Memoirs of Marie Antoinette
Public Domain Books
There was a meeting at Paris for the first federation on the 14th of July, 1790, the anniversary of the taking of the Bastille. What an astonishing assemblage of four hundred thousand men, of whom there were not perhaps two hundred who did not believe that the King found happiness and glory in the order of things then being established. The love which was borne him by all, with the exception of those who meditated his ruin, still reigned in the hearts of the French in the departments; but if I may judge from those whom I had an opportunity of seeing, it was totally impossible to enlighten them; they were as much attached to the King as to the constitution, and to the constitution as to the King; and it was impossible to separate the one from the other in their hearts and minds.
The Court returned to St. Cloud after the federation. A wretch, named Rotondo, made his way into the palace with the intention of assassinating the Queen. It is known that he penetrated to the inner gardens: the rain prevented her Majesty from going out that day. M. de La Fayette, who was aware of this plot, gave all the sentinels the strictest orders, and a description of the monster was distributed throughout the palace by order of the General. I do not know how he was saved from punishment. The police belonging to the King discovered that there was likewise a scheme on foot for poisoning the Queen. She spoke to me, as well as to her head physician, M. Vicq-d’Azyr, about it, without the slightest emotion, but both he and I consulted what precautions it would be proper to take. He relied much upon the Queen’s temperance; yet he recommended me always to have a bottle of oil of sweet almonds within reach, and to renew it occasionally, that oil and milk being, as is known, the most certain antidotes to the divellication of corrosive poisons.
The Queen had a habit which rendered M. Vicq-d’Azyr particularly uneasy: there was always some pounded sugar upon the table in her Majesty’s bedchamber; and she frequently, without calling anybody, put spoonfuls of it into a glass of water when she wished to drink. It was agreed that I should get a considerable quantity of sugar powdered; that I should always have some papers of it in my bag, and that three or four times a day, when alone in the Queen’s room, I should substitute it for that in her sugar-basin. We knew that the Queen would have prevented all such precautions, but we were not aware of her reason. One day she caught me alone making this exchange, and told me, she supposed it was agreed on between myself and M. Vicq-d’Azyr, but that I gave myself very unnecessary trouble. “Remember,” added she, “that not a grain of poison will be put in use against me. The Brinvilliers do not belong to this century: this age possesses calumny, which is a much more convenient instrument of death; and it is by that I shall perish.”
Even while melancholy presentiments afflicted this unfortunate Princess, manifestations of attachment to her person, and to the King’s cause, would frequently raise agreeable illusions in her mind, or present to her the affecting spectacle of tears shed for her sorrows. I was one day, during this same visit to St. Cloud, witness of a very touching scene, which we took great care to keep secret. It was four in the afternoon; the guard was not set; there was scarcely anybody at St. Cloud that day, and I was reading to the Queen, who was at work in a room the balcony of which hung over the courtyard. The windows were closed, yet we heard a sort of inarticulate murmur from a great number of voices. The Queen desired me to go and see what it was; I raised the muslin curtain, and perceived more than fifty persons beneath the balcony: this group consisted of women, young and old, perfectly well dressed in the country costume, old chevaliers of St. Louis, young knights of Malta, and a few ecclesiastics. I told the Queen it was probably an assemblage of persons residing in the neighbourhood who wished to see her. She rose, opened the window, and appeared in the balcony; immediately all these worthy people said to her, in an undertone: “Courage, Madame; good Frenchmen suffer for you, and with you; they pray for you. Heaven will hear their prayers; we love you, we respect you, we will continue to venerate our virtuous King.” The Queen burst into tears, and held her handkerchief to her eyes. “Poor Queen! she weeps!” said the women and young girls; but the dread of exposing her Majesty, and even the persons who showed so much affection for her, to observation, prompted me to take her hand, and prevail upon her to retire into her room; and, raising my eyes, I gave the excellent people to understand that my conduct was dictated by prudence. They comprehended me, for I heard, “That lady is right;” and afterwards, “Farewell, Madame!” from several of them; and all this in accents of feeling so true and so mournful, that I am affected at the recollection of them even after a lapse of twenty years.
A few days afterwards the insurrection of Nancy took place.
[The insurrection of the troops at Nancy broke out in August 1790, and was put down by Marechal de Bouille on the last day of that month. See “Bouille,” p. 195.]
