he recognized Marie-Antoinette's jaw from when she once smiled at him at Versailles. However, Marie-Thérèse later visited their sepulchres at St Denis, so I do not know how much credence she gave to the rumors.

Marie-Thérèse felt it was her sacred duty to discover the truth of her brother Louis XVII's fate, and discreetly followed up on any leads. She did not give her official recognition to any of the claimants. Once in the spring of 1817, while walking in the gardens of Versailles with her brother-in-law Berry, a shabby young man approached the princess with his hand out, saying, "Sister!" Marie-Thérèse 's reaction shocked Berry and the entourage. She shouted at the young man: "Go AWAY! Go AWAY! It is YOU who destroyed my family!" The stranger ran away into the park and disappeared, leaving his "sister" quite agitated. This illustrates the inner torment she experienced in matters relating to her brother. (See Meade Minnergerode's The Son of Marie-Antoinette.)

I think the Duchesse d'Angoulême was concerned that, if her brother was alive and found, he would be incapable of governing France after the horrors perpetrated upon him in the Temple. She backed off on her searching a bit after 1820 because of her beloved nephew, Henri, Duc de Bordeaux and Comte de Chambord, whom she loved like a son. She really wanted Henri to inherit the throne and no one can blame her; he was a beautiful, intelligent boy and would have made a good ruler. Nevertheless, as late as 1827, when her father-in-law had become King Charles X and she herself was Madame la Dauphine, she was still following up on leads about the fate of her brother. It was then that she had the confrontation with Nicole Hervagault, mother of one of the claimants, who was said to possess information. All of this is explored further in my novel, Madame Royale.


Mother Mary Elias of the Blessed Sacrament, OCD (1879-1943)

Little known among Catholics in America today are the sufferings of our Mexican brethren at the hands of the Communist, anti-clerical forces of the revolutionary government, amid a series of persecutions which were focused particularly on religious orders. Many communities of consecrated life in the United States owe their existence to Mexican priests and nuns who fled here in the first three decades of the twentieth century.

One of the most fascinating and enigmatic of the refugee-foundresses is the Discalced Carmelite prioress, Mother Mary Elias of the Blessed Sacrament. Of Napoleon's line, Elena Maria Thierry was born on August 15, 1879 to a devout family of European extraction. The second to the youngest of twenty children, she received a thorough education, including operatic training, gifted as she was with a beautiful singing voice.

Called by God to the religious life, she first sought to enter a teaching order. On September 30, 1897, when traveling on a train to the convent, she suddenly found herself face to face with a young Carmelite nun. The nun looked at her knowingly and said, "You will remain there a short time. Then you will come to my order." The mysterious nun vanished.

Elena Maria was dismissed from the teaching order after a few years and sought to enter the Mexico City Carmel. On the walls of the Carmel hung a picture of the same nun Elena Maria had seen on the train. She was told it was the Little Flower who was already world famous because of her autobiography and the prodigies which had been worked through her intercession. The day Elena Maria had seen her on the train was the exact day Sister Therese of the Child Jesus had died far away in France.

Around 1904, Elena Maria Thierry entered the Carmel of Mexico City and was given the name of "Mary Elias of the Blessed Sacrament." Due to her fervor, charity and leadership abilities, she was transferred to the Carmel of Queretaro. Queretaro Carmel had been closed for many years because of the persecution and needed nuns like Mother Elias to help rebuild it. In 1910, the persecution broke out again. In 1913, Mother Elias, who by that time had been elected prioress, decided to move the community to the town of Aguascalientes where she thought they would be safer. However, there were few safe places for Mexican religious. The soldiers of the Revolution often broke into convents and kidnapped the young sisters. In 1914, Mother Elias decided she had better get all of her younger nuns out of Mexico.
(Continued HERE) Share

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Zeal of Saint Therese

With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of hosts. (3 Kings 19:10)
Motto of the Carmelite Order

As the month of January closes we remember a saint who had her birthday this month, Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, whom Pope Pius XI hailed as being "the greatest saint of modern times." Her Little Way of love and self-surrender is vital to our modern materialistic age because she, like the sister of Lazarus, sought the "one thing [which] is necessary." (Luke 10:42) As she wrote to her sister Celine in 1889: " There is only one thing to do during the night, the one night of life which will come only once, and this is to love, to love Jesus with all the strength of our heart and to save souls for Him that He may be loved!" (General Correspondence, Vol.I, ICS Publications, p.588)

In order to save souls, she was willing to embrace every suffering that came her way, from the petty annoyances of daily existence, to the physical and mental torments of the last months of her earthly life. In a letter to Celine, she exclaims:

Sanctity does not consist in saying beautiful things, it does not consist in thinking them, in feeling them!...It consists in suffering and suffering everything...A day will come when the shadows will disappear, and there will remain only joy, inebriation...Let us profit from our one moment of suffering...Let us see only each moment!...A moment is a act of love will make us love Jesus will bring us closer to Him during the whole of eternity...! (Ibid. pp 557-558)

Part of Saint Therese's secret of sanctity is that she kept the thought of eternity ever before her. "Just as this year passed, so also will our life pass, and soon we shall say: 'It is gone.' Let us not waste our time, soon eternity will shine for us." (Ibid, p.602)

Her profound realization of the shortness of life and her zeal for souls combined with a thirst for martyrdom. Through God's grace, she found the courage to face humiliations and disappointments that would have embittered lesser souls. Her father's mental deterioration and his committal to an asylum was a heavy trial for the teenage religious. Nevertheless, she wrote to Celine:

Let us die as martyrs! Unkown martyrdom, known to God alone, which the eye of the creature cannot cannot discover, a martyrdom without honor, without triumph....That is love pushed to the point of heroism....Let us hurry to fashion our crown; let us stretch forth our hand to seize the palm. And if we love much, if we love Jesus with a passion, He will not be so cruel as to leave us for a long time on this earth of exile....Celine, during the short moments that remain to us, let us not lose our time...let us save souls! (Ibid, p.578)

During her fatal illness, Saint Therese reflected upon upon a glass of brightly covered but foul-tasting medicine, comparing it to her own life. "My life in the eyes of others must have seemed to be filled with the most pleasant colors....To them, I seemed to be drinking an exquisite draft, but in reality it was bitterness. I say bitterness and yet my life has not been bitter, for I have been able to find joy and sweetness in all that bitterness." (Father Jamart, The Complete Spiritual Doctrine of St. Therese, p.217)

