Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Queen Marie Antoinette of France

On this day in 1793, Queen Marie Antoinette of France was executed in the midst of the French Revolution.

File:Marie Antoinette in Muslin dress.jpg
Queen Marie Antoinette by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, in 1783AD.

She was the daughter of Maria Theresa of Austria (ruled Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia, 1740-1780) and Holy Roman Emperor Francis I (reigned 1745-1765), former Duke of Lorraine (reigned 1729-1737; switched with Tuscany owing to the outcome of the War of the Polish Election), and Grand Duke of Tuscany (reigned in Tuscany, 1737-1765).  Thus, Marie Antoinette was a member of the House of Hapsburg and of Lorraine.

Her reputation is without question worse than she deserves, being the object of a load of Revolutionary propaganda which refuses to die.  As wife to King Louis XVI, who was guillotined in January 1793, she would face execution at the very same time that the Department of the Vendee in the west of France was in rebellion against the forces of the Revolution.  Dark days, indeed, but worth recalling.

On 21 January 1793, His Most Christian Majesty, Louis XVI, was executed.  Even Louis XVI’s own cousin, Louis Philippe of Orleans voted for his death.  This royal execution was wildly unpopular in the rest of Europe, and that summer half of France would rebel against the rebels.  France declared war on Great Britain and Holland on 1 February, and 24 February draft bill demanding 300,000 troops.  7 March saw France declare on Spain, and the Austrians push back the French in Belgium.   The draft of February along with the other outrages of the Revolution prompted a rising in the Vendée on 12 March, the days that followed saw the word spread, and new forces and leaders join the attempt to defend Church and Throne (“Long live the King, Long live the good priests! & White cockade”).  By 14 March, 12,000 were in arms (The Catholic and Royal Army).  A couple leaders: Jacques Cathelineau, a baker and Francois-Athanase Charette, a young nobleman.  On 5 April 1793 the Committee of Public Safety was established.  In May, the 2nd largest city in France, Lyons, rose in rebellion against the Revolution.  The Girondin [former anti-monarchist Republicans, once on the left, now considered Conservatives in the Assembly] were ejected from power by a mob of 80,000 on 2 June.  The Assembly ordered their arrest – and they would be dead by the end of the year.  This led to the “reign of terror” (3 June ’93 to 28 July ’94 – 14,080 would be put to death).  On 9 June, the Vendéens seize the city of Saumar – momentum continues in their favor in this counter-Revolution.  On 27 July 1793, Robespierre joined the Committee of Public Safety, and the Terror begins.  What of the Vendée?  Cathelineau made the decision to march on the port of Nantes rather than Paris itself – and an attack there on 29 June 1793 would cost his life (died 14 July), and doom the cause.; d’Elbée would be the new commander of the rising. In October, on the 5th, the new Revolutionary calendar was introduced, surely a triumph of mankind.  On 9 October, the Lyons uprising was finally crushed, and 2,000 were executed.  It was on Oct. 16 that Queen Marie-Antoinette was executed, to be followed by the Girondin leaders on 31 Oct.  That Autumn, Henri la Rochehajaquelein, would be commanding the Vendée rising, as the movement crumbles – he was famous for the “if I advance, if I retreat, if I die” quotation.  By December, however, the Vendee uprising, too, is extinguished.

A black cross supported by a heart

As Edmund Burke, the British Member of Parliament, had noted in 1790, regarding Queen Marie Antoinette and this wicked Revolution, in his Reflections on the Revolution in France:
"I hear, and I rejoice to hear, that the great lady, the other object of the triumph, has borne that day, (one is interested that beings made for suffering should suffer well) and that she bears all the succeeding days, that she bears the imprisonment of her husband, and her own captivity, and the exile of her friends, and the insulting adulation of addresses, and the whole weight of her accumulated wrongs, with a serene patience, in a manner suited to her rank and race, and becoming the offspring of a sovereign distinguished for her piety and her courage: that, like her, she has lofty sentiments; that she feels with the dignity of a Roman matron; that in the last extremity she will save herself from the last disgrace; and that, if she must fall, she will fall by no ignoble hand. 125
It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of France, then the dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in,—glittering like the morning-star, full of life, and splendour, and joy. Oh! what a revolution! and what a heart must I have to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honour, and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever. Never, never more shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise, is gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that charity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness."

Chivarly is gone.  We are in an age of sophists, economists, and calculators.  The glory of Europe, and the West, is extinguished.  I nurse a hope that Burke is incorrect that this is "for ever," but grim it looks, indeed.

 I present below the final will and testament of His Most Christian Majesty, King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette's husband.  The words and thoughts of a tyrant?  I think not.  May the soul of King Louis, and his Queen, rest in peace, and may we have such serenity of charity towards our enemies:


In the name of the Very holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

To-day, the 25th day of December, 1792, I, Louis XVI King of France, being for more than four months imprisoned with my family in the tower of the Temple at Paris, by those who were my subjects, and deprived of all communication whatsoever, even with my family, since the eleventh instant; moreover, involved in a trial the end of which it is impossible to foresee, on account of the passions of men, and for which one can find neither pretext nor means in any existing law, and having no other witnesses, for my thoughts than God to whom I can address myself,

I hereby declare, in His presence, my last wishes and feelings.

I leave my soul to God, my creator; I pray Him to receive it in His mercy, not to judge it according to its merits but according to those of Our Lord Jesus Christ who has offered Himself as a sacrifice to God His Father for us other men, no matter how hardened, and for me first.

