Biographies & Memoirs

The Widow Capet


Everything leads me to you.’

Whereas it had taken the royal family less than twenty four hours to reach Varennes, the journey back to Paris took four long, miserable days during which they were harangued by the angry crowds that swarmed like furious wasps around the berline whenever it stopped. At Epernay they were spat at and had their clothes torn by an angry mob, an experience that reduced Marie Antoinette and Élisabeth to tears. The weather had become unbearably hot and they had not been permitted to change their clothes since they were apprehended at Varennes nor were they allowed to close the carriage’s windows which meant that the dust from the roads got inside and they had no respite from the violent threats and curses of the mobs that ran alongside waving guns and pitchforks in the air. The high spirits and optimistic cheerfulness of their journey from Paris had completely vanished and been replaced by a melancholic despair as, at last, they considered the consequence of their actions and bemoaned the mistakes that had led to their recapture so tantalisingly close to their final destination.

Just outside Epernay, they were joined by representatives of the National Assembly, who had travelled out to meet them and accompany them back to the capital. Although Marie Antoinette had every reason to distrust the two men Barnave and Pétion (a third representative, the Marquis de Labour-Maubourg travelled with the waiting women in their carriage) who clambered without ceremony into the berline, squeezing themselves between the members of the royal family, she was also relieved to have their protection for the rest of the journey as the crowds were becoming increasingly acrimonious and threatening the closer they drew to Paris and had turned out in their hundreds to harass and insult the royal family as they passed.

However, although Pétion and Barnave had not exactly been the royal family’s greatest fans, they were shocked by how different they were to the popular mythology which made the King out to be an oafish imbecilic buffoon led by the nose by his haughty wife. Instead they found them polite, touchingly affectionate towards each other and their children and not at all stupid, although they were undoubtedly ignorant. Pétion wrote afterwards: ‘I noticed simplicity and a family air which pleased me… there was ease and domestic bonhomie. The Queen called Madame Élisabeth ‘ma petite soeur’. Madame Élisabeth did the same … The Queen danced the prince up and down on her knees.’ He was exceedingly taken with Madame Élisabeth, Louis’ pious and undoubtedly virginal sister who had long believed herself to have a vocation to become a nun and believed her to have taken a bit of a fancy to him in return, encouraged by the fact that her arm occasionally pressed against his when they were thrown together by the movements of the carriage. ‘Madame Élisabeth foxed me with melting eyes, with that languishing air that unhappiness gives and which inspires a lively interest… The moon began to shine softly… She sometimes interrupted her words, in such a manner as to agitate me. I replied…with a kind of austerity… She must have seen that the most seductive temptations were useless. I noticed a certain cooling off, a certain severity, which women often show when their pride is wounded.’ Or more likely, she had realised that her overtures of polite friendliness had been completely misinterpreted and was trying to give him a tactful brush off, although she would later write to a friend that: ‘The deputies were really quite pleasant and Monsieur Barnave in particular behaved extremely well.

Monsieur Barnave, much to his surprise, was quickly falling under the spell of Marie Antoinette. A nice boy from a decent middle class and Protestant family who’d trained as a lawyer after being homeschooled by his mother, he’d grown up with an absolute hatred of the aristocracy whom he saw as the chief architects of the country’s ruin. He had not been looking forward to the rendezvous with the royal family and had, in particular, been feeling some trepidation about finding himself in close quarters with the Queen, who was the very worst of the whole worthless lot as far as he was concerned. At first he did his best to ignore Marie Antoinette, wincing when she sprinkled her perfume around the carriage in order to make the fetid air more pleasant, avoiding eye contact with her and speaking only to Madame Élisabeth, who was keen to engage him in a lengthy political debate. However, as the hours dragged on, he found himself unexpectedly enthralled and fascinated by the Queen as she chatted most unaffectedly with her husband and sister-in-law and fussed like any other fond mother over her grizzling children, who were now sitting on the knees of the adults in order to make room for the deputies.

Although she was visibly worn out, travel soiled and distressed by the events of the last few days, Marie Antoinette still retained the gentle charm that had won Mirabeau to her cause and made men like Fersen willing to risk their lives to save her from the indignities of her situation. Like many people, Barnave had become so accustomed to the swirl of terrible rumours, gossip and calumny that surrounded Marie Antoinette that he’d forgotten that she was a real woman behind it all and having encountered her now, he rapidly began to fall beneath her spell.

They stopped at Meaux on the third night and after supper Marie Antoinette spent several hours talking to Barnave, quietly winning him over to her cause. That the young deputy was exceedingly handsome, gently mannered and extremely eloquent merely boosted his appeal in the eyes of a Queen who had once scandalised Versailles by choosing her footmen purely on the basis of their good looks and height rather than their ability to do the job. No, she would be very pleased indeed to have Barnave as her new champion in the debating hall of the National Assembly.

The next morning they got up early to begin the final stretch to Paris. It was one of the hottest days of the year and as Marie Antoinette gazed listlessly out at the angry crowds that lined the road to the capital, she may well have thought back to the journey by stages, following a very similar route, by which she had first approached Versailles over twenty one years before. It’s more likely though that it was the horrible present and uncertain future that weighed on the beleaguered Queen’s mind as she smiled wanly across the berline at Barnave and tightly held her weeping daughter’s hand. At one point she pulled down the window and offered a piece of beef to one of the guardsmen riding beside the carriage but then recoiled in tears when a woman in the crowd shouted, ‘Don’t take it! She’s probably poisoned it!’ Instead she pointedly gave the meat to the Dauphin to eat and made no further attempts to speak to the guards.

 Despite the terrible heat of the day, they had been forbidden from closing the blinds and so were exposed to the hostile stares of enormous crowds that swelled in size as they got nearer to Paris. Although Barnave was quick to open the window and shout at the worst offenders to desist their insults, he could not stop them all and so the berline lumbered slowly past a menacing mob of screaming, shouting people, their faces contorting with fury as they yelled curses into Marie Antoinette’s very face, threatening to cut off her head, make pies from her intestines and lace from her fine white skin. The Queen kept her composure as best she could, determined not to lose control in the face of such hostility, but her children screamed with fear, terrified as much by the angry faces of the mob as by their horrible words.

Things only got worse when they entered Paris at around six in the evening and began the slow drive through the crammed and noisy city streets, where it seemed like almost everyone had turned out to see their King and Queen’s ignominious return. ‘Anyone who applauds the King will be flogged; anyone who insults him will be hanged,’ threatened the dozens of placards that had been placed along the route and so they entered the city to a hostile silence, broken only by a few shouts of ‘Vive la nation!’ Lafayette had also ordered that all heads should remain covered to signify that the King was no longer considered worthy of respect and so the crowds kept their hats and caps on as they glowered menacingly at the royal carriage while the National Guard lining the route kept their crossheads high as if they were the guard of honour at a funeral.

It was late in the evening when the berline finally pulled up at the Tuileries where Lafayette was waiting to greet them, his air of smug triumph annoying the Queen so much that she could hardly bear to look at him as she whisked past on her way to her rooms where her ladies were waiting to prepare her bath and would make the sad discovery that their mistress’ hair had gone completely white during her brief absence. Louis, however, politely stopped to talk to Lafayette, who asked him if he had any orders. ‘It seems to me, Monsieur de Lafayette, that it is you who are giving the orders now,’ the King said with a sad smile before he too departed to his rooms.

As soon as she was able to snatch a few moments alone, Marie Antoinette sat down to write to Axel von Fersen. ’I am alive. Oh, the anxiety that I have been feeling for you and the sorrow I feel for all that you must have undergone in not hearing from us. God grant that this reaches you. Do not write to me, this would compromise all of us and above everything do not come back under any circumstances. Everyone knows that you helped us to escape and should you show yourself, all would be lost. We are guarded night and day, I do not care. Do not feel sad for me, nothing will happen to me. The National Assembly will be forgiving… I am able to tell you that I love you and have time only to do that. I am well. Suffer no pain for me… Let me know where I should send my letters so that I can write to you, for without them I cannot survive. Farewell my most beloved and loving of men. I embrace you with all my heart.

The news that both the Comte and Comtesse de Provence, who had followed Bouillé’s instructions and separated into two small carriages before taking different routes (no doubt with great thankfulness as they had been living in a state of polite estrangement for years), had both managed to successfully leave the country without any hindrance was just salt in Marie Antoinette’s wounds, although naturally she outwardly expressed relief that they had managed to make their escape even if it highlighted the mistakes that had made their own attempt such a failure. Officially the National Assembly let it be known that the whole incident had been due to an abduction attempt by the now thoroughly discredited Bouillé and Axel von Fersen and that the royal family had been taken against their will but everyone knew the truth and as always the blame was placed squarely on Marie Antoinette’s shoulders. It didn’t matter that both she and the King had frequently made it plain that they had no intention of actually leaving France - no one really believed them and matters only grew worse when a group of protesters who had gone to the Champs de Mars to sign a petition demanding the deposition of the King, who was now suspected of being in cahoots with the counter-revolutionaries abroad, were fired upon by the National Guard, which just served to inflame the situation even further.

When Marie Antoinette arrived back in her sumptuous rooms at the Tuileries it was to find guards posted on every door and security arrangements tightened throughout the palace where visitors, including Marie Antoinette’s ladies, were now searched upon entering and the Queen was attended by four guardsmen wherever she went, including out to the Tuileries gardens which had now been closed to the public, and had her mail opened and read before it was passed on, which meant that she now had to use intermediaries to get her coded letters out without detection. Any pretence that the Tuileries was not simply a gilded prison had been dropped and the royal family were left in no doubt at all that they were now captives, although they were reminded that the precautions were as much for the sake of their own safety as they were to prevent their escape. In retaliation, Marie Antoinette rebelled by giving up the patriotic tricolour ribbons with which she had taken to bedecking her gowns and instead ordering dresses in greens and purples, both colours strongly associated with the royalist cause.

Marie Antoinette continued to make contact with Barnave, who had joined forces with Alexandre Lameth and Adrien Duport, both of whom shared his belief that a constitutional monarchy of limited powers was now the best hope for France’s recovery. However, as Louis had sunk even further into depression and apathy, it was to the Queen that they turned for support and once again Marie Antoinette found herself having to literally struggle to comprehend matters of which she had very little understanding as she read through the political reports that Barnave obligingly sent to her in the Tuileries. Although she was far from being stupid, Marie Antoinette was undoubtedly ignorant and had very little political acumen and understanding beyond her own narrow interests and those of her friends - the bigger picture was, alas, not one that she was at all equipped to view. She was also fatally unable to compromise and although she strung Barnave along with her half promises, had no real intention of ever fully accepting the Constitution as he urged her and Louis to do, believing this to be the only way to save any vestiges of the monarchy.

At the same time, she was maintaining her dangerous links with the counter-revolutionary leaders and keeping up a clandestine and voluminous correspondence with her brother Emperor Leopold, sisters in the Netherlands, Parma and Naples and other foreign leaders, whom she begged for help and support, receiving in return the usual flurry of vague promises intended to raise her hopes while at the same time delivering no actual concrete assistance. Although they all sympathised with the plight of Marie Antoinette and her family, there was a general feeling that they had brought a lot of their problems on themselves. There was also a feeling that revolutions, like the dreaded smallpox, had a tendency to be contagious and so no one really wanted to make any definite moves to get involved on the behalf of the embattled French King and Queen. However, even though she was undoubtedly well aware of the true feelings that lay behind the soothing words from the other European courts, Marie Antoinette, who had so hated writing as a girl, still continued to work late into the night wearily writing her coded letters in lemon juice and painstakingly puzzling over the cyphered replies which had been smuggled in to her.

