The angry historians see one side of the question. The calm historians see nothing at all, not even the question itself. — G. K. Chesterton

Marie Antoinette - Alice Birkhead




In the Tuileries

The ancient palace of the kings of France had been cleared, perforce, of all that train of royal pensioners who had begun to look upon it as their own. It was long since it had sheltered those of royal blood. Catherine de Medici had lived there once. Now it was the haunt of shabby artists and poor gentlewomen, retired officials, actors, and a swarm of parasites. At first, permission to live within the Tuileries had been hard to gain. Court functionaries pleaded the expense of life in Paris where they had to live; then painters, sheltered in the Louvre, made their way within the walls where there was still much empty space. Petitions flowed in later and met with a kind reception from indolent dwellers at Versailles, who did not think of Paris as the residence of the court.

There was a church within the walls so that the little colony might hold private Mass. There were shops set up within the enclosure too. Theatres provided for the entertainment of citizens sheltered by the bounty of Louis XVI. There were many discomforts in times of excessive heat and cold, for the rooms were ill-ventilated and very badly built. An occupant might faint in summer owing to the oppressive atmosphere, and in winter sit and shiver in the cruel draughts, cursing the arrangement by which his neighbours passed through his kitchen or dining-room to reach their own abode. Though they had grumbled previously, the tenants of the Tuileries realized their privileges, as men will, when an order came through the King's architect, M. Mique, that the palace was to be made ready for the King. The whole colony was bundled out, pacified by promises of recompense; workmen were summoned in hot haste, and the sixth of October saw the. Royal Family installed.

The little Dauphin had been accustomed to a suite of rooms, furnished with due luxury, and he was inclined to be peevish when he saw his bed, set in the middle of a vast apartment, open on all sides, with doors barricaded because they would not shut. Marie Antoinette reminded him that they had done well enough for Louis X1V, the proudest of the Bourbon kings, and the boy slept at last, without a guard, but his new governess watched by him though tired out.

The Queen received the brave soldier of the Guard who had saved her life on the evening of October 5th. She could not forget Miomandre de Sainte-Marie, who had been wounded at her door, nor his chivalrous companion, Tardivet du Repaire. She learned that Paris had insulted Miomandre and she sent for him, speaking words so gracious that the soldier would have died for her. The King stood by her side, grateful but ill-at-ease. He could find no words to express the admiration that he felt, The Queen excused his silence, but she began to despair of him, for he was always unready in a crisis. He might have acted promptly and fled before they were exposed to the humiliations of virtual imprisonment in the Tuileries.

The faithful guard had been so treated that it was judged wise to send him out of Paris, where he would be safe. Marie Antoinette would fain have followed him, for she hated to be among her subjects now. The lowest could pry into the details of her private life, and insist on speech with her. These French women, jealous of her grace, climbed to her very windows and watched her toilet with greedy eyes. Paris was determined to make a show of the King and Queen whom they had seized. A crowd pressed constantly about the Tuileries, which was overlooked by other buildings of the town. It had been hard to submit to dinners in public at Versailles in days when pleasant Trianon could always be considered a retreat. It was very hard now to walk abroad, gaped at by Parisians, gloating over the royal possession they had in their, hands. The Tuileries was very like a prison in these days.

The Queen had been exhausted by having to oppose the violence which had prompted the attempt upon her life. She worked at her tapestry and read with her daughter, the pious Madame Royale. They were fond of books of devotion since the Princess had attended her first Communion. Henceforth, it was said, there was something new to be observed in Marie Antoinette. She found comfort for her sore troubles in attending the services of her Church. She was almost as serene as the young sister of the King, Elizabeth, whose name is reverenced still.