Only the ostensible cause is known; there was another, of which I might have been in full possession, if the great confusion I was in upon the subject had not deprived me of the power of paying attention to it. I will endeavour to make myself understood. In the early part of September the Queen, as she was going to bed, desired me to let all her people go, and to remain with her myself; when we were alone she said to me, “The King will come here at midnight. You know that he has always shown you marks of distinction; he now proves his confidence in you by selecting you to write down the whole affair of Nancy from his dictation. He must have several copies of it.” At midnight the King came to the Queen’s apartments, and said to me, smiling, “You did not expect to become my secretary, and that, too, during the night.” I followed the King into the council chamber. I found there sheets of paper, an inkstand, and pens all ready prepared. He sat down by my side and dictated to me the report of the Marquis de Bouille, which he himself copied at the same time. My hand trembled; I wrote with difficulty; my reflections scarcely left me sufficient power of attention to listen to the King. The large table, the velvet cloth, seats which ought to have been filled by none but the King’s chief councillors; what that chamber had been, and what it was at that moment, when the King was employing a woman in an office which had so little affinity with her ordinary functions; the misfortunes which had brought him to the necessity of doing so,–all these ideas made such an impression upon me that when I had returned to the Queen’s apartments I could not sleep for the remainder of the night, nor could I remember what I had written.
The more I saw that I had the happiness to be of some use to my employers, the more scrupulously careful was I to live entirely with my family; and I never indulged in any conversation which could betray the intimacy to which I was admitted; but nothing at Court remains long concealed, and I soon saw I had many enemies. The means of injuring others in the minds of sovereigns are but too easily obtained, and they had become still more so, since the mere suspicion of communication with partisans of the Revolution was sufficient to forfeit the esteem and confidence of the King and Queen; happily, my conduct protected me, with them, against calumny. I had left St. Cloud two days, when I received at Paris a note from the Queen, containing these words:
“Come to St. Cloud immediately; I have something concerning you to communicate.” I set off without loss of time. Her Majesty told me she had a sacrifice to request of me; I answered that it was made. She said it went so far as the renunciation of a friend’s society; that such a renunciation was always painful, but that it must be particularly so to me; that, for her own part, it might have been very useful that a deputy, a man of talent, should be constantly received at my house; but at this moment she thought only of my welfare. The Queen then informed me that the ladies of the bedchamber had, the preceding evening, assured her that M. de Beaumetz, deputy from the nobility of Artois, who had taken his seat on the left of the Assembly, spent his whole time at my house. Perceiving on what false grounds the attempt to injure, me was based, I replied respectfully, but at the same time smiling, that it was impossible for me to make the sacrifice exacted by her Majesty; that M. de Beaumetz, a man of great judgment, had not determined to cross over to the left of the Assembly with the intention of afterwards making himself unpopular by spending his time with the Queen’s first woman; and that, ever since the 1st of October, 1789, I had seen him nowhere but at the play, or in the public walks, and even then without his ever coming to speak to me; that this line of conduct had appeared to me perfectly consistent: for whether he was desirous to please the popular party, or to be sought after by the Court, he could not act in any other way towards me. The Queen closed this explanation by saying, “Oh! it is clear, as clear as the day! this opportunity for trying to do you an injury is very ill chosen; but be cautious in your slightest actions; you perceive that the confidence placed in you by the King and myself raises you up powerful enemies.”
The private communications which were still kept up between the Court and Mirabeau at length procured him an interview with the Queen, in the gardens of St. Cloud. He left Paris on horseback, on pretence of going into the country, to M. de Clavieres, one of his friends; but he stopped at one of the gates of the gardens of St. Cloud, and was led to a spot situated in the highest part of the private garden, where the Queen was waiting for him. She told me she accosted him by saying, “With a common enemy, with a man who had sworn to destroy monarchy without appreciating its utility among a great people, I should at this moment be guilty of a most ill-advised step; but in speaking to a Mirabeau,” etc. The poor Queen was delighted at having discovered this method of exalting him above all others of his principles; and in imparting the particulars of this interview to me she said, “Do you know that those words, ’a Mirabeau,’ appeared to flatter him exceedingly.” On leaving the Queen he said to her with warmth, “Madame, the monarchy is saved!” It must have been soon afterwards that Mirabeau received considerable sums of money. He showed it too plainly by the increase of his expenditure. Already did some of his remarks upon the necessity of arresting the progress of the democrats circulate in society. Being once invited to meet a person at dinner who was very much attached to the Queen, he learned that that person withdrew on hearing that he was one of the guests; the party who invited him told him this with some degree of satisfaction; but all were very much astonished when they heard Mirabeau eulogise the absent guest, and declare that in his place he would have done the same; but, he added, they had only to invite that person again in a few months, and he would then dine with the restorer of the monarchy. Mirabeau forgot that it was more easy to do harm than good, and thought himself the political Atlas of the whole world.
