Nothing is harder to direct than a man in prosperity; nothing more easily managed than one is adversity. — Plutarch

Marie Antoinette - Alice Birkhead




Long Live Orleans!

All France was in a ferment of excitement as the election of the deputies went on throughout the memorable spring of 1789. The people seemed already free, for every man might vote, every injured citizen set forth his plaints in the innumerable cahiers  of grievances prepared in distant parishes, where hitherto there had been scant hope that justice would condescend to listen if there were complaints. Five million helped to choose the representatives of a nation on the eve of liberty; five million warring desperately among themselves. The higher clergy found rebels among the parish priests. Some two hundred were ready when the time came to acknowledge opinions they had not dared to show when the Second Estate was in full power. There was jealousy and bickering also in the First Estate. In Brittany the nobles refused to elect any deputies at all. It was well for the commons that wise Mounier of Grenoble took the lead and was ready to give counsel if dire perplexity arose. It proved no easy matter to elect the twelve hundred deputies who were to come to Versailles on the fourth of May. There had been unusual hardship throughout the entire winter. The sun shone out, at last, and the great day opened with the warmth of spring.

France had sent thousands toward Paris and Paris sent thousands to Versailles. Rooms had been packed the night before, and the poorer deputies looked rather ruefully at the hard-won guineas which they paid out for their beds, for the magnificent habits of the court at Versailles made it an expensive place. There had been murmurs in distant provinces that the Assembly of Representatives ought to be summoned to the Capital itself, but Louis XVI was still an absolute King. He looked to Necker, that strong Swiss, to check the will of the people if they showed signs of new obstinacy as a result of their new privilege.

A solemn religious procession was to celebrate the Fourth of May. No State business could be celebrated until the pageant had passed from Notre Dame to the church of Saint Louis, patron-saint of the King.

Versailles was magnificent that day, not only with the glories of the summer sky, the cloudless beauty of an ideal May, but the streets hung with tapestries and banners made the bravest show. There was the sound of trumpets in the air and the martial roll of drums. The bells chimed out to remind the worldly of the hour for Mass. Plumes and jewels were in evidence to show the last brilliance of the splendid court. Fair, painted faces smiled as if they were assured that pleasures could never end. The nobility made a proud band, as they walked in step, with their dresses richly ornamented in gold. Colours blazed in the sunlight as they passed. Monsieur and his brother Artois were the most resplendent of them all. They were aided by two other princes of the blood in carrying the poles of a canopy held above the sacrament borne by the Archbishop of Paris. The clergy of Versailles had set out first of all. The sombre masses of the commons walked before the court. There was among their ranks one of the nobility at least—the Marquis of Mirabeau, ugly, powerful, a king among the people of the Third Estate.

Orleans sought popularity still and held aloof from his own ranks, his eyes gleaming with satisfaction as he heard the salutations of the crowd. He hoped to be King of France one day, for he foresaw that Louis XVI would know evil days. He had worked secretly among the disaffected long ere this, and exulted as he heard the cry, "Long live Orleans!" He listened for the same cheers to greet the King and court. Louis had done a good deed in summoning the Three Estates. There were some to acknowledge his kindness on that fateful march.

There was silence as the Queen passed, erect and stately in her royal robes. The sun shone upon her auburn head, and she looked singularly graceful in contrast with the King. No glittering cloth, no jewels could shed the lustre of high dignity on Louis the Well-Doing, but he had pleased the nation and they were willing to give thanks. All their hatred of Marie Antoinette found echo in the menacing cry some women raised, "Long live Orleans!" That they should dare to cheer her enemy as she passed was ominous to the Queen of France. She would have ignored the insult but her strength failed and she stumbled. Bystanders of cruel nature whispered to each other that the blow had told.

The Queen would have fainted if the Princesse de Lamballe had not been at hand. It must have been the crowning humiliation of the day to her. She was impatient of this crowd and its clamouring for rights. Within her heart contempt rose and she saw them overthrown. She had kinsfolk who would aid her with an army as she had aided them with gold.

Within the church of Saint Louis there were emblems of the majesty of France. Under a canopy of purple velvet the royal couple sat, and the golden fleur-de-lis  of the Bourbon line was richly embroidered in honour of the name. The service was not long, but the Queen found the sermon tedious enough. She was thinking of her eldest son, who lay dying meanwhile. She had already lost her youngest child and the loss had been severe. Public business could not wholly fill her mind as she thought of the little boy, never to be King of France.

His mother passed out of the church on this May afternoon and did not heed the disdainful silence of the crowd, because she was torn by anxiety for the welfare of her child. She wondered how he fared, and if he could hear the tumult that was the sign of a new spirit in the Third Estate.

A month after this first meeting of the States-General the little Dauphin died, and a great cry arose. The Queen called out to God, forgetting, in her new anguish, the perils of the throne. The child was taken to lie among the kings at Saint Denis, after the nobles had been brought to pay reverence to the dead. The Duc de Normandie was proclaimed the heir to France, but there was now a possibility that he might not reign.

The Revolution had begun, but the Crown had not ceased to exercise its powers. Marie Antoinette rallied from the first shock of grief to urge the King that he should check the Representatives of the Third Estate. The order was given that there should be a Royal Session to decide whether the three Orders were to vote separately or not. Unless the deputies met together in one chamber the people would be reduced to servitude again. Some of the clergy held aloof now from the Second Estate, and stood by the Third Estate in their insistent demands.

Meanwhile the Hall, where the Royal Session would be held, was cleared, by the King's command, till the 22nd of June, and workmen were busy preparing it for that clay, when the deputies came streaming through the streets of Versailles to hold conclave on the burning question of the hour. It was raining, and their court suits would be ruined if they lingered too long out-of-doors. A placard had been put up to proclaim the King's decree. Men read it and looked at one another in perplexity. Mirabeau was there, and Bailly the President—they had heard nothing of this check before. They held a brief consultation and then made their way to a sheltered tennis-court which happened to be unoccupied. They closed their umbrellas and felt secure from storm. A goodly number of the Third Estate had gathered, when Bailly decided that it was high time to act. He stood upon a table, and one by one the deputies came to him and took a solemn oath that they formed the National Assembly of France, and would meet in any place they found till they had given a constitution to their country and knew that it had no longer need of them.

Six hundred hands were uplifted in the court, where nets and rackets—silent witnesses of the "pastime of princes"—now witnessed a more solemn game. "It was the greatest game of tennis ever played on earth, and the halls were the crowns, even the heads, of kings."

Only one man refused to take the oath—Martin d'Auch of Languedoc—and the infamy of his refusal lives until this day. The six hundred have their names inscribed, each encircled by a wreath, while the space for the name of Martin Auch is left a blank.