Truly her love for Christ and souls was heroic. In her autobiography, she wrote: "When thinking of the torments which will be the lot of Christians at the time of the Anti-christ, I feel my heart leap with joy, and I would like these torments to be reserved for me." (The Story of a Soul, trans. by Father John Clarke, p. 193) Such zeal led her to offer herself as a victim to the Merciful Love of God in order to save souls, longing to spend her heaven "doing good upon earth." (Ibid, p.263)

God has honored the desires of His Little Flower. The efficacy of her intercession has been experienced in every part of the globe; her writings have been pondered by popes, saints, and scholars; she has drawn many souls to holiness by her prayer and example. Her Christ-like humility is the antidote for the intellectual pride of our time. Her zeal counteracts our sloth and dullness of mind, so suffocated are we by an excess of comforts and stimuli. She is a prophet of eternal beatitude; a guide to heaven for those on the brink of despair. She is Carmel's gift to modern man. How appropriately a Carmelite nun expressed it in one of the hymns for October 1:

Yet joy itself could not portray
The surge of her immense desire
Nor cloister walls have strength to stay
A love that swept the world like fire.
(Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit, OCD)

More Catholic novels

Amazon has a forty item limit, and I had so many wonderful suggestions for novels/novelists that I had to start another list. The new list emphasizes British and American authors, most of whom were/are at least nominally Catholic. I am open to more suggestions or, since Amazon is for everybody, people can always start their own list of favorite or preferred Catholic literature.


The Sufferings of the Infant Jesus

Anyone who has ever visited our house knows that we have great devotion to the Infant Jesus. The Infant of Prague statue by the door is a dead give away, I guess. Once a business associate of my husband's was coming by and a friend suggested that we temporarily move the statue so as not to appear to be fanatics. My mother, however, said: "Never be ashamed of Jesus," and so the statue stayed. It turns out the associate was a gentleman of Italian descent and the Infant reminded him of his home and his beloved mama. "The more you honor Me, the more I will bless you," as Little Jesus told the Carmelite Father Cyril.

The month of January is traditionally dedicated to pondering the Christ Child. It has become even more appropriate to begin the New Year thus due to the anniversary of Roe vs Wade. In remembering His childhood we recall how He lives in innocent children all over the world, especially those who are in dire need, and those who will never see the light of day.

Saints and mystics who have pondered the Divine Infancy tell us that it was not all sweetness and light. From the first moment of His earthly existence, the Incarnate God began atoning for the sins of the world. The Child Jesus had to suffer from poverty, cold, and exile. According to the English Oratorian priest Father Frederick Faber in his book Bethlehem, Our Lord's awareness of the sins of the world caused Him a "spiritual agony," in addition to the foreknowledge of His coming Passion.

As He was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, so, in the eyes of the Father and in the terrible realities of His own heart, He was the Crucified Jesus even from the days of Bethlehem. His sufferings exceeded all martyrdoms, even in each single hour of His infant life. (Father Faber)

The Slippery Slope

I keep perusing the Ladies Against Feminism site; it has some great stuff on it. Here is a link to another honest and faith-filled article about the slippery slope of contraception by a mother who has twelve children and a lively blog. Share

Monday, January 29, 2007

Being a Stay-at-Home Mother

Ladies Against Feminism offers a link to a wonderful article by a mother who stays at home. To me, there is nothing more challenging and creative. Share

Goya and his Maja - Another Romantic Myth

The great Spanish artist Goya's affair with the Duchess of Alba is another urban legend, just like Marie-Antoinette and Count Fersen. There is no solid proof but people want to believe it anyway. The Maja paintings gave rise to the legend, among other things. Share

Catholic novels

Here is a list of recommended Catholic novels, just off the top of my head. It is by no means complete, so suggestions are welcome. If people are looking for stories that are entertaining but which have spirituality, then this is a start. Most of the authors here were/are Catholic; I could easily do several lists of classic novels by non-Catholic authors which have deeply Christian themes, beginning with Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov.


Sunday, January 28, 2007

First Trip to Paris -- January, 1980

Twenty-seven years ago this very week, I was seventeen years old and on my first trip to Europe. I have been looking for the photos which I took with my grandmother's old Brownie camera but I can't find them anywhere. Oh, well, they were a bit blurry, anyway. I was able to find similar prints from a 1982 trip of some of the same places of interest.

Winters were colder then, and it had been a bitterly cold winter in Maryland, with piles of snow. I was a senior at Prospect Hall High School, now renamed Saint John's Prep; it was the only even nominally Catholic high school in the area. The school was in the old Dulaney mansion on a hill overlooking Frederick, Maryland. It was a grand old house; unfortunately, most of the classes were held in the gymnasium, which was freezing. We had to leave our coats on much of the time and then avoid slipping on the ice when changing classes.

Therefore it was with great excitement that about twenty of us students prepared for a ten day excursion to Paris, with a stopover in London. Not only were we leaving the misery of school, but, for me, at any rate, I was going to see so many places I had long dreamed of. Among the young travelers were three of the Thomas girls, whom I had known since childhood, but the adventures in Europe cemented our friendship into a lifelong bond which endures to this day. My designated roommate was a sweet, devout Methodist girl named Beverly who had grown up on a farm. Beverly had already been to England as an exchange student and so knew a little bit about getting around Europe.

Nothing can compare with the first experience of Paris. Climbing to the heights of Montmartre and entering the Basilica of the Sacred Heart for the first time was a moment of gravity and inspiration, for I thought of Saint Denis and his companions and their sufferings while at the same time glimpsing heaven. We entered the gothic portals of Notre Dame while the evening organ recital was going on, and all the glories of the Middle Ages unfolded before me. The same at Sainte Chapelle, which encapsulates in wood, glass and stone the love and devotion of Saint Louis IX.

What can I say about the Louvre, except that to walk in and see the "Winged Victory" was pure magic. (It was before those awful plastic pyramids were set up.) I was going through a Raphael phase, and soaked in the radiance of his Madonnas. On the Rue de Rivoli I was thrilled to see Saint Joan of Arc on horseback; anything that had the least to do with that saint was a special delight. Another church I fell in love with was the Madeleine; there were bunches of fresh lilies everywhere in the church dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalen, almost as if it were Easter.