On 14 September, feeling himself caught between a rock and a hard place, Louis officially accepted the Constitution as he had been urged to do by Barnave and his cohorts, a decision that would seriously limit his powers, make him King of the French rather than King of France and meant that he no longer had the treasury income to drawn upon but would instead receive a fixed Civil List income. An impassive Marie Antoinette watched from a private box as her husband mounted a podium at the Salle de Manège, the riding school in the Tuileries gardens where the National Assembly held their meetings. Eager to please as always, Louis had removed his hat and stood up to deliver his speech before realising that the deputies had remained sitting down and kept their hats firmly on their heads. Thrown and rather offended by this, the King had thrown himself down on his chair and read out the rest of his speech in a dull and barely audible monotone. However, despite this lack of enthusiasm, he was soundly cheered for his efforts before he returned to the palace to collapse weeping on his wife, bemoaning that she had come to France in order to be a Queen and instead had witnessed the end of the monarchy. Later on though they went out to preside over the official celebrations, which included a performance at the ballet and a firework display in the Place Louis XV.

In return for this humiliating capitulation many of the guards were removed from the Tuileries, security was stepped down a few notches and the gardens were opened to the public once again, while the remaining courtiers began to return to the Tuileries. The royal family were also once again free to leave the palace and go for drives around the capital and even ride in the Bois de Boulogne as before. There was even a suggestion that trips to Marie Antoinette’s beloved Saint Cloud might well resume again in the near future.

While Marie Antoinette redoubled her efforts to win the fickle Parisians over by appearing in public with her children at every opportunity and making sure that she looked like a model of affectionately smiling benevolence at all times, her private life was less of a comfort. Her husband had become even more withdrawn and uncommunicative since the events of September 1791 and her sister-in-law, Madame Élisabeth was consoling herself by keeping up a correspondence with her favourite brother the Comte d’Artois, who had surrounded himself with schemers and counter-revolutionaries and was plotting with foreign powers to overthrow the revolution. It’s not certain how far Élisabeth went – some believe that she was also a key figure in the counter-revolutionary plots but others think that her nature was too conciliatory and peaceful for this to have been possible. However, Marie Antoinette was sufficiently alarmed to write that Élisabeth was ‘so indiscreet, surrounded by intriguers, and, above all, dominated by her brothers outside (France), that it is impossible for us to speak to one another, or we would quarrel all day’ and miserably added that it was ‘hell at home’.

However, there was one small comfort in the person of Madame de Lamballe, who had returned from her exile in England and moved back into the Tuileries, bringing with her a pet spaniel called Thisbée who was intended as a present for the Queen. Marie Antoinette had begged her friend not to consider returning to Paris but was nonetheless delighted to be reunited with her. Silly and affected though the Princesse de Lamballe undoubtedly was, her loyalty to Marie Antoinette could not be faulted and her sensitive sighs and flutterings and uncritical admiration were a definite balm to the Queen’s low spirits. In early 1792, there was to be further consolation when Axel von Fersen, risking his life now that he had been denounced by the Assembly as one of the chief architects behind the flight to Varennes, returned in disguise and with a fake passport to Paris and was quickly reunited with his Queen in her private apartments where she acquainted him with everything that had happened during their separation and he told her that he had come as the emissary of the King of Sweden who wished to assist another escape attempt. They remained closeted alone together for twenty four hours before Louis came in to join their discussion. ‘I know the people tar me with weakness and irresolution but no one has ever found himself in such a difficult situation,’ he told Fersen sadly. ‘I had one chance of escape and I missed it. That was over two years ago after the fourteenth of July. Such a chance never came again and now the world has abandoned me.’ He was firm now in rejecting Fersen’s plan, reminding him that he had given his word to the National Assembly to make no further escape attempts and intended to stick to this. Fersen had no option but to withdraw. Marie Antoinette never saw him again.

Less than a month after Fersen’s clandestine visit, the news arrived that Marie Antoinette’s brother Emperor Leopold had died and been succeeded by his twenty four year old son Francis  who had never met his aunt and was no friend of the revolutionary regime in France, which he  immediately made plain by refuting a French ultimatum and letting it be known that he intended to initiate hostilities between the two nations with the backing of his new ally, the King of Prussia. Marie Antoinette, like much of the National Assembly, favoured a war with Austria but unlike them she was desperate for the Austro-Prussian forces to win, writing to Mercy that: ‘There must be war, so that we may be at last revenged for all the outrages committed in this country.’ Although she naturally made every appearance of patriotically desiring a French victory, she actually pinned all her hopes on her nephew’s forces destroying those of France then putting her husband back on his throne again and even sent on some little snippets of military information that she had become privy to.

However, the declaration of war in April 1792 dealt a not unsurprising blow to Marie Antoinette’s already rock bottom popularity and once again she heard herself being booed and threatened when she went out in public, while in the National Assembly the Girondin Vergniaud declared that: ‘From here I can see the windows of a palace within which counter-revolution is at work, where there is being planned details to thrust us back into the horrors of servitude… Let each one of those dwelling therein realise that our Constitution allows inviolability to the King alone. Let them know that the law will stretch out without the slightest discrimination to all the guilty, and there is not one single head which, once convicted, can escape its sword.’ His meaning was clear - the Austrian Queen was not trusted and the Constitutional laws that protected the King did not extend to his consort who could be removed and punished at the slightest hint of treachery, regardless of the fact that it was obvious to everyone that the war was effectively pitting the nation and monarchy against each other. She could not even rely on the faithful Barnave for support any more for he had been removed from the National Assembly several months earlier. ‘I am afraid that I place little hope in the success of the plan you now follow,’ he despondently wrote to her in his final letter. ‘You are too far away from any outside help, and you will be lost long before it can reach you. I only pray that I may be mistaken in my gloomy presentiments. I myself have no doubt that I will pay with my head for the interest that I have shown in your misfortunes. All I ask in recompense is the honour to kiss your hand.

Matters reached a head on 20 June when a protest at the Tuileries ended with the palace being stormed by an immense armed crowd who swarmed through the royal apartments shouting threats against the Queen. Marie Antoinette took refuge in the Dauphin’s bedchamber while her husband, who had been trapped in a room with his sister, did his best to pacify the intruders who at first thought that Madame Élisabeth was Marie Antoinette but then became much less aggressive when they realised their mistake. When the rioters began to ransack the Queen’s rooms below where she was hiding, Marie Antoinette hurried with her children to the King’s apartments and then on to the Council Chamber where a large table was placed in front of them as a barricade, protecting them from the angry crowd that streamed into the room. A battalion of National Guard kept desultory watch while for over two hours the mob screamed their insults in the face of the Queen, who remained utterly impassive as her terrified son and daughter sobbed at her side. Finally, the crowd was dispersed late in the evening and the royal family, shattered by their experience, cried together with relief. ‘I still live, but only by a miracle,’ Marie Antoinette wrote to Axel von Fersen. ‘The 20th was appalling. It is no longer against me that they hurl their fury but against my husband’s very life and they do not disguise it.

Although life in the Tuileries appeared to continue as normal after this, in private the King and Queen had almost reached breaking point, having finally had to confront their own unpopularity as well as the fact that it was almost certainly only a matter of time before the palace was invaded again. Marie Antoinette’s secret correspondence with foreign courts continued apace as she hoped against hope that Austrian forces would invade and rescue her from a life that she was finding increasingly intolerable. Meanwhile, outside the Tuileries the pamphlets denouncing the Austrian Queen’s lecherous behaviour and treachery against France were increasing in number while the National Assembly was beginning to wonder if they might do better without the King. Many of the deputies would have preferred to do away with the monarchy altogether but some were more in favour of forcing Louis to abdicate in favour of his son, who would be removed and moulded by specially appointed tutors into the perfect malleable Constitutional King. Their fears were only increased by the disquieting news from the front, where the Austro-Prussian armies were easily getting the better of the disorganised French troops and the counter-revolutionaries led by well trained aristocratic emigré officers were reported to be preparing for invasion. While the National Assembly panicked about what appeared to be imminent invasion, Marie Antoinette secretly prayed for it and even optimistically confided in one of her ladies in waiting one night that: ‘When I see this moon again in a month’s time, I will be freed of my irons.’

On 14 July the royal family appeared as usual at the celebrations for the anniversary of the Bastille’s fall. Louis was wearing a bullet proof vest beneath his suit while beside him Marie Antoinette, who had refused body armour, telling Madame Campan that it would be a blessing if the insurgents murdered her, blinked back tears as the crowd cat called and booed during his speech. Matters worsened just weeks later when the Duke of Brunswick, commander of the Austro-Prussian allied army, issued a terrifying manifesto addressed to the citizens of Paris.  ‘Their aforesaid Majesties (the King of Prussia and Emperor of Austria) declare… on their word and honour as Emperor and King, that if the Tuileries Palace be insulted or invaded, that if the least injury, be inflicted on their Majesties the King, Queen and the Royal Family, and if measures are not at once taken for their safety, preservation and security, they, their Imperial and Royal Majesties, will wreak exemplary and unforgettable vengeance by yielding the town of Paris to military execution and utter subversion, and the guilty rebels to deserved death.

Marie Antoinette had already been warned about the manifesto by Fersen who counselled her when Lafayette suggested that the royal family remove to the comparative safety of Compiègne. ‘Your bravery will be much praised and the King’s steadfast behaviour also,’ he wrote. ‘It is essential to maintain this, and above all else to remain in Paris. This is absolutely essential. Thus it will be simple to reach you, and this the Duke of Brunswick is planning to accomplish. Before his actual entry he will publish a powerful manifesto from the allied powers making all France, Paris especially, responsible for the lives of the royal family.’ Both Louis and Marie Antoinette had approved the wording of Brunswick’s diatribe before it was made public, evidently hoping that its forceful language and threat of imminent menace would intimidate the unruly Parisians into behaving better. However, yet again they managed to woefully misjudge the mood on the streets of their own capital and failed to realise that the Parisians, whom they clearly regarded as little more than unruly children who could be threatened into obedience, were in no mood to be ordered around by foreigners. They ought to have realised that the manifesto, intended to cow them into frightened submission, would only make the Parisians, already so fed up and simmering on the brink of violent outburst, all the more angry and resentful, particularly of Marie Antoinette who was naturally assumed to be behind the whole thing. The arrival of Brunswick’s manifesto just confirmed what everyone has been suspecting for months - that for all their pretence at patriotic fervour, the King and Queen weren’t on the side of France at all but were clearly in cahoots with the enemy.

While in the past, Louis had managed to escape most of the opprobrium directed at his wife things had gradually begun to change and now it was he who was viciously denounced during the sessions of the National Assembly, with increasingly violent demands being made for his repudiation and overthrow, particularly by Robespierre and his followers who believed that France would be better off as a republic. Meanwhile tensions were rising on the streets of Paris where the people were beginning to arm themselves again and there was an almost palpable atmosphere of fear and distrust, mostly directed towards the royal family in the Tuileries and inflamed by the denunciations of the National Assembly and the ever increasing stream of pamphlets accusing both Louis and Marie Antoinette of being traitors to the nation, living in the lap of luxury while they sold their own country out. It was only a matter of time before Paris erupted into violence again.

Inside the Tuileries both Louis and Marie Antoinette were well aware of the danger that they were in and were bracing themselves for the next invasion. The Queen was suffering from insomnia again and looked like a worn out shadow of her former self as she paced her rooms in the early hours, worrying about the future and praying that the Austro-Prussian troops would arrive in Paris before matters worsened any further. She had left her rooms on the terrace and was now sleeping on the first floor, next door to her husband who spent most of his time fretting that he was about to be put on trial. Both knew that invasion was imminent and began to take protective measures - calling in nine hundred Swiss Guardsmen to join their existing palace defenders of gendarmes and two thousand National Guardsmen of dubious loyalty. The loyalty of the Swiss Guards was unimpeachable however and it was upon them that the hopes of the King and Queen rested when on 9 August the news arrived that the faubourgs of Paris were rising up against them and attack was imminent.

