Marie Antoinette and Her Son

Author: Luise Mühlbach

Chapter I. A Happy Queen.

It was the 13th of August, 1785. The queen, Marie Antoinette, had at last yielded to the requests and protestations of her dear subjects. She had left her fair Versailles and loved Trianon for one day, and had gone to Paris, in order to exhibit herself and the young prince whom she had borne to the king and the country on the 25th of March, and to receive in the cathedral of Notre Dame the blessing of the clergy and the good wishes of the Parisians.

She had had an enthusiastic reception, this beautiful and much loved queen, Marie Antoinette. She had driven into Paris in an open carriage, in company with her three children, and every one who recognized her had greeted her with a cheerful huzzah, and followed her on the long road to Notre Dame, at whose door the prominent clergy awaited her, the cardinal, Prince Louis de Rohan, at their head, to introduce her to the house of the King of all kings.

Marie Antoinette was alone; only the governess of the children, the Duchess de Polignac, sat opposite her, upon the back seat of the carriage, and by her side the Norman nurse, in her charming variegated district costume, cradling in her arms Louis Charles, the young Duke of Normandy. By her side, in the front part of the carriage, sat her other two children—Therese, the princess royal, the first-born daughter, and the dauphin Louis, the presumptive heir of the much loved King Louis the Sixteenth. The good king had not accompanied his spouse on this journey to Paris, which she undertook in order to show to her dear, yet curious Parisians that she was completely recovered, and that her children, the children of France, were blossoming for the future like fair buds of hope and peace.

"Go, my dear Antoinette," the king had said to his queen, in his pleasant way and with his good natured smile—" go to Paris in order to prepare a pleasure for my good people. Show them our children, and receive from them their thanks for the happiness which you have given to me and to them. I will not go with you, for I wish that you should be the sole recipient of the enthusiasm of the people and their joyful acclamations. I will not share your triumph, but I shall experience it in double measure if you enjoy it alone. Go, therefore, my beloved Antoinette, and rejoice in this happy hour."

Marie Antoinette did go, and she did rejoice in the happiness of the hour. "While riding through Paris, hundreds recognized her, hundreds hailed her with loud acclamations. As she left the cathedral of Notre Dame, in order to ascend into the carriage again with her children and their governess, one would be tempted to think that the whole square in front of the church had been changed into a dark, tumultuous sea, which dashed its raging black waves into all the streets debouching on the square, and was filling all Paris with its roar, its swell, its thunder roll. Yes, all Paris was there, in order to look upon Marie Antoinette, who, at this hour, was not the queen, but the fair woman; the happy mother who, with the pride of the mother of the Gracchi, desired no other protection and no other companionship than that of her two sons; who, her hand resting upon the shoulder of her daughter, needed no other maid of honor to appear before the people in all the splendor and all the dignity of the Queen of France and the true mother.

Yes, all Paris was there in order to greet the queen, the woman, and the mother, and out of thousands upon thousands of throats there sounded forth the loud ringing shout, "Long live the queen! Long live Marie Antoinette! Long live the fair mother and the fair children of France!"

Marie Antoinette felt herself deeply moved by these shouts. The sight of the faces animated with joy, of the flashing eyes, and the intoxicated peals of laughter, kindled her heart, drove the blood to her cheeks, and made her countenance beam with joy, and her eyes glisten with delight. She rose from her seat, and with a gesture of inimitable grace took the youngest son from the arms of the nurse, and lifted him high in the air, in order to display this last token of her happiness and her motherly pride to the Parisians, who had not yet seen the child. The little hat, which had been placed sideways upon the high toupet of her powdered head, had dropped upon her neck; the broad lace cuffs had fallen back from the arms which lifted the child into the air, and allowed the whole arm to be seen without any covering above the elbow.

The eyes of the Parisians drank in this spectacle with perfect rapture, and their shouting arose every moment like a burst of fanaticism.

"How beautiful she is!" resounded everywhere from the mass. "What a wonderful arm! What a beautiful neck!"