Of course, I must mention our night on the town. Our teachers took us to the Lido, which was billed "the most famous nightclub in the world." I now question the prudence of taking twenty teenagers to such a sophisticated night spot; it was indeed an experience. Being near-sighted even then, I did not see much when not wearing my glasses. We were each given half a bottle of champagne, and since Beverly was a teetotaller, I helped to finish her portion. It was a bit too much and I was sent home in a taxi rather tipsy. The taxi collided with another one; luckily, no one was injured.

The day we spent at Versailles was especially memorable. I had studied a book on Versailles that my grandmother had in her house but the magnificence of the Sun King's palace was still daunting. It was a soft, misty day, damp but not cold. We walked over to Petit Trianon and I was amazed at how the birds were singing in the gardens of the queen. There was a unique atmosphere there, both haunted and hallowed. It made an impression on my psyche which would linger for years; I did not think that someday I would write about Marie-Antoinette, although the inspiration was planted on that occasion. Share

Father Cantalamessa on Agape vs. Eros

Here is an excerpt from Father Cantalamessa's January 26 homily on giving and seeking love. He is the Papal chaplain.

ROME, JAN. 26, 2007 (

When Christianity appeared on the world's stage, love had already employed various singers. The most illustrious was Plato who wrote an entire treatise on it. The common name for love at that time was "eros" (this is where we get "erotic" and "eroticism" from).

Christianity sensed that this passionate and desirous love was not adequate to express the novelty of the biblical concept. For this reason it avoided the term "eros" and substituted that of "agape," which could be translated as "spiritual love" or "charity" -- although the latter term has come to acquire a too restricted meaning: doing charity, works of charity.

The difference between "eros" and "agape" is this. Desirous or erotic love is exclusive; it is consummated between two persons; the interference of a third person would mean its destruction, its betrayal. Sometimes the birth of a child can throw this kind of love into a crisis.

The giving type of love, "agape," on the contrary embraces everyone, no one can be excluded, not even enemies. The classical formula of "eros" is pronounced by Violetta in Verdi's opera "La Traviata": "Love me, Alfredo. Love me as much as I love you."

The classical formula of "agape" is that of Jesus who says: "As I have loved you, love one another." This latter is a love that is meant to circulate, to expand.

Another difference is this. Erotic love, in the more typical form of "falling in love," does not last long, or it lasts only by changing its object, that is, by falling in love with different people successively. Of charity, however, St. Paul says that it "remains," indeed it is the only thing that remains in eternity, even after faith and hope have ceased.

For the entire article, see below:

The Pope on Modern Annulments

The Holy Father is particularly concerned about handing out annulments to regularize de facto marriages. Interesting. Share

Saint Simon Stock's relics

The founder of the English Carmelites, Saint Simon Stock, who received the gift of the Brown Scapular in 1254 or thereabouts, is buried at Aylesford monastery. Here are pictures of his shrine, from the South Ashford Priest. Share

The Elusive RSVP

I thought that it was just me, but it's not. Many hostesses complain that people never give an RSVP anymore when invited to a dinner, a party, a wedding, whatever. Some say that it is because that the general public no longer knows the meaning of "RSVP." It simply means "please reply," or, in formal parlance, "the favor of a reply is requested." If you think that the majority of your guests are in the dark about the meaning of "RSVP," then it is better to just write "please reply." Hopefully, they will get the point.

Anyone who has planned a large party or reception is aware of how important it is to have a head count. It is particularly vital when arranging a formal, catered sit-down dinner, in which the caterer expects to be paid per head. And yet, I have friends and relatives who have been greatly inconvenienced by guests who did give an RSVP to a formal sit-down dinner and then never showed up. Why is there such a lack of courtesy? Such gestures are not a matter of having grand, formal manners but of showing basic consideration for others.

Here are a few points to remember:

1) When invited to a function always respond in the time frame designated by the RSVP. If a reply is asked for only if one plans to go, that is fine. (It is always courteous and acceptable to thank the hostess anyway, even if one cannot attend.)

2) If you do not know whether or not you can go to the party, it is better to decline. Otherwise, you give the strong impression that you will accept unless you get a *better* invitation somewhere else. Just say "no."

3)When invited to a party at someone's house, do not respond with "I don't know" and then go on to have your own party, on the same day, inviting the same circle of friends. That is the height of rudeness, to say the least.

4) If you have accepted the invitation, assuring the host and hostess of the pleasure of your company, but then at the last minute find that you are unable to be there, then at least call the host/hostess. Give them your most heartfelt apologies. This will give them time to rearrange the table.

5) After having enjoyed an event, be careful not to talk about it around those who were not invited. There may be reasons unkown to yourself why various persons were not invited to a certain function. It must always, however, be taken for granted that everyone has feelings and may be hurt at hearing about the good time at a party from which they were excluded. Share

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Narnia (2005)

Last night, we watched the Narnia film again on DVD. Of course, I loved the books as a child. They prepared me to read The Lord Of The Rings, even though the stories really cannot and should not be compared, they are so different. The Narnia film is incredibly uplifting. It is rich with meaning on several levels, the main point being that it is not enough to prove one's love just by being nice - niceness won't save anyone of itself, but rather one must be willing to sacrifice in order to save the beloved. The film creates a feeling of having glimpsed a great and imminent victory. Like true art, it speaks to the viewer on a deeply personal level. It also seems to address so many things that are going on in the world. (Narnia under the White Witch is a land where it is always winter but never Christmas. Christmas is banned. Not only Christmas but many outward expressions of faith are outlawed in places around the world.) It is amazing how some movies, like The Passion and the LOTR all seem to materialize at crucial moments in history; yet even ten years ago "Narnia" could not have been made; only now is the technology just right. Yes, it is the struggle of good and evil retold, but the battle is for nothing without Aslan's immolation. Share

Thought for the Day

"Confidence by itself can easily obtain all things."

