Memoirs of Marie Antoinette
Public Domain Books
Book 7. - Chapter IX
The Queen having been robbed of her purse as she was passing from the Tuileries to the Feuillans, requested my sister to lend her twenty-five louis.
[On being interrogated the Queen declared that these five and twenty louis had been lent to her by my sister; this formed a pretence for arresting her and me, and led to her death.–MADAME CAMPAN.]
I spent part of the day at the Feuillans, and her Majesty told me she would ask Potion to let me be with her in the place which the Assembly should decree for her prison. I then returned home to prepare everything that might be necessary for me to accompany her.
On the same day (11th August), at nine in the evening, I returned to the Feuillans. I found there were orders at all the gates forbidding my being admitted. I claimed a right to enter by virtue of the first permission which had been given to me; I was again refused. I was told that the Queen had as many people as were requisite about her. My sister was with her, as well as one of my companions, who came out of the prisons of the Abbaye on the 11th. I renewed my solicitations on the 12th; my tears and entreaties moved neither the keepers of the gates, nor even a deputy, to whom I addressed myself.
I soon heard of the removal of Louis XVI. and his family to the Temple. I went to Potion accompanied by M. Valadon, for whom I had procured a place in the post-office, and who was devoted to me. He determined to go up to Potion alone; he told him that those who requested to be confined could not be suspected of evil designs, and that no political opinion could afford a ground of objection to these solicitations. Seeing that the well-meaning man did not succeed, I thought to do more in person; but Petion persisted in his refusal, and threatened to send me to La Force. Thinking to give me a kind of consolation, he added I might be certain that all those who were then with Louis XVI. and his family would not stay with them long. And in fact, two or three days afterwards the Princesse de Lamballe, Madame de Tourzel, her daughter, the Queen’s first woman, the first woman of the Dauphin and of Madame, M. de Chamilly, and M. de Hue were carried off during the night and transferred to La Force. After the departure of the King and Queen for the Temple, my sister was detained a prisoner in the apartments their Majesties had quitted for twenty-four hours.
From this time I was reduced to the misery of having no further intelligence of my august and unfortunate mistress but through the medium of the newspapers or the National Guard, who did duty at the Temple.
The King and Queen said nothing to me at the Feuillans about the portfolio which had been deposited with me; no doubt they expected to see me again. The minister Roland and the deputies composing the provisional government were very intent on a search for papers belonging to their Majesties. They had the whole of the Tuileries ransacked. The infamous Robespierre bethought himself of M. Campan, the Queen’s private secretary, and said that his death was feigned; that he was living unknown in some obscure part of France, and was doubtless the depositary of all the important papers. In a great portfolio belonging to the King there had been found a solitary letter from the Comte d’Artois, which, by its date, and the subjects of which it treated, indicated the existence of a continued correspondence. (This letter appeared among the documents used on the trial of Louis XVI.) A former preceptor of my son’s had studied with Robespierre; the latter, meeting him in the street, and knowing the connection which had subsisted between him and the family of M. Campan, required him to say, upon his honour, whether he was certain of the death of the latter. The man replied that M. Campan had died at La Briche in 1791, and that he had seen him interred in the cemetery of Epinay. “well, then,” resumed Robespierre, “bring me the certificate of his burial at twelve to-morrow; it is a document for which I have pressing occasion.” Upon hearing the deputy’s demand I instantly sent for a certificate of M. Campan’s burial, and Robespierre received it at nine o’clock the next morning. But I considered that, in thinking of my father-in-law, they were coming very near me, the real depositary of these important papers. I passed days and nights in considering what I could do for the best under such circumstances.
I was thus situated when the order to inform against those who had been denounced as suspected on the 10th of August led to domiciliary visits. My servants were told that the people of the quarter in which I lived were talking much of the search that would be made in my house, and came to apprise me of it. I heard that fifty armed men would make themselves masters of M. Auguies house, where I then was. I had just received this intelligence when M. Gougenot, the King’s maitre d’hotel and receiver- general of the taxes, a man much attached to his sovereign, came into my room wrapped in a ridingcloak, under which, with great difficulty, he carried the King’s portfolio, which I had entrusted to him. He threw it down at my feet, and said to me, “There is your deposit; I did not receive it from our unfortunate King’s own hands; in delivering it to you I have executed my trust.” After saying this he was about to withdraw. I stopped him, praying him to consult with me what I ought to do in such a trying emergency. He would not listen to my entreaties, or even hear me describe the course I intended to pursue. I told him my abode was about to be surrounded; I imparted to him what the Queen had said to me about the contents of the portfolio. To all this he answered, “There it is; decide for yourself; I will have no hand in it.” Upon that I remained a few seconds thinking, and my conduct was founded upon the following reasons. I spoke aloud, although to myself; I walked about the room with agitated steps; M. Gougenot was thunderstruck. “Yes,” said I, “when we can no longer communicate with our King and receive his orders, however attached we may be to him, we can only serve him according to the best of our own judgment. The Queen said to me, ’This portfolio contains scarcely anything but documents of a most dangerous description in the event of a trial taking place, if it should fall into the hands of revolutionary persons.’ She mentioned, too, a single document which would, under the same circumstances, be useful. It is my duty to interpret her words, and consider them as orders. She meant to say, ’You will save such a paper, you will destroy the rest if they are likely to be taken from you.’ If it were not so, was there any occasion for her to enter into any detail as to what the portfolio contained? The order to keep it was sufficient. Probably it contains, moreover, the letters of that part of the family which has emigrated; there is nothing which may have been foreseen or decided upon that can be useful now; and there can be no political thread which has not been cut by the events of the 10th of August and the imprisonment of the King. My house is about to be surrounded; I cannot conceal anything of such bulk; I might, then, through want of foresight, give up that which would cause the condemnation of the King. Let us open the portfolio, save the document alluded to, and destroy the rest.” I took a knife and cut open one side of the portfolio. I saw a great number of envelopes endorsed by the King’s own hand. M. Gougenot found there the former seals of the King,
[No doubt it was in order to have the ancient seals ready at a moment’s notice, in case of a counter-revolution, that the Queen desired me not to quit the Tuileries. M. Gougenot threw the seals into the river, one from above the Pont Neuf, and the other from near the Pont Royal.–MADAME CAMPAN.]