I die in communion with our Holy Mother, the Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church, which holds authority by an uninterrupted succession, from St. Peter, to whom Jesus Christ entrusted it; I believe firmly and I confess all that is contained in the creed and the commandments of God and the Church, the sacraments and the mysteries, those which the Catholic Church teaches and has always taught. I never pretend to set myself up as a judge of the various way of expounding the dogma which rend the church of Jesus Christ, but I agree and will always agree, if God grant me life the decisions which the ecclesiastical superiors of the Holy Catholic Church give and will always give, in conformity with the disciplines which the Church has followed since Jesus Christ.

I pity with all my heart our brothers who may be in error but I do not claim to judge them, and I do not love them less in Christ, as our Christian charity teaches us, and I pray to God to pardon all my sins. I have sought scrupulously to know them, to detest them and to humiliate myself in His presence. Not being able to obtain the ministration of a Catholic priest, I pray God to receive the confession which I feel in having put my name (although this was against my will) to acts which might be contrary to the discipline and the belief of the Catholic church, to which I have always remained sincerely attached. I pray God to receive my firm resolution, if He grants me life, to have the ministrations of a Catholic priest, as soon as I can, in order to confess my sins and to receive the sacrament of penance.

I beg all those whom I might have offended inadvertently (for I do not recall having knowingly offended any one), or those whom I may have given bad examples or scandals, to pardon the evil which they believe I could have done them.

I beseech those who have the kindness to join their prayers to mine, to obtain pardon from God for my sins.

I pardon with all my heart those who made themselves my enemies, without my have given them any cause, and I pray God to pardon them, as well as those who, through false or misunderstood zeal, did me much harm.

I commend to God my wife and my children, my sister, my aunts, my brothers, and all those who are attached to me by ties of blood or by whatever other means. I pray God particularly to cast eyes of compassion upon my wife, my children, and my sister, who suffered with me for so long a time, to sustain them with His mercy if they shall lose me, and as long as they remain in his mortal world.

I commend my children to my wife; I have never doubted her maternal tenderness for them. I enjoin her above all to make them good Christians and honest individuals; to make them view the grandeurs of this world (if they are condemned to experience them) as very dangerous and transient goods, and turn their attention towards the one solid and enduring glory, eternity. I beseech my sister to kindly continue her tenderness for my children and to take the place of a mother, should they have the misfortune of losing theirs.

I beg my wife to forgive all the pain which she suffered for me, and the sorrows which I may have caused her in the course of our union; and she may feel sure that I hold nothing against her, if she has anything with which to reproach herself.

I most warmly enjoin my children that, after what they owe to God, which should come first, they should remain forever united among themselves, submissive and obedient to their mother, and grateful for all the care and trouble which she has taken with them, as well as in memory of me. I beg them to regard my sister as their second mother.

I exhort my son, should he have the misfortune of becoming king, to remember he owes himself wholly to the happiness of his fellow citizens; that he should forget all hates and all grudges, particularly those connected with the misfortunes and sorrows which I am experiencing; that he can make the people happy only by ruling according to laws: but at the same time to remember that a king cannot make himself respected and do the good that is in his heart unless he has the necessary authority, and that otherwise, being tangled up in his activities and not inspiring respect, he is more harmful than useful.

I exhort my son to care for all the persons who are attached to me, as much as his circumstances will allow, to remember that it is a sacred debt which I have contracted towards the children and relatives of those who have perished for me and also those who are wretched for my sake. I know that there are many persons, among those who were near me, who did not conduct themselves towards me as they should have and who have even shown ingratitude, but I pardon them (often in moments of trouble and turmoil one is not master of oneself), and I beg my son that, if he finds an occasion, he should think only of their misfortunes.

I should have wanted here to show my gratitude to those who have given me a true and disinterested affection; if, on the one hand, I was keenly hurt by the ingratitude and disloyalty of those to whom I have always, shown kindness, as well as to their relatives and friends, on the other hand I have had the consolation of seeing the affection and voluntary interest which many persons have shown me. I beg them to receive my thanks.

In the situation in which matters still are, I fear to compromise them if I should speak more explicitly, but I especially enjoin my son to seek occasion to recognize them.

I should, nevertheless, consider it a calumny on the nation if I did not openly recommend to my son MM. De Chamilly and Hue, whose genuine attachment for me led them to imprison themselves with me in this sad abode. I also recommend Clery, for whose attentiveness I have nothing but praise ever since he has been with me. Since it is he who has remained with me until the end, I beg the gentlemen of the commune to hand over to him my clothes, my books, my watch, my purse, and all other small effects which have been deposited with the council of the commune.

I pardon again very readily those who guard me, the ill treatment and the vexations which they thought it necessary to impose upon me. I found a few sensitive and compassionate souls among them - may they in their hearts enjoy the tranquillity which their way of thinking gives them.

I beg MM. De Malesherbes, Tronchet and De Seze to receive all my thanks and the expressions of my feelings for all the cares and troubles they took for me.

I finish by declaring before God, and ready to appear before Him, that I do not reproach myself with any of the crimes with which I am charged.

Made in duplicate in the Tower of the Temple, the 25th of December 1792.

(Archives Nationales, Paris, dated 25 Dec 1792; given by the King to M. Baudrais, a municipal officer, on 21 Jan 1793, a few moments for he left for his place of execution. Baudrais immediately signed his name to authenticate it and deposited it with the commune, where it was signed and certified by Coulomneau, the secretary, and Drouel, the vice-president)

Vive le Roi!

Live well!

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