As the royal family retreated to the safety of their apartments they could hear the tocsins, the warning bells, of Paris, being rung all over the city to call the people to arms. Meanwhile, the grand apartments of the Tuileries swarmed with hundreds of noblemen who had arrived, armed to the teeth, to defend their King and Queen. However, they must have wondered why they had bothered when they saw Louis shambling from room to room with his hair un-powdered, his suit in urgent need of a pressing and his expression blankly terrified. It was hard to feel any confidence when it seemed as though just when Louis most needed to be decisive and bold he had once again become even more irresolute and weak than ever. Marie Antoinette however was as brave as a lion and had a grateful word and a tight lipped smile for everyone as she personally distributed food and drink to the men who had willingly come to lay down their lives for her.

The tocsin bells stopped in the early hours of the morning and the courtiers inside the Tuileries seized the chance to get some rest, camping on sofas and floors and trying to snatch some sleep in the intolerable heat of that balmy August night. Marie Antoinette and Madame Élisabeth couldn’t bring themselves to go to bed and instead napped on sofas in a little closet overlooking the courtyard, watched over by their ladies in waiting and the faithful Princesse de Lamballe, who had refused to leave the palace. Unable to sleep, Madame Élisabeth got up and went to the window to watch a red and pink streaked dawn rise over the Tuileries gardens. ‘My sister, come and see the beautiful sunrise,’ she said over her shoulder to Marie Antoinette, who came to stand beside her and gazed up in wonderment at a crimson sky.

After a hurried breakfast, Louis, Marie Antoinette and Madame Élisabeth made a tour of the Tuileries’ defences to make sure that everything was ready and to speak encouraging words to the troops. The tocsin had begun to ring again in the early hours and any hope they may have had that the invasion had been abandoned faded when news arrived that the people were marching in their thousands on the palace. Marie Antoinette watched from the safety of a window embrasure as the mob, who had brought several cannons along with them, began to swarm in front of the palace gates. Louis went down to give a pep talk to the waiting troops but while he was greeted with cheers by the faithful Swiss Guards, the National Guardsmen, who had been fraternising with the crowd that was growing behind the palace gates, booed him and shouted ‘Down with the King!’ and ‘Down with the fat pig!’ until he went away again. His wife, who was watching from a window above, broke down in tears and could hardly bear to look at him when he shambled into the room and threw himself down on a sofa, declaring that he had given his orders and they had been told to hold their fire until the insurgents shot first. ‘He has done more harm than good,’ Marie Antoinette angrily muttered to Madame Campan.

While the crowd outside grew and became more ferocious by the minute, the atmosphere inside the palace became increasingly strained and anxious as the assembled courtiers gazed anxiously out of the windows and wondered when the attack would start. The jeers of the National Guardsmen seemed to have drained all of the last vestiges of fight out of both Louis and Marie Antoinette and they both slumped miserably on sofas, apparently incapable of making a decision about what to do next. Some of the courtiers advised the Queen to take her children to the Assembly and ask for their protection. ‘I would rather be nailed to the walls of the palace than seek the protection of those who have behaved so badly towards us,’ she replied with magnificent hauteur.

The Comte de Roederer, the public prosecutor, then stepped in and made a direct appeal to Louis, telling him that there was not a minute to lose and that his family’s only hope of safety lay with the Assembly. Louis hesitated and looked wildly at his wife, clearly hoping that she would make the decision for him. ‘We have a considerable force ready and willing to defend us,’ she said angrily. ‘We cannot leave our loyal nobles and gallant Swiss to die without us.’ Roederer sighed. ‘Madame, you are hopelessly outnumbered,’ he said patiently. ‘They are still arriving in their thousands. In staying here, you are endangering not just the life of your husband but also those of your children.’

Louis sighed and stood up. ‘Let us go,’ he said before walking away, leaving his wife staring after him. ‘We will be back soon,’ she said to the assembled courtiers before taking her children by the hand and following her husband from the room. The sad little procession was joined by Madame Élisabeth and the Princesse de Lamballe, who had demanded to be allowed to accompany them even though she was sure that they were all about to meet their deaths. ‘We will never return to the palace again,’ she whispered to Madame de Rochefoucauld, one of the several faithful courtiers left behind at the palace to save themselves as best they could.

‘What will happen to all those who are left behind?’ Louis asked Roederer as they made their way across the gardens to the hall where the National Assembly had its meetings. ‘They will not be able to resist for long,’ was the frank reply. Marie Antoinette remained tearful but silent as she walked across the garden, leading her son who was delightedly kicking his way through the fallen leaves. ‘The leaves are falling very early,’ his father sighed with a melancholy look. Behind her there walked Madame Élisabeth who was doing her best to comfort the terrified Madame Royale.

When they finally arrived at the National Assembly the door was closed against them and they were kept waiting for half an hour in a corridor while a debate raged inside as to whether they should be allowed to enter. Finally, the doors were opened and they walked inside – the Queen with every appearance of dignity and serenity, determined to give no sign that she was either insulted or afraid of the mob that had gathered to scream insults at her. Her self control cracked only once when a guardsman took the Dauphin out of her arms to protect him from the mob and she began to scream, terrified that the boy was being taken away from her.

The royal family were crammed in the tiny and uncomfortable ‘loge du logographie’ which was used by the editor of a newspaper to record details of the debates. They remained there for sixteen long and hideous hours while outside the screams of the attacked and dying filtered into the hall. A huge mob had invaded the palace, slaughtering and mutilating the Swiss Guards who had protected the royal family and received the order to lay down their arms too late for it to be of any use. Another order from the National Assembly, letting the populace know that there was no reason to attack the palace now that the royal family had left, had also gone astray - not that the enormous crowd, inflamed by righteous rage and bloodlust, would have paid much attention as it now rampaged through the gilded rooms of the Tuileries, killing anyone who stood in their way and looting anything and everything that came to hand, including the famously fabulous contents of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe, which was now being triumphantly worn by the market women or had been taken away to be auctioned off later on. The usually serenely lovely Tuileries gardens now reeked of blood, burning, gunpowder and death as the battle raged on the terraces and surrounding streets.

Over a thousand people died in the Tuileries that day, most of them needlessly, while all the while the royal family sat crammed in their tiny box at the Manège listening to the debates raging on and the sound of gunfire and screams outside. They had nothing to eat but a few biscuits and some wine provided by a kind hearted porter, which the King enjoyed before having a chat with the artist David about the portrait that he was painting of him and then falling asleep in his chair. The children fell asleep later on but Marie Antoinette, who spent most of the day in tears, remained awake and relatively alert, determined not to let death creep up on her while she slept. Finally, at nearly two in the morning, they were allowed to leave and escorted to the nearby Feuillants convent on the Rue de Saint-Honoré where they were to spend the next three nights.

Madame Campan and some other attendants who had managed to escape the carnage at the Tuileries came to offer their services to the unfortunate Queen, whom they found lying on a narrow bed in her green painted cell. ‘We are lost,’ she cried out to Madame Campan when she entered the room. ‘We are all going to die.’ The family had lost virtually everything in the sack of the Tuileries, escaping only with the clothes on their backs and forced to rely on the kindness of their supporters to lend them fresh linen and money while the Countess of Sutherland, wife of the English Ambassador, sent over some clothes for the Dauphin, who was inconsolable over the presumed loss of his pet dog Citron, who had been left behind in the palace and not seen since.

The royal family were depressed, exhausted and thoroughly demoralised. They were taken every morning to the Mènage to listen to the deputies argue for hours over their fates until nightfall when they were escorted back to their cells in the Feuillants. Finally on the 13 August they were informed that they were to be taken to the Temple, a large fortified complex close to where the Bastille had once stood and which had once been a pied à terre of the Comte d’Artois and Prince de Condé, who liked to entertain actresses and courtesans in a special little love nest in one of the towers. When they were told that they were to be taken to the Temple palace. ‘You will see, they will put us in the tower, and they will make it a veritable prison,’ Marie Antoinette whispered in dread to Madame de Tourzel. ‘I have always had such a horror of that tower, that a thousand times I begged the Comte d’Artois to have it pulled down; it must surely have been a foreboding of all that we would suffer there… you will see if I am not mistaken.’

They left the Tuileries for the last time at quarter past seven in the evening on the 13th of August, all crammed together in one of the state carriages. The malicious Jacobin deputies gave orders that the vehicle should drive slowly so that the people could get a good look at the royal family and warming to this task, the coachman made sure that he took a detour through the Place de Vendôme so that Louis and Marie Antoinette could see the once proud statue of Louis XIV that had been pulled down from its plinth during the riots and now lay in pieces on the ground.

At first they thought, quite understandably, that they would be lodged in the main palace, which was still rather opulently appointed, but after supper they were taken instead up the narrow spiral staircase to the apartments which had been formerly inhabited by the Keeper of the Archives of the Order of Malta, Monsieur Berthélemy who had been hastily evicted just an hour earlier. Luckily for the royal family, Monsieur Berthélemy had expensive tastes and so the apartment, which was arranged over three floors, was not quite the hideous hell hole that they might have been expecting when they first got down from their carriage and stared despondently up through the pouring rain at the tower that was to be their new home.

On the ground floor there was a porter’s lodge; on the first floor: an antechamber, dining room and library; on the second floor there were rooms for the Princesse de Lamballe, Madame de Tourzel and the Dauphin and also the Queen and Madame Royale as well as a privy and guard room. On the third floor there was another guard room, a kitchen where Élisabeth and Pauline de Tourzel slept, a room for some servants, the King’s bedroom, a study and a room for the King’s valets. Once Mesdames de Lamballe and Tourzel had been taken away, Élisabeth moved down to the Dauphin’s room which she then shared with Madame Royale and the little Dauphin moved in with his mother. All of the rooms had been decorated very tastefully in bright, cheerful colours and had plenty of small luxuries such as a clavichord and a well stocked library so they all had to agree that it could have been much worse, even if Louis did not at all approve of some of the racier books and insisted upon taking down some of the erotic engravings and paintings that hung on the walls because he didn’t want his innocent young daughter to see them.

The royal prisoners did not know what to expect next and spent the next few days awaiting more drama. It came at midnight on 19 August when the guards arrived in their rooms and took the two Tourzel ladies and the Princesse de Lamballe away to La Force prison. Marie Antoinette broke down in tears as she said goodbye to the Princesse, who had been one of her best friends ever since her first arrival in France twenty two years earlier. Although Madame de Lamballe had frequently got on her nerves with her silly affectations and nervous laugh, Marie Antoinette had never ceased to be fond of her and had come to truly love her in recent years thanks to her true and wholehearted loyalty, which must have thrown the perfidy of many others into sharp relief. ‘Take care of my dear Lamballe,’ Marie Antoinette whispered to Madame de Tourzel as they were being taken away. ‘Try to prevent her from having to reply to any awkward and embarrassing questions.’

Once the ladies had gone, life at the Temple settled into a dull and monotonous pattern broken only by the occasional snippets of precious news from outside, which were brought to them by a loyal kitchen boy Turgy and Louis’ personal valet Cléry. When they were banned from talking aloud about current affairs, Turgy, Cléry and Madame Élisabeth resorted to the medium of coded hand gestures, all under the watchful eyes of the Tisons, an unpleasant couple who had been brought in to look after (and spy on) the royal family.

The three royal ladies got up at six every morning and in the absence of servants helped each other to dress in the simple morning gowns of plain white cotton and bombazine that had been sent over by Mademoiselle Bertin, before Cléry came in to help them simply arrange and lightly powder their hair which they then covered with white linen bonnets. Rather surprisingly, the Assembly had authorised the royal ladies to order a large amount of fashionable new clothes to replace the ones that had been lost in the sack of the Tuileries and Marie Antoinette had taken great pleasure in ordering three new dresses of brown floral toile du jouy and puce and ‘Paris mud’ coloured taffeta; shoes; linen and muslin shifts; petticoats; capelets in white linen and black taffeta; nine fichus and two white bonnets for herself as well as clothes for Madame Élisabeth and Madame Royale, while the King ordered for himself two pale brown suits, ten pairs of black silk breeches, a black hat and some white waistcoats as well as a riding coat in the once fashionable ‘cheveux de la Reine’ shade that had mimicked his wife’s strawberry blonde hair that was now so sadly faded and streaked with grey.

