An anonymous Frenchman’s reflections preceding the Queen’s trial.
A reaction to the political pamphlets of Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke.
Tottenham Court Road, October 1793.
As I write this pamphlet I fear that there is little hope left for the Queen of France and Navarre, now entitled Widow Capet, to evade execution through the popular louisette, or shall I say guillotine that apparently knows no class; let alone the chance for her to have a fair trial. The radicals’ hunger for revenge once more clouds their humanitarian and rightful judgement, as they seek out scapegoats for conviction that, by birth, have never been part of the former three estates. These scapegoats, the two representative monarchs of the French nation, dragged out of Louis XIV’s Gilded Cage, thrown into several disgraceful Parisian prisons, don’t they deserve the enactment of the principles the révolution bases itself upon? Égalité? Fraternité? Liberté? The King is dead, long live the Queen seems like a lost case to me when I think of our Marie Antoinette’s downfall behind the isolating walls of the Conciergerie. As Mr. Burke writes that ‘the murder of a […] queen [is] only common homicide’, I must admit that the déclaration takes her golden status away and the révolution will do the same thing to her decreasing life, but in the name of our much praised déclaration. (Burke quoted in Butler, 1984: 45)
I consider my political position to stand between the rather opposing views of my coevals, Mr. Burke and Mr. Paine. I will not join Mr. Burke’s path of badmouthing the massive forces of the mob that have arisen in France and I will not lose my thoughts in a senseless swamp of idealising choruses of praise for our former Queen. I must, nevertheless, agree that the combined factors of desperate hunger, delusional anger and scarring years of dirty gossip produce a bonfire of chaos, not a revolutionary flame. Of course, I must join Mr. Paine’s truthful statement that there is reason for which France has become so impoverished, the Bourbon fleur-de-lis seems to only have blossomed around the monarchy, the nobility and the clergy, leaving the majority of the Third Estate aborted from its benefits. France, the old Lion that used to live only from its former power and prestige, now independently reinvents itself by cutting off the umbilical cord, urging for a complete parricide. But can France’s royal parents be solely blamed for what has become of all its people, or what Mr. Paine calls a ‘system of war’? (Paine quoted in Butler, 1984: 109)
Have they been tyrants and traitors? Although religion has apparently lost its value and impact in France, I include one Calvinist view in my argument, which states that in case the people have motive and justification to depose their king or queen, should they not act in the nation’s best interest, the peuple might do so, but not through the means of murder. Whilst the Queen in all her desperation still clings to her will to uphold the monarchie absolue at all cost (which in Mr. Burke’s eyes is her birth- and marriage-right, rejected by Mr. Paine), this conservative loyalty resulting out of her very natural fear of the révolution in her position, might lead her interrogators to the conclusion that she might be guilty of epistolary high treason with international forces capable of triggering a potential Civil War in revolutionary France. As Mr. Paine suggests, exile would keep Antoinette alive, at least, especially because the royal couple has in the past supported the American Revolution financially. Where are the Mazarins and Richelieus to help the remaining monarch while she trembles on her knees? This I ask to the most esteemed tribunal, who seem to lust more after the blood on the guillotine’s angled blade and as many defamed heads as possible in the executioner’s basket in order to please the morbid taste of the masses, than the rights of men and women lost in the process.
Now I ask: Is it necessary to subject the Madame Déficit to her husband’s decapitated fate and impatiently, yes, irrationally swing the axe above her head? Has Marie Antoinette been a tyrant, Mr. Paine? The paranoid and halfway orphaned nation of Phrygian caps and tricolour cockades has embraced the revolutionary arms of Republicanism, eager to remove the old remaining rags of the monarchy and renew its system of values and ideals based on abolishment and absolute dethronement. Thus I ask to think in perspective and ponder whether it is worth feeding the hungry mob with chopped heads instead of loaves of bread? Far more rational actions should be taken to steer towards the recovery of my once beloved French nation, such as keeping the former Queen as hostage until a consistent ransom is issued to France by her brother, the Holy Roman Emperor. Is it not better for all of us to use the pen rather than the sword? For, the world knows that, pardon me, the révolution has used or shall I dare to say, abused, both? I dare ask another question for whoever shall judge the actions and misinterpreted misfortunes of Marie Antoinette.
