Memoirs of Marie Antoinette
Public Domain Books
The Abbe de Vermond could not repress his exultation when he succeeded in getting the Archbishop of Sens appointed head of the council of finance. I have more than once heard him say that seventeen years of patience were not too long a term for success in a Court; that he spent all that time in gaining the end he had in view; but that at length the Archbishop was where he ought to be for the good of the State. The Abbe, from this time, in the Queen’s private circle no longer concealed his credit and influence; nothing could equal the confidence with which he displayed the extent of his pretensions. He requested the Queen to order that the apartments appropriated to him should be enlarged, telling her that, being obliged to give audiences to bishops, cardinals, and ministers, he required a residence suitable to his present circumstances. The Queen continued to treat him as she did before the Archbishop’s arrival at Court; but the household showed him increased consideration: the word “Monsieur” preceded that of Abbe; and from that moment not only the livery servants, but also the people of the antechambers rose when Monsieur l’Abbe was passing, though there never was, to my knowledge, any order given to that effect.
The Queen was obliged, on account of the King’s disposition and the very limited confidence he placed in the Archbishop of Sens, to take a part in public affairs. While M. de Maurepas lived she kept out of that danger, as may be seen by the censure which the Baron de Besenval passes on her in his memoirs for not availing herself of the conciliation he had promoted between the Queen and that minister, who counteracted the ascendency which the Queen and her intimate friends might otherwise have gained over the King’s mind.
The Queen has often assured me that she never interfered respecting the interests of Austria but once; and that was only to claim the execution of the treaty of alliance at the time when Joseph II. was at war with Prussia and Turkey; that, she then demanded that an army of twenty-four thousand men should be sent to him instead of fifteen millions, an alternative which had been left to option in the treaty, in case the Emperor should have a just war to maintain; that she could not obtain her object, and M. de Vergennes, in an interview which she had with him upon the subject, put an end to her importunities by observing that he was answering the mother of the Dauphin and not the sister of the Emperor. The fifteen millions were sent. There was no want of money at Vienna, and the value of a French army was fully appreciated.
“But how,” said the Queen, “could they be so wicked as to send off those fifteen millions from the general post-office, diligently publishing, even to the street porters, that they were loading carriages with money that I was sending to my brother!–whereas it is certain that the money would equally have been sent if I had belonged to another house; and, besides, it was sent contrary to my inclination.”
[This was not the first time the Queen had become unpopular in consequence of financial support afforded by France to her brother. The Emperor Joseph II, made, in November, 1783, and in May, 1784, startling claims on the republic of the United Provinces; he demanded the opening of the Scheldt, the cession of Maeatricht with its dependencies, of the country beyond the Meuse, the county of Vroenhoven, and a sum of seventy millions of florins. The first gun was fired by the Emperor on the Scheldt 6th November, 1784. Peace was concluded 8th November, 1785, through the mediation of France. The singular part was the indemnification granted to the Emperor: this was a sum of ten millions of Dutch florins; the articles 15, 16, and 17 of the treaty stipulated the quotas of it. Holland paid five millions and a half, and France, under the direction of M. de Vergennes, four millions and a half of florins, that is to say, nine millions and forty-five thousand francs, according to M. Soulavie. M. de augur, in his “Policy of Cabinets” (vol. iii.), says relative to this affair:
“M. de Vergennes has been much blamed for having terminated, by a sacrifice of seven millions, the contest that existed between the United Provinces and the Emperor. In that age of philosophy men were still very uncivilised; in that age of commerce they made very erroneous calculations; and those who accused the Queen of sending the gold of France to her brother would have been better pleased if, to support a republic devoid of energy, the blood of two hundred thousand men, and three or four hundred millions of francs, had been sacrificed, and at the same time the risk run of losing the advantage of peace dictated to England.” MADAME CAMPAN.]
When the Comte de Moustier set out on his mission to the United States, after having had his public audience of leave he came and asked me to procure him a private one. I could not succeed even with the strongest solicitations; the Queen desired me to wish him a good voyage, but added that none but ministers could have anything to say to him in private, since he was going to a country where the names of King and Queen must be detested.
Marie Antoinette had then no direct influence over State affairs until after the deaths of M. de Maurepas and M. de Vergennes, and the retirement of M. de Calonne. She frequently regretted her new situation, and looked upon it as a misfortune which she could not avoid. One day, while I was assisting her to tie up a number of memorials and reports, which some of the ministers had handed to her to be given to the King, “Ah!” said she, sighing, “there is an end of all happiness for me, since they have made an intriguer of me.” I exclaimed at the word.