--Saint Gertrude the Great Share

Mozart's birthday

The great Mozart was born today in 1756. He was the same age as Marie-Antoinette and both were raised in the baroque, Austrian, Catholic culture. They both had tragic lives and untimely deaths. Share

The Smearing of Pope Pius XII

New evidence reveals that the KGB was responsible for defaming the Pope. Share

Friday, January 26, 2007

Madame Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun

Madame Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun was court portrait painter at Versailles during the reign of Louis XVI. She painted Marie-Antoinette many times, capturing the queen's soul while simultaneously perfecting her own art. In her Memoirs, she describes the queen thus:

Her arms were superb, her hands small and perfectly formed, and her feet charming. She had the best walk of any woman in France, carrying her head erect and with a dignity that stamped her queen in the midst of her whole court; and yet this majestic mien in no wise diminished the sweetness and gentleness of her expression. Her features were not regular; she had inherited the long and narrow oval peculiar to the Austrian race- her eyes, almost blue in color, were rather small - her nose was delicate and pretty, and her mouth not too large, although her lips were somewhat thick. But the most remarkable thing about her face was her brilliant complexion. I have never seen any so dazzling.

Here is a link to the gallery of portraits of the queen painted by Madame Vigee-Lebrun, as well as one to a biography of the artist.

Charles Blanc in Histoire Des Peintres wrote:

All the fairies gathered around the cradle of Elisabeth Vigee as at the birth of a little princess in the kingdom of art. One endowed her with beauty, another with wit; the fairy Grace presented her with a pencil and a palette. It is true that the fairy Marriage, who had not been invited, told her that she was to wed Monsieur Le Brun, the connoisseur in pictures; but to comfort her the fairy Travel promised to guide her from court to court, from academy to academy, from Paris to Rome, to St. Petersburg and to London, with her gaiety, her talents, and her easel before which all the sovereigns of Europe, as well as all those whom genius had crowned, should pose as subjects for her brush.

As a painter Madame Vigee Le Brun belongs wholly and distinctly to the eighteenth century; that is to say, to that period in the history of French art which was brought to an abrupt termination by the works of Louis David. So long as she followed the counsels of Joseph Vernet her pencil evinced a certain suppleness and her brush a certain force; but unfortunately she too often sought especially was this the case in her later works - o imitate Greuze, and weakened the likeness to her models by an exaggerated mistiness. She became the fashion so early in her life that she was debarred from any thorough study, and she was too frequently satisfied with a clever suggestiveness in her portraits.

Without estimating her so leniently as she was in her own day estimated by the French Academy, we nevertheless must needs assign Madame Le Brun an honorable place in the history of painting in France; for, notwithstanding revolutions and reforms, she continued to pursue, as long as she lived, the dainty and delicate art of Watteau, of Nattier, and of Fragonard-an art at once graceful and intrinsically French.-From the French

One of my favorites is a sketch the artist did of Marie-Antoinette after her death, showing her going to heaven, where Louis and the two children who died are awaiting her. The artist, who was a friend of the queen, was too overcome with grief to finish the picture. Share

Thought for the Day

"Repentance is the voluntary endurance of all afflictions."

-- Saint John Climacus, The Ladder Share

Another Revolution

The political Revolution of 1789 was only the beginning of a series of cultural upheavals. Share

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Romans in Scotland

Idle Speculations has an interesting post about the Romans in Scotland, as well as some other very intriguing articles and works of art. (I wish I had time to read everything that I would like to read.) Share

Abortion is Genocide

Alan at Ad Altare Dei has some excellent articles about the ravages of abortion, especially on the African-American community. Share

A Mystic of the Age of Revolution

Here is an article about wife, mother, mystic and tertiary Blessed Anna Maria Taigi. She predicted many future upheavals. She was often visited by prelates, and people like Napoleon's mother. However, her irate husband and family of seven children always came first. She was one of the mystics who prophesied the controversial "Three Days of Darkness." Share

Louis XVIII: The Other Brother

Louis XVIII , known in his youth as the Comte de Provence, was the other brother of Louis XVI, and often his nemesis. He was not a bad looking man; his eyes radiate intelligence. Too bad he put on so much weight later on and had such a problem with gout, but then he was a gourmande and relished the delights of the table. His chef at Versailles was equal to none.

Louis XVIII was a stickler for etiquette, unlike Louis XVI, who was more easy-going. Even at exile in Courland and England, when they had few resources, Louis XVIII insisted upon the full court etiquette as if they were all still at Versailles. This was beneficial in the long run, because they were able to function as a royal household when restored to the Tuileries. He was clever with money and made sure all his family were well-provided for when he died. He was a brilliant Latin scholar and could have taught the classics at a university.

Napoleon at one point wrote to Louis XVIII in exile, begging him to renounce his claim to the throne. Louis responded with a "no" saying, "I may have lost my country, I may have lost my possessions, but I still have my honor, and with it I will die." On another occasion he said, "In this century, it is more glorious to merit a scepter than to wield it." In 1814 upon his return to France, the fat, gouty King was introduced to Napoleon's generals. They were so used to being shouted at by Napoleon that the charm and unctuous courtesy of Louis XVIII disarmed them, especially the fact that he knew their names and anecdotes of their exploits in battle. (That old-fashioned royal training!) He declared that whatever they had done for France on the field of battle, they had done for him. He won most of them over completely and they swore allegiance to him, although some later rejoined Napoleon during the Hundred Days.

After Napoleon's defeat of Waterloo, it was only the intervention of Louis XVIII that kept the allies from totally ravaging France in revenge. The Prussians threatened to blow up the Iena bridge in Paris, until Louis threatened he would come over and sit on it. His favorite author was Horace, whom he quoted extensively. He did not actively practice his faith for over thirty years, which caused his niece Marie-Therese to have great anxiety over the state of his soul. The princess prevailed upon the old king's favorite, the attractive brunette Madame du Cayla, with whom Louis XVIII played backgammon, to get him to go to confession, and he did. (This was a hard thing for Therese since she despised Mme. du Cayla.) At the moment he died in 1824, the courtiers ran from the room to greet the new king, leaving the faithful valet of Louis XVIII weeping alone by the corpse of his master. Share

Mother Magdalen Taylor

Here is an article from Roman Miscellany about Mother Magdalen Taylor, the author of Tyborne, a novel about the English Catholic martyrs, and foundress of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God. I once stayed with those sisters in their house in Paris, while I was looking into a position of governess with a wealthy French family. The family lived on an elegant street near the Bois de Boulogne which the taxi driver could not find on the map. The apartment house had once been someone's palace, I think. At any rate, there were no numbers on the doors of any of the suites and it took me awhile to find the right one. They were a lovely family and the children had a nanny; they really just needed someone to speak English to their children all day. They had a house in Brittany as well. I decided not to take the job, however; there were reasons why I had to return home to America. However, it was an adventure.