The King could not hunt, and he felt the need of all that physical exercise which had filled his early years. He missed the glorious woods surrounding Versailles and the royal chase. Striding up and down the rooms where he was now confined, he hated the sight of streets crowded always by a noisy mob. He was accustomed to days of comparative solitude far from the business of the world. He had not even a workshop here where he could busy himself in making locks. He used a file sometimes when he did not care to read devotional books or the History of Charles X. The story of that unhappy monarch had a fascination for the Bourbon kings. Meanwhile, in the Riding School near by, Guillotin was insisting that death should give no privileges to rank, and was urging decapitation by means of a new machine. Louis took a keen interest in these debates, and suggested an improvement in the construction of the knife which was to strike off so many heads. The Doctor was quite infatuated by the humane means of inflicting death. "We cannot make too much haste, gentlemen," he urged, "to allow the nation to enjoy this advantage." Some of his companions in the National Assembly laughed, while others were shocked, at the details he gave of the machine. All were soon to be but too familiar with it.

The Dauphin became reconciled to the hardships of removal from Versailles, for he had a little garden of his own in the palace grounds and used to dig there, to the admiration of the fickle crowd. The pretty, fair-haired child won many hearts by running to shake hands with any citizen who desired the honour of being greeted by the future king. Louis XVI had been declared "King of the French" instead of "King of France and Navarre," but Louis' son had no idea that the change could mean anything to him. He thought the people kind, for they cheered lustily to see him in the uniform of the National Guard in miniature, and brought their own little boys to be drilled. It was better fun to be a colonel of troops in the gardens of the Tuileries than to run about the park of Versailles with a governess who was not nearly so indulgent as the King.

[Illustration] from Marie Antoinette by Alice Birkhead
ARISTOCRATS, 1790


Paris was amused by the new spectacle but discontented with the results of that October day. "The Baker, the Baker's Wife and the Little Apprentice" had been captured with the wagon-loads of flour, and still there was not bread to eat. Sheer ferocity made the mob seize an honest baker, Francois by name, on the ground that he had kept loaves from the hungry, though the unhappy wretch had been most ready to supply the food. He was dragged a le lanterne  from the hands of the National Guard who would have saved his life. After he was hanged, his head was carried on a pike for every baker to kiss who chanced to meet the crowd. The practice of taking law into their own hands had begun with the trial of Foulon, an oppressor of the people who had bidden them eat grass. Foulon's head, its mouth stuffed derisively with the provender he had thought good enough for the poor, had flouted the authority of Lafayette. This time the leader demanded martial law that such rioting might be checked. It was granted by the National Assembly upon the condition that a red flag must be flown from the chief window of the Town Hall and carried before the troops sent to disperse the mob.

While the people starved and wreaked their vengeance on any unlucky offender they could seize and kill, there was sullen wrath at the sight of the train of attendants thought necessary by the court. The Royal Family might be prisoners but they fared sumptuously at meals. Many servants were lodged in the Tuileries, while others boarded out, scorning the citizens who did not understand how to order functions as splendid as those at Versailles. The Queen had her own German baker still, and special medical attendants, as had the King, the Dauphin and Madame Elizabeth. These had their lackeys, too, and Paris marvelled at the resplendent suites. Marie Antoinette's unpopularity had increased since the publication of a book which recounted the frivolities of her early years. Extravagance could be cited still, and arrogance which would not let her lead the simple life of a loyal "citoyenne."

In February, 1790, Joseph of Austria died and was succeeded by his brother Leopold. There was a plan of escape which enabled Marie Antoinette to endure the raucous cries which reached her even from the cafes of the Palais Royal, the haunts of oratory in these revolutionary times. A passion for speeches and for written words had come upon France with the increased opportunities of hearing what the National Assembly was doing in the Riding School. The Duc d' Orleans had left Paris, but he had many creatures there. The sound of their eloquence reached the Queen, who knew that attacks on her reputation poured from the press. The newspapers varied in their politics, but they were seldom loyal in tone. If they reported the death of a noble at the hands of the mob, the news was joyfully set forth, since it was the fashion to hate aristocrats. No wonder the Queen was glad to retire with her children to Saint-Cloud in the summer of 1790.

An immense crowd gathered to see that the royal captives should not free themselves. The journey out from Paris was rendered ignominious by the escort of the National Guard.