Marie Antoinette and Her Son

Author: Luise Mühlbach

Chapter XXIV. The Death of the Queen.

The Bartholomew’s night of the murderous Catharine de Medicis, and her mad son, Charles IX., now found in France its horrible and bloody repetition; but the night of horror which we are now to contemplate was continued on into the day, and did not shrink even before the light.

The sun shone down upon the streams of blood which flowed through the streets of Paris, and upon the pack of wild dogs that swarmed in uncounted numbers on the thoroughfares of the city, and lived on this blood, which gave back even to the tame their natural wildness. The sun shone down upon the scaffold, that rose like a threatening monster upon the Place de la Revolution, and upon the dreadful axe which daily severed so many noble forms, and then rose from the block glittering and menacing.

The sun shone on that day, too, when Marie Antoinette ascended the scaffold, as her husband had done before, and so passed to her rest, from all the pains and humiliations of her last years.

That day was the 16th of October, 1793. For four months Marie Antoinette looked forward to it as to a joyful deliverance. It was four months from the time when she was transferred from the Temple to the prison, and she knew that those who were confined in the latter place only left it to gain the freedom, not that man gives, but which God grants to the suffering—the freedom of death!

Marie Antoinette longed for the deliverance. How far behind her now lay the days of her happy, joyous youth! how long ago the time when the tall, grave woman, her face full of pride and yet of resignation, had been charming Marie Antoinette, the very impersonation of beauty, youth, and love, carrying out in Trianon the idyl of romantic country life—in the excess of her gayety going disguised to the public opera-house ball, believing herself so safe amid the French people that she could dispense with the protection of etiquette—hailed with an enthusiastic admiration then, as she was now saluted with the savage shouts of the enraged people!

No, the former queen, Marie Antoinette, who, in the gilded saloons of Versailles and in the Tuileries, had received the homage of all France, and with a smiling face and perfect grace of manner acknowledged all the tribute that was brought to her, had no longer any resemblance to the widow of Louis Capet, sitting before the revolutionary tribunal, and giving earnest answers to the questions which were put to her. She arranged her toilet that day—but how different was the toilet of the Widow Capet from that which Queen Marie Antoinette had once displayed! At that earlier time, she, the easy, light-hearted daughter of fortune, had shut herself up for hours with her intimate companion, Madame Berthier, the royal milliner, planning a new ball-dress, or a new fichu; or her Leonard would lavish all the resources of his fancy and his art inventing new styles of head-dress, now decorating the beautiful head of the queen with towering masses of auburn hair; now braiding it so as to make it enfold little war-ships, the sails of which were finely woven from her own locks; now laying out a garden filled with fruits and flowers, butterflies and birds of paradise.

The "Widow Capet" needed no milliner and no hairdresser in making her toilet. Her tall, slender figure was enveloped with the black woollen dress which the republic had given her at her request, that she might commemorate her deceased husband. Her neck and shoulders, which had once been the admiration of France, was now concealed by a white muslin kerchief, which her keeper Bault had given her out of sympathy. Her hair was uncovered, and fell in long, natural locks on both sides of her pale, transparent face. Her hair needed no powder now; the long, sleepless nights and the sorrowful days have whitened it more than any powder could do; and the widow of Louis Capet, though but thirty-eight years old, had the gray locks of a woman of seventy.

In this toilet Marie Antoinette appeared before the revolutionary tribunal, from the 6th to the 13th of October. Nothing royal was left about her but her look and her proud bearing.

The people, pressing in dense masses into the spectators’ seats, did not weary of seeing the queen in her humiliation and in her mourning-robe, and constantly demanded that Marie Antoinette should rise from the woven rush chair on which she was sitting, that she should allow herself to be stared at by this throng, brought there not out of compassion, but curiosity.

