Table of content: The Queen, and Madame Elisabeth, go to the scaifold – The Conciergerie prison — Death of the Dauphin — A strange caprice of fashion. The “telescope portrait” — The Princess exchanged; reception at the Court of Austria — “The only man of the family.”
The execution of Marie-Antoinette.
At eleven, Marie-Antoinette was brought out. She had on an undress of piqué blanc: she was led to the place of execution, in the same manner as an ordinary criminal; bound, on a Cart; accompanied by a Constitutional Priest in Lay dress; escorted by numerous detachments of infantry and cavalry.
These, and the double row of troops all along her road, she appeared to regard with indifference. On her countenance there was visible neither abashment nor pride. To the cries of Vive la République and Down with Tyranny, which attended her all the way, she seemed to pay no heed. She spoke little to her Confessor. The tricolour streamers on the housetops occupied her attention, in the Streets du Roule and Saint-Honoré; she also noticed the Inscriptions on the house-fronts.
On reaching the Place de la Révolution, her looks turned towards the Jardin National, whilom Tuileries; her face at that moment gave signs of lively emotion. She mounted the Scaffold with courage enough; at a quarter past Twelve, her head fell; the Executioner showed it to the people, amid universal, long-continued cries of Vive la Republique.”
Execution of Madame Élisabeth, the King’s sister
We have seen already how the Dauphin had been separated from the rest of the Royal captives as early as the beginning of June, 1793. From that date, therefore, only Madame Élisabeth, the King’s sister, was left to bear the Princesse Royale company in the grim prison-rooms of the Tour du Temple.
Throughout all these weary months the former had continued to show the same heroic fortitude and gentle self devotion, and did much to support and console the feeble spirit of her niece.
But at length this noble woman too was summoned to appear before the dreaded Revolutionary Tribunal. “Her Trial was like the rest: for Plots, for Plots. She was among the kindliest, most innocent of women.” She was condemned, and executed on April 22, 1794, along with four-and-twenty other victims of the busy guillotine.
Death of the Dauphin
“The Royal Family is thus reduced to two; a girl and a little boy. The boy, once named Dauphin, was taken from his Mother while she yet lived; and given to one Simon, by trade a Cordwainer, on service then about the Temple Prison, to bring him up in principles of Sansculottism. Simon taught him to drink, to swear, to say the carmagnole.
Simon is now gone to the Municipality (in January, 1794): and the poor boy, hidden in a tower of the Temple, from which in his fright and bewilderment and early decrepitude he wishes not to stir out, lies perishing, his ‘shirt not changed for six months’; amid squalor and darkness, lamentably.”
Towards the end, especially after the fall of the Terrorists and death of Robespierre on 9 Thermidor (July 27, 1794), the unhappy heir to the Monarchy was treated with somewhat less inhumanity; physicians were sent by order of the Convention to examine his state of health and do what was still possible to ameliorate it, and two attendants, men of respectability and kindly disposition, were appointed to wait on him.
But it was too late; ill-usage and neglect had done their work, and the unfortunate Dauphin died on June 10, 1795. Two extracts from Alison’s account of these unhapppy events give pathetic pictures of the dying child a little before his end, and on his death-bed: ” On the battlement of the platform nearest the left turret, the rain had, by perseverance through ages, hollowed out a kind of basin. The water that fell remained there for several days ; and as, during the spring of 1795, storms were of frequent occurrence, this little sheet of water was kept constantly supplied.
Whenever the child was brought out upon the platform he saw a little troop of sparrows, which used to come to drink and bathe in this reservoir. At first they flew away at his approach, but, from being accustomed to see him walking quietly there every day, they had at last grown more familiar, and did not spread their wings for flight till he came up quite close to them. They were always the same, he knew them by sight, and perhaps like himself they were inhabitants of that ancient pile. He called them his birds; and his first action, when the door onto the terrace was opened, was to look towards that side—and the sparrows were always there.
As the Prince passed they rose in the air for an instant, wheeled about, and alighted again as soon as he was gone by. The child, leaning heavily on his keeper’s left arm, or rather hanging upon it, with his back against the wall, would remain motionless a long time together, looking at his birds. He saw them come and go, dip their beaks in the water, then their breasts, and then their wings, and then shake their plumage dry; and the poor little invalid pressed the arm of his guide with a gesture that seemed to say— ‘Alas! I cannot do as much!’ Then he would like to see them nearer, and, still with the help of his guide, would advance a few paces closer, then a few more, till at last he came so close that, by stretching out his arms, he could have touched them.