A deep flush mantled the face of Marie Antoinette. These words of praise, which were a tribute to the beauty of the woman, awoke the queen from the ecstasy into which the enthusiasm of her subjects had transported her. She surrendered the child again to the arms of his nurse, and sank down quickly like a frightened dove into the cushions of the carriage, hastily drawing up at the same time the lace mantle which had fallen from her shoulders and replacing her hat upon her head.

"Tell the coachman to drive on quickly," she said to the nurse; and while the latter was communicating this order, Marie Antoinette turned to her daughter. "Now, Therese," asked she, laughing, "is it not a beautiful spectacle our people taking so much pleasure in seeing us?"

The little princess of seven years shook her proud little head with a doubting, dark look.

"Mamma," said she, "these people look very dirty and ugly. I do not like them!"

"Be still, my child, be still," whispered the queen, hastily, for she feared lest the men who pressed the carriage so closely as almost to touch its doors, might hear the unthinking words of the little girl.

Marie Antoinette had not deceived herself. A man in a blouse, who had even laid his hand upon the carriage, and whose head almost touched the princess, a man with a blazing, determined face, and small, piercing black eyes, had heard the exclamation of the princess, and threw upon her a malignant, threatening glance.

"Madame loves us not, because we are ugly and dirty," he said; "but we should, perhaps, look pretty and elegant too, if we could put on finery to ride about in splendid carriages. But we have to work, and we have to suffer, that we may be able to pay our taxes. For if we did not do this, our king and his family would not be able to strut around in this grand style. We are dirty, because we are working for the king."

"I beg you, sir," replied the queen, softly, "to forgive my daughter; she is but a child, and does not know what she is saying. She will learn from her parents, however, to love our good, hardworking people, and to be thankful for their love, sir."

"I am no ’sir,’ " replied the man, gruffly; "I am the poor cobbler Simon, nothing more."

"Then I beg you, Master Simon, to accept from my daughter, as a remembrance, this likeness of her father, and to drink to our good health," said the queen, laying at the same time a louis-d’or in the hand of her daughter, and hastily whispering to her, "Give it to him."

The princess hastened to execute the command of her mother, and laid the glistening gold piece in the large, dirty hand which was extended to her. But when she wanted to draw back her delicate little hand, the large, bony fingers of the cobbler closed upon it and held it fast.

"What a little hand it is!" he said, with a deriding laugh; "I wonder what would become of these fingers if they had to work!"

"Mamma," cried the princess, anxiously, "order the man to let me go; he hurts me."

The cobbler laughed on, but dropped the hand of the princess.

"Ah," cried he, scornfully, "it hurts a princess only to touch the hand of a working man. It would be a great deal better to keep entirely away from the working people, and never to come among us."

"Drive forward quickly!" cried the queen to the coachman, with loud, commanding voice.

He urged on the horses, and the people who had hemmed in the carriage closely, and listened breathlessly to the conversation of the queen with the cobbler Simon, shrank timidly back before the prancing steeds.

The queen recovered her pleasant, merry smile, and bowed on all sides while the carriage rolled swiftly forward. The people again expressed their thanks with loud acclamations, and praised her beauty and the beauty of her children. But Marie Antoinette was no longer carried beyond herself by these words of praise, and did not rise again from her seat.

While the royal carriage was disappearing in the tumult and throng of the multitude, Simon the cobbler stood watching it with his mocking smile. He felt a hand upon his arm, and heard a voice asking the scornful question:

"Are you in love with this Austrian woman, Master Simon?"

The cobbler quickly turned round to confront the questioner. He saw, standing by his side, a little, remarkably crooked and dwarfed young man, whose unnaturally large head was set upon narrow, depressed shoulders, and whose whole appearance made such an impression upon the cobbler that the latter laughed outright.

"Not beautiful, am I?" asked the stranger, and he tried to join in the laugh of the cobbler, but the result was a mere grimace, which made his unnaturally large mouth, with its thick, colorless lips, extend from one ear to the other, displaying two fearful rows of long, greenish teeth.

