Thursday, October 7, 2021

The Death of a Queen


The guillotine was the murder machine of the French Revolution.  The royal couple also fell victim to her.

[Katholisches] On June 21, 1791, Marie Antoinette and her entire family were arrested and placed under house arrest in the Tuileries Palace.  In the summer of 1792 she were thrown into a dungeon and her husband, King Louis XVI.  (1774–1791 / 92), was executed January 1793.  Her son, Crown Prince Louis Charles, who was only seven years old, had been taken away from her.  The child was tortured by the revolutionaries to obtain a "confession" for defamatory charges against the queen.  He would only survive the parents for a short time.  The Dauphin, who was named Louis XVII by the monarchists, died at the age of ten.  He expired in the Paris Temple prison on the conditions of detention.

His mother, who never took part in government affairs, was initially locked up in this prison, which the revolutionaries had set up in the former Grand Master's seat of the Knights Templar.  In the summer of 1793 Marie Antoinette was transferred to the Conciergerie Prison and thus separated from her daughter.  In a farce trial, she, who was addressed as "Widow Capet", was tried.  The death sentence was already fixed.  The handpicked jury unanimously approved it.  On October 16, 1793, the queen was guillotined.

Few characters in history are more distorted in the collective memory, which proves the long-lasting effect of malicious propaganda tales.  As the Austrian archduchess and daughter of the emperor, Marie Antoinette was hated by parts of the French nobility.  This aversion to the Habsburg woman was shared in the revolutionary spirit of the enemies of the monarchy and the old order.  From this unusual transverse front, smear campaigns were carried out against them even before the marriage with the Dauphin of France, the son of Louis XV, long before the outbreak of the revolution.  Nothing changed when she became Queen of France in 1774.

Marie Antoinette went down in history as the prototype of the incarnate lascivious, unworldly and arrogant pride of monarchs and high nobility.  Even today every child knows that she responded to the demands of the hungry people for bread: "Then let them eat cake".  The absolute contempt of the needy.  Only: Marie Antoinette never said that sentence.  It was said of her, and with bad intent.  The anecdote alleged is what we now call fake news, a hoax with far-reaching and devastating consequences.  Nevertheless, it is still being spread freshly and cheerfully today.  It suited the revolutionaries too well, and their spirit still determines the historiography of the events of that time.  As is well known, the winner writes history.

The cake fairy tale comes from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, one of the most important pioneers of the revolution.  However, he had already been dead for four years when his story was first published in 1782.  He had written it many years before and never claimed that it had anything to do with the daughter of the Roman-German emperor.  At that time Marie Antoinette was still a small child who lived in distant Vienna and no one could have guessed that she would one day become Queen of France.  In the style of "Once upon a time", Rousseau ascribed the sentence to an unnamed "great princess".  It was easy for the revolutionaries to turn the narrative against the queen seven years later.  This “variation” was devoured only too willingly by its followers, who were able to bring even greater fermentation into the people.

Marie Antoinette with her children. The first-born Ludwig Joseph (right) died in childhood before the outbreak of the revolution.  The second-born, Ludwig Karl (Ludwig XVII.), On the queen's lap, ended up in the dungeon of the revolution.

How the Emperor's daughter and Queen Marie Antoinette died, beyond low chatter says more about her, however.  Her executioner, Charles-Henri Sanson, kept a diary.  For the execution of the Queen, he noted how the masses of onlookers jostled along the streets that led from the prison to the scaffold:

“When she passed the Palais Égalité, she seemed alarmed;  she looked at the numerous house numbers with an expression on her face that betrayed more than curiosity.  The Queen had foreseen that a priest of the Roman Church would not be allowed to give her the highest consolation of religion;  she was worried about it, but an unauthorized member of the clergy, the Abbé Magnien, who had invaded the conciergerie, had promised her that on the day of her torture he would go to a house on the rue Saint-Honoré to put this absolution on her head  in extremis, for which the Church has given all its power to the simplest of its ministers.  The number of this house had been told Marie-Antoinette and so she looked for it;  she found it, and at a sign that only she could understand, when she recognized the priest, she bowed her head, remained in a devout posture and prayed;  then a sigh of relief escaped her chest and you saw a smile on her lips. "

The clergy had been forced to submit to the state by the revolutionary government. It was required to take an oath on the civil constitution for the clergy.  This was the only way to keep one’s pay.  The deprivation of livelihoods wasn't the only leverage.  Anyone who did not take the oath was declared to be a "threat to the nation", which meant that the priests who refused this abuse of power by the state were regarded as enemies of the state.  Pope Pius VI  condemned the despotic intervention of the state.  Those who stood firm were called "refractors," while the bishops and priests who took the oath came to be known as "sworn" or "constitutional" clergy.  Only this was recognized.  Refractory priests caught celebrating Mass were executed.  Abbé Magnien, who gave the queen absolution in extremis, was such a refractory priest.

Constitutional priests had been admitted to the Queen's prison for execution prior to departure.  Marie Antoinette turned them down because she did not want the assistance of schismatic priests.  In her last letter she had written:

 “I am dying in the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman religion, that of my fathers, that in which I was raised and to which I had always confessed.  Since I cannot expect any spiritual assistance, as I do not know whether there are still priests of this religion here and the place where I am would betray them if they should occur, I sincerely ask God for forgiveness for all of them  my offenses that I have committed since I existed [...]. "

The grandson of her hangman, who was also called Charles-Henri Sanson, published the diaries of his grandfather many years later, who was accompanied by his son as an assistant during the execution of the Queen.  The grandson wrote:

“Never, my father often repeated to me, has Marie Antoinette shown herself more worthy of her high rank.  She was a true queen, this woman who, without turning pale or lowering her eyes, endured the wild glances of the sovereign people;  heard the roar of the lion without trembling, to which she was thrown as prey;  who, like the Roman Caesar, stood upright without bending her knees;  for whom the wretched cart was still a throne;  who even succeeded in the humiliation to which she had been brought, to compel hearts, incapable of compassion, to awe by the strength of her soul. "

The revolutionary officer in charge of the execution waved his sword and repeatedly ordered the executioner Sanson to show the crowd the head of the executed queen.  Finally one of his assistants carried the severed head around to the scaffold like a trophy.  The call rang out: "Vive la Republique", "Long live the Republic".

 "Alone, this exclamation was limited to the immediate vicinity of the scaffold," as Sanson's grandson noted.” 

 Text: Giuseppe Nardi

 Image: Wikicommons / MiL

Trans: Tancred



Anonymous said...

The constitutional clergy of the French reign of terror sound a lot like the vaxxed clergy of the USCCB.

JBQ said...

En tant que jesuite majeur en histoire, tres bel article.