Once, as she rose in reply to the demand of the public, she was heard to whisper, as to herself: "Ah, will this people not soon be satisfied with my sufferings?" [Footnote: Marie Antoinette’s own words.—See Goncourt, "Histoire de Marie Antoinette," p. 404.] At another time, her pale, dry lips murmured, "I am thirsty!" but no one around her dared to have compassion on this cry of distress; every one looked perplexed at the others, and no one dared give her a glass of water. At last one of the gens d’armes ventured to do it, and Marie Antoinette thanked him with a look that brought tears into his eyes, and that perhaps caused him to fall on the morrow under the guillotine as a traitor.

The gens d’armes who guarded the queen, they alone had the courage to show her compassion. One night, when she was conducted from the session-room to her prison, Marie Antoinette felt herself so exhausted, so overcome, that she murmured to herself, as she staggered on, "I cannot see, I cannot walk any farther." [Footnote: Goncourt, p.416] The guard who was walking by her side gave her his arm, and, supported by him, Marie Antoinette reeled up the stone steps that led to her prison.

At last, in the night intervening between the 14th and 15th of October, at four o’clock in the morning, her sentence was pronounced—"Death! execution by the guillotine!"

Marie Antoinette received it with unshakable calmness, while the tumult of the excited mob was hushed as by magic, and while many faces even of the exasperated fish-wives grew pale!

Marie Antoinette remained calm; gravely and coldly she rose from her seat, and with her own hands opened the balustrade in order to leave the hall to return to her prison!

Finally, on the morning of the 16th of October, her sufferings were allowed to end, and she was permitted to take refuge in the grave. It almost made her joyful; she had suffered so much, that to die was for her really blessedness.

She employed the still hours of the night before her death in writing to her sister-in-law, Madame Elizabeth, and her letter was at the same time her testament. But the widow of Louis Capet had no riches, no treasures to convey. She had nothing more that she could call her own but her love, her tears, and her farewell greetings. These she left to all who had loved her. She sent a special word to her brothers and sisters, and bade them farewell.

"I had friends," she says, "and the thought that I am to be forever separated from them, and their sorrow for me, is the most painful thing in this hour; they shall at least know that I thought of them to the last moment."

After Marie Antoinette had ended this letter, whose writing was here and there blotted with her tears, she turned her thoughts to the last remembrances she could leave to her children—a remembrance which should not be profaned by the hand of the executioner. This was her long hair, whose silver locks, the only ornament that remained to her, was at the same time the sad record of her sorrows.

Marie Antoinette, with her own hands, despoiled herself of this ornament, and cut off her long back-hair, that it might be a last gift to her children, her relations, and friends. Then, after a period of meditation, she prepared herself for the last great ceremony of her career—her death. She felt herself exhausted, worn out, and recognized her need of some physical support during the hard way which lay before her. She asked for nourishment, and ate with some relish the wing of a fowl that was brought to her. After that she made her toilet—the toilet of death!

At the request of the queen, the wife of the turnkey gave her one of her own chemises, and Marie Antoinette put it on. Then she arrayed herself in the same garments which she had worn at her trial, with this single change—that over the black woollen dress, which she had often mended with her own hand, she now wore a cloak of white pique, Around her neck she tied a simple kerchief of white muslin, and as she would not be allowed to ascend the scaffold with uncovered head, she put on a plain linen cap, such as was in general use among the people. Black stockings covered her feet, and over these were shoes of black woollen stuff.

Her toilet was at last ended; she was done with all earthly things! Ready to meet her death, she lay down on her bed and slept.

She was still sleeping when it was announced to her that a priest was there, ready to meet her, if she wanted to confess. But Marie Antoinette had already unveiled her heart before God: she wanted none of those priests of reason whom the republic had appointed after it had banished or guillotined the priests of the Church.

"As I am not mistress of my own will," she had written to her sister Elizabeth, "I shall have to submit if a priest is brought to me; but I solemnly declare that I will not speak a word to him, and that I shall treat him as a person with whom I wish to have no relations."

And Marie Antoinette kept her word; she did not refuse to allow Geroid to enter; but when he asked her if she wished to receive the consolations of religion from him, she declined.

Then, in order to warm her feet, which were cold, she walked up and down her little room. As it struck seven the door opened. It was Samson, the public executioner, who entered!

A slight thrill passed through the form of the queen.