"Not beautiful at all, am I? Dreadfully ugly!" exclaimed the stranger, as Simon’s laughter mounted higher and higher.

"You are somewhat remarkable, at least," replied the cobbler. "If I did not hear you talk French, and see you standing up straight like one of us, I should think you were the monstrous toad in the fable that I read about a short time ago."

"I am the monstrous toad of the fable," replied the stranger, laughing. "I have merely disguised myself today as a man in order to look at this Austrian woman with her young brood, and I take the liberty of asking you once more, Have you fallen in love with her?"

"No, indeed, I have not fallen in love with her," ejaculated the cobbler. "God is my witness—"

"And why should you call God to witness?" asked the other, quickly. "Do you suppose it is so great a misfortune not to love this Austrian?"

"No, I certainly do not believe that," answered the other, thoughtfully. "I suppose that it is, perhaps, no sin before God not to love the queen, although it may he before man, and that it is not the first time that, it has been atoned for by long and dreary imprisonment. But I do love freedom, and therefore I shall take care not to tell a stranger what I think."

"You love freedom!" exclaimed the stranger. "Then give me your hand, and accept my thanks for the word, my brother."

"Your brother!" replied the cobbler, astounded. "I do not know you, and yet you call yourself, without more formal introduction, my brother."

"You have said that you love freedom, and therefore I greet you as my brother," replied the stranger. "All those who love freedom are brothers, for they confess themselves children of the same gracious and good mother who makes no difference between her children, but loves them all with equal intensity and equal devotion, and it is all the same to her whether this one of her sons is prince or count, and that one workman or citizen. For our mother, Freedom, we are all alike, we are all brethren."

"That sounds very finely," said the cobbler, shaking his head. "There is only one fault that I can find with it, it is not true. For if we were all alike, and were all brothers, why should the king ride round in his gilded chariot, while I, an old cobbler, sit on my bench and have my face covered with sweat?"

"The king is no son of Freedom!" exclaimed the stranger, with an angry gesture. "The king is a son of Tyranny, and therefore he wants to make his enemies, the sons of Freedom, to be his servants, his slaves, and to bind our arms with fetters. But shall we always bear this? Shall we not rise at last out of the dust into which we have been trodden?"

"Yes, certainly, if we can, then we will," said Simon, with his gruff laugh. "But here is the hitch, sir, we cannot do it. The king has the power to hold us in his fetters; and this fine lady, Madame Freedom, of whom you say that she is our mother, lets it come to pass, notwithstanding that her sons are bound down in servitude and abasement."

"It must be for a season yet," answered the other, with loud, rasping voice; "but the day of a rising is at hand, and shows with a laughing face how those whom she will destroy are rushing swiftly upon their own doom."

"What nonsense is that you are talking?" asked the cobbler. "Those who are going to be destroyed by Madame Liberty are working out their own ruin?"

"And yet they are doing it, Master Simon; they are digging their own graves, only they do not see it, and do not know it; for the divinity which means to destroy them has smitten them with blindness. There is this queen, this Austrian woman. Do you not see with your wise eyes how like a busy spider she is weaving her own shroud?"

"Now, that is certainly an error," said Simon; "the queen does not work at all. She lets the people work for her."

"I tell you, man, she does work, she is working at her own shroud, and I think she has got a good bit of it ready. She has nice friends, too, to help her in it, and to draw up the threads for this royal spider, and so get ready what is needed for this shroud. There, for example, is that fine Duke de Coigny. Do you know who that Duke de Coigny is?"

"No, indeed, I know nothing about it; I have nothing to do with the court, and know nothing about the court rabble."

"There you are right, they are a rabble," cried the other, laughing in return. "I know it, for I am so unfortunate as not to be able to say with you that I have nothing to do with the court. I have gone into palaces, and I shall come out again, but I promise you that my exit shall make more stir than my entrance. Now, I will tell you who the Duke de Coigny is. He is one of the three chief paramours of the queen, one of the great favorites of the Austrian sultana."