“Yes,” resumed, the Queen, “that is the right term; every woman who meddles with affairs above her understanding or out of her line of duty is an intriguer and nothing else; you will remember, however, that it is not my own fault, and that it is with regret I give myself such a title; Queens of France are happy only so long as they meddle with nothing, and merely preserve influence sufficient to advance their friends and reward a few zealous servants. Do you know what happened to me lately? One day since I began to attend private committees at the King’s, while crossing the oiel-de-boeuf, I heard one of the musicians of the chapel say so loud that I lost not a single word, ’A Queen who does her duty will remain in her apartment to knit.’ I said within myself, ’Poor wretch, thou art right; but thou knowest not my situation; I yield to necessity and my evil destiny.’”
This situation was the more painful to the Queen inasmuch as Louis XVI. had long accustomed himself to say nothing to her respecting State affairs; and when, towards the close of his reign, she was obliged to interfere in the most important matters, the same habit in the King frequently kept from her particulars which it was necessary she should have known. Obtaining, therefore, only insufficient information, and guided by persons more ambitious than skilful, the Queen could not be useful in important affairs; yet, at the same time, her ostensible interference drew upon her, from all parties and all classes of society, an unpopularity the rapid progress of which alarmed all those who were sincerely attached to her.
Carried away by the eloquence of the Archbishop of Sens, and encouraged in the confidence she placed in that minister by the incessant eulogies of the Abbe de Vermond on his abilities, the Queen unfortunately followed up her first mistake of bringing him into office in 1787 by supporting him at the time of his disgrace, which was obtained by the despair of a whole nation. She thought it was due to her dignity to give him some marked proof of her regard at the moment of his departure; misled by her feelings, she sent him her portrait enriched with jewelry, and a brevet for the situation of lady of the palace for Madame de Canisy, his niece, observing that it was necessary to indemnify a minister sacrificed to the intrigues of the Court and a factious spirit of the nation; that otherwise none would be found willing to devote themselves to the interests of the sovereign.
On the day of the Archbishop’s departure the public joy was universal, both at Court and at Paris there were bonfires; the attorneys’ clerks burnt the Archbishop in effigy, and on the evening of his disgrace more than a hundred couriers were sent out from Versailles to spread the happy tidings among the country seats. I have seen the Queen shed bitter tears at the recollection of the errors she committed at this period, when subsequently, a short time before her death, the Archbishop had the audacity to say, in a speech which was printed, that the sole object of one part of his operations, during his administration, was the salutary crisis which the Revolution had produced.
The benevolence and generosity shown by the King and Queen during the severe winter of 1788, when the Seine was frozen over and the cold was more intense than it had been for eighty years, procured them some fleeting popularity. The gratitude of the Parisians for the succour their Majesties poured forth was lively if not lasting. The snow was so abundant that since that period there has never been seen such a prodigious quantity in France. In different parts of Paris pyramids and obelisks of snow were erected with inscriptions expressive of the gratitude of the people. The pyramid in the Rue d’Angiviller was supported on a base six feet high by twelve broad; it rose to the height of fifteen feet, and was terminated by a globe. Four blocks of stone, placed at the angles, corresponded with the obelisk, and gave it an elegant appearance. Several inscriptions, in honour of the King and Queen, were affixed to it. I went to see this singular monument, and recollect the following inscription
“To Marie Antoinette.”
“Lovely and good, to tender pity true, Queen of a virtuous King, this trophy view; Cold ice and snow sustain its fragile form, But ev’ry grateful heart to thee is warm. Oh, may this tribute in your hearts excite, Illustrious pair, more pure and real delight, Whilst thus your virtues are sincerely prais’d, Than pompous domes by servile flatt’ry rais’d.”
The theatres generally rang with praises of the beneficence of the sovereigns: “La Partie de Chasse de Henri IV.” was represented for the benefit of the poor. The receipts were very considerable.
When the fruitless measure of the Assembly of the Notables, and the rebellious spirit in the parliaments,
[The Assembly of the Notables, as may be seen in “Weber’s Memoirs,” vol. i., overthrew the plans and caused the downfall of M. de Calonne. A prince of the blood presided over each of the meetings of that assembly. Monsieur, afterwards Louis XVIII., presided over the first meeting.
