Story of the French Revolution - Alice Birkhead

Red Heels and Red Bonnets

The Tuileries had been the neglected residence of kings since the majority of Louis Quinze—a great barracks of a place, with dusty, unfurnished rooms and badly fitting locks. On the night of October 6th, its darkness showed black against the illuminated streets of Paris. It must have seemed the entrance of a prison to Marie Antoinette, whose dreams that morning had been disturbed in an apartment, sumptuous as any fairy habitation, whose life had been passed without knowledge of discomfort. She had met violence for the first time on that long, wild march from Versailles. The faces of the jeering crowd haunted her feverishly, and the next morning she woke to find herself still surrounded by the curious and spying, for Paris was determined now that the King and Queen should be a daily spectacle for the citizens.

Louis was asked how he would lodge, but, truth to tell, he was indifferent to hardships other than that one which possessed him—he had lost his hunting. He replied roughly, "Each may lodge as he can; I am well enough."

The upholsterers came and fitted up the palace to a semblance of royal state, but life there had none of the gaiety of former courts. There were too few of the nobility left to carry on the old tradition that the French Court must be unaffected by misfortunes, and the Queen herself had changed radically since recent trials had come as dark shadows of the future. Her follies and extravagance might be published in the free press of the Revolution, the slanders against her might be cried by newsvendors in the very gardens of the Tuileries, but Marie Antoinette was occupied with the cares of a mother. She did not even join in such festivities as the courtiers still attended. The Princesse de Lamballe had been faithful in the midst of dangers. She was in the Tuileries with the King's sister, Madame Elizabeth, a young and saintly woman who devoted herself to the royal family in their adversity.

There was still etiquette, yet it had an element of grimness in such surroundings, for the Tuileries was exposed to the sights and sounds of Revolutionary Paris. Red-heeled gentlemen-in-waiting tried to maintain the elegance of Versailles, and were shocked by the reception of deputies of the Assembly who did not wear Court dress. There was a salon named in imitation of the Bull's Eye, so called from the shape of its noble windows. But all the dignified seclusion from the Third Order was wanting in this hastily-decorated palace, which should have been the royal residence had the Bourbon kings understood their duty to the people.

Now, indeed, the Bourbon was a show to the nation and a plaything which they might break easily, did they tire of it. Inert and slow in mind, Louis did not resent the intrusions of all Paris. He believed still that his people loved him despite the humiliations of the year. He was content to live quietly, seeing much of the royal children, themselves the most popular of puppets in the eye of Paris.

Madame Royale, with whom her mother was much occupied, was eleven years old, a quiet, thoughtful princess of a sincere and pious nature. She sewed with Marie Antoinette, and prayed with her aunt frequently. They shrank from publicity, but were serene in the sight of the Parisians, winning a certain admiration for their composure.

The Queen had begun to suffer at once from the delight her humbler sisters felt at the beginning of her downfall. The Austrian had always stirred jealousy in France even when she was far removed from contact with the women who now watched her humiliation. She held her head superbly, and had a regal carriage. Once none dared accost the Queen, though she liked to wander about Paris unattended. Now, they came beneath her windows and held conversation freely. It was good to give advice and see that the proud Empress's daughter took it meekly. The very day after that attack on Versailles the market women were before the Tuileries. There were no body-guards to shelter the royal person. Marie Antoinette was a woman, as they were, and could satisfy their feminine love of power.

The Queen appeared at her window, ever ready to do as the times demanded; if she cherished animosity, she did not show it. She had the advantage in self-control over these women, clamorous to gratify the whim of the moment. They begged her to remove the bonnet she wore that they might see her clearly. It had been enough to catch a brief and fleeting glimpse of plumes and head-dress in some royal procession ten years ago. Every one was equal this glorious October—the chant of liberty sounded continuously from the neighbourhood of the Tuileries.

Marie Antoinette did their bidding, and gave the ribbons from her bonnet to a woman who asked for them in token of friendship. The petitioner had addressed the Queen in German and was happy to receive a reply in the French tongue. The descendant of the German Caesars had forgotten her native German, she declared to them. They were in high good-humour at such news, and ventured to think the Queen herself would wrong no one if only those courtiers were dismissed who proved the ruin of royalty.

Madame Elizabeth was alarmed when the boldest of the market women climbed to the windows of her apartments to see the Princess's toilette. She moved to a higher floor and pursued her daily tasks serenely. She was less troubled than the King and Queen by the procession of the late bodyguard going round the public promenades of Paris under the escort of their conquerors. The brave soldiers were welcomed enthusiastically, it is true, yet they could never again form a shield against publicity. They were absorbed by the tumultuous life of Paris, surging round the Tuileries, and destroying the peace of the inhabitants.