Marie Antoinette would help the Dauphin to dress and at nine they went to the King’s room for a breakfast of hot chocolate, coffee and rolls and jam before they all went downstairs to Marie Antoinette’s room where the royal children had their lessons. Marie Antoinette and Madame Élisabeth had taken over the lessons of Madame Royale and did their best to instruct her in religion, music, drawing and maths while Louis took full charge of the Dauphin’s education which in their restricted circumstances involved a lot of looking at maps as well as teaching him how to read and write with the help of the books in their limited library.

At midday, the royal ladies went off to change into their day clothes before they went out to take a very heavily guarded walk in the gardens where the little Dauphin could play with his ball or with Marie Antoinette’s little dog until it was time to go in again for luncheon, which was very nearly as lavish as the meals they had been accustomed to in better times with several courses and plenty of meats, cakes and other treats. As usual Marie Antoinette barely touched her food while Louis was observed to have as good an appetite as ever and also enjoyed several glasses of wine and champagne with his meal while Marie Antoinette only ever drank mineral water from Ville d’Avray, which continued to be supplied to her in prison. After luncheon, the family settled down to a game of backgammon or cards before the King settled down to his four o’ clock nap and the royal ladies either knitted, did embroidery or read to each other quietly while Cléry gave the Dauphin his handwriting lesson and took him off to play in Madame Elisabeth’s room where he would not disturb the King’s sleep.

When Louis woke up, the family would gather together again and either played the clavichord or read aloud to each other until supper, which the children took in Madame Elisabeth’s room while the King read them riddles from a book he had come across in the library. There was sometimes a rare treat at around this time in the form of some loyal newspaper vendors who deliberately positioned themselves close to the tower in the evening and called out the latest news, which the family would strain to hear. After this the royal children would say their prayers then go off to bed escorted by the faithful Cléry, who had been the Dauphin’s valet before he was transferred to the service of the King, and the adults would have their supper together, which was often interrupted by the calls of the Dauphin who found it difficult to settle down to sleep and would demand that his aunt and mother come in to sit with him until he nodded off. After supper was over the King would say goodnight to the rest of his family then head off to his study where he would shut the door on his problems and read until late at night. Marie Antoinette and her sister-in-law would then remain together for as long as they could in Madame Élisabeth’s room, perhaps reading one of Mrs Burney’s novels or a devotional tract to each other or working on their embroidery. Madame Élisabeth, whose thoughts had clearly taken a rather depressed turn, was working on a morbid device of a pansy shaped like a death’s head with ‘Elle est mon unique pensée’ (This is my only thought) embroidered underneath. They would remain together until the guards came at around eleven to escort the Queen back to her own bedchamber, where she would be locked in for the night.

Despite the enormous strain that the royal family were under, life in the pretty pale blue apartments of the Temple was ordered and intimate and there must have been a small amount of ironic pleasure for the royal captives in the fact that they had finally been granted the quiet family life that they had always so desperately craved while on show at Versailles. The Dauphin in particular flourished thanks to this sudden closeness to his parents, even if the lively little boy felt frustrated by the restrictions of his new life. Louis seemed perfectly content with the new status quo as well and was more than happy to spend hours quietly reading his way through the library that the unfortunate Monsieur de Berthélemy had left behind. He read two hundred and fifty seven books during the next five months and, perhaps rather optimistically, ordered several more.

Marie Antoinette meanwhile worried about the fate of her friends, in particular the Princesse de Lamballe who had been taken off to the La Force prison in the Marais district of the city. During their time at the Temple, Madame de Tourzel and her daughter Pauline had become accustomed to keep an eye on the always nervous Princesse, who had long been prey to fainting spells and fits which may have been caused by epilepsy. However, she later noted that while they were in the dank and awful La Force prison Madame de Lamballe had ‘not been in such good health for a long time’ which seems quite remarkable considering the terrible stress and fear that they must have been existing under. La Force was primarily used to imprison prostitutes and so the three court ladies found themselves assailed day and night by crude songs, jokes and remarks. ‘The least chaste ears would have been offended by everything (we) continuously heard, night and day,’ Madame de Tourzel would later recall.

On 2 September, things began to change and their gaoler told them not to leave their cell, warning them that there were rumours that the Prussians and Austrians were advancing on Paris with the result that the streets were becoming restless and even dangerous as mass panic spread throughout the Faubourgs. The aristocratic ladies must have thought themselves relatively safe within the albeit unpleasant walls of their prison but alas forces were already conspiring against them. That night Madame de Tourzel was woken up by a mysterious stranger creeping into their cell. To her alarm he went to the bedside of her young daughter and shook her awake, asking her to come with him at once. Powerless to disobey or indeed make a fuss, Madame de Tourzel instructed the girl to go with the stranger – who luckily for them both turned out to be a Scarlet Pimpernel like rescuer known to posterity as Monsieur Hardy.

The next morning, Madame de Tourzel and the Princesse de Lamballe prayed for Pauline and then climbed up on to the Princesse’s bed which afforded them a small view onto the street below. They saw that there was already a large mob gathered around the prison door while the prisoners were clustered together in silent, frightened groups in the corridors and courtyard. A few hours later, at eleven o clock in the morning, a gaoler came to fetch the Princesse de Lamballe. Madame de Tourzel’s presence had not been requested but she decided to accompany her friend all the same. They walked behind the gaoler to the prison records office where a rudimentary court had been set up. The two ladies sat together and watched the proceedings which all followed more or less the same method – the prisoner was briefly interrogated for about ten minutes and then either found innocent with a cry of ‘Vive la Nation’ or pronounced guilty. The innocent were carried from the prison, congratulated and embraced by all before being whisked away to freedom while the guilty were passed over to a pair of sans culottes who led them out into the courtyard to be summarily despatched by the waiting mob who had armed themselves with whatever rudimentary weaponry they had managed to lay hands upon.

When Madame de Tourzel’s turn came, it turned out that the intrepid and mysterious Monsieur Hardy had managed to get the judges and their henchmen so completely drunk that they proclaimed her innocent when she agreed to declare ‘Vive la Nation’ and he was able to get her away and reunite her with her daughter. She noted with a certain amount of irony that while she was being handed into the carriage that was waiting to whisk her away, the same blood splattered men who had been murdering her fellow prisoners all day took special care to tell her coachman which route he should take so that she would avoid seeing any of that day’s carnage.

However, her friend the Princesse de Lamballe had no brave rescuer on hand and was not to be as fortunate as the Tourzel ladies. To the surprise of absolutely no one, she was found guilty by the tribunal even though she denied any knowledge of treasonous plots emanating from the royal court. She then sealed her fate by refusing to take an oath proclaiming her hatred of the king, queen and monarchy although she accepted the oath of loyalty to Liberty and Equality. She was then led out to the courtyard where the mob awaited her. What happened next is open to some debate. We are all familiar with the horrific accounts of gang rape, evisceration and so on, but did any of this actually really happen? Axel de Fersen was to write to the Duke of Södermanland that ‘the Princesse de Lamballe was most fearfully tortured for four hours. My pen jibs at giving details. They tore off her breasts with their teeth and then did all possible, for two whole hours, to force her back to consciousness, to make her death the more agonising.’

We are told by numerous sources that the Princess was either hit from behind and felled to the ground or run through with a sword and then eviscerated. In an orgy of violence she was then apparently stripped, tortured and terribly mutilated by the gleeful crowd who were keen to enact their loathing of the queen on the body of one of her closest friends. After this her head and according to some accounts also her heart and genitalia were placed on pikes and then paraded through the streets with her naked mutilated body before being waved in front of the windows of the Temple so that Marie Antoinette could see them.

However, later that same day a group of men, including two members of the Parisian National Guard, reported to the administrative office of the Quinze-Vingts Section with what the clerk noted to be ‘the headless body of the former princesse de Lamballe, who had just been killed at the Hôtel de La Force.’ The clerk, who must have felt much put upon to be expected to deal with such a gruesome matter, then went on to dispassionately note that the lady’s head was elsewhere and also helpfully itemised the contents of her pockets which included ‘a gold ring with a bezel of changeable blue stone, in which was some blond hair tied in a love-knot with these words above it: ‘Whitened through misery’ which had been sent to her by the Queen after the return from Varennes, ‘a sort of double-faced image, on one side representing a bleeding heart surrounded with thorns and pierced by a dagger, with these words below: ‘Cor Jesu, salva nos, perimur,’ on the other a bleeding heart with a fleur-de-lis above and below the words: ‘Cor Mariae unitum cordi Christi’’ and ‘a medallion on light blue cloth, on which was painted a bleeding heart pierced by a dagger, embroidered in blue silk’. There is no mention of mutilation other than decapitation nor any reference to nakedness (the pockets are a clue that the corpse arrived fully dressed) or anything else that fits in with the usual lurid descriptions of the violence enacted against the Princesse. Could it therefore be that they had been exaggerated? Shortly afterwards, head and body were reunited and, apparently unimpeded, servants of the Penthièvre family arrived to take them away for proper burial in the family chapel.

Marie Antoinette first became aware of the prison massacres when the royal family’s daily walk was cut short on 2 September and they were hurried inside while the now dreaded tocsin began to ring once again to call the populace to arms. The royal family were forced to remain in their rooms for the next few days, enduring the sweltering height and noise from the crowds outside while their guards were doubled and were even jumpier than usual, well aware that it was only a matter of time before the mob, who had stormed the city’s prisons and massacred most of the prisoners, turned their attentions to the most prestigious captives of all. Devoid of all information about what was going on outside, the royal family spent the days in silent anxiety and prayer, tormented by the shouts of the crowd and the sinister grins of their most hostile guards. Finally on the 3 September they thought that the end had come when they heard shouts and screams from the courtyard below their tower. ‘What is happening?’ Louis asked one of the guards, who replied that they had brought the head of Madame de Lamballe so that the Queen could give it a kiss. Marie Antoinette screamed and fainted as Cléry sprang forward to close the curtains, sparing her the grisly spectacle of her friend’s head stuck on a pike.

Although the royal family were not directly harmed during the prison massacres, they were to mark a turning point in their treatment at the Temple. Although their captors had treated them them surprisingly well up until now, matters now took a distinct nose dive as their lives became more uncomfortable and restricted and their guards became increasingly disrespectful and downright hostile, speaking rudely to the King, openly ogling the royal ladies and scrawling crude graffiti about the Queen where the royal children would be sure to see it. Marie Antoinette did her best to stoically ignore all of this as she was still pinning her hopes on an allied victory against the French, heartened by the little snippets of news that Cléry managed to winkle out of the other servants and Turgy gleaned during his trips to the local markets. The Duke of Brunswick’s troops had finally crossed the border and the Queen went in daily expectation of hearing the news that the French army had been crushed and rescue was on its way.

When a group of officials and guards entered their rooms in the Temple on 21 September, she may well have expected them to come with the news of another French defeat and the imminent fall of Paris to the Austro-Prussian armies but instead was dismayed to learn that they had come to inform the prisoners that by order of the Assembly, the monarchy had been abolished, France was now a republic, the National Assembly had been replaced by a National Convention and from now on the King was to be known as simple Louis Capet, a reference to a much older French royal dynasty. To the annoyance of the officials the King greeted this news with a shrug before he continued reading his book while Marie Antoinette hid her chagrin and continued her embroidery. However, she went off to bed to cry in private as soon as the men had gone. Her deep despair only worsened when the news of the French victory at Valmy and Brunswick’s retreat back over the frontier arrived later on.