There is also mention of the wonderful Mary Ward in the article. Share

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Good Manners are Good Business

I believe that manners are a concrete way of showing Love, and are to be used because God commands that we love our neighbor, for to do so gives Him glory. However, on the most basic mercenary level, it makes for more success in business to have some social skills. You would think that people would want to be polite if just for that reason. Share

On the wearing of black

An article from the NOR about the theological aspects of wearing black at funerals. My late father was a firm believer that traditional dirges and practices of mourning were psychologically healthy, because they were a tangible way of giving expression to grief. Share

Saint Francis de Sales

Today is the feast of Saint Francis de Sales. For many years, I attended Mass and Eucharistic devotions at the Visitation Monastery in Frederick, Maryland. I taught at the Visitation Academy and was married in the nuns' chapel, with Saint Francis looking benevolently down from the stained-glass window. He is a saint very close to my heart.

Here is one of my favorite of his quotations:
Do not look forward to the mishaps of this life with anxiety, but await them with perfect confidence so that when they do occur, God, to whom you belong, will deliver you from them. He has kept you up to the present; remain securely in the hand of his providence, and he will help you in all situations. When you cannot walk, he will carry you. Do not think about what will happen tomorrow, for the same eternal Father who takes care of you today will look out for you tomorrow and always. Either he will keep you from evil or he will give you invincible courage to endure it. Remain in peace; rid your imagination of whatever troubles you.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Louise and Artois, Part 3

After Madame de Polignac died of cancer in Vienna in 1793, her family and friends scattered; many eventually found their way to Scotland, where Artois was holding court at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, courtesy of the English monarch. He was openly living with Louise de Polastron in the castle which had seen many dramatic episodes in the life of Mary Stuart. Madame de Montaut-Navailles, when visiting after many years of exile, found Louise sad and unhappy; she felt deep pity for her.

Louise de Polastron had for so long borne the stigma of being a fallen woman, in spite of her innocence, that when she surrendered at last to the passion of the Comte d’Artois, being censured by the world was nothing new to her. However, being a woman with a strong sense of honor, a lifestyle which violated her religious beliefs and moral principles could not bring her happiness. Nevertheless, having become so emotionally attached to Artois, and he to her, she found it beyond her strength to leave him.

Louise raised her son and sent him to college; she was not reunited with her husband, nor Artois with his wife, who remained on the continent. Artois’ younger son the Duc de Berry was often with them in Scotland; the older son the Duc d’Angouleme, who had married the king and queen’s daughter, remained in Mitau in Courland with Louis XVIII, as is told in the novel Madame Royale.

As for Artois, he possessed at last the lady of his heart, and was content, although he had little income, and could only go riding on Sundays, for Scottish law forbade the arrest of debtors on the Lord’s day. Every evening he and his entourage played cards in Louise’s salon. He made ends meet by gambling, occasionally traveling to London for bigger stakes. He took Louise with him and it was there in 1804 that she was reunited with her cousin Madame de Gontaut.

Madame de Gontaut was shocked to find Louise coughing and pale. She never complained and those who surrounded her seemed to be unaware that she was sick; most especially Artois, who appeared oblivious. With great difficulty, Madame de Gontaut was able to get Louise at last to the physician of King George III, Sir Henry Halford, who diagnosed her as being in the last stages of consumption. When the doctor broke the news to Artois, telling him that the Vicomtesse de Polastron must be taken to the country and given total rest, the prince was shocked. “Do anything to save her!” he implored.

Madame de Gontaut found a house in the country at Brompton for her dying cousin and had her moved there, where she cared for her tenderly. She especially was concerned about the lack of peace and interior despair that Louise revealed to her in their conversations. She sent for a priest, Abbé Latil. He heard Louise's confession and restored her tranquility, speaking to her of the goodness of God. He asked one sacrifice of her, however, that she not see Artois again. Louise agreed, asking only that she might see him at the hour of her death. The priest consented.

Artois was beside himself with grief but departed from Louise’s side as Abbé Latil demanded. It was only for a week, since Louise was failing fast. She said farewell to her son, her faithful servants, and her loyal remaining friends, asking their pardon for the public scandal she had given. All were present as the last moment drew near and knelt around the bed as she received the last rites and the prayers for the dying were recited. Artois rushed to the house when summoned. He paused in the doorway of Louise’s room.

Trembling and gasping for breath, she raised her hands to heaven and said: “A favor, Monsieur, grant me one request. Give yourself to God!”

Artois fell on his knees. “As God is my witness, I swear it!”

“Entirely to God!” Louise repeated, and her head fell on her cousin’s shoulder as she breathed her last.

Artois cried out and lifted his arms as if to embrace her departing soul. “I swear it!” he promised again.
He asked Abbé Latil to receive him as a penitent; making his own peace with God. He took a vow of chastity, although, as Madame de Gontaut recorded, “he was young, handsome, a prince, and a king.” He kept his vow until his own death in 1836.

(All quotations are from the Memoirs of the Duchesse de Gontaut, Vol.I, translated by Mrs. J. W. Davis. New York: Dodd, Meade, and Company, 1894)

Writing thank-you notes

Here is an article from the Ladies' Home Journal about the importance of early training in writing thank-you notes. There is nothing like sending someone a handwritten note, but an email "thank-you" is better than no "thank-you" at all. One of these days I am going to rant about the importance of giving an RSVP and how rude it is not to respond to an invitation, or to respond belatedly. (That rant may coincide with the one about the lack of graciousness of some Catholic bloggers. Knowing the catechism by heart is no replacement for basic social skills; faith is empty without works.) Share

Who Spied on Pope John Paul II?

From the NOR newslinks, an article about who was spying on Pope John Paul. Share


Lew has a superb article today by Eric Margolis about those who have spied for the Communists. Share

The Espousals of Mary and Joseph

On the traditional Carmelite calendar, today is celebrated the Espousals of Mary and Joseph. Share

Monday, January 22, 2007

Louise and Artois, Part 2

Madame de Gontaut relates in her Memoirs that her mother, the Duchesse de Montaut-Navailles, who had been given the special charge of watching over Louise de Polastron, was herself too naïve about life to protect her from the amorous advances of the Comte d’Artois. Madame de Montaut-Navailles saw that the prince held Louise in high regard (which was obvious to the entire court) but “feeling that [Louise] merited it by her noble and simple conduct, she would have felt that as though she were committing a sin if she had attached to this regard the slightest suspicion of gallantry.” Thus Louise continued to be constantly thrust into the prince’s presence and being the focus of his disturbing but highly flattering flirtatious behavior.