The Dauphin was only five years old. He alone enjoyed the sight of curious citizens peeping into the little garden where he dug with such energy. He was a pretty, fair-haired child, and had winning, easy manners. He would invite them to enter unless the number was too great, when he presented flowers gravely. The National Guard allowed some of their number to escort him, and he played at being a soldier. It was the delight of the spectators to see the happy child in uniform, shouldering a gun to imitate their exercises. By and by a regiment was formed for him to lead. The children under the command of the royal Dauphin wore the same uniform as the French Guards, with white gaiters and a three-cornered hat adorned with ribbons. Louis XVI smiled affably upon the merry regiment, saluting the flag as they passed him. The Dauphin made affectionate signs to his comrades from the Tuileries and would have given worlds to join them.

It often seemed to the King that there would be little danger to the throne in a city so well disciplined and cheerful. The theatres were always filled, and the cafes were frequented by thousands. He might have gathered at the plays, had he attended, that the aristocrats were derided: the Jacobin party made a point of insulting them and applauding liberty. There were constant interruptions from the people, whereas, in former times, only the young nobles had been allowed to interrupt the actors. The churches were still thronged by the faithful, a sign, the King thought, of stability, for he was a zealous Roman Catholic. He practised all the forms of religion in the Tuileries, welcoming the Queen's newer devotion. The royal couple were unconscious that the faith was dying in France. Mirabeau held it not, the greatest of contemporary Frenchmen and the Revolutionary party were active to destroy the Church, which they regarded as a heavy burden on the nation.

Some wind blew to Marie Antoinette the presages of evil that passed unnoticed by her husband, although she still played cards with the few courtiers who had not joined the emigrants. It was necessary to please the throng of pushing nobility who hastened to seek a welcome at the Tuileries because they would not have been received at Versailles. The prestige of Royalty was fast vanishing, and one could read contempt, had one the wit, in the very audience gaping at the public dinners which were consumed on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the palace.

From the Palais Royal the distant hum of voices bore suggestions of hatred to the ears of Marie Antoinette. These gardens were the centre of ceaseless oratory and corruption in the Revolutionary times. There was always some orator haranguing the multitude on the evils of the old order and the wonder of the new system—Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. They made a great parade of the latter, and rather grudged Royalty the right to walk in their grounds at certain hours when the public was excluded.

The Marquis de Favras wished to save the King and Queen by a bold plan, which included the arrest of Lafayette and Necker. His conspiracy was said by foes to embrace the intention of summoning a vast army to defend the Tuileries and to oppose the National Guard of Paris. They had no mercy when he was arrested and put on trial. The people were in court shouting constantly to the judges, "To the lantern with him!" He was hanged in the Place de Groves in February 1790, protesting his innocence to the delighted witnesses. They had got their way, and the first of the aristocracy had fallen. The tumult of excitement reached the palace, where Madame Elizabeth was overcome with grief. She knew De Favras to have lost his life because he would have saved hers. She could offer no consolation to Marie Antoinette when the widow of the dead man was brought to a public dinner in the Tuileries. Surrounded by hostile deputies, the Queen dared show no sympathy, lest she be accused of treason towards the nation.

From May to October the royal family were allowed to live at Saint-Cloud, a country residence where the Court had dwelt in greater freedom than at Versailles. It was a relief to escape from the spying eyes and the piercing voices of Paris, but sadness must dim the eye there, since in every glade and pathway there were memories of companions now lost. The Comtesse de Polignac was particularly missed by the Queen, who had delighted in her wit. She had the Princesse de Lamballe, lovely and self-sacrificing, yet the blank was never filled.

There had been a growing belief in Mirabeau's capabilities at the Court of late. The Queen might unite with him to save the tottering monarchy. She had energy to do something while the King hesitated ignobly. Mirabeau had heard much of Maria Theresa's daughter which led him to suppose that they could work together. During that summer an interview was arranged several times, and did not take place owing to the Queen's repugnance. She called the famous leader of the Assembly "the monster," and his terrible head rose before her always when she had memories of the 6th of October. She believed that he was of those who had come to Versailles to kill her.

On July 3rd the interview took place at Saint-Cloud, whither Mirabeau came secretly. He was accompanied to the entrance by a nephew, and charged him with a note, saying as they parted, "If I am not returned within three-quarters of an hour, give this to the Captain of the Militia." He would go alone into the garden on that summer morning, but he had dark suspicions and protected himself in this manner. There might be the treachery of the Crown to fear or the betrayal of some member of the Assembly. Mirabeau loved men, but there were many who hated him. He was too great a man to have few enemies, and he knew that he was going to do what many would condemn.

He saw the Queen, and was dazzled by her charm, for she received him warmly. He formed a high opinion of her determination and strength of character. When he went away from Saint-Cloud, he had resolved to save the monarchy and destroy, to some extent, the National Assembly.

Mirabeau, was playing, henceforth, a double part, corresponding as the secret agent of the Court, and speaking still the language of the Revolution. In his heart he loved the idea of the rule of kings without the powers of despotism. He had some of the inordinate vanity of his ancient, southern race. This led him to cling to the nobility, and resent the loss of his title when distinctions of rank had been abolished. He hated to be described as "Riquetti Senior, called Mirabeau." He began to put his servants in livery when others were discarding such signs of aristocracy. He felt bitterly that he was not well regarded in the higher circles of society. He was too exaggerated in manners and clothing. His ugliness might not injure him with women of middle rank, but it displeased fastidious beauties.