Just over a week later the officials were back again to confiscate all of the royal family’s paper and writing implements (they would later have all sharp objects such as knives and scissors taken away too) and then to take the King away to the main tower of the Temple, an altogether more forbidding place than the comfortable quarters that they had now been inhabiting for well over a month. Marie Antoinette pleaded in vain to be allowed to accompany her husband to his new prison but was told that she must remain where she was. After a few days the family were allowed to take their meals, which were still as extravagant as ever, together again and then after a month they all moved across to the main tower to share the King’s imprisonment. Although the family’s new quarters were not nearly so comfortable as the ones that they had just left, they were still far from being the miserable, gloomy cells described by later monarchist writers and were actually freshly decorated and furnished and relatively cheerful with blue and green striped wallpaper and pretty flower sprigged fabrics in the room that Marie Antoinette shared with her daughter. However, they were boiling hot in the winter and freezing cold and damp in the autumn and winter, which meant that the royal prisoners fell prey one after the other to colds, fevers and all manner of aches and pains. Madame Élisabeth was stricken with a terrible toothache, while both the Dauphin and the King caught severe colds and had to be nursed by the Queen, who was far from well herself.

We get a glimpse of Marie Antoinette in the period after the September Massacres in a painting by the Polish artist Kucharski, who replaced Madame Vigée-Lebrun as the Queen’s favourite portrait painter after the latter’s flight from France in 1789.  It’s not known when Kucharski visited the Temple but two paintings exist from this time - the most striking of which was painted at some point after September 1792 and depicts the Queen in mourning for the murdered Princesse de Lamballe. It’s a stark and moving piece of work in which Marie Antoinette, who turns huge red rimmed eyes on the viewer, looks closer to sixty than thirty six and is a complete contrast to the pretty little pouting Queen of Drouais’ paintings or the majestic matron depicted by Vigée-Lebrun. However, dejected though she clearly is, there is still defiance in that erect carriage and a hint of challenge in that unsettlingly direct gaze. The Queen’s rather luxurious garments make an interesting and rather startling contrast to the bleak misery of her expression though: she wears a very lovely flounced, lace trimmed and beribboned cap on her powdered hair and the fichu that she wears over her plain black taffeta gown is exquisitely embroidered.

While the royal family got used to their increasingly restrictive imprisonment, the deputies at the National Convention were continuing to row about what to do with the now deposed King with the Jacobins and several others being in full favour of putting Louis on trial. Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, Robespierre’s handsome but entirely charmless left hand man argued in early November that the King was an enemy of France who must either ‘reign or die’ and added that ‘no man can reign innocently’. A point of view that seemed entirely justified when just over a week later Louis’ secret strong box was discovered in its hiding place in the Tuileries where he had hurriedly stashed it just before leaving the palace for the last time. When opened, the box was found to contain voluminous correspondence between the former King and various foreign powers, his brothers, several counter-revolutionaries and, most disturbingly of all, Mirabeau who was still being hailed by many as a hero of the revolution but was now revealed to be a two faced schemer who sold his republican principles out in return for some royal gold and a chance to kiss the Queen’s hand. However, Mirabeau was already dead and safe from the vengeance of the Convention and Parisian mob and so it was Louis who bore the full brunt of their fury as his duplicity was publicly unveiled in all its glory and the contents of his letters revealed what everyone had suspected all along - that he was a traitor to France who had betrayed his own people by putting on a show of being a true patriot while all the time he apparently had been egging the country’s enemies on and encouraging them to invade.

At the start of December Cléry, who was now the family’s sole source of information from outside, let them know that the Convention was planning to put Louis on trial. Marie Antoinette, who was already barely sleeping and eating and had become a thin, anxious shadow of her former self, was distraught at the thought of her husband being taken away but Louis was much more sanguine even though he knew that a trial could only end with his execution. On 11 December, the King had lunch with his family and then started to play a game with his son before being interrupted by the entrance of several guardsmen and the Mayor of Paris who informed him that he was to be taken away and put on trial. Cléry went at once to the Queen to tell her that her husband had been taken to the Convention but any hopes that she may have had that he would be returned to them at the end of the day were cruelly dashed when Louis failed to come back to their rooms and she was brusquely informed by the guards that he was forbidden to have any contact with his family until the end of the trial. Louis had, in fact, been told that he could have Madame Royale and the little Dauphin live with him in his rooms below those of the Queen so long as the children didn’t see their mother and aunt but Louis, although he would have loved to have had their company, refused to separate them from their mother and so lived alone in his rooms at the Temple, totally cut off from the rest of his family whom he could hear walking about overhead but was unable to communicate with, for the next six weeks.

He wasn’t even allowed to see them on Madame Royale’s fourteenth birthday on 19 December or on Christmas Day, which caused them all great distress. Marie Antoinette spent the day in tears while Louis, completely resigned to his fate, sat down and wrote his last will and testament with the future fate of his family, particularly his wife, clearly very much on his mind. ‘I recommend my children to my wife. I have never doubted her tenderness as a mother. I particularly recommend her to raise them as good Christians, promote their minds to virtue, make them regard worldly pomps, if they are condemned to experience them, as a perilous and transitory heritage, and to deflect their thoughts to the only solid and lasting glory, that of eternity. I entreat my sister to continue her love for my children, and to be their mother should they tragically be deprived of their own.’ He then added: ‘I entreat my wife to forgive me all the evils now inflicted upon her because of me, and whatever troubles I may have caused her throughout our marriage; as she may be absolutely certain that I secrete nothing against her, should she imagine anything with which to reproach myself.’ To his lawyer, Malesherbes he admitted sadly that his wife ‘was a child when she first came to France and had no one to help her, not even my own relatives.’

Louis was sentenced to death by a small majority on 16 January and to his distress he learned that his own cousin the Duc d’Orléans, who now preferred to be known as Philippe Égalité, was amongst those who had voted for death. There was still a slim chance that he might be reprieved and perhaps banished from the country instead but this was rejected and on the afternoon of Sunday 20 January Louis was given the news that he was to be guillotined the very next morning. His distressed family had had very little news of him for the last six weeks other than a few coded messages from Cléry and a few of their more sympathetic guards, the ones who didn’t shove their fingers into their bread to search it for hidden letters or blow pipe smoke in their faces. Marie Antoinette found the long weeks of separation deeply distressing and spent most of her time in floods of tears as she fretted about her husband. It was the longest that they had been separated since she first came to France and she missed him terribly.

Marie Antoinette and Madame Élisabeth learned of Louis’ death sentence from the news vendors outside the Temple who shouted the news up to the tower where they were being held. At first the Convention had decreed that the former King should not be allowed to see his family before he was taken away to die but then had relented and agreed that he should be reunited with them for one last time. At eight in the evening the family were escorted downstairs to Louis’ rooms by a group of guardsmen and some officials who were supposed to keep an eye on the family but were so distressed by the dreadful sobs of the royal family as they clung together that they turned their backs to give them some much needed privacy.

Marie Antoinette clung to her husband for the next two hours, crying piteously. Although they had never been lovers in the romantic sense, she had grown to love and care for Louis, the shy, awkward boy that she had first met in a sunny clearing at Compiègne less than twenty three years before, most sincerely and the thought of carrying on without him was completely devastating. She begged him to let them stay with him for the night so that they could have a little more time together but Louis gently refused, telling her that he wanted to be alone so that he could properly prepare himself for death although he eventually relented and promised that he would send for them to come and see him before he left the next morning so that they could say a proper last goodbye. ‘Do you promise?’ Marie Antoinette asked, still crying. ‘I promise,’ her husband said.

He did not send for them. Unable to bear the distress of his children and unwilling to make his family, whom he loved more than life itself, suffer the horror of saying a last goodbye, he went without seeing them ever again. ‘Tell the Queen, my dear children and my sister that I had promised to see them this morning, but that I wanted to spare them the pain of such a cruel separation,’ he told Cléry before he left the Temple for the last time, handing him his wedding ring and seal. ‘It grieves me very much to go without receiving their last embraces and so I give to you the task of making my farewells. Please tell my wife that I leave her with sorrow.’ He left just before nine in the morning in a closed carriage. His wife waited in the rooms above for the summons that never came, refusing all food and sustenance before dressing in white, the traditional colour of mourning for the Queens of France, and lying down on her bed where she cried helplessly for the next hour until the cheers and shouts of the crowds outside told her that the deed had been done. ‘The monsters!’ Madame Élisabeth cried, distraught with grief as her niece screamed with distress, knowing that her father was dead. ‘I hope that they are satisfied now.’

Marie Antoinette was completely devastated by her husband’s death and according to her daughter fell into a ‘near catatonic state’, refusing to eat or leave her room, getting barely any sleep and sitting in total silence for hours on end. Already thin, she now became absolutely scrawny to the extent that she was virtually unrecognisable and looked much older than her thirty seven years while her hair, which she was always prone to lose in times of stress, began to fall out in handfuls. In vain did her family implore her to eat, sleep and get some exercise but it seemed as if life had lost all meaning for the beleaguered former Queen. Gradually though she became to recover, buoyed up by the fact that her children, particularly little Louis Charles who was now hailed by the faithful remaining monarchists as King Louis XVII, still needed her. She requested black taffeta mourning apparel for herself and her family and some additional chic black accessories from Rose Bertin for herself: a fan, two pairs of kidskin gloves, one pair of silk gloves, three fichus and two rather fetching mourning bonnets with trailing black ribbons. The intrepid artist Kucharski returned, disguised as a guardsman, to the Temple at about this time and sketched what was to be the final portrait of the Queen, broken but never beaten, looking mournful in her mourning clothes.

The conditions in which the prisoners were kept gradually worsened over the next few months as their living quarters became more restricted with Marie Antoinette and her children jammed in one room, Madame Élisabeth in another, their warders, the Tisons, in a third and two guards on constant duty in a fourth. Their meals were no longer quite so splendid as they had been while Louis was still alive, not that Marie Antoinette noticed for she wasn’t eating much anyway. They had also lost the services of the faithful Cléry, who had been dismissed after Louis’ execution and banished from the Temple. Their unhealthy lifestyle began to quickly take its toll on the already thoroughly demoralised prisoners and a doctor eventually had to be called in to look at Madame Royale, who developed painful ulcers on her leg, and her mother who was now so weak that she was prone to fainting fits and had also begun to suffer terrible haemorrhages, caused either by stress, early menopause, fibroids or something much more sinister. Although several of the guards delighted in being as rude and insolent as possible towards the royal family, they were not all bad and one in particular called Goret seems to have taken them under his wing. He tried to persuade the Queen to eat and even nagged her into going outside to take some exercise. ‘I don’t want to walk past the door which my husband crossed for the last time,’ Marie Antoinette protested, only for Goret to suggest that instead of going down to the gardens she should go up to the top of the tower where there was plenty of room to walk about.

Completely cut off from the world, Marie Antoinette had no way of knowing that the execution of her husband had sent shock waves through all of Europe and that the very next day England had declared war on France. She did not know that Axel de Fersen was equally devastated by Louis’ death and, terrified that a similarly brutal fate awaited the rest of the royal family, had been travelling from court to court trying to get support for another escape attempt. Mercifully she also didn’t know just how uninterested her own family, whom she assumed would be pulling all possible strings to save her, were in getting her out of the Temple although her sisters Maria Carolina and Maria Amalia were frantic with worry about her and would have undoubtedly helped if they could.