Louise’s husband the Vicomte de Polastron finally returned to Versailles after being with his regiment for a year. Polastron lacked his sister Gabrielle de Polignac’s charm and people did not like him. He did not care for the royal court and longed to be back with his regiment. Nevertheless, he managed to get his wife with child and they had a son named Louis, to whom Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette stood as godparents. Motherhood brought Louise great happiness and, although her husband could be surly and disagreeable, she slowly grew in confidence. Soon she had a small circle of friends, while continuing to wait upon the queen.

The prince only became more enraptured with Louise and constantly sought her company, so that tongues were wagging. He finally wrote her a passionate love letter, promising to make any sacrifice in order to win her. Louise, deeply touched but filled with confusion, showed the letter to the Duchesse de Montaut-Navailles, who insisted that she send it back to the prince with no reply. Then Louise “as pure as an angel” opened her heart to the queen and to her sister-in-law the Duchesse de Polignac. Marie-Antoinette encouraged her to withdraw from the palace and move to Paris, returning only on the days when she was “in waiting.” Soon it was all over Paris that Madame de Polastron was “exiled” and that the prince was in “despair.” According to Madame de Gontaut:

The Comte d’Artois was dejected and hurt by this removal which the queen had sanctioned; the more obstacles he encountered, the more ardently he tried to overcome them. He took care to let Louise know that he would seize every opportunity to meet her, that even if he could not speak to her he would at least see her at any price.

Artois discovered what night Madame de Montaut-Navailles would visit the opera, accompanied by Louise. He vested himself in an outlandish disguise, huge wig, embroidered cravat, and a voluminous riding coat. He took a taxi to the theatre instead of his own coach, but in spite of his pretenses, everyone recognized him, and his presence caused a great commotion at the opera. He dramatically cast aside the wig and great coat, hoping to catch Louise's eye. Louise, humiliated, hid in the back of her cousin's opera box. Gossip had already declared her to be his mistress; many who spread such false rumors were themselves compromised in illicit situations and did not understand Louise’s determination to be a faithful wife.

She “passed several years in imploring from Heaven peace for her weary spirit, and strength to resist all temptation that could disturb that peace.” She continued to avoid the prince while always praying for him, but her married life was difficult and the times were full of foreboding. Artois found himself in the thick of the political controversy because of his conservatism and resistance to all revolutionary ideas. In July of 1789, after the disturbances following the capture of the Bastille, Artois and his family were obliged to flee the country, as well as the Polignacs. Louise returned to Versailles to be at the queen’s side, but Marie-Antoinette implored her to escape while she could and join the Polignacs abroad. Louise’s husband had already departed to be with his regiment.

Louise journeyed with her son to Turin where the Polignacs were temporarily staying. Word then came to her from Germany of the Comte d’Artois with his colony of émigrés, that they had no money and were low on supplies. Louise begged her grandfather for her dowry money which had never been paid. With her son and two servants, she traveled by coach to Coblentz, through many dangers and difficulties, hardly even knowing where to go. At last she found the army of the Prince de Condé, also at Coblentz, along with the Comte d’Artois. There was quite a sensation as she arrived, and a crowd gathered. Artois, who had thought that he would never see her again, slowly walked towards her coach in a daze. As Madame de Gontaut describes:

Monseigneur did not understand what had brought her, and questioned her; astonished at finding so much devotion, resolution, and courage in that timid soul, he was greatly touched, and overwhelmed with gratititude. But already he foresaw for her the consequences of her imprudence….

The people fell silent as the prince doffed his hat and bowed, saying, “What are your orders, Madame?”

“To find some shelter,” Louise replied, wearily. Artois immediately arranged for quarters to be prepared for her, but as she was being escorted there, someone from the crowd cried out, “Whore!”

(To be continued….) Share

Thoughts on Blogging

I have been blogging now for about two months. It has been fun. I resisted having a blog for a long time but my husband and my friend Georgette talked me into it. It does not take as much time as I thought it would - I was writing long emails everyday anyway. Actually, having a blog helps me to organize and consolidate my thoughts. I have made many interesting contacts through this blog and have met some fascinating people. As of this moment, Tea At Trianon gets about 1600+ hits a week, 250-300 hits a day from all over the world. I had no idea that so many people read blogs; I am honored that they would take time to visit mine. Thanks to you all, and especially to those who regularly post comments. Share

Madame de Polastron and the Comte d'Artois, Part1

People have asked me for more information about the love affair between Louis XVI's brother the Comte d'Artois, later Charles X, and Madame de Polastron, alluded to in both of my novels. Madame de Polastron was the wife of the Duchesse de Polignac’s brother. She was named Louise d' Esparbès de Lussan, and was born in 1764. After losing her mother shortly after birth, she was raised by a grandmother. At the age of twelve, she was sent to the convent of Panthemont to prepare for her first Communion, as was the custom. Shy, sweet and well-mannered, Louise was a favorite pupil of the nuns. She remained with them until age seventeen, when a marriage was arranged for her by her father, the Comte d’Esparbès, to the Vicomte de Polastron. The Vicomte’s sister Gabrielle de Polignac brought her brother to the convent to interview Louise. Gabrielle was at the time the governess of the royal children as well as being confidante of Queen Marie-Antoinette; an alliance with her family was seen as an excellent match for Louise. Gabrielle was charmed by the young girl’s modest demeanor and thought she was the perfect bride for her brother. In the Memoirs of Madame de Gontaut, a cousin of both Louise and the Polignacs (and later governess of Charles X’s grandchildren), Gabrielle is quoted as saying:

Now that everything is settled, and the young people like each other, we must begin to make preparations for the marriage. It will take place at Versailles. I have obtained the position of lady-in-waiting to the queen for my charming sister-in-law, with an apartment in the palace. We shall be always together; she shall be not only a sister to me, but a cherished child. I love to think that with us she cannot fail to be happy.

