Monday, January 7, 2008

The Queen's Compassion

It is often forgotten that the royal family of France were seen as belonging to the people. The palace of Versailles was open to the public; anyone could enter as long as they were appropriately attired. For gentlemen this meant wearing a sword; swords could be rented at the palace gates. The tradition of freedom and openness meant that the royal family often dined surrounded by crowds of people; the princesses were required to give birth in public. Merchants set up stalls in the grand salons, selling ribbons and snuff; beggars roamed the corridors. Security did not seem to be an issue. Unfortunately, such liberty led to Marie-Antoinette being stalked by a mental patient, but she refused to have the culprit arrested. Madame Campan relates the situation as follows:
Among the characteristics which denoted the goodness of the Queen, her respect for personal liberty should have a place. I have seen her put up with the most troublesome importunities from people whose minds were deranged rather than have them arrested. Her patient kindness was put to a very disagreeable trial by an ex-councillor of the Bordeaux Parliament, named Castelnaux; this man declared himself the lover of the Queen, and was generally known by that appellation. For ten successive years did he follow the Court in all its excursions. Pale and wan, as people who are out of their senses usually are, his sinister appearance occasioned the most uncomfortable sensations. During the two hours that the Queen’s public card parties lasted, he would remain opposite her Majesty. He placed himself in the same manner before her at chapel, and never failed to be at the King’s dinner or the dinner in public. At the theatre he invariably seated himself as near the Queen’s box as possible. He always set off for Fontainebleau or St. Cloud the day before the Court, and when her Majesty arrived at her various residences, the first person she met on getting out of her carriage was this melancholy madman, who never spoke to any one. When the Queen stayed at Petit Trianon the passion of this unhappy man became still more annoying. He would hastily swallow a morsel at some eating-house, and spend all the rest of the day, even when it rained, in going round and round the garden, always walking at the edge of the moat. The Queen frequently met him when she was either alone or with her children; and yet she would not suffer any violence to be used to relieve her from this intolerable annoyance. Having one day given M. de Seze permission to enter Trianon, she sent to desire he would come to me, and directed me to inform that celebrated advocate of M. de Castelnaux’s derangement, and then to send for him that M. de Seze might have some conversation with him. He talked to him nearly an hour, and made considerable impression upon his mind; and at last M. de Castelnaux requested me to inform the Queen positively that, since his presence was disagreeable to her, he would retire to his province. The Queen was very much rejoiced, and desired me to express her full satisfaction to M. de Seze. Half an hour after M. de Seze was gone the unhappy madman was announced. He came to tell me that he withdrew his promise, that he had not sufficient command of himself to give up seeing the Queen as often as possible. This new determination: was a disagreeable message to take to her Majesty but how was I affected at hearing her say, “Well, let him annoy me! but do not let him be deprived of the blessing of freedom.”


Anonymous said...

Thank you Elena, I did not know that the palace was so open to people. Very interesting!

elena maria vidal said...

You are welcome, Ken. That is why the queen had to go to the Petit Trianon in order to have some privacy with her family and friends. But even the gardens of Trianon were open to the public every Sunday.

Anonymous said...

This story just reminds me and the reader that class and dignity(so absent today) were hallmarks of Queen Marie Antoinette. She truly was daughter to an Empress and wife to a King. Vive La Reine!

Enbrethiliel said...


What awes me the most is the royal family's sense of responsibility to their people. You wouldn't see anything like their kind of openness today! In fact, they are the complete opposite of the celebrities we're used to, who court fame and notoriety on Monday and then sue the paparazzi on Friday, not realising, like spoiled children, that they cannot have their cake and eat it, too. Then they have all sorts of breakdowns, pop in and out of rehab, and blame it all on the public which put them where they wanted to be in the first place!

The Queen was being more than just a gracious hostess by declaring that an annoying admirer's freedom was worth more than her irritation at having him around; she was also setting a moral standard for all of France. I'm not her contemporary and I'm not French, but I feel so humbled!

elena maria vidal said...

Marie-Antoinette was a true Christian lady and Queen.
Yes, Enbrethiliel, I, too, feel humbled when I read about how she bore so many ills not only with dignity but with charity and forgiveness.

Luku said...

Oh I admire her even more!