Should she take full responsibility for decades of third Estate taxations with the entire nobility and clergy strongly revolting against even the idea of them being taxed, even threatening the monarchs if they did so? Why were Louis XIV and Louis XV not executed? Bread shortage, inequality, debauchery, debts and lost wars did not start with Marie Antoinette and certainly not with Louis XVI. They inherited an indebted and corrupt minefield state in which Louis tried to progress and failed to create financial justice after several efforts with numerous finance ministers. What will be the charges against the Autrichienne, whose reputation, since her marriage, has been tarnished with degradingly fanciful propaganda libelles? Will her head be hacked off and held up over the Place de la Révolution for the toothless, primitive and indoctrinated crowd to see? Would that be the end of bloodshed and tyranny, Mr. Paine? Would her death be the culminating point of change? Similar to Mr. Burke’s view, my faith in radicalism is unstable to say the least, I will not underestimate the fanatical addiction to bloodthirstiness of Héberts, Fouquier de Tinvilles and Robespierres in whose hands our dethroned Queen of France now lies.
“Marie Antoinette unter Arrest” by Oscar Rex (1857-1929)
Aren’t both parties, the former Queen and the body of the révolution, subjected to one specific notion they both share, despite the underlying differences, their ideals? Must the revolutionaries send their defamed Queen, loyal to her ideals, to the scaffold to fulfil their proper ideals? If so, what do these ideals consist of? Does the Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen advocate murder, suspicion and terror? Is it not, at the most basic level, a seemingly inescapable conflict of opinion, or better even of values, with no party willing to strip off their loyalties? One pattern I can detect, Marie Antoinette is isolated and stands alone. As the Queen she has been excluded from the three estates and their duties. Now she is excluded from the rightfully declared men and women of the nation and might be deemed guilty as an alien party interfering or plotting against the new-born France where her ideals do not have a significance or right of existence anymore.
Due to the fact that she has lost her role, importance and representative power she might be considered senseless and powerless to the progress and the hindrance of the révolution. So I ask, why not just send her away and end this abomination? There is obviously no place in France for her anymore, so why shed her blood on its grounds? Doesn’t the déclaration already deem her abolished? The words have been written and uttered, the contagious and convincing language of the révolution has succeeded and any further bodily execution would be out of mere spite and egomaniac symbolism. Apparently the newly founded rights do not include the Widow Capet and as she, by loyalty to her accustomed system, excludes herself from the déclaration, she may fall into the same nothingness as her husband, the monarchy and Versailles. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette have been cruelly abandoned by most of their protected nobility, vanishing like ungrateful, mute worms into other countries to seek refuge. And we all know what happened to those who did attempt to run helpful interferences. Our Capets have been left to fight an outgrowing battle they are doomed to lose.
Was she the best of monarchs, suited to efficiently rule over our realm? Most certainly not. Was she adored by the estates? Increasingly not. Not everybody has the character of a Catherine the Great. Marie Antoinette has been Maria Theresia’s and Louis XV’s binding pawn to consolidate the re-created friendship between the Austrian House of Habsburg and French House of Bourbon. She has never been able to heal the wounds inflicted by previous megalomaniac reigns and recover the French nation and certainly not in an alien country during her teenage years. Mr. Paine, a contrarious mass in the monarchy is the same as a contrarious mass in citizenry. Both reflect each other and malfunction as they fail to find a consensus. I plead for Marie Antoinette’s life, let her be exiled, be it Austria or America. I beg the Revolutionary Tribunal to treat her case wisely, do not be fooled by preconceived and over decades elaborated ideas and concepts of her, do not adjudge her to be guilty without any substantial proof. And, what would you be ready to do to survive if your life was in the hands of murdering lunatics? Guilty? Maybe, but according to whom and whose standards and to what end? Do not let the Révolution Française be predominantly remembered for its unnecessary and rabid bloodshed.
