Marie Antoinette - Alice Birkhead

The Victim

With the morning the Queen's judges came and read her sentence, and bade the executioner bind her wrists with cord. She protested against this last indignity, for the King had not been bound for the dreary passage through the streets.

It was probably some strange thought of earlier life which made Marie Antoinette robe herself in white. It was a flowing robe of muslin which she donned instead of black. She had new shoes brought to her for the day—dainty high-heeled shoes, in contrast with those which she had patched herself. Before she cut off her hair she had found a white linen cap to cover what remained of the auburn splendour of her youth—a few white locks strayed beneath the covering and made her look old and haggard though she put rouge upon her face. She was almost sightless owing to the close confinement in the cell, which was partly underground.

The Queen left the prison and found a cart waiting, for the prophecy was correct which said that the King should be the last to ride to execution in a carriage. A tumbril had become a common sight to the spectators of the Paris streets, but Marie Antoinette had not looked for degradation such as this when she resigned herself to death. The executioner sat by her side and kept his hold upon the cord which bound her wrists, while the priest she would not hear rode with her too. He had accepted the Civil Constitution of the Church and could not confess one who had become devoted to the ancient Catholic faith.

There were jeers and insults from the populace who had once been lovers of the beautiful Dauphine. The spectacle attracted the lowest, for they now loved to see the aristocrats pass to their doom. The horse went very slowly, for the Queen "must be made to drink long of death."

[Illustration] from Marie Antoinette by Alice Birkhead


There were troops to line the way, but the crowd beyond them thrust forth heads wearing the scarlet caps of liberty, and their hoarse voices uttered horrible threats. They judged it insolence that the Austrian was not intimidated on her long and dreary drive that rainy autumn morning. She did not seem to see her enemies, but sat upright and chafed somewhat against the cords which bound her till the gardens of the Tuileries were reached. The agony of remembrance proved too much for pride. In that place her little son had played.

She went up the scaffold steps. Tall and imposing, her figure stood outlined against the trees till she entreated the executioner to make haste. For death meant life to her who was alone on earth.

The Queen's head was shown to the people when it was cut off, and there were some who could rejoice at such a sight. But there were others in the crowd who shuddered, feeling that this was worse than regicide.

Yet vengeance would not fall upon the Republic as had been feared by those who put a Queen to death. The Royalist army was turned aside on the march to Paris and defeated at the battle of Wattignies. The fort of Maubeuge remained in patriot hands and blocked the invasion of the capital.

The Queen's martyrdom was not known in the Temple till evening came. Simon drank merrily and made the young King drink with him.

Louis XVII did not long survive his mother, though there were always romantic stories, told by claimants to the throne, of his escape from prison, and these claimants each tried to prove that another child had been kept in the cell in his stead. He died after being tortured in a noisome place, where he was quite alone.

Madame Royale survived the tragedy and lived to see Provence upon the throne. Madame Elizabeth went to the scaffold, accused of being too loyal to the memory and fortunes of the tyrant, Louis Seize. Her life had ever been most saintly, but the Revolution needed blood.