Outrages and mockery were incessantly mingled with the audacious proceedings of the revolutionists. It was customary to give serenades under the King’s windows on New Year’s Day. The band of the National Guard repaired thither on that festival in 1791; in allusion to the liquidation of the debts of the State, decreed by the Assembly, they played solely, and repeatedly, that air from the comic opera of the “Debts,” the burden of which is, “But our creditors are paid, and that makes us easy.”
On the same day some “conquerors of the Bastille,” grenadiers of the Parisian guard, preceded by military music, came to present to the young Dauphin, as a New Year’s gift, a box of dominoes, made of some of the stone and marble of which that state prison was built. The Queen gave me this inauspicious curiosity, desiring me to preserve it, as it would be a curious illustration of the history of the Revolution. Upon the lid were engraved some bad verses, the purport of which was as follows: “Stones from those walls, which enclosed the innocent victims of arbitrary power, have been converted into a toy, to be presented to you, Monseigneur, as a mark of the people’s love; and to teach you their power.”
The Queen said that M. de La Fayette’s thirst for popularity induced him to lend himself, without discrimination, to all popular follies. Her distrust of the General increased daily, and grew so powerful that when, towards the end of the Revolution, he seemed willing to support the tottering throne, she could never bring herself to incur so great an obligation to him.
M. de J––-, a colonel attached to the staff of the army, was fortunate enough to render several services to the Queen, and acquitted himself with discretion and dignity of various important missions.
[During the Queen’s detention in the Temple he introduced himself Into that prison in the dress of a lamplighter, and there discharged his duty unrecognised.–MADAME CAMPAN.]
Their Majesties had the highest confidence in him, although it frequently happened that his prudence, when inconsiderate projects were under discussion, brought upon him the charge of adopting the principles of the constitutionals. Being sent to Turin, he had some difficulty in dissuading the Princes from a scheme they had formed at that period of reentering France, with a very weak army, by way of Lyons; and when, in a council which lasted till three o’clock in the morning, he showed his instructions, and demonstrated that the measure would endanger the King, the Comte d’Artois alone declared against the plan, which emanated from the Prince de Conde.
Among the persons employed in subordinate situations, whom the critical circumstances of the times involved in affairs of importance, was M. de Goguelat, a geographical engineer at Versailles, and an excellent draughtsman. He made plans of St. Cloud and Trianon for the Queen; she was very much pleased with them, and had the engineer admitted into the staff of the army. At the commencement of the Revolution he was sent to Count Esterhazy, at Valenciennes, in the capacity of aide-de-camp. The latter rank was given him solely to get him away from Versailles, where his rashness endangered the Queen during the earlier months of the Assembly of the States General. Making a parade of his devotion to the King’s interests, he went repeatedly to the tribunes of the Assembly, and there openly railed at all the motions of the deputies, and then returned to the Queen’s antechamber, where he repeated all that he had just heard, or had had the imprudence to say. Unfortunately, at the same time that the Queen sent away M. de Goguelat, she still believed that, in a dangerous predicament, requiring great self-devotion, the man might be employed advantageously. In 1791 he was commissioned to act in concert with the Marquis de Bouille in furtherance of the King’s intended escape.
[See the “Memoirs” of M. de Bouille, those of the Duc de Choiseul, and the account of the journey to Varennes, by M. de Fontanges, in “Weber’s Memoirs."–NOTE BY THE EDITOR.]
Projectors in great numbers endeavoured to introduce themselves not only to the Queen, but to Madame Elisabeth, who had communications with many individuals who took upon themselves to make plans for the conduct of the Court. The Baron de Gilliers and M. de Vanoise were of this description; they went to the Baronne de Mackau’s, where the Princess spent almost all her evenings. The Queen did not like these meetings, where Madame Elisabeth might adopt views in opposition to the King’s intentions or her own.