"Well, now, that is jolly," cried the cobbler; "you are a comical rogue, sir. So the queen has her paramours?"

"Yes. You know that the Duke de Besenval, at the time that the Austrian came as dauphiness to France, said to her: ’These hundred thousand Parisians, madame, who have come out to meet you, are all your lovers.’ Now she takes this expression of Besenval in earnest, and wants to make every Parisian a lover of hers. Only wait, only wait, it will be your turn by and by. You will be able to press the hand of this beautiful Austrian tenderly to your lips."

"Well, I will let you know in advance, then," said Simon, savagely, "that I will press it in such right good earnest, that it shall always bear the marks of it. You were speaking just now of the three chief paramours—what are the names of the other two?"

"The second is your fine Lord de Adhemar; a fool, a rattle-head, a booby; but he is handsome, and a jolly lover. Our queen likes handsome men, and everybody knows that she is one of the laughing kind, a merry fly, particularly since the carousals on the palace terrace."

"Carousals! What was that?"

"Why, you poor innocent child, that is the name they give to those nightly promenades that our handsome queen took a year ago in the moonlight on the terrace at Versailles. Oh, that was a merry time! The iron fences of the park were not closed, and the dear people had a right to enter, and could walk near the queen in the moonlight, and hear the fine music which was concealed behind the hedges. You just ask the good-looking officer of the lancers, who sat one evening on a bench between two handsome women, dressed in white, and joked and laughed with them. He can tell you how Marie Antoinette can laugh, and what fine nonsense her majesty could afford to indulge in." [Footnote: See Madame de Campane. "Memoires," vol. i.]

"I wish I knew him, and he would tell me about it," cried cobbler Simon, striking his fists together. "I always like to hear something bad about this Austrian woman, for I hate her and the whole court crowd besides. What right have they to strut and swell, and put on airs, while we have to work and suffer from morning till night? Why is their life nothing but jollity, and ours nothing but misery? I think I am of just as much consequence as the king, and my woman would look just as nice as the queen, if she would put on fine clothes and ride round in a gilded carriage. What puts them up and puts us down?"

"I tell you why. It is because we are ninnies and fools, and allow them to laugh in their sleeves at us, and make divinities out of themselves, before whom the people, or, as they call them, the rabble, are to fall upon their knees. But patience, patience! There will come a time when they will not laugh, nor compel the people to fall upon their knees and beg for favor. But no favor shall be granted to them. They shall meet their doom."

"Ha! I wish the time were here," shouted the cobbler, laughing; "and I hope I may be there when they meet their punishment."

"Well, my friend, that only depends upon yourself," said the stranger. "The time will come, and if you wish you can contribute your share, that it may approach with more rapid steps."

"What can I do? Tell me, for I am ready for every thing?"

"You can help whet the knife, that it may cut the better," said the stranger, with a horrible grimace. "Come, come, do not look at me so astonished, brother. There are already a good number of knifesharpeners in the good city of Paris, and if you want to join their company, come this evening to me, and I will make you acquainted with some, and introduce you to our guild."

"Where do you live, sir, and what is your name?" asked the cobbler, with glowing curiosity.

"I live in the stable of the Count d’Artois, and my name is Jean Paul Marat."

"In the stable!" cried the cobbler. "My faith, I had not supposed you were a hostler or a coachman. It must be a funny sight, M. Marat, to see you mounted upon a horse."

"You think that such a big toad as I does not belong there exactly. Well, there you are right, brother Simon. My real business is not at all with the horses, but with the men in the stable. I am the horsedoctor, brother Simon, horse-doctor of the Count d’Artois; and I can assure you that I am a tolerably skilful doctor, for I have yoked together many a hostler and jockey whom the stable-keepers of the dear Artois have favored with a liberal dispensation of their lash. So, come this evening to me, not only that I may introduce you to good society, but come if you are sick. I will restore you, and it shall cost you nothing. I cure my brothers of the people without any pay, for it is not the right thing for brothers to take money one of another. So, brother Simon, I shall look for you this evening at the stable; but now I must leave you, for my sick folks are expecting me. Just one more word. If you come about seven o’clock to visit me, the old witch that keeps the door will certainly tell you that I am not at home. I will, therefore, give you the pass-word, which will allow you to go in. It is ’Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.’ Good-by."