“Monsieur,” says a contemporary, “gained great reputation at the Assembly of the Notables in 1787. He did not miss attending his meeting a single day, and he displayed truly patriotic virtues. His care in discussing the weighty matters of administration, in throwing light upon them, and in defending the interests and the cause of the people, was such as even to inspire the King with some degree of jealousy. Monsieur openly said that a respectful resistance to the orders of the monarch was not blamable, and that authority might be met by argument, and forced to receive information without any offence whatever."–NOTE BY THE EDITOR.]
had created the necessity for States General, it was long discussed in council whether they should be assembled at Versailles or at forty or sixty leagues from the capital; the Queen was for the latter course, and insisted to the King that they ought to be far away from the immense population of Paris. She feared that the people would influence the deliberations of the deputies; several memorials were presented to the King upon that question; but M. Necker prevailed, and Versailles was the place fixed upon.
The day on which the King announced that he gave his consent to the convocation of the States General, the Queen left the public dinner, and placed herself in the recess of the first window of her bedchamber, with her face towards the garden. Her chief butler followed her, to present her coffee, which she usually took standing, as she was about to leave the table. She beckoned to me to come close to her. The King was engaged in conversation with some one in his room. When the attendant had served her he retired; and she addressed me, with the cup still in her hand: “Great Heavens! what fatal news goes forth this day! The King assents to the convocation of the States General.” Then she added, raising her eyes to heaven, “I dread it; this important event is a first fatal signal of discord in France.” She cast her eyes down, they were filled with tears. She could not take the remainder of her coffee, but handed me the cup, and went to join the King. In the evening, when she was alone with me, she spoke only of this momentous decision. “It is the Parliament,” said she, “that has compelled the King to have recourse to a measure long considered fatal to the repose of the kingdom. These gentlemen wish to restrain the power of the King; but they give a great shock to the authority of which they make so bad a use, and they will bring on their own destruction.”
The double representation granted to the Tiers Etat was now the chief topic of conversation. The Queen favoured this plan, to which the King had agreed; she thought the hope of obtaining ecclesiastical favours would secure the clergy of the second order, and that M. Necker was sure to have the same degree of influence over the lawyers, and other people of that class comprised in the Tiers Dat. The Comte d’Artois, holding the contrary opinion, presented a memorial in the names of himself and several princes of the blood to the King against the double representation. The Queen was displeased with him for this; her confidential advisers infused into her apprehensions that the Prince was made the tool of a party; but his conduct was approved of by Madame de Polignac’s circle, which the Queen thenceforward only frequented to avoid the appearance of a change in her habits. She almost always returned unhappy; she was treated with the profound respect due to a queen, but the devotion of friendship had vanished, to make way for the coldness of etiquette, which wounded her deeply. The alienation between her and the Comte Artois was also very painful to her, for she had loved him almost as tenderly as if he had been her own brother.
The opening of the States General took place on the 4th of May, 1789. The Queen on that occasion appeared for the last time in her life in regal magnificence. During the procession some low women, seeing the Queen pass, cried out “Vive le Duc d’ Orleans!” in so threatening a manner that she nearly fainted. She was obliged to be supported, and those about her were afraid it would be necessary to stop the procession. The Queen, however, recovered herself, and much regretted that she had not been able to command more presence of mind.
The rapidly increasing distrust of the King and Queen shown by the populace was greatly attributable to incessant corruption by English gold, and the projects, either of revenge or of ambition, of the Duc d’Orleans. Let it not be thought that this accusation is founded on what has been so often repeated by the heads of the French Government since the Revolution. Twice between the 14th of July and the 6th of October, 1789, the day on which the Court was dragged to Paris, the Queen prevented me from making little excursions thither of business or pleasure, saying to me, “Do not go on such a day to Paris; the English have been scattering gold, we shall have some disturbance.” The repeated visits of the Duc d’Orleans to England had excited the Anglomania to such a pitch that Paris was no longer distinguishable from London. The French, formerly imitated by the whole of Europe, became on a sudden a nation of imitators, without considering the evils that arts and manufactures must suffer in consequence of the change. Since the treaty of commerce made with England at the peace of 1783, not merely equipages, but everything, even to ribands and common earthenware, were of English make. If this predominance of English fashions had been confined to filling our drawing-rooms with young men in English frock-coats, instead of the French dress, good taste and commerce might alone have suffered; but the principles of English government had taken possession of these young heads. Constitution, Upper House, Lower House, national guarantee, balance of power, Magna Charta, Law of Habeas Corpus,–all these words were incessantly repeated, and seldom understood; but they were of fundamental importance to a party which was then forming.