However, the long, dark, miserable days in the Temple tower were lightened by a vague hope of rescue when another sympathetic guard Toulan joined forces with the Chevalier de Jarjayes, a monarchist and passionate admirer of the Queen, whose wife had managed to get inside the Temple disguised as a laundrywoman. Enlisting a second faithful guard Lepître, they formulated a plan to whisk the disguised royal family away from Paris and take them by carriage to the Normandy coast where they could set sail for England. They had the funds to pay all the necessary bribes and had theoretically even managed to secure false passports but the plans had gone sadly and catastrophically awry when the increasing unrest in Paris caused the city barriers to be closed and forced the authorities to increase their vigilance over the royal family. Lepître, always the weakest link in the plan, lost his nerve at this point and backed out but the undaunted Jarjayes and Toulan now tried to persuade Marie Antoinette, judged to be the most endangered member of the royal family, to leave alone without her sister-in-law and children. However, although Madame Royale and Madame Élisabeth begged her to take this chance, she refused to leave and sadly wrote to Jarjayes that: ‘We have dreamt a pleasant dream, that is all… I know that you have my interests at heart and that the chance we are now missing may never come again. But I should never have a moment’s happiness if I abandoned my children. And therefore I have no regret.

Toulan and Lepître were dismissed shortly afterwards thanks to the Tisons, who spied on the royal family and reported the two guards for behaving in a suspiciously favourable way around them. The defeated Jarjayes, deeply distressed to have been unable to rescue the Queen, left Paris but thanks to the offices of Toulon he took with him Louis XVI’s wedding ring and seal which were destined for the Comte de Provence and Comte d’Artois, who were still in exile abroad. He also had a message for Fersen as well as a printed impression of the words on a signet ring that he had given to Marie Antoinette in exchange for one of her own rings. ‘They are more true than ever,’ the Queen sadly told Jarjayes. ‘Tutto a te mi guida.’ Everything leads me to you.

Frustrated and depressed, the royal ladies now took solace in their books, spending hours reading the religious tracts that they had with them and forgoing the light hearted society novels of Mrs Burney that they had enjoyed before the King’s execution. Marie Antoinette’s only thoughts nowadays were for her son, who was now eight years old. He had become sickly and understandably fractious thanks to the close confinement of the royal family and although his mother and aunt did their best to continue his lessons, he was clearly in need of a proper tutor and a lot more exercise and stimulation. The Convention evidently agreed but instead of appointing someone worthy of the task like the philosopher and mathematician Condorcet who had offered his services, they instead decided to place him under the guardianship of Simon, a former shoemaker who was now employed as general factotum at the Temple where he ran errands for the royal family and oversaw their treatment. Their reasoning was that the boy needed to have all of his royal pretensions drummed out of him and what better way to do this than have him brought up by a proper man of the people.

On the evening of 3 July, several officials came to the Queen’s room where the boy was already asleep in his bed and his mother, aunt and sister were quietly reading together. The family had been enduring random night time searches of their persons and rooms since the King’s death and at first assumed that this was yet another such imposition until one of the men stepped forward and began to read out the official decree from the Convention which announced that Marie Antoinette and her son were to be separated and from now on the boy would reside in the former King’s rooms downstairs where he was to be looked after by Simon and his wife. Horrified, the Queen took her son, who had woken up crying, into her arms and refused to hand him over, finally only relenting when the officers threatened to use force if she didn’t let them take the boy away.

Weeping, Marie Antoinette then dressed her son for the last time and gave him one final kiss before the officers took the sobbing, terrified boy away from his family. For the next few days they could hear him crying in his rooms downstairs as he begged to be taken back to his mother. However, although royalist legend paints the Simons as cruel monsters who mistreated the boy King terribly, they were not nearly so bad as they have been painted and, in their own rough way admittedly, even treated him with a certain amount of brusque kindness even if they followed the instructions of the Convention to the letter and did their best to transform the little princeling into a ‘child of the nation’ by teaching him revolutionary songs, giving him the occasional sip of alcohol and encouraging him to use rough language and swear. His guards were also kind and relatively indulgent to the boy and tried their best to cheer him up until finally the tears that his family could hear gave way to boyish laughter and cheerful singing of republican songs.

Already shattered by the death of her husband, Marie Antoinette was almost completely destroyed by the loss of her son, her chou d’amour, whom she had cherished and idolised. For days she did not know what to do with herself but could only lie on her bed, weeping listlessly and straining to hear his voice in the rooms below. When Madame Élisabeth realised that they could catch brief glimpses of the boy playing in the gardens from an arrow slit on the stairs to the top of the tower, she roused herself and went up the stairs to keep watch, hoping to see her son for herself. For the rest of her stay in the Temple this became her chief occupation and only pleasure in a life that was otherwise devoid of all happiness. As her daughter would later recollect: ‘living and dying had become all the same to her.’

As Marie Antoinette sank into a deep depression that neither her daughter nor sister-in-law could rouse her from, she had no idea of the forces that were ranging against her in the outside world. Another failed escape attempt planned by the Baron de Batz had put the authorities on the alert and had the effect of tightening surveillance on the three women cooped up in their tower rather than, as had been hoped, liberating them. Attempts were also made by members of the Convention to negotiate an exchange of the former Queen for French prisoners but these too came to nothing thanks to the apathy of her nephew the Austrian Emperor. It was a series of defeats by the rapidly advancing Austrian-Prussian forces, however, that would eventually force the hand of the Convention when it came to the fate of their former Queen. Calls were made to have the ‘Austrian Woman’ tried for her crimes against the nation and so the decision was made to have her separated from her remaining family and taken into closer confinement while a case was prepared against her.

At 2am on the morning of 2 August, the prisoners were woken by a loud hammering on the door to their rooms at the Temple before a group of officials and guardsmen entered and informed the terrified women, who were made to get out of bed and were dressed only in their nightclothes, that they had come to take ‘Widow Capet’ away to the Conciergerie. The men then watched as Madame Élisabeth, with shaking fingers and many tears, dressed her sister-in-law for the last time before begging in vain to be allowed to go with her and share her prison - a request that was roughly denied. Marie Antoinette then had her pockets roughly searched and was permitted to give her daughter one last tearful embrace before she picked up the small bundle of belongings that she had been permitted to hastily throw together and left forever. She struck her head on a doorframe as she walked out of the Temple for the last time, passing by the closed door behind which her son lay asleep and through which her husband had left for his execution. ‘Never mind,’ she murmured in response to the concerned enquiries of one of the officers. ‘Nothing can hurt me now.’

It was still the dead of night when Marie Antoinette was taken by carriage across the slumbering city to the Conciergerie on the Quai d’Horloge. She had doubtless seen the forbidding old palace countless times over the years but had almost certainly never once set foot inside the older parts of the building which had been used as a prison for a long time and currently housed around three hundred prisoners. Once as pretty as a fairytale castle in a Medieval book of hours, its age blackened towers had long since taken on a more sinister aspect as they loomed gloomily over the murky Seine. Marie Antoinette would have seen none of this though as her carriage pulled up in the courtyard and her guards led her inside the prison where the turnkey Larivière was waiting to take her to her cell. First though she had to be entered in the register. ‘Look at me,’ Marie Antoinette, formally designated as ‘Prisoner 280’, said when the nervous young registrar asked for her name.

She was then taken to her new quarters - a cell that had only just been hastily vacated by the now housed elsewhere General de Custine. It had formerly been used as the Council Chamber of the old palace and was fifteen square metres inside and very meagrely furnished with just a table, two chairs, a bucket and a camp bed which the jailor’s kindhearted wife Madame Richard had made up with her own best linen and some lace edged pillows. Madame Richard and her shy young maid Rosalie Lamorlière were to have the chief care of Marie Antoinette and, filled with understandable curiosity, hastened to greet her after she had been left in her cell. There they found the Queen hanging her little watch, a present from her mother that she had brought with her from Vienna all those years ago, from a nail protruding from the wall. Along with her wedding ring, a diamond ring and a locket containing her children’s hair, it was one of the few jewels that still remained to her from the fabulous collection that she had once commanded as Queen of France.

Overawed to be in the Queen’s presence, Rosalie shyly asked Marie Antoinette if she needed help to undress. It was just after three in the morning and the exhausted Queen, whose sickly and bedraggled appearance shocked the two other women, was obviously need of some sleep. ‘Thank you but no,’ she said gently to Rosalie. ‘I will look after myself from now on.’

After the relatively tranquil life that she had experienced at the Temple, it must have been a shock to Marie Antoinette to find herself in the heart of an actual prison. Although she was kept in strict isolation and forbidding from mixing with the other prisoners, Marie Antoinette would still have been able to hear them chattering and laughing in the corridors and singing popular songs out in the women’s yard. Perhaps it even lifted her depressed spirits just a little to know that she was not entirely alone and to be able to feel for the first time in months as if life, even if she couldn’t see it, was still going on around her.

She continued her habit of getting up at six every morning, after which Rosalie would bring her a breakfast of coffee and rolls and help her to dress. Shortly after her arrival a parcel had arrived from Madame Élisabeth containing some fine lace edged underclothes, black stockings, fichus, caps, a white dress and a pair of satin shoes which meant that the former Queen was still able to array herself with relative elegance even if her wardrobe was a long way off the sumptuous one that she had enjoyed in her glorious heyday at Versailles and was now kept in a small cardboard box donated by the kind hearted Rosalie and darned, patched and mended over and over again by Madame Larivière the turnkey’s mother rather than an army of maids and seamstresses. To her credit though, Marie Antoinette rarely uttered a word of complaint and made virtually no references to a way of life that she now had to accept was vanished forever. Instead she quietly and with firm resignation accepted everything that happened to her, accepting changes of guards, stricter rules, searches and interrogation without any apparent demur and with every appearance of quiet resignation.

Isolated from the other prisoners and seeing only a few people, Marie Antoinette found the long hours difficult to fill although Rosalie and Madame Richard did their best to cheer her up with little chats (they would eke out their tasks as long as possible in the evening to delay the moment when the Queen would be left alone for the night), occasional presents of flowers and even some treasured snippets of news about her children. Forbidden to possess paper or writing implements, the woman who had once found reading such a terrible chore now devoured the few books that she had been allowed to bring with her. In the Temple she had enjoyed the translated light hearted novels of Frances Burney but in the Conciergerie she showed a marked preference for travel memoirs such asThe Stories of Famous Shipwrecks and The Travels of Captain Cook, which allowed her captive imagination to fly free of her damp and mouldy cell walls during the long, empty hours of confinement.

Both Madame Richard and Rosalie were excellent cooks and did their best to tempt the Queen’s waning appetite with special little treats to supplement the simple diet of roast chicken, vegetables and noodle bouillon soup which she existed on. They were aided in this by several market women who insisted upon donating choice morsels such as the plumpest chickens and sweetest grapes to the Queen’s table. Her supply of Ville d’Avray mineral water also continued, much to her relief as the weather became unbearably hot and made the conditions inside the Conciergerie intolerably humid and malodorous, so much so that Rosalie had to burn juniper in Marie Antoinette’s cell to hide the terrible smell that seemed to saturate the mouldering stone walls of the old prison by the Seine. While her guards would on occasion volunteer to scrape off the mould that grew on the bottom of the Queen’s shoes.

Two guards kept watch over her at all times of the day and night and a small screen was provided to conceal her when she performed her natural bodily functions, which were made more difficult now by the increasingly dreadful haemorrhages that she was enduring, and dressed herself. As usual she was quietly courteous to her keepers and for the most part they returned her politeness and did their best not to invade her privacy. However, the jailor Monsieur Richard  was not adverse to making a bit of extra money out of his most famous prisoner and soon had a healthy little sideline going in charging people to come in and take a peek at the former Queen in her miserable little cell. Marie Antoinette was used to being stared at and would sit in impassive silence, focussing all of her attention on her books or the backgammon and card games that the guards would play to while away the long hours and making no attempt to speak to these random visitors who came in their multitudes to gawp at her, even when they tried to whisper to her about escape schemes.