He nodded to the cobbler with a fearful grimace, and strode away quickly, in spite of not being able to lift his left foot over the broad square of the Hotel de Ville.

Master Simon looked after him at first with a derisive smile, and this diminutive figure, with his great head, on which a high, black felt hat just kept its position, seemed to amuse him excessively. All at once a thought struck him, and, like an arrow impelled from the bow, he dashed forward and ran after Jean Paul Marat.

"Doctor Marat, Doctor Marat!" he shouted, breathless, from a distance.

Marat stood still and looked around with a malicious glance.

"Well, what is it?" snarled he, "and who is calling my name so loud?"

"It is I, brother Marat," answered the cobbler, panting. "I have been running after you because you have forgotten something."

"What is it?" asked Marat, feeling in his pockets with his long fingers." I have my handkerchief and the piece of black bread that makes my breakfast. I have not forgotten anything."

"Yes, Jean Paul Marat, you have forgotten something," answered Master Simon. "You were going to tell me the names of the three chief paramours of the queen, and you have given only two—the Duke de Coigny and Lord Adhemar. You see I have a good memory, and retain all that you told me. So give me the name of the third one, for I will confess to you that I should like to have something to say about this matter in my club this afternoon, and it will make quite a sensation to come primed with this story about the Austrian woman."

"Well, I like that, I like that," said Marat, laughing so as to show his mouth from one ear to the other. "Now, that is a fine thing to have a club, where you can tell all these little stories about the queen and the court, and it will be a real pleasure to me to tell you any such matters as these to communicate to your club, for it is always a good thing to have any thing that takes place at Versailles and St. Cloud get talked over here at Paris among the dear good people."

"In St. Cloud?" asked the cobbler. "What is it that can happen there? That is nothing at all but a tiresome, old-forgotten pleasure palace of the king."

"It is lively enough there now, depend upon it," replied Marat, with his sardonic laugh. "King Louis the well beloved has given this palace to his wife, in order that she may establish there a larger harem than Trianon; that miserable, worthless little mouse-nest, where virtue, honor, and worth get hectored to death, is not large enough for her. Yes, yes, that fine, great palace of the French kings, the noble St. Cloud, is now the heritage and possession of this fine Austrian. And do you know what she has done? Close by the railing which separates the park from St. Cloud, and near the entrance, she has had a tablet put up, on which are written the conditions on which the public are allowed to enter the park."

"Well, that is nothing new," said the cobbler, impatiently." They have such a board put up at all the royal gardens, and everywhere the public is ordered, in the name of the king, not to do any injury, and not to wander from the regular paths."

"Well, that is just; it is ordered in the name of the king; but in St. Cloud, it runs in the name of the queen. Yes, yes, there you may see in great letters upon the board; ’In the name of the queen.’ [Footnote: "De par la reine" was the expression which was then in the mouth of all France and stirred everybody’s rage.] It is not enough for us that a king sits upon our neck, and imposes his commands upon us and binds us. We have now another ruler in France, prescribing laws and writing herself sovereign. We have a new police regulation in the name of the queen, a state within the state. Oh, the spider is making a jolly mesh of it! In the Trianon she made the beginning. There the police regulations have always been in the name of the queen; and because the policy was successful there, it extends its long finger still further, issues a new proclamation against the people, appropriates to itself new domain, and proposes to gradually encompass all France with its cords."

"That is rascally, that is wrong," cried the cobbler, raising his clinched fists in the air.

"But that is not all, brother. The queen goes still further. Down to the present time we have been accustomed to see the men who stoop to be the mean servants of tyrants array themselves in the monkeyjackets of the king’s livery; but in St. Cloud, the Swiss guards at the gates, the palace servants, in one word, the entire menial corps, array themselves in the queen’s livery; and if you are walking in the park of St. Cloud, you are no longer in France and on French soil, but in an Austrian province, where a foreigner can establish her harem and make her laws, and yet a virtuous and noble people does not rise in opposition to it."