The first sitting of the States took place on the following day. The King delivered his speech with firmness and dignity; the Queen told me that he had taken great pains about it, and had repeated it frequently. His Majesty gave public marks of attachment and respect for the Queen, who was applauded; but it was easy to see that this applause was in fact rendered to the King alone.
It was evident, during the first sittings, that Mirabeau would be very dangerous to the Government. It affirmed that at this period he communicated to the King, and still more fully to the Queen, part of his schemes for abandoning them. He brandished the weapons afforded him by his eloquence and audacity, in order to make terms with the party he meant to attack. This man played the game of revolution to make his own fortune. The Queen told me that he asked for an embassy, and, if my memory does not deceive me, it was that of Constantinople. He was refused with well-deserved contempt, though policy would doubtless have concealed it, could the future have been foreseen.
The enthusiasm prevailing at the opening of this assembly, and the debates between the Tiers Etat, the nobility, and even the clergy, daily increased the alarm of their Majesties, and all who were attached to the cause of monarchy. The Queen went to bed late, or rather she began to be unable to rest. One evening, about the end of May, she was sitting in her room, relating several remarkable occurrences of the day; four wax candles were placed upon her toilet-table; the first went out of itself; I relighted it; shortly afterwards the second, and then the third went out also; upon which the Queen, squeezing my hand in terror, said to me: “Misfortune makes us superstitious; if the fourth taper should go out like the rest, nothing can prevent my looking upon it as a sinister omen.” The fourth taper went out. It was remarked to the Queen that the four tapers had probably been run in the same mould, and that a defect in the wick had naturally occurred at the same point in each, since the candles had all gone out in the order in which they had been lighted.
The deputies of the Tiers Etat arrived at Versailles full of the strongest prejudices against the Court. They believed that the King indulged in the pleasures of the table to a shameful excess; and that the Queen was draining the treasury of the State in order to satisfy the most unbridled luxury. They almost all determined to see Petit Trianon. The extreme plainness of the retreat in question not answering the ideas they had formed, some of them insisted upon seeing the very smallest closets, saying that the richly furnished apartments were concealed from them. They particularised one which, according to them, was ornamented with diamonds, and with wreathed columns studded with sapphires and rubies. The Queen could not get these foolish ideas out of her mind, and spoke to the King on the subject. From the description given of this room by the deputies to the keepers of Trianon, the King concluded that they were looking for the scene enriched with paste ornaments, made in the reign of Louis XV. for the theatre of Fontainebleau.
The King supposed that his Body Guards, on their return to the country, after their quarterly duty at Court, related what they had seen, and that their exaggerated accounts, being repeated, became at last totally perverted. This idea of the King, after the search for the diamond chamber, suggested to the Queen that the report of the King’s propensity for drinking also sprang from the guards who accompanied his carriage when he hunted at Rambouillet. The King, who disliked sleeping out of his usual bed, was accustomed to leave that hunting-seat after supper; he generally slept soundly in his carriage, and awoke only on his arrival at the courtyard of his palace; he used to get down from his carriage in the midst of his Body Guards, staggering, as a man half awake will do, which was mistaken for intoxication.
The majority of the deputies who came imbued with prejudices produced by error or malevolence, went to lodge with the most humble private individuals of Versailles, whose inconsiderate conversation contributed not a little to nourish such mistakes. Everything, in short, tended to render the deputies subservient to the schemes of the leaders of the rebellion.
Shortly after the opening of the States General the first Dauphin died. That young Prince suffered from the rickets, which in a few months curved his spine, and rendered his legs so weak that he could not walk without being supported like a feeble old man.
[Louis, Dauphin of France, who died at Versailles on the 4th of June, 1789, gave promise of intellectual precocity. The following particulars, which convey some idea of his disposition, and of the assiduous attention bestowed upon him by the Duchesse de Polignac, will be found in a work of that time: “At two years old the Dauphin was very pretty; he articulated well, and answered questions put to him intelligently. While he was at the Chateau de La Muette everybody was at liberty to see him. The Dauphin was dressed plainly, like a sailor; there was nothing to distinguish him from other children in external appearance but the cross of Saint Louis, the blue ribbon, and the Order of the Fleece, decorations that are the distinctive signs of his rank. The Duchesse Jules de Polignac, his governess, scarcely ever left him for a single instant: she gave up all the Court excursions and amusements in order to devote her whole attention to him. The Prince always manifested a great regard for M. de Bourset, his valet de chambre. During the illness of which he died, he one day asked for a pair of scissors; that gentleman reminded him that they were forbidden. The child insisted mildly, and they were obliged to yield to him. Having got the scissors, he cut off a lock of his hair, which he wrapped in a sheet of paper: ’There, monsieur,’ said he to his valet de chambre,’ there is the only present I can make you, having nothing at my command; but when I am dead you will present this pledge to my papa and mamma; and while they remember me, I hope they will not forget you.’"–NOTE BY THE EDITOR.]