She paid a little more attention though when one gentleman visitor the Chevalier Rougeville, whom she had met at the Tuileries during the terrifying invasion on 20 June 1792, threw a clandestine note wrapped around a carnation on the floor of her cell as he was leaving, offering her enough money to bribe her way out of the Conciergerie should she wish to make an attempt to escape in a carriage which he would endeavour to have waiting for her outside the prison. Marie Antoinette tried to reply by picking out a message with a pin but the plan was quickly discovered after one of her guards blew the whistle and it all came to nothing. Rougeville fled the city and once again it was Marie Antoinette who bore the brunt of the failure of others when she endured an arduous and humiliating two day interrogation, had her mother’s watch and few remaining pieces of jewellery confiscated and lost the right to have light in her cell after dusk. When the investigation was over it was decided that Marie Antoinette should be moved to a more secure cell and the Richard couple replaced by Monsieur and Madame Bault, who were judged to be far less indulgent and could be relied upon to put a stop to the stream of visitors to the Queen’s cell. However, although they were more strict than the departed Richard couple, the Baults were also extremely kind in their own way and did their best to make Marie Antoinette’s life as comfortable as possible by making sure that she still got decent food and had fresh linen, often risking official censure in the process.

Marie Antoinette was moved to her new cell on the 11 September. It was the former dispensary of the prison and still smelt strongly of medicines, which wasn’t helped by the fact that the one window, which overlooked the women’s yard, was permanently closed to prevent communion between the Queen and the female inmates, some of whom she had known in happier times. She could still hear them though as they gathered outside to do their meagre laundry in the giant stone tub in the corner of the yard every morning and took their dinner together in the afternoon, chattering, laughing and singing as if they hadn’t a care in the world as it was considered very bad form to show the least sign of fear of apprehension even when you knew that you were facing certain death on the scaffold. Not for nothing was the Conciergerie known as the Guillotine’s Waiting Room and prisoners were brought there from the other prisons when it was time for them to face trial and almost certain death.

The other prisoners spent a great deal of time speculating about the former Queen who was known to be shut up alongside them, wondering what sort of conditions she lived under and whether she would ever be allowed to walk free. Marie Antoinette also wondered about this and confided to Rosalie that she still had faith that her nephew would somehow manage to negotiate her release, little knowing that he had long since more or less washed his hands of her predicament and she was not considered of enough diplomatic importance to exchange for prisoners although some desultory attempts had been made to negotiate her release, all of which had come to nothing. While the Queen waited and prayed for her relatives to come to her rescue, her fate was eventually sealed during a secret late night meeting at the Committee of Public Safety, during which it was decided that Marie Antoinette should be put on trial and then executed as her husband had been.

Meanwhile at the Temple, her eight year old son had been caught playing with his genitals, a common enough pastime for boys of his age and one that his mother and aunt had frequently tried to put a stop to, by his ‘guardian’ Simon and, ashamed, the boy, whose habit of lying to get out of trouble had long caused his mother and governess consternation, had claimed that he had been taught to do so by his mother and aunt. Delighted by this revelation, Simon had scurried off to let Hébert, Marie Antoinette’s greatest enemy and editor of the scurrilous newspaper Le Père Duchesne, know what had happened, clearly believing that here at last they had some concrete evidence of the former Queen’s famous debauchery. The unfortunate Louis Charles persisted in his tale when interrogated at length by a group of officials although he was, rather tellingly, unable to provide much in the way of actual details other than a vague reference to it happening in the mornings when either his mother or aunt would take him into their beds. He was even sufficiently buoyed along by the extremely gratifying interest that the officials were taking in his tale to persist in his allegations when confronted by his sister and aunt, both of whom naturally denied that any such thing had ever occurred. In fact the gently reared and innocent Marie Thérèse did not even understand what any of them were talking about. Her aunt Madame Élisabeth did though and rounded on the unrepentant boy, calling him a ‘little monster’.

Marie Antoinette was woken up in the early hours of 12 October and taken to a secret cross examination in the court room of the Palais du Justice, which formed part of the Conciergerie complex and where the Kings of France, including her own husband, had once held their formal lits de justice meetings. Here she was confronted by Hermann, the President of the Revolutionary Tribunal, Fouquier-Tinville, the Public Prosecutor and a clerk called Fabricius. The exhausted Queen was then assailed by a barrage of accusations that dredged up virtually every calumny, real and imagined, that she had been charged with since the beginning of the revolution. She was accused of encouraging her husband in his treachery against the French people, of sending money to her brother in Austria and of encouraging the counter-revolutionary movement, all of which Marie Antoinette strenuously denied. Realising that they were getting nowhere, Hermann and Fouquier-Tinville brought the session to an end and asked the Queen if she would like them to appoint two defence lawyers for her trial which, they informed her, was due to begin in two days time. Marie Antoinette assented to this and was taken away to her cell where she was visited upon the following day by her newly appointed defence: Tronçon-Ducoudray and Chauveau-Lagarde, who had unsuccessfully defended Charlotte Corday a few months earlier.

Both men were rather thrown by the almost indecent haste with which the trial was being put together and immediately beseeched the Queen to write to the Revolutionary Tribunal and beg them to delay the trial by a few days so that they would have time to put together a proper defence. They both knew, of course, that Marie Antoinette was already doomed and that the trial was just a charade intended to blacken the Queen’s name even further while at the same time appeasing her relatives by giving the whole miserable proceeding at least the vague semblance of justice but even so they couldn’t believe that they hadn’t been given more time to look at all the relevant documents, especially as preparations for the King’s trial had gone on for months. Marie Antoinette grudgingly agreed to write to the Tribunal but her letter was completely ignored and she was escorted from her cell the following morning, Monday 14 October, as planned.

Once again Marie Antoinette was taken through the prison to the court room which this time was packed to the rafters with people, which must have been rather off-putting after so many months of solitary confinement. The judges in their heavy black robes and medallions saying ‘La Loi’ were arrayed in their seats along with a hastily assembled and decidedly shady looking jury, while the rest of the hall was crammed with a great noisy mob of spectators who had come to get a glimpse of the former Queen. If they had been expecting the jaunty, haughty mistress of Versailles to appear in their midst they must have been exceedingly shocked when a wan faced woman in black widow’s weeds, aged almost beyond all recognition by her terrible experiences walked slowly and with the heavy tread of someone in terrible pain into the room and took her place once again opposite Hermann and Fouquier-Tinville. Wracked by another haemorrhage, the Queen was suffering terrible abdominal cramps and was so weak with pain that she could not stand for long periods of time and indeed sank gratefully into the waiting armchair after she had taken her oath, giving her age as ‘almost thirty eight’ which must have stunned the onlookers who saw an elderly woman in front of them. She drummed her fingers on the arms of her chair as the clerk of court read out the indictment, which had plumbed the depths of the libellous pamphlets about Marie Antoinette to come up with a distorted tissue of lies, misrepresentations and calumny.

The following cross examination was not much better as over forty witnesses stepped up to add colour to the Tribunal’s indictment, repeating every dreadful lie that they had heard about the Queen and making up a few more besides. The hapless Marie Antoinette was accused of leading her husband astray, of plotting to murder the Duc d’Orléans, of smuggling vast sums of money out of the country to her brother and a whole other array of alleged crimes. With a deft mixture of contempt and humility, the Queen defended herself against every charge but fell silent when Hébert stood up to deliver his denunciation which included mention of Louis Charles’ accusations towards his mother, adding that, ‘this criminal sexual intercourse was not dictated by pleasure, but by the calculated expectation of enervating the physical condition of the child, whom they still liked to think of as destined to occupy a throne and over whose mind, therefore, they wanted to be sure of having power… Now that the child has been taken from the mother, he has become healthy and strong.’

When one of the jury members heartlessly prodded the Queen for a response to Hébert’s monstrous charge, she stood up and with tears in her eyes replied that, ‘If I did not reply, it is because nature refuses to answer such a charge against a mother.’ She then turned towards the crowd that had gathered in the courtroom, many of whom were female. ‘I appeal to every mother here.’ There was a stunned silence followed by a roar of indignation from the spectators who harangued Hébert, the judges and the jury for trying to blacken the Queen’s reputation with what was obviously a horrible lie. They had come with the full intention of seeing the former Queen condemned to death but this, it seemed, was a step too far even for them and Hermann was forced to stop the trial for several minutes so that order could be restored. Meanwhile Marie Antoinette turned to one of her defence lawyers and anxiously asked if perhaps her reply had not been too dignified. ‘Madame,’ he replied kindly, ‘just be yourself and you will always be perfect.’

There was a brief break at half past four during which Marie Antoinette had a few mouthfuls of soup before she was once again forced to take her place on the stand and listen as more witnesses were called in to discredit her. The fifteen hour long session finally came to an end at ten in the evening when the exhausted Marie Antoinette, barely able to walk due to blood loss and terrible agonising cramps, was escorted wearily back to her cell for the night. She was back in court again at eight the next morning, the guards coming to collect her before Rosalie had even had a chance to serve her breakfast. Again weakened by pain and loss of blood, the Queen faced her accusers and the enormous crowd that had once again gathered, without any form of sustenance until the afternoon break when Rosalie made her some bouillon soup which alas was mostly lost when one of the guardsmen let his girlfriend give it to the Queen instead and the girl was so nervous that she managed to spill most of it down herself on the way.

The second session followed much the same lines as the first with the same miserable parade of lying, embellishing witnesses and the furious cross examination of the judges. Marie Antoinette listened in dispassionate silence to their questions and denied everything when prompted for a response. She was even interrogated about the Diamond Necklace Affair and yet again denied having ever met Madame de la Motte-Valois or having any involvement in the incident. Much was made of her alleged extravagances at the Petit Trianon and also the huge financial rewards that she had showered upon the Polignac family but time and time again they returned to the same old theme - that Marie Antoinette had been the true power behind the throne of France and a malign and scheming influence on her husband Louis, now portrayed as a weak minded and susceptible fool for the purposes of fully incriminating his wife for his alleged crimes against the French people.

Finally at the very end, the Queen was asked if she had anything that she wished to say in her defence. ‘I will finish by observing that I was only the wife of Louis XVI and I had to submit to his will,’ she said with quiet dignity. There was a brief adjournment before Fouquier-Tinville made his closing statement, declaring her to be ‘the avowed enemy of the French nation’ who had syphoned off the country’s assets to be disposed of amongst her friends, Austrian family and upon her own extravagant excesses, had been the chief architect of the bloody unrest that had soiled the first years of the glorious revolution and had furthermore imposed her own stronger will upon that of her feeble and apathetic husband King Louis, enticing him with her womanly wiles into betraying the interests of his people. Her lawyers then took the stand and did their best to present a case for the defence but they were utterly unprepared and completely dispirited by the knowledge that nothing they could say would make the slightest bit of difference to what was an obviously completely rigged trial. Nonetheless they put up a reasonably spirited defence of their client and she was moved to thank them both before she was escorted out.

After Marie Antoinette had left the court room, Hermann took the floor once again to sum up all the evidence, such as it was, for the jurors who were asked to consider if they believed that Marie Antoinette had plotted and conspired with foreign powers, counter-revolutionaries and émigrés and given them monetary assistance with the aim of helping them invade France, cause a civil war and overthrow the republic. No actual proof of any such activities had been given and the Queen herself had most strenuously denied these allegations but the Tribunal were not going to let these minor details stand in their way. Hermann ended by reminding the jurors that they were making history by putting the Queen on trial. ‘Equality triumphs. A woman once surrounded with all the brilliant splendour that royal pride and slavish servility could concoct, now occupies in the National Tribunal the place given two days back to another woman, an equality assuring her impartial justice. Citizen jurors, this matter is not one of those in which a single deed, a single crime, is submitted to your conscience and intelligence. You have to judge the accused’s entire political career since she came to sit beside the last King of the French.’

At three in the morning, the jury went off for an hour to pretend to deliberate before Marie Antoinette was brought back into the court room. She had given her lawyers the impression that she expected to be deported and they had gently let her go on thinking this even though it was clear to everyone else where the trial was heading. Shattered but still dignified she listened in impassive silence as Hermann announced that she had been found guilty on all counts and Fouquier-Tinville informed her that she had been sentenced to death and would be executed later that morning. When asked if she had anything to say, Marie Antoinette simply shook her head and was observed to look stunned but not afraid as she made her way slowly out of the court room, flanked by guards and lifting her chin proudly as she ignored the cheers and catcalls of the spectators who now rushed out into the chill morning air to secure the best spots around the scaffold in the Place de la Révolution.

