Stories of the French Revolution - Walter Montgomery

Marie Antoinette

This celebrated and unfortunate queen was born at Vienna in November, 1755, being the daughter of the Emperor of Germany and Maria Theresa of Austria. In May, 1770, she was married to Louis the Dauphin, grandson of Louis XV. In 1774 she became Queen of France. She was a fair young queen, and she has been described by several as she appeared in the height of her prosperity and among all the noblest of the land. She was kindly disposed, helping the poor, adopting orphans, and so on.

In 1777 she had a daughter, and after that a son. Her happiness was soon overclouded; for she fell into disrepute with the French people, and her hair grew gray with cares and sorrows. Her good name was blackened by falsehoods, and her beauty departed from her before its proper time. She often sat, even at Versailles, weeping in her inner apartments, feeling that she was hated as the evil genius of France. She had inherited, however, a strength and courage which stood her in good stead.

During the terrible day of the insurrection of the women she alone, they tell us, wore a face of courage, a look of lofty calmness, as if she were one who dared to do what she felt she ought to do.

On that 6th of October, when the king had showed himself on the balcony of Versailles to the mob, she went out too, with her boy and girl in either hand. "No children," cried the voices; and so she gently pushed them back, and stood there alone, with her hands crossed on her bosom. General Lafayette took her hand, and, making a low obeisance, kissed it; and then the people shouted, or some of them did, "Vive la Reine!" An officer, named Weber, declares that he saw one of the rough fellows leveling his musket at her, when another angrily struck it down.

Marie Antoinette's father was a Prince of Lorraine, and she ever had a drawing of her heart toward the people of that province. "Sire," said she to the king once, "these are some of your faithful Lorrainers," when some federates from that part were in Paris. She attracted the admiration of the great Mirabeau. In her he saw a courage like his own. "You do not know the queen," said he on one occasion; "her force of mind is prodigious: she is a man for courage."

Woman-like, too, was she. When it was decided to make that unfortunate flitting on the longest day of 1791, the queen must needs have a great stock of dresses made, which aroused suspicion; and she spent some five hundred louis d'ors about her toilet-case in having it arranged and forwarded, and it was lost, after all. We have already seen how she, in her broad gypsy hat, leaning on a stupid manservant's arm, took the wrong road as they issued from the Tuileries, and, instead of going to the left hand to the glass coach that was waiting, went to the right over the Pont Royal and the river, whereby a most precious hour was wasted, and, perhaps, all was lost! We have seen, too, how the lumbering new berlin, with all the hapless royal family in it, was stopped at Varennes, and how they were all brought back with ignominy to a harsher captivity.

The queen kept up a correspondence in cipher with the emigrants and friends of the monarchy at Coblentz, but she never could persuade the duller-witted Louis to come to any decision worthy of the name. When that singular procession, called that of the Black Breeches, invaded the Tuileries, she sat with her children and their aunt behind a barricade of furniture, weeping for very shame at the ruffianism which was allowed to go on unchecked in a king's house. When a woman offered her a red cap, which she took, and placed on her little boy's fair curls, the commandant, Santerre, who brewed beer, said to her, "Madame, this people loves you more than you think."

On the yet more awful morning of the loth of August, after a sleepless night, the queen stood with Madame Elizabeth, the king's sister, looking out of a window. "Sister," said Madame Elizabeth, "see what a beautiful sunrise!"

When the king was entreated to leave the palace and take refuge in the Assembly, some declare that the queen said, "As for me, I would be nailed to these walls sooner;" and she then offered her husband a loaded pistol, and bade him defend his home, for now or never was his time for doing it. Others deny the truth of these things; but all admit that she behaved herself queen-like, and neither shrieked nor wept, but steeled herself to die, if she had to die, in a manner worthy of the great Theresa's daughter.

It was said by some that the queen behaved with levity while the Tuileries was sacked and burning, and while the king and she, with the Princess Lamballe, were detained in the upper story of the Assembly Hall. They say that she and her friend looked out of the window, and laughingly shook the powder from their head-dresses on the people who were walking underneath. But if this were so, it was no laughing matter soon after to be shut up in the Temple tower, and to see, as they say she saw or might have seen, the bleeding head of her dear friend the Princess Lamballe carried on a pike-point before her barred window. One municipal officer said, "Look out;" another, of a more pitiful disposition, said, "Do not look."

During the melancholy autumn months the king was permitted, in company with his queen, to stroll in the garden of his prison at certain hours; but the time came when this privilege was put an end to, and the afflicted pair were kept in separate apartments.

Marie Antoinette


When the king had to die, in obedience to the decree of the Convention, his unhappy wife bade him farewell, as we have seen. Nothing is more pathetic in the range of history than that good-by. The king met his doom in January; but it was not before October that the rulers of France brought their next chief victim out of her cage, and feasted the people's eyes with her trial and execution. Those cat-eyed people are generally stealthy of foot, and awake when honester people are sleeping; and so it was that one morning at three o'clock the queen was removed to another prison. She was brought to her trial (was it not a mock one?) on the 14th of October, before the notorious Fouquier Tinville, and was arraigned as "the Widow Capet." We are glad to be told that the queen showed herself a true woman in this dreadful hour; and what better could she be?

Her accusers, of course, said what they could against her, and much more than they truthfully could; and of course, she was condemned to death. Could anything else have come of such a judge and such a jury? Impossible, when they began by assuming that it was a crime to be a queen at all. Deliver us, O Lord, from such a justice-room as that of Tinville and his creatures! Surely, the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.

It was on Monday when the "once brightest of queens, now defaced and forsaken," stood at Tinville's bar; and one can still read in the Bulletin of the Revolutionary tribunal the "trial of the Widow Capet."

The witnesses came forward, one after another, and delivered their testimony; and the accused lady answered, when necessary, with calmness and dignity. After she was sentenced to death, which took place at four o'clock in the morning, she was asked whether she had anything to say. She replied by shaking her head. A little while after the trial was ended, the city was astir to feast its cruel eyes on the death agony of Marie Antoinette.

At sunrise the troops were drawn up, the cannon pointed in the proper direction, and every other preparation made, by the rulers of France, against any possibility of a rescue; and at eleven o'clock the queen was brought out of her dismal prison, and placed in a cart with her hands bound behind her. She was dressed in white. She had already cut off her long hair, which had become as white as snow. A priest, dressed as much like a layman as possible, went with her; but it was noticed that she spoke very little to him. Cries of "Vive la Republique!" arose all along the way; but the queen seemed to pay very small attention to them. When she was carried past the Tuileries, those who observed her face the most carefully saw a change in it. She was thinking of her husband and her children, and of what had been, and of what might have been had better counsels been taken. The queen reached the Place de la Revolution a little after twelve o'clock, and she mounted the scaffold with the courage of her race. The axe fell, Marie Antoinette was dead, and wild cries of "Vive la Republique!" arose from the infatuated mob which crowded the place.