The calumny of Marie Antoinette through the use of depreciative nicknames is as effective and lasting as her official noble titles. From an Austrian Archduchess to the Dauphine of France and from the Queen of France to the Widow Capet, she is elevated by titles and she is robbed of them and re-named by the revolutionaries. Although, it is not only the revolutionaries who use language to their benefits, as the nobility itself efficiently defames her with the degrading double-edged name L’Autrichienne and later she is generally called Madame Déficit. Every name that she is given will stick and stain her reputation. By stripping her of her royal title and giving her a civil name that even includes the fact that her husband is dead, the revolutionaries de-glorify and abase her to the status of a simple prisoner. Widow Capet definitely lacks the attraction of respect and reverence. To bring down a Queen one must first suffocate her title and everything that it entails by attacking her with an ‘insulting adulation of addresses’. (Burke quoted in Butler, 1984: 44)
Considering the fact that Marie Antoinette is de-personified and a remaining problem in the eyes of the revolution the conclusion is probable, that her notorious and influenced judges will proceed with the same radical technique of cutting her off with whichever means possible. Once the title is gone it is rather easy to eliminate what is left of her. She is no longer a ‘delightful vision’ or a ‘morning-star’, as her physical and mental health are deteriorating rapidly under the terrorising circumstances. (Burke quoted in Butler, 1984: 44) To incarcerate a queen is one thing, to execute her is another, especially when the highly embellished and partly fictitious allegations made against her are put out of an empathetic and comprehensible context.
The foulest accusation against her is the shameless insult and ambitious lie that she commits incest with her son, who is so deeply indoctrinated and manipulated by the revolutionaries that he even unnaturally testifies against his own mother. If the tribunal deems itself to be fair, just and progressive, this proof of subjective hatred demonstrates its murder-mongering incompetence and senseless vengefulness. Even though ‘a queen is but a woman’, Marie Antoinette is a mother and she defends herself with a checkmating speech addressing all the mothers of Paris present at her trial. (Burke quoted in Butler, 1984: 45)
Burke combines two words with each other which should oppose one another. Both are interdependent, laws should dominate over or avoid terrors, but without terrors or crimes there would be no law. Burke makes them partners in crime in the time of the French Revolution. ‘[L]aws are to be supported only by their own terrors’, meaning that these forceful and oppressive laws create terrors and the ones obeying them are either in favour of terrors or afraid of them. (Burke quoted in Butler, 1984: 45) This ‘new system’ that Paine vouches for and deems a ‘common benefit of society’ is based on terror and tyranny, which he attributes almost solely to the monarchy and nobility. (Paine quoted in Butler, 1984: 109) Ideologically and theoretically seen, it appears to be a good-natured change and evolution, but looking at the facts and body counts committed in the declaration’s name, one must apprehend it otherwise. Paine writes without any superficial pomp and has a populist approach, but despite his nuanced view, it seems as if he is ignoring the barbarism of the revolution, merely focusing on the injustice done by the monarchy and how useless it has always been and still is. He condemns and abolishes it, without paying attention to real assassinations, which happen daily in massive numbers on the streets of Paris. These numbers are people’s lives, not the numbers of money that the monarchy spent. What is the bigger crime? According to the Rights of Man or the Declaration of Rights does not the human being stand over money? Is this the moneygrubbing beginning of capitalism hiding behind a veil of falsely used and pretentious ideals? Has the monarchy not been, in contrast, at the very least, honest?