The Queen gave frequent audiences to M. de La Fayette. One day, when he was in her inner closet, his aides-de-camp, who waited for him, were walking up and down the great room where the persons in attendance remained. Some imprudent young women were thoughtless enough to say, with the intention of being overheard by those officers, that it was very alarming to see the Queen alone with a rebel and a brigand. I was annoyed at their indiscretion, and imposed silence on them. One of them persisted in the appellation “brigand.” I told her that M. de La Fayette well deserved the name of rebel, but that the title of leader of a party was given by history to every man commanding forty thousand men, a capital, and forty leagues of country; that kings had frequently treated with such leaders, and if it was convenient to the Queen to do the same, it remained for us only to be silent and respect her actions. On the morrow the Queen, with a serious air; but with the greatest kindness, asked what I had said respecting M. de La Fayette on the preceding day; adding that she had been assured I had enjoined her women silence, because they did not like him, and that I had taken his part. I repeated what had passed to the Queen, word for word. She condescended to tell me that I had done perfectly right.
Whenever any false reports respecting me were conveyed to her she was kind enough to inform me of them; and they had no effect on the confidence with which she continued to honour me, and which I am happy to think I have justified even at the risk of my life.
Mesdames, the King’s aunts, set out from Bellevue in the beginning of the year 1791. Alexandre Berthier, afterwards Prince de Neufchatel, then a colonel on the staff of the army, and commandant of the National Guard of Versailles, facilitated the departure of Mesdames. The Jacobins of that town procured his dismissal, and he ran the greatest risk, on account of having rendered this service to these Princesses.
I went to take leave of Madame Victoire. I little thought that I was then seeing her for the last time. She received me alone in her closet, and assured
[General Berthier justified the monarch’s confidence by a firm and prudent line of conduct which entitled him to the highest military honours, and to the esteem of the great warrior whose fortune, dangers, and glory he afterwards shared. This officer, full of honour, and gifted with the highest courage, was shut into the courtyard of Bellevue by his own troop, and ran great risk of being murdered. It was not until the 14th of March that he succeeded in executing his instructions ("Memoirs of Mesdames,” by Montigny, vol. i.)]
me that she hoped, as well as wished, soon to return to France; that the French would be much to be pitied if the excesses of the Revolution should arrive at such a pitch as to force her to prolong her absence. I knew from the Queen that the departure of Mesdames was deemed necessary, in order to leave the King free to act when he should be compelled to go away with his family. It being impossible that the constitution of the clergy should be otherwise than in direct opposition to the religious principles of Mesdames, they thought their journey to Rome would be attributed to piety alone. It was, however, difficult to deceive an Assembly which weighed the slightest actions of the royal family, and from that moment they were more than ever alive to what was passing at the Tuileries.
Mesdames were desirous of taking Madame Elisabeth to Rome. The free exercise of religion, the happiness of taking refuge with the head of the Church, and the prospect of living in safety with her aunts, whom she tenderly loved, were sacrificed by that virtuous Princess to her attachment to the King.
The oath required of priests by the civil constitution of the clergy introduced into France a division which added to the dangers by which the King was already surrounded.
[The priests were required to swear to the civil constitution of the clergy of 1790, by which all the former bishoprics and parishes were remodelled, and the priests and bishops elected by the people. Most refused, and under the name of ’pretres insermentes’ (as opposed to the few who took the oath, ’pretres assermentes’) were bitterly persecuted. A simple promise to obey the constitution of the State was substituted by Napoleon as soon as he came to power.]
Mirabeau spent a whole night with the cure of St. Eustache, confessor of the King and Queen, to persuade him to take the oath required by that constitution. Their Majesties chose another confessor, who remained unknown.
A few months afterwards (2d April, 1791), the too celebrated Mirabeau, the mercenary democrat and venal royalist, terminated his career. The Queen regretted him, and was astonished at her own regret; but she had hoped that he who had possessed adroitness and weight enough to throw everything into confusion would have been able by the same means to repair the mischief he had caused. Much has been said respecting the cause of Mirabeau’s death. M. Cabanis, his friend and physician, denied that he was poisoned. M. Vicq-d’Azyr assured the Queen that the ’proces- verbal’ drawn up on the state of the intestines would apply just as well to a case of death produced by violent remedies as to one produced by poison. He said, also, that the report had been faithful; but that it was prudent to conclude it by a declaration of natural death, since, in the critical state in which France then was, if a suspicion of foul play were admitted, a person innocent of any such crime might be sacrificed to public vengeance.