Marie Antoinette - Alice Birkhead


The 10th of August had given warning to the Royal Family that the spirit of a fighting nation had been roused by the consciousness that Brunswick's army, when it came, would give no quarter to Parisians. They were hostages now, to be guarded jealously, lest they escaped and joined the enemies of France. A National Convention ruled France in the place of Louis Seize. His very sword was taken away, for he could have no need for weapons in a prison.

The Tuileries had been a palace with appointments not too unlike Versailles, though its great rooms were dreary in the peril of those anxious times; but within the Temple Tower there was real discomfort to be faced and lack of privacy, which rendered each action liable to be construed into an offence by spies. The royal governess and the Princesse de Lamballe had been faithful in adversity, but they were soon removed. "There must be no one here but Capetians," the officers declared, and dragged them off by night to a prison less secure.

The King did not feel the pains of privation for he was a simple man, and washed and dressed and prayed as easily in his narrow room as if he had never been accustomed to the couchée  and the levée  rites. He had books to read, and gave instruction to his son after the simple breakfast had been served. Similar duties were performed by Marie Antoinette, who had become devout and spent many hours in religious thought, while her young daughter drew or sewed. The whole family was allowed to walk sometimes, chiefly for the Dauphin's sake. The child missed the freedom of his earlier days, and suffered from the horror of too sudden change of life, but his own doctor could not be allowed to visit him, though his mother begged more humbly than she had ever thought to do.

Suspicion became darker as the days passed, and those allied armies were a source of dread. The Royal Guards were changed at stated intervals and varied in their rules. One man, at least, was kindly,—Hue, who had been the valet of the little boy. He cleaned the tiny rooms now, while the Queen rose early to dress herself and her little son, for the attendance was limited and the women chose to wait upon themselves. At night they sat up often to patch the one coat that Louis had to wear. Their own dresses were few in comparison with former days, but the Dauphin was well supplied by the kindness of an English nobleman's wife. She had heard of his sad plight when the Tuileries was sacked, and sent him the wardrobe of her own child, who was about his age.

[Illustration] from Marie Antoinette by Alice Birkhead


The Dauphin seldom spoke of the toys and pleasures of court life. Perhaps his memory was short and he did not remember it. He studied the new map which his father made when France was divided into the new "departments," but he was not allowed to learn arithmetic lest he should be able to use figures for private correspondence with the Royalists outside the Temple walls. Before the end of August, spies were introduced into the prisoners' rooms—one Tison and his wife. Hue was removed because he was said to have brought a box of tricolour ribbon into the King's apartments and to have ordered "breeches of Savoyard colour." Savoy was suspected by the patriots of intending to assist the Allies, the ruler being bound by marriage ties with the brother of the Bourbon King. Cléry, a man of equal fidelity, came to act as valet in the place of Hue.

September came, and with it the news that Brunswick was on his way. Hope grew feverish in the heart of Marie Antoinette, and the Royal Family were hurried back to the Temple when they went to walk because those who had charge of them were afraid of the renewed violence of the mob. The report of a victory, gained by Brunswick, maddened all the citizens, closely watching their prey, and they resolved that the King and Queen should pay heavily for the losses inflicted on their subjects by the Allies they had called upon for help.

On September 3rd, a dreadful massacre began by order of the patriot ministers. They were determined that no traitors should be left in Paris to give secret aid to the invaders on the march. The prisons were full of Royalists, many of them faithful to the Queen. These must be sacrificed to that hatred of the "Austrian" which seized on men anew as they began to fear the power she had evoked. If Brunswick's soldiers should reach Paris, Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity would be as they had never been. "We march to meet the enemy but we will not leave brigands behind us to massacre our wives and children" was proclaimed.

There were conspirators among the victims of the "September massacres," but many perished who were innocent of any crime. The Princesse de Lamballe met a ghastly fate because she had wished to share the fortunes of Marie Antoinette when the dark hours came on France. She was cut down by the mob, and her head, elaborately dressed, was placed upon a pike and raised till it appeared before the windows of her friend, the Queen. The other inmates of the Temple would have concealed the gruesome sight, but the Queen saw it and fainted, broken down at last. Her spirit failed her in that moment and she no longer cared to live.

The tricolour bands of ribbon hung before the Temple as a sign of warning to the mob, but the guardians of the Royal Family feared that those who had killed the Princesse de Lamballe might attempt also to kill the Queen. When the awful work had been done in other prisons, a crier came beneath the Temple walls and proclaimed the deposition of the King. Death had been so near that they were untroubled as to what would be their fate on earth. The King read his book, indifferent that he was now plain Louis Capet, the Queen sewed and did not deign to raise her eyes. Austria and Prussia might arrive in time to save them from the last humiliation, but the pretty face of de Lamballe had not faded from her mind. She shuddered when the end of September made it certain that Paris for the time was victorious in arms. The allied forces of Austria, Prussia, and the Emigrants had failed at Valmy, and henceforth the deposed King was at the mercy of his judges, the people he had tried in vain to rule.