such as they were before the Assembly had changed the inscription. At this moment we heard a great noise; he agreed to tie up the portfolio, take it again under his cloak, and go to a safe place to execute what I had taken upon me to determine. He made me swear, by all I held most sacred, that I would affirm, under every possible emergency, that the course I was pursuing had not been dictated to me by anybody; and that, whatever might be the result, I would take all the credit or all the blame upon myself. I lifted up my hand and took the oath he required; he went out. Half an hour afterwards a great number of armed men came to my house; they placed sentinels at all the outlets; they broke open secretaires and closets of which they had not the keys; they ’searched the flower-pots and boxes; they examined the cellars; and the commandant repeatedly said, “Look particularly for papers.” In the afternoon M. Gougenot returned. He had still the seals of France about him, and he brought me a statement of all that he had burnt.
The portfolio contained twenty letters from Monsieur, eighteen or nineteen from the Comte d’Artois, seventeen from Madame Adelaide, eighteen from Madame Victoire, a great many letters from Comte Alexandre de Lameth, and many from M. de Malesherbes, with documents annexed to them. There were also some from M. de Montmorin and other ex-ministers or ambassadors. Each correspondence had its title written in the King’s own hand upon the blank paper which contained it. The most voluminous was that from Mirabeau. It was tied up with a scheme for an escape, which he thought necessary. M. Gougenot, who had skimmed over these letters with more attention than the rest, told me they were of so interesting a nature that the King had no doubt kept them as documents exceedingly valuable for a history of his reign, and that the correspondence with the Princes, which was entirely relative to what was going forward abroad, in concert with the King, would have been fatal to him if it had been seized. After he had finished he placed in my hands the proces-verbal, signed by all the ministers, to which the King attached so much importance, because he had given his opinion against the declaration of war; a copy of the letter written by the King to the Princes, his brothers, inviting them to return to France; an account of the diamonds which the Queen had sent to Brussels (these two documents were in my handwriting); and a receipt for four hundred thousand francs, under the hand of a celebrated banker. This sum was part of the eight hundred thousand francs which the Queen had gradually saved during her reign, out of her pension of three hundred thousand francs per annum, and out of the one hundred thousand francs given by way of present on the birth of the Dauphin.
This receipt, written on a very small piece of paper, was in the cover of an almanac. I agreed with M. Gougenot, who was obliged by his office to reside in Paris, that he should retain the proces-verbal of the Council and the receipt for the four hundred thousand francs, and that we should wait either for orders or for the means of transmitting these documents to the King or Queen; and I set out for Versailles.
The strictness of the precautions taken to guard the illustrious prisoners was daily increased. The idea that I could not inform the King of the course I had adopted of burning his papers, and the fear that I should not be able to transmit to him that which he had pointed out as necessary, tormented me to such a degree that it is wonderful my health endured the strain.
The dreadful trial drew near. Official advocates were granted to the King; the heroic virtue of M. de Malesherbes induced him to brave the most imminent dangers, either to save his master or to perish with him. I hoped also to be able to find some means of informing his Majesty of what I had thought it right to do. I sent a man, on whom I could rely, to Paris, to request M. Gougenot to come to me at Versailles he came immediately. We agreed that he should see M. de Malesherbes without availing himself of any intermediate person for that purpose.
M. Gougenot awaited his return from the Temple at the door of his hotel, and made a sign that he wished to speak to him. A moment afterwards a servant came to introduce him into the magistrates’ room. He imparted to M. de Malesherbes what I had thought it right to do with respect to the King’s papers, and placed in his hands the proces-verbal of the Council, which his Majesty had preserved in order to serve, if occasion required it, for a ground of his defence. However, that paper is not mentioned in either of the speeches of his advocate; probably it was determined not to make use of it.
I stop at that terrible period which is marked by the assassination of a King whose virtues are well known; but I cannot refrain from relating what he deigned to say in my favour to M. de Malesherbes:
“Let Madame Campan know that she did what I should myself have ordered her to do; I thank her for it; she is one of those whom I regret I have it not in my power to recompense for their fidelity to my person, and for their good services.” I did not hear of this until the morning after he had suffered, and I think I should have sunk under my despair if this honourable testimony had not given me some consolation.