Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Count von Fersen and the Queen's Virtue

A dear Belgian friend, who has been a great help to me in my research, sent me a link to a fascinating website about the Swedish count, Axel von Fersen. Aside from his friendship with the French royal family, he was an intriguing character in his own right for his travels, his experiences in America and his diplomatic career. Fersen's master, King Gustav III of Sweden, was the lone European monarch willing to take action to save Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, and their family from certain death. Fersen was the instrument through which King Gustav's hopes were almost realized.

Fersen's correspondence with the queen must be seen first and foremost as a diplomatic one. Yet writers and filmmakers continue to build a romance around their friendship. People continue to speak of them as "lovers," but historical exegesis is not based upon rumor but upon substantiated evidence. There are many famous lovers in history: Antony and Cleopatra, John of Gaunt and Katharine Swynford, Napoleon and Josephine, Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton, and for all of them abundant facts determine that they were, indeed, lovers. In the case of Marie-Antoinette and Fersen, innuendo is passed off as fact and supposition is accepted as truth. For instance, how can the phrase Tutto a te mi guida ("Everything leads me to thee") mean that the newly widowed queen wanted to be with Fersen, when around the same time, spring of 1793, she told the guard Toulan that: "her sole desire was to be reunited to her husband whenever Heaven should decide that her life was no longer necessary to her children." (Charles Duke Yonge's The Life of Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France)

The accounts of those whose personal knowledge of the queen, or deep study of her life, reveal her virtue, as well as her fidelity and devotion to her husband, are continually ignored. Montjoie in his Histoire de Marie-Antoinette, Vol.i, p.107 (1797) quotes the words of her page, the Comte d'Hezecques:
If one wishes to discover the prime cause of the misfortunes of this princess, we must seek them in the passions of which the court was the hotbed and in the corruption of her century. If I had seen otherwise I would say so with sincerity, but I affirm that after having seen everything, heard everything, and read everything, I am convinced that the morals of Marie Antoinette were as pure as those of her virtuous husband.
But since so often the testimonials of French monarchists are seen as being an attempt to ingratiate themselves to the surviving Bourbons, here is what the Irish politician and author John Wilson Croker (1780-1857) wrote in his Essays on the French Revolution:
We have followed the history of Marie Antoinette with the greatest diligence and scrupulosity. We have lived in those times. We have talked with some of her friends and some of her enemies; we have read, certainly not all, but hundreds of the libels written against her; and we have, in short, examined her life with-- if we may be allowed to say so of ourselves-- something of the accuracy of contemporaries, the diligence of inquirers, and the impartiality of historians, all combined; and we feel it our duty to declare, in as a solemn a manner as literature admits of, our well-matured opinion that every reproach against the morals of the queen was a gross calumny-- that she was, as we have said, one of the purest of human beings. (Croker's Essays, p 562)


Anonymous said...

Yesterday and today People love scandal don't they! I once lilstened to an interview of a newscaster for a Christian radio station who admitted that even they only reported events that would raise alarm and tension in the listening public. He said that no one wanted to hear that the commuter train from Connecticut to Manhattan arrived safely.

May said...

I think some people almost don't even believe virtue is possible! They start out from a point of view of "guilty 'til proven innocent", I guess.