"It does not know anything about it, brother Marat," said Simon, eagerly. "It knows very little about the vices and follies of the queen."

"Well, tell the people, then; report to them what I have told yon, and make it your duty that it be talked over among other friends, and made generally known."

"Oh! that shall be, that shall certainly be," said Simon, cheerily," but you have not given me the name of that third lover yet."

"Oh! the third-that is Lord Besenval, the inspector general of the Swiss guard, the chief general of the army, and the commander of the Order of Louis. You see it is a great advantage for a man to be a lover of the queen, for in that way he comes to a high position. While King Louis the Fifteenth, that monster of vice, was living, Besenval was only colonel of the Swiss guard, and all he could do was once in a while to take part in the orgies at the Eoil de Boeuf. But now the queen has raised him to a very high place. All St. Cloud and Trianon form the Eoil de Boeuf, where Marie Antoinette celebrates her orgies, and General Besenval is made one of the first directors of the sports. Now you know every thing, do you not?"

"Yes, Doctor Marat, now I have a general run of every thing, and I thank you; but I hope that you will tell me more this evening, for your stories are vastly entertaining."

"Yes, indeed, I shall tell you plenty more of the same sort, for the queen takes good care that we shall always have material for such stories. Yet, unfortunately, I have no time now, for—"

"I know, I know, you have got to visit your sick people," said Simon, nodding confidentially to him. "I will not detain you any longer. Good-by, my dear Doctor Marat. We shall meet this evening."

He sprang quickly away, and soon disappeared round the next corner. Marat looked after him with a wicked, triumphant expression in his features.

"So far good, so far good," muttered he, shaking his head with choler. " In this way I have got to win over the soldiers and the people to freedom. The cobbler will make an able and practicable soldier, and with his nice little stories, he will win over a whole company. Triumph on, you proud Bourbons; go on dreaming in your gilded palaces, surrounded by your Swiss guards. Keep on believing that you have the power in your hands, and that no one can take it from you. The time will come when the people will disturb your fine dream, and when the little, despised, ugly Marat, whom no one now knows, and who creeps around in your stables like a poisonous rat, shall confront you as a power before which you shall shrink away and throw yourselves trembling into the dust. There shall go by no day in which I and my friends shall not win soldiers for our side, and the silly, simple fool, Marie Antoinette, makes it an easy thing for us. Go on committing your childish pranks, which, when the time shall threaten a little, will justify the most villanous deeds and the most shameless acts, and I will keep the run of all the turns of the times, and this fine young queen cannot desire that we should look at the world with such simple eyes as she does. Yes, fair Queen Marie Antoinette, thou hast thy Swiss guards, who fight for thee, and thou must pay them; but I have only one soldier who takes ground for me against thee, and whom I do not have to pay at all. My soldier’s name is Calumny. I tell thee, fair queen, with this ally I can overcome all thy Swiss guards, and the whole horde of thy armies. For, on the earth there is no army corps that is so strong as Calumny. Hurrah! long life to thee, my sworn ally, Calumny!"


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Chicago: Luise Mühlbach, "Chapter I. A Happy Queen.," Marie Antoinette and Her Son, ed. CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb and trans. Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891 in Marie Antoinette and Her Son (New York: The Modern Library Publishers, 1918), Original Sources, accessed July 1, 2022,

MLA: Mühlbach, Luise. "Chapter I. A Happy Queen." Marie Antoinette and Her Son, edited by CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb, and translated by Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891, in Marie Antoinette and Her Son, New York, The Modern Library Publishers, 1918, Original Sources. 1 Jul. 2022.

Harvard: Mühlbach, L, 'Chapter I. A Happy Queen.' in Marie Antoinette and Her Son, ed. and trans. . cited in 1918, Marie Antoinette and Her Son, The Modern Library Publishers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 1 July 2022, from