The wedding was simple and small for Versailles and the bridegroom, elevated to the rank of colonel, departed to take command of his regiment immediately after the ceremony, and was gone for a year. As Madame de Gontaut says: “In those days, this was often the way young couples made each other’s acquaintance.” The Duchesse de Montaut-Navailles (mother of Madame de Gontaut) “idolized” Louise and was resolved to watch over her at court, as was the kind-hearted Duchesse de Guiche (Madame de Polignac’s daughter), for Louise had a “gentle spirit” and “the splendors held out before her had not the power to dazzle her.”

After the marriage, preparations began for Louise to be formally presented to the queen. Her gown was designed by Mademoiselle Bertin and her hair dressed by Monsieur Leonard, as she was instructed in the etiquette of the proper manner of curtsying to the queen. Louise was presented to the Marie-Antoinette by the Duchesse de Polignac, along with her daughter the Duchesse de Guiche and Madame de Montaut. However, disaster struck. The new young Vicomtesse de Polastron forgot everything she had learned and froze before the queen, the princes, and all their entourages. She stood stiff and motionless, even when Marie-Antoinette came forward to embrace her. This was an unspeakable disgrace which set all of the courtiers whispering and tittering.

The Comte d’Artois, however, was moved by her timidity and gentle manner. He spoke to her the next day when everyone else was avoiding her. Artois was the king’s handsome, charming, youngest brother. He chased women, gambled, and spent exhorbitant amounts of money on his country-house, the Bagatelle. He was unhappily married to Marie-Therese de Savoie, whose heart he had broken many times by his infidelities. Used to easy conquests, he was enchanted by Louise’s virtue and restraint, and fell deeply in love with her. As Madame de Gontaut describes:

Madame de Polastron was very agreeable, without being pretty; her figure was slender and supple, and her expression was mournful and touching. She was too timid to speak very loud; her voice had a wonderful charm, and she expressed herself with dignity and grace. She was neither humble nor arrogant, but very retiring; and to know her it was necessary to make an effort to draw her out. The Prince, who felt compassion for her, sought her out and made this effort.

Artois caused a great stir at court by suddenly hovering around Madame de Polignac’s apartments so as to be close to Louise, unable to hide his admiration. Marie-Antoinette noticed and cautioned Louise about Artois’ attentions. Louise was too guileless and innocent to fully understand.

(To be continued….) Share

Let us pray for an end to Abortion

Two great articles from the NOR on the on-going infamy of infanticide in our country and in our world.


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Saint Agnes of Rome

"Today is the birthday of a virgin; let us imitate her purity. It is the birthday of a martyr; let us offer ourselves in sacrifice. It is the birthday of Saint Agnes, who is said to have suffered martyrdom at the age of twelve. The cruelty that did not spare her youth shows all the more clearly the power of faith in finding one so young to bear it witness." ( From a treatise On Virgins by Saint Ambrose, bishop, in the Roman breviary.) Share

Gangs of New York (2002)

A few nights ago, my husband and I watched Gangs of New York (2002). It was not as bad as everyone said it was. We watched it on a cable network that mercifully cut or blurred most of the extreme violence, nudity, and foul language. The score was phenomenal, especially the use of the violin music. The Irish songs in the background amidst the total squalor and corruption of Five Points were very moving. One senses the indomitable spirit of a fighting people. We always forget what the immigrants experienced when they first landed here. I can see why my great-great-great grandfather preferred to settle in Canada where he had to deal with wolves and some prejudice but otherwise he was alone in the wilderness; no nasty street gangs.

I wish I knew more about the Irish experience in New York City. Was someone like "Bill the Butcher" really allowed to go around chopping people up? People have compared Bill the Butcher, masterfully played by Daniel Day Lewis, to Bill Sykes in Dickens' Oliver Twist, but I think it is a weak comparison. Bill Sykes was an ignorant, blundering, repellent, murdering psychopath but Bill the Butcher was a cunning, devious, charming, murdering psychopath. The scene when they were all dancing with the candles was sheer beauty. However, it ruined the romance when the hero and heroine had to immediately have a roll in the hay; it destroyed the ambiance, totally.

All the acting was superb. I usually do not care for Cameron Diaz and some critics thought that she was miscast. I beg to differ; I thought she made a great tavern wench, with that tough, hungry, wounded look. Yet she sparkled with audacity and hope, in spite of her surroundings. The sets were gruesomely realistic; we could almost smell the dung and waste in the streets.

I got some ideas for my Irish novel. Share

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Last Words of Louis XVI

“I die innocent of all the crimes imputed to me. I pardon the authors of my death, and pray God that the blood you are about to shed will never fall upon France.” Share

Death of Louis XVI

January 21, Saint Agnes day, is the dies natalis of the Roi-Martyr, when two hundred and fourteen years ago, Louis XVI was taken from the Temple prison to be guillotined. The previous night he had said farewell to his family, and their reaction was so hysterical that he decided not to see them again in the morning, for fear of faltering in his own courage. His fifteen year old daughter fainted. He rode to his death in a coach accompanied by the Irish priest, Abbé Edgeworth de Firmont, who had been Madame Elisabeth's confessor and who had refused the oath to the government. Together they recited the seven penitential psalms.

Arriving at the scaffold, the executioner tried to bind Louis' hands behind his back but he resisted, not wanting to be treated like a criminal who might try to run away. Abbé Edgeworth, fearing the king might be struck, convinced him to submit to the indignity by saying that it was one more way in which he resembled his Master. Louis raised his eyes to the sky as if seeing beyond this world and then with hands bound he ascended the scaffold unassisted. The drummers drowned out his last words to his people.

As the blade fell, some pranksters let the air out of a pig's bladder which sounded like a shriek, in order to mock the king at the moment of his death. Some observers later reported that Abbé Edgeworth cried out,"Ascend to heaven, son of St Louis!" although the priest said he did not remember, being overwhelmed. Many ran forward with handkerchiefs to dip in the king's blood, as the executioner raised the head aloft, making obscene gestures. Some of the handkerchiefs were later preserved as holy relics. Share

Married priests....