This was his greatest amusement. From this platform, enclosed between the battlements and the roof of the great tower, he could see nothing but the sky, and we can easily understand that he could not be indifferent to these little creatures; he delighted so much in their chirping, and he must have envied them their wings so heartily!” A last scene of all as the little Dauphin lies in extremes, one of his two attendants, Gomin, at his bedside. “Gomin, seeing the child calm, motionless, and mute, said to him: ‘I hope you are not in pain just now?’ ‘Oh! yes, I am still in pain, but not nearly so much—the music is so beautiful! “Now there was no music to be heard, either in the tower or anywhere near; no sound from without could reach the room where the young martyr lay expiring. Gomin, astonished, said to him: ‘From what direction do you hear this music?’ ‘From above!’ ‘Is it long that you have heard it?’ ‘Since you knelt down. Do you not hear it? Listen! Listen! ‘And the child, with a nervous motion, raised his faltering hand, as he opened his large eyes, illuminated by ecstatic delight.
His poor keeper, unwilling to destroy this last sweet illusion, appeared to listen also, with the pious desire of hearing what could not possibly be heard. “After a few minutes of attention, the child again started, his eyes sparkled, and he cried out, in intense rapture, ‘ From amongst all the voices, I have distinguished that of my mother!'”
A strange caprice of fashion. The “telescope portrait”
Since the execution of Madame Élisabeth, the Princess Royale had been utterly alone, and now by the death of the little Dauphin she was left the sole survivor of the pathetic family group that had inhabited the grim apartments in the Tour du Temple for so many weary months. The rigour, however, of her confinement had greatly relaxed since the revolution of 9 Thermidor, and still more so since the accession of the Directoire to power.
Above all, she was now freely permitted the privilege of taking exercise for some hours every day in the garden attached to the prison. But she was never once allowed to see the dying boy, who was separated from her only by a few stone walls and a few yards of space. “As her brother’s state grew more and more alarming, the affection of Madame Royale for him increased. One might have said she guessed his danger.
She was continually questioning the keepers and commissaries, without being able to obtain anything from them but vague words, which, though intended to reassure her, only alarmed her the more. Her entreaties to see her brother, and to be allowed to nurse him, were always refused.”
Towards the end of her long three years’ imprisonment a strange caprice took hold of the fashionable world of Paris. For there was a “fashionable world” once more in the capital, a new society made up of the most heterogeneous elements—renegade nobles, lucky speculators, successful army contractors, prosperous agiotetirs, dependents and hangers-on of all sorts of the Directorial Court. It became ” the thing “ to flock to the neighbourhood of the Temple, to watch from such points of vantage as commanded a view of the prison garden, the comings and goings of the captive Princess, and note her looks and demeanour from day to day.
Doubtless the main motive was curiosity, but not unmingled, it may be, with some secret if unexpressed sympathy with the ill-fated daughter of a king. It was quite a customary afternoon’s diversion among the modish dames of the early Directoire period to hire a window in one of the tall old houses overlooking the Temple precincts, and invite a company of friends to share the privilege of indulging in this sentimental if rather cruel inspection of fallen Royalty. An artist even went so far as to paint a portrait of the Princesse Royale by the aid of a telescope adjusted in one of these windows.
The Princess exchanged; reception at the Court of Austria
At last her release was resolved upon, and the preliminaries were soon arranged. “The Directory negotiated the exchange of the daughter of Louis XVI against the deputies Quinette, Bancal, Lamarque, Camus, and the minister Beurnonville, who had been delivered by General Dumouriez into the hands of Austria, deputy Drouet, taken prisoner when with the Army of the North, Maret and Sémonville, arrested by the same Power in defiance of the law of nations.”
Arrivée sur le territoire de Basle de la princesse Marie Thérese Charlotte, fille de Louis XVI le soir du 26 décembre 1795.
“The Princess set out from the Temple on the 27th of Frimaire (December 18th). The Minister of the Interior went himself to fetch her, and conducted her with the greatest respect to his hotel, whence she set out accompanied by persons of her own selection. An ample provision was made for her journey, and she was thus conveyed towards the frontiers.”
“The only man of the family.”
Her reception at the Court of Austria was far from cordial, and for some years to come she seemed only to have bartered one form of captivity for another— a more dignified but hardly a less irksome one. She afterwards married her cousin, the Due d’Angoulême, and played a part, though never a very brilliant or conspicuous part, at the Courts of Louis XVIII and Charles X.
Her early misfortunes seem to have gone some way towards souring her temper and embittering her disposition. However, in 1815 she conducted herself at Bordeaux with so much courage and resource as to win the highest praise for gallantry and spirit. It was of this Princess that Napoleon observed to one of his Ministers, “She is the only man of the family.”
The Rise and Fall of Versailles
Page Two of Two
Page One: The Execution of the King Louis XVI.
Excerpt from the book: the days of the directoire, BY ALFRED ALLINSON. WITH A NOTE UPON THE COSTUME OF THE PERIOD BY JOHN COLBY ABBOTT.
Louis XV. , Louis XVI., Baroque, Rococo, Directoire, French Revolution, Regency, Empire.