It was half past four in the morning and outside the damp walls of the Conciergerie the first purple and pink glimmers of the approaching dawn were starting to appear above the slumbering city. Completely shattered and weakened by lack of food, pain and blood loss, Marie Antoinette stumbled on the steps leading down to the cells and a young guardsman called de Busne took hold of her elbow to steady her then, with a courtesy that she had not seen for a very long time, politely removed his hat and offered her his arm for the rest of the way. He would be denounced and arrested the next day for this kindness.

There were candles, paper and a pen waiting for her in her cell when she got back, the first time she had been allowed writing materials and light for several months. Unable to sleep, desperately lonely and crying with fear for her children, Marie Antoinette sat down and pulled the paper towards her, words tumbling through her mind as she considered who to write to before finally settling upon her sister-in-law Madame Élisabeth who was still imprisoned in the Temple. Sadly the letter was never to reach her as it was stolen by Robespierre, who hid it beneath his mattress along with other relics of the royal family.

It is to you, my sister, that I write for the last time. I have just been condemned, not to a shameful death, for it is shameful only for criminals, but to rejoin your brother. Like him innocent, I hope to display the same firmness as he did in his last moments. I am calm, as one is when one’s conscience holds no reproach. I regret deeply having to abandon my poor children. You know that I lived only for them and for you, my good and kind sister. In what a situation do I leave you, who from your affection sacrificed everything to be with us. I learned from the pleadings at the trial that my daughter was separated from you. Alas! Poor child, I dare not write to her, she would not receive it. I do not know even if this will reach you. Receive my blessing on them both. I hope that one day, when they are older, they will be able to join you again and profit to the full from your tender care and that they both remember what I have always tried to instil in them: that the principles and the execution of their duty should be the chief foundation of their life, that their affection and mutual trust will make it happy.

Let my daughter remember that in view of her age she should always help her brother with the advice that her greater experience and her affection may suggest, and let them both remember that in whatever situation they may find themselves they will never be truly happy unless united. Let them learn from our example how much consolation our affection has 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? Let my son never forget his father’s last words, which I distinctly repeat to him, never to try to avenge our death. I have to mention something which pains my heart. I know how much distress this child must have given you. Forgive him, my dear sister, remember his age and how easy it is to make a child say anything you want, even something he does not understand. The day will come, I hope, when he will be all the more conscious of the worth of your goodness and tenderness towards them both. I now have only to confide in you my final thoughts. I would have liked to write them at the beginning of the trial, but apart from the fact that I was not allowed to write, everything went to quickly that I really would not have had the time.

I die in the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman religion, in the religion of my father, in which I was brought up and which I have always professed, having no expectation of spiritual consolation, and not even knowing if there still exists any priests of that religion here, and in any case the place where I am would expose them to too much danger if they should enter. I sincerely beg pardon of God for all the faults I have committed during my life. I hope that in His goodness He will receive my last wishes, and those I have long since made, that He will receive my soul in His mercy and goodness. I ask pardon of all those I know, and of you my sister in particular, for all the distress I may, without wishing it. Have caused them. I forgive all my enemies the harm they have done me. I say farewell here to my aunts and to all my brothers and sisters. 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, at least, that up to my last moment I was thinking of them.

Farewell, my good and loving sister. May this letter reach you! Think of me always, I embrace you with all my heart, together with those poor, dear children. My God! What an agony it is to leave them forever! Farewell! Farewell! I shall henceforth pay attention to nothing but my spiritual duties. As I am not free, they will perhaps bring me a (conformist) priest, but I protest here that I shall not say a word to him and that I shall treat him as a complete stranger.

Unlike her husband it did not occur to Marie Antoinette to write a will but then again she had precious little left to leave now that virtually everything had been stripped from her. When her cell was searched after her departure only a few meagre belongings were found: a sponge, a box of powder, a small box of pomade, some handkerchiefs, garters, two sets of pockets to be worn beneath her dresses, a black crepe mourning gown, some linen undergarments, a bonnet and two pairs of black stockings, all stored in the box donated by the kindly Rosalie who also presented her with a small mirror backed with red lacquer that she had picked up from a market stall for a few coins.

The Queen spent the next few hours lying on her bed, unable to sleep and weeping silently as the dawn broke outside her windows and the two guardsmen watched silently, muffling their yawns behind their fists, from the other side of their screen. At seven, Rosalie came in and asked her if she felt able to take some food, gently reminding the Queen that she had barely eaten since the trial began and would have need of her strength to get through the ordeal that lay ahead, but Marie Antoinette refused. ‘My child, I need nothing now,’ she said sadly. ‘Everything is over for me.’ However, she relented when she saw how genuinely distressed the little maid was and agreed to have some left over soup and noodles, only managing a few mouthfuls before she pushed it to one side and they embarked on the important business of dressing her for her final public appearance.

Marie Antoinette had lost a lot of blood overnight and was desperate to change into fresh underthings but when Rosalie attempted to discreetly remove her petticoats and help her change into clean ones, one of the guards stepped around the screen and made it clear that he intended to watch. ‘For the love of God, Monsieur, let me change my chemise in private,’ Marie Antoinette begged but he insisted that orders were orders and refused to move, leaving the two women to do their best to hide the Queen’s bloodstained linen by rolling it into a ball and shoving it into a gap in the wall before pulling a black petticoat over her clean chemise. However, if she hoped to be allowed to wear a black dress that would hide the worst of her bleeding, she was to be disappointed for the Committee of Public Safety had sent over an order that the Queen was not to be allowed to wear mourning for her husband to the scaffold but instead could wear any other colour. Marie Antoinette, who had once owned dresses in all the colours of the rainbow and a few more besides, had only one dress that wasn’t black and that was the plain white piqué morning gown that her sister-in-law Madame Élisabeth had sent over from the Temple. Perhaps Marie Antoinette allowed herself a small sad smile as Rosalie helped her into the dress, remembering as no one else had that the long ago Queens of France, including her ancestress Mary Queen of Scots, had traditionally worn white when mourning their husbands. She completed her last toilette with a white fichu, plain white lawn bonnet decorated with black ribbons, black stockings and a pair of purple shoes.

At some point Abbé Girard, a priest who had sworn the oath of allegiance to the Constitution, was brought to her cell but, as she had promised her sister-in-law, Marie Antoinette refused to acknowledge him, offended that, unlike her husband who had gone to his death accompanied by his Irish confessor Abbé Edgeworth, she had not been permitted to have a priest who had not sworn the oath but instead had had someone of whom she could not approve foisted upon her at this most spiritually critical time. It probably also hurt that while Louis had been permitted to say goodbye to his family there was clearly no intention of allowing her the same privilege and that she would be going to her death without so much as a glimpse of the faces that she loved best in all the world and would never get the opportunity to forgive her son for his childish rashness.

The turnkey Larivière and the judges, Fouquier-Tinville and Hermann went to Marie Antoinette’s cell at ten in the morning, finding her kneeling beside her bed and deep in prayer. The court clerk read out the indictment again, ignoring the Queen’s gentle protest that she had already heard it and then stepped aside as the executioner Sanson entered with a length of rope. The Queen recoiled in horror. ‘You did not tie Louis XVI’s hands,’ she protested, obviously distressed, but with the judges of the Tribunal watching he had no choice but to follow orders and roughly tie her hands behind her back as she fought to hold back her tears before his assistant fetched the scissors with which he roughly cut off what was left of her prematurely grey and straggly hair.

There was barely time to say one last farewell to Rosalie before the Queen was led up the nine stone steps to the Cour du Mai of the Palais du Justice where a horse drawn cart was waiting for her rather than the closed carriage which had been provided for her husband’s final journey to the scaffold. Appalled by the terrifying prospect of being driven through the streets, exposed to the violent abuse and insults of the crowd, Marie Antoinette lost control of her bladder and had to retreat behind a wall to relieve herself before she felt able to clamber on to the cart, where she was instructed to sit with her back to the horses so that everyone could see her. Abbé Girard, determined to remain beside her until the very end even if she repudiated his attempts to comfort her, climbed up and sat beside her while Sanson and his assistant hitched a ride at the back of the cart. It had been freezing cold overnight in the Conciergerie but the weather had become warmer in the morning and was now reasonably pleasant as they set out on their journey, which would normally take less than an hour but took twice as long this morning thanks to the huge crowds that had gathered to see the former Queen go by for the last time.

The small procession made its way out through the gilded gates of the Palais du Justice at eleven and turned on to the Rue de la Barillerie and then rumbled over the Pont au Change. The route was lined with over thirty thousand guardsmen who had been hastily deployed overnight to restrain the rabble and prevent any last minute attempts to rescue the Queen. They held back the enormous crowds that had begun to gather on the streets as soon as the verdict was announced in the early hours of the morning and which were now shouting and shrieking at the silent Queen, who stared straight ahead as if she simply could not hear them. An actor called Grammont rode ahead of the cart, waving his sword in the air and shouting ‘Here she is at last! It’s Antoinette, my friends, going to her death! She’s finished!’ Some stared at her in silent sympathy though and as she passed one doorway a young mother held up her little boy, who waved and blew the Queen a kiss, almost reducing her to tears.

The tumbrel turned on to the long Rue Saint Honoré which Marie Antoinette had known very well in happier times. She went past beautiful old mansions where she had once danced all night, Mademoiselle Bertin’s shop, the Palais Royal and the lovely Church of Saint Roch where the tumbrel halted for several minutes so that the huge group of the market women who had gathered there could scream abuse and spit at the Queen who still continued to stare straight ahead, apparently unmoved by their fury. The artist David was waiting on a wrought iron balcony at the Café de la Régence close by the Palais Royal; renowned for the intellectual insight of his portraits, he quickly produced a line sketch of the beleaguered Queen in her tumbrel, broken but never unbowed as she confronted the fury of the mob. Only once would the Queen show some spark of emotion, when the tumbrel turned down the elegant Rue Royale and came within sight of the Tuileries palace and her eyes filled with tears as she gazed up at the windows where once upon a time she had looked down at a sea of cheering faces and the Duc de Brissac, who had perished along with the Princesse de Lamballe in the prison massacres in September 1792, had murmured that ‘Madame, I hope that Monsieur le Dauphin won’t be jealous when I say that you have two hundred thousand lovers.’

A few moments later the tumbrel came to a juddering halt in the Place de la Révolution, where Marie Antoinette’s husband had met his end almost ten months earlier. The square was still as lovely as ever but there was a pile of rubble where Louis XV’s equestrian statue had been toppled from its podium and smashed into pieces on the ground and the entire vista was now dominated by the wooden scaffold where the guillotine, that most inelegant of contraptions, awaited her. Marie Antoinette blinked with surprise as she looked around the enormous crowd, several hundred thousand people strong, that had gathered in the square to watch her die, held back by several rows of guardsmen. ‘This is the moment, Madame, to arm yourself with courage,’ the tenacious Abbé Girard exhorted the Queen as she was pulled down from the cart. ‘Courage?’ Marie Antoinette snapped, provoked into speaking to him at last. ‘The moment when my ills are going to end is not the moment when courage is going to fail me.’

The Queen hurried up the scaffold steps with the light-footed grace that had once enchanted all of Versailles, her eyes fixed on the instrument of death that loomed above her. In her haste she managed to step on Sanson’s foot, making him yelp with pain and surprise. ‘I am sorry, Monsieur,’ Marie Antoinette murmured with a winsome smile. ‘I did not do it on purpose.’ She turned and looked over the heads of the enormous roaring crowd at the Tuileries but there was no time to dwell on the past before she was roughly seized, tied to the plank then pushed down beneath the guillotine’s blade.

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