How many maternal tears did his condition draw from the Queen, already overwhelmed with apprehensions respecting the state of the kingdom! Her grief was enhanced by petty intrigues, which, when frequently renewed, became intolerable. An open quarrel between the families and friends of the Duc Harcourt, the Dauphin’s governor, and those of the Duchesse de Polignac, his governess, added greatly to the Queen’s affliction. The young Prince showed a strong dislike to the Duchesse de Polignac, who attributed it either to the Duc or the Duchesse d’Harcourt, and came to make her complaints respecting it to the Queen. The Dauphin twice sent her out of his room, saying to her, with that maturity of manner which long illness always gives to children: “Go out, Duchess; you are so fond of using perfumes, and they always make me ill;” and yet she never used any. The Queen perceived, also, that his prejudices against her friend extended to herself; her son would no longer speak in her presence. She knew that he had become fond of sweetmeats, and offered him some marshmallow and jujube lozenges. The under-governors and the first valet de chambre requested her not to give the Dauphin anything, as he was to receive no food of any kind without the consent of the faculty. I forbear to describe the wound this prohibition inflicted upon the Queen; she felt it the more deeply because she was aware it was unjustly believed she gave a decided preference to the Duc de Normandie, whose ruddy health and amiability did, in truth, form a striking contrast to the languid look and melancholy disposition of his elder brother. She even suspected that a plot had for some time existed to deprive her of the affection of a child whom she loved as a good and tender mother ought. Previous to the audience granted by the King on the 10th August, 1788, to the envoy of the Sultan Tippoo Saib, she had begged the Duc d’Harcourt to divert the Dauphin, whose deformity was already apparent, from his, intention to be present at that ceremony, being unwilling to expose him to the gaze of the crowd of inquisitive Parisians who would be in the gallery. Notwithstanding this injunction, the Dauphin was suffered to write to his mother, requesting her permission to be present at the audience. The Queen was obliged to refuse him, and warmly reproached the governor, who merely answered that he could not oppose the wishes of a sick child. A year before the death of the Dauphin the Queen lost the Princesse Sophie; this was, as the Queen said, the first of a series of misfortunes.
NOTE: As Madame Campan has stated in the foregoing pages that the money to foment sedition was furnished from English sources, the decree of the Convention of August, 1793, maybe quoted as illustrative of the entente cordiale alleged to exist between the insurrectionary Government and its friends across the Channel! The endeavours made by the English Government to save the unfortunate King are well known. The motives prompting the conduct of the Duc d’Orleans are equally well known.
Art. i. The National Convention denounces the British Government to Europe and the English nation.
Art. ii. Every Frenchman that shall place his money in the English funds shall be declared a traitor to his country.
Art. iii. Every Frenchman who has money in the English funds or those of any other Power with whom France is at war shall be obliged to declare the same.
Art. iv. All foreigners, subjects of the Powers now at war with France, particularly the English, shall be arrested, and seals put upon their papers.
Art. v. The barriers of Paris shall be instantly shut.
Art. vi. All good citizens shall be required in the name of the country to search for the foreigners concerned in any plot denounced.
Art. vii. Three millions shall be at the disposal of the Minister at War to facilitate the march of the garrison of Mentz to La Vendee.
Art. viii. The Minister at War shall send to the army on the coast of Rochelle all the combustible materials necessary to set fire to the forests and underwood of La Vendee.
Art. ix. The women, the children, and old men shall be conducted to the interior parts of the country.
Art. x. The property of the rebels shall be confiscated for the benefit of the Republic.
Art. xi. A camp shall be formed without delay between Paris and the Northern army.
Art. xii. All the family of the Capets shall be banished from the French territory, those excepted who are under the sword of the law, and the offspring of Louis Capet, who shall both remain in the Temple.
Art. xiii. Marie Antoinette shall be delivered over to the Revolutionary Tribunal, and shall be immediately conducted to the prison of the Conciergerie. Louise Elisabeth shall remain in the Temple till after the judgment of Marie Antoinette.
Art. xiv. All the tombs of the Kings which are at St. Denis and in the departments shall be destroyed on August the 10th.
Art. xv. The present decree shall be despatched by extraordinary couriers to all the departments.