Burke is right when he utters that at the end of every tribunal ‘you see nothing but the gallows’, which resembles a statement made by Pierre Vergniaud: ‘[c]itizens, we have reason to fear that the Revolution, like Saturn, will successively devour all its children, and finally produce despotism, with the calamities that accompany it’. (Burke quoted in Butler, 1984: 45) (Vergniaud quoted in Mignet, 1824: n. p.) Paine and Burke both speak of terror, but associate it to different sides, fact is that one terror is replaced by another, one tyranny succeeds another and instead of having one or two people reign over the state, there are many who govern now, but it is highly peculiar that those who have founded the revolution are also the ones getting throttled by it. Everybody is equal, victims are perpetrators and vice versa.
(Anecdote from the future: The crimes attached to Marie Antoinette’s name are the same ones attached to her judges’ names, which almost makes the condemnation null and void, based on what ideals, laws and ideologies? Robespierre, Hébert, Danton and Fouquier-Tinville are executed on the same grounds as the former Queen of France, ironically for the same reasons.)
‘I have promised the head of Antoinette. I will go and cut it off myself if there is any delay in giving it to me’. (Hébert quoted in Fraser, 2001: 394) Such a violent and raw announcement is not the product of a state of ‘full maturity’ and it certainly does not contribute to the sugar-coating statement that ‘[c]ivil government does not consist in executions’. (Paine quoted in Butler, 1984: 112, 110) Similar to the definite and potential mental deficiency successions of Kings and Queens, the revolution sickens and contaminates itself. ‘[S]carcely any are executed but the poor’ certainly is one achievement of the revolution, everybody has the right to be executed and nobody is safe. (Paine quoted in Butler, 1984: 112) ‘As for his [Louis’] wife, you will send her before the courts, like all other persons charged with similar crimes.’ (Robespierre quoted in Fraser, 2001: 381) The object of Robespierre’s sentence is absolutely interchangeable.
Paine claims that the tyrannical ‘hereditary government’ ‘inherit[s] the people’, but one might say that in the glorified new system the revolution is the people and commits suicide, bit by bit. (Paine quoted in Butler, 1984: 110) But at least there is only a ‘small quantity of taxes it requires’. (Paine quoted in Butler, 1984: 109) Almost everything Paine criticises about the monarchy can be attributed to the mechanics and means of the revolution, especially when it comes to Marie Antoinette the tribunal ‘encourages national prejudices’ and poisons the capacity to think freely and independently. (Paine quoted in Butler, 1984: 109) It certainly leaves no time and room for neither the truth, nor a proper defence.
‘Kings who become prisoners are not far from death’ is a chronologically adequate and tragic truth that can be attributed to all the classes in the time of the revolution, even to its proper creators and engineers. (Marie Antoinette quoted in Fraser, 2001: 281) The revolution slaughters the monarchy like ‘animals’ and its advocates and people like a ‘swinish multitude’. (Paine and Burke quoted in Butler, 1984: 110, 46) In contrast to the once sheltered and cut-off Versailles, in Paris nothing is ‘kept behind a curtain’. (Paine quoted in Butler, 1984: 110) Again Paine characterises the monarchy as radical and totalitarian, even dictatorial, but fact is that everybody is ‘slavish’ confronted to the revolution and its ‘LEADERS’, be it nobility or citizenry. (Paine quoted in Butler, 1984: 112, emphasis in original)
If it does not require a human being to free a government, what is the creature that observes aloud that the government is free per se? What is the raison d’être of the human existence if everything is as it is without the interference of humanity? Is this not an involuntary high treason against all the ideals Paine stands for? In this context, why even capture, let alone assassinate Marie Antoinette, when all there is are nothing but laws, but without the capacity of corruption, how can they be broken? And more importantly, if there are only laws per se and a priori, how can anyone even attempt to violate them? This leads to the conclusion that the only law that is guaranteed and fulfilled is the law of nature, which has unfortunately nothing to do with rights.
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