Mirabeau cursed the arrogance of the Revolutionaries, and resolved to be their master. He worked against them privately, and meant to declare war later. He received an income which relieved him of the humiliations of poverty. He was of a nature to spend freely, and loathed the economy of the new order. He was proud and happy to win the confidence of a queen who, he declared, was "the only man" the King had in his party. He had made plans for the Queen "to try what a woman and child can do on horseback." He recalled Maria Theresa, and her appeal to soldiers to defend her rights. He was disappointed that Marie Antoinette refused to leave the King.

Henceforth the greatest man in France must have regarded with mockery such ceremonies as that of the Field of Mars, held to commemorate the taking of the Bastille. The 14th of July was at hand, and the nation would make holiday. These Parisians loved a theatrical ceremony in the open-air, if they might themselves be audience and actors. The fete was to be on a vast scale, surpassing those of the Grand Monarch. The King must go to take a solemn oath to support the new Constitution, whether he believed in it or not. Paris had him safe now, and could depend upon his presence to add luster to the scene. They summoned the National Assembly and the army and delegates from every part of France, divided by this time into eighty-three departments.

Twelve thousand workmen had been engaged to build the amphitheatre, which was to hold 300,000 persons. They were lazy at their work, or so thought the eager organizers. It was publicly made known that the help of every loyal citizen would be welcomed as an act of patriotism.

The appeal was mightily successful, a vast concourse going daily to perform the hardest spade-work. Rich and poor found themselves side by side in the open Field of Mars. The Capuchin monk hauled a dray with some bold cavalier, and the hawker, leaving his street-cries for the day, laboured with some dandy from the Palais Royal, who sang in spite of himself with all the lusty chorus. For the workers were gay, and added the sauce of jesting and buffooneries to their honest labour. Drums and trumpets drowned the noise of spades and wheelbarrows, and the merry encouragements shouted by one comrade to another.

Here a lusty fish-wife pushes the wheelbarrow which has been loaded by a fine lady whose delicate white hands are blackened. She feels that equality, so long desirable, has been established, and laughs to behold the procession of men, headed by young girls with green boughs and tricolour streamers. They march to the strains of "Ca ira," the echo of Benjamin Franklin's phrase, now turned into a popular song against the aristocracy, who are to go to the lantern.

The sober nun pauses for a moment and regards her disheveled companion with surprise, but resumes her work whole-heartedly. Fate has paired her with an opera-dancer, rouged, curled, and adorned with vanities. To-morrow it may be a rag-picker, not too choice in her language. The Carthusian, she sees, has left the cloister to consort with water-carriers and charcoal-men. The scented Marquis shakes hands with him and the printers in paper caps, and the advocates and judges and the makers of their wigs. All with sound limbs are expected to be patriots. Even a disabled soldier, long since past his prime, toils as best he can, although he has a wooden leg. Some say there are 150,000 helpers, Lafayette and Bailly among them, and Abbe Sieyes, who is a wiry man of energy. The King comes to see the progress of the patriots and is loudly cheered by them. He knows the part he has to play now, and will go through with it on July the 14th when the Field of Mars is ready.

The Federates are in Paris at daybreak, assembled by the Bastille or the ruins of that fortress. The vast procession enters the Field of Mars by a bridge of boats where triumphal arches declare the sentiments of the day. "The king of a free people is the only powerful king." They insist on their freedom. Here is another: "You cherish this liberty, you possess it now; show yourself worthy to preserve it."

The 300,000 spectators are not daunted by the weather, for it rains, and a multitude of coloured umbrellas are raised to the accompaniment of songs and dances. There are mock combats, too, between men from different districts—a man of Lorraine against a Breton, a Provencal against one of the northern delegates. The time passes quickly before the King is led to the gallery, where he shares the honours with the President of the Assembly. The members of the royal family take their places in a private box where they can see the vast altar, raised by voluntary labour. It is heathenish, perhaps, with its antique vases and incense, its statues of Liberty and Genius, with the pennon bearing the one word, "Constitution." The very priests on the altar-steps must wear tricolour over their white vestments. Talleyrand, Bishop of Autun, cannot make the ceremony inspiring. He is to give up the priest's office and walk to martial music once again. The silence of Mass is broken by the salvoes of artillery, which proclaim to the four corners of France that the oath is now being taken. "I swear it"—the twenty-five million must echo the words which the General Lafayette repeats, dismounting from his white charger and ascending the King's gallery.

His voice rings clear, "We swear to be always faithful to the nation, the law, and the King." Louis is as audible when he speaks, and the Queen promises not for herself alone but for the little Dauphin she holds up in her arms.

The sun shines brilliantly upon Paris making holiday. Every one can don the Cap of Liberty, red as the blood which must flow before the Republic of France shall be established. Even to the quietest rooms of the Tuileries the song penetrates too shrilly

"ca ira, ca ira,

To the lamp-post with the aristocrats;

ca ira, ca ira,

The aristocrats we'll hang them all."