Are not the answer.... Share

Abbé Edgeworth

Here are some links to articles about Abbé Edgeworth de Firmont, the brave Irish priest who was the last confessor of Louis XVI and accompanied him to the guillotine, at risk of his own life. It was on this day 214 years ago that the priest visited the king in the Temple prison to help him prepare for death. Share

The Lesson of Schubert

Here is an article about lessons to be learned from the life of Schubert. Share

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Fersen Legend, Part 3

Much has been made of the letters Marie-Antoinette wrote to her friend Count Esterhazy, and the ring which she sent to Fersen via Esterhazy. In August 1791, after the failure of the escape to Montmedy, the royal couple were isolated and cut off from news about relatives and friends since Fersen, the principle channel for conveying the news, had been silent for almost two months. The Swedish count was in Vienna at King Gustavus’ request on a secret mission, consulting with the Emperor about the possible rescue of the French royal family. The queen wrote to Esterhazy: "If you write to him (Fersen) be sure to tell him that many leagues and many countries can never separate hearts: I feel this truth more everyday.” In September 1791, the queen sent Esterahzy two gold rings which, according to Webster, bore the motto: Domine, salve fac regem et regina. (God save the king and the queen.) Other authors say the motto was Lâche qui les abandonne. (Coward be the one who lets them down.) She wrote:

I am delighted to find this opportunity to send you a little ring which will surely give you pleasure. They have been sold in prodigious quantities during the last three days and one has all the difficulty in the world to find them. The one surrounded with paper is for him (Fersen), it will just fit him; I wore it for two days before packing it. Tell him it is from me. I do not know where he is; it is a dreadful torment to have no news and not even know where the people one is fond of (qu’on aime) are living.

Of course, a ring once worn by a queen is of great value, just like a cap once worn by the Pope. Nesta Webster’s commentary on the rings and letters must be quoted in its entirety:

These letters have again been quoted as evidence that there was a liaison between Marie-Antoinette and Fersen, and that Esterhazy being in the secret, the Queen did not hesitate to confide in him on the subject. But in reality, what do they prove? Nothing more than that she had great affection him. That a captive Queen should send royalist rings to two of her oldest and most faithful friends is nothing extraordinary, that she should have referred to Fersen as “him” was only in accordance with the plan of avoiding all names in writing. As to the words “qu’on aime,” aimer is a verb that in French…may mean either to like, to be fond of, to love with affection or to be in love with. It cannot have been in the last sense that Marie Antoinette employed it here, since she applies it in the plural - - “les gens qu’on aime”—that is to say, her friends in general….If she had used it in the amorous sense of one whom Esterhazy knew to be her lover, would she not have said, “celui qu’on aime?” (Nesta Webster, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette during the Revolution)

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 an erased 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 the queen’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’Angouleme. 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 the queen’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 the queen 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.

The psychology of Count Fersen in his later years must also be taken into account. He was proud of his daring and initiative which had intially delivered Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and their family from the Tuileries in June, 1791. However, the failure of the royal family to escape to Montmedy he blamed on the fact that he had not accompanied them after they left Paris; he was haunted by the night of Varennes for the rest of his life. Indeed, he was murdered by a mob in Stockholm about twenty years later on the exact anniversary of the royal family’s escape, June 20. He saw his failure as not only costing the lives of his dear friends, but also for destroying what would have been the glory of his career, to have been the one responsible for the rescue of the French royal family. Webster and Kermina maintain that the count seemed to be always looking for signs that the queen had loved him. He pinned in his diary a scrap of a letter that she had written to someone else, that was passed on to him after her death by Madame de Korff, the Russian lady whose passport Marie Antoinette had used in the foiled escape. The scrap contained the words: Adieu, mon coeur est tout à vous, “Farewell, my heart is all yours.” The queen expressed herself in such a gushing style to all of her friends and family and although the words were in her handwriting there is no indication to whom it was written. There is evidence, however, that Fersen transcribed known letters of the queen into his journal, and at least in one case altering the original text to make it more personal. He claimed that the queen had once used his seal with the motto: Tutto a te mi guida. “Everything leads me to thee.” Webster claims that she had also used the seal of the monarchist Quintin Crauford in her correspondence – using other people’s seals was a subterfuge employed in sensitive diplomatic correspondence, but Fersen thought the words were meant as a message for himself. As Webster says, “everything could certainly not be guiding her to Fersen when she was imprisoned in the Temple and had just refused Jarjayes' plan of escape, saying she could have no happiness apart from her children and therefore she abandoned the idea without even feeling any regret.”

A phrase from the Queen’s final letter of October 16, 1793, written a few hours before her death to her sister-in-law Madame Elisabeth, has often been interpreted as referring to Fersen. “I had friends. The idea of being separated for ever from them and their troubles forms one of my greatest regrets in dying. Let them know that up to my last moment I was thinking of them….” While the count was probably included among the “friends,” it is more likely that the queen was thinking specifically of the Polignac family. Marie-Antoinette had often referred to the Duchesse de Polignac as her “dear heart,” and had entrusted her children to her care. The two families had been close, with Louis XVI writing to Madame de Polignac and confiding in her, and they had been raising their children together. Marie-Antoinette had a great capacity for friendship, and the persistence of authors in interpreting her friendly interactions in terms of sex and romance is to obscure what was a beautiful aspect of her personality in itself. As she wrote to Elisabeth of her children: “Let them learn from our example how much the consolation of our affection brought us in the midst of our unhappiness and how happiness is doubled when one can share it with a friend—and where can one find a more loving and truer friend than in one’s own family?”

For in those last days of Marie-Antoinette it is vital to understand her as a mother who had been violently separated from her children. They were the chief subject of her thoughts, and while she showed indifference to her own fate, the mention of them would reduce her to tears. She was in anguish over her eight year old son, as would any parent whose child had been torn from their arms. Not only was she, like any mother, concerned for his diet and hygiene while in the hands of his captors, but she knew that they were beating him, giving him alcohol, teaching him lewd songs, and subjecting him to other forms of unspeakable abuse. Any mother would almost lose her mind; as for the queen, she only wanted to survive and so someday be united with her son and put her arms around him. What parent would not be tormented if a beloved child was ill in the hospital and they could not be at his side? And yet, in a recently published novel about the queen, I was sickened when the author with extreme mawkishness portrayed the desperate Marie-Antoinette wrapped up in Fersen fantasies while in prison. Such sentimentality and romanticism is obscene, considering the actual bitter and tragic circumstances, expressed by the queen herself to Elisabeth in her last letter: “I embrace you with all my heart, together with those poor dear children. My God! What agony it is to leave them forever! Adieu! Adieu! I shall henceforth pay attention to nothing but my spiritual duties.” Share