"You have come very early, sir; could you not delay a little?" When Samson denied her request, Marie Antoinette put on her calm, cold manner. She drank, without resistance, a cup of chocolate which was brought to her; she remained possessed, and wore her wonted air of dignity as they bound her hands behind her with thick cords.

At eleven o’clock she left her room, passed through the corridor, and ascended the car, which was waiting for her before the prison door. No one accompanied her, no one bade her a last farewell, not a look of pity or compassion was bestowed upon her by her keepers.

Alone, between the rows of gens d’armes that were placed along the sides of the corridor, the queen advanced, Samson walking behind her, carrying the end of the rope with which the queen’s hands were bound, and behind him his two assistants and the priest. This is the retinue of the queen, the daughter of an emperor, on the way to her execution!

It may be, that at this hour thousands are on their knees, offering their fervent prayers to God in behalf of Marie Antoinette, whom, in their hearts, they continued to call "the queen;" it may be that thousands are pouring out tears of compassion for her who now mounts the wretched car, and sits down on the board which is bound by ropes to the sides of the vehicle. But those who are praying and weeping have withdrawn to the solitude of their own apartments, and only God can see their tears and hear their cries. The eyes which witnessed the queen in this last drive were not allowed to shed a tear; the words which followed her on her last way could express no compassion.

All Paris knew the hour of the execution, and the people were ready to witness it. On the streets, at the windows, on the roofs, immense masses had congregated, and the whole Place de la Revolution (now the Place de la Concorde) was filled with a dark, surging crowd.

And now the drums of the guards stationed before the Conciergerie began to beat. The great white horse, (which drew the car in which the queen sat, side by side with the priest, and facing backward,) was driven forward by a man who was upon his back. Behind Marie Antoinette were Samson and his assistants.

The queen was pale, all the blood had left her cheeks and lips, but her eyes were red! Poor queen, she bore even then the marks of much weeping! But she could shed no tears then! Not a single one obscured her eye as her look ranged, gravely and calmly, over the mass, up the houses to the very roofs, then slowly down, and then away over the boundless sea of human faces.

Her face was as cold and grave as her eyes, her lips were firmly compressed; not a quiver betrayed whether she was suffering, and whether she shrank from the thousand and ten thousand scornful and curious looks which were fixed upon her. And yet Marie Antoinette saw it all! She saw a woman raise a child, she saw the child throw her a kiss with its little hand! At that the queen gave way for an instant, her lips quivered, her eyes were darkened with a tear! This solitary sign of human sympathy reanimated the heart of the queen, and gave her a little fresh life.

But the people took good care that Marie Antoinette should not carry this one drop of comfort to the end of her journey. The populace thronged around the car, howled, groaned, sang ribald songs, clapped their hands, and pointed their fingers in derision at Madame Veto.

The queen, however, remained calm, her gaze wandering coldly over the vast multitude; only once did her eye flash on the route. It was as she passed the Palais Royal, where Philippe Egalite, once the Duke d’Orleans, lived, and read the inscription which he had caused to be placed over the main entrance of the palace.

At noon the car reached its destination. It came to a halt at the foot of the scaffold; Marie Antoinette dismounted, and then walked slowly and with erect head up the steps.

Not once during her dreadful ride had her lips opened, not a complaint had escaped her, not a farewell had she spoken. The only adieu which she had to give on earth was a look—one long, sad look- -directed toward the Tuileries; and as she gazed at the great pile her cheeks grew paler, and a deep sigh escaped from her lips.

Then she placed her head under the guillotine,—a momentary, breathless silence followed.

Samson lifted up the pale head that had once belonged to the Queen of France, and the people greeted the sight with the cry, "Long live the republic!"

That same evening one of the officials of the republic made up an account, now preserved in the Imperial Library of Paris, and which must move even the historian himself to tears. It runs as follows: "Cost of interments, conducted by Joly, sexton of Madelaine de la Ville l’Eveque, of persons condemned by the Tribunal of the Committee of Safety, to wit, No. 1 . . . ." Then follow twenty-four names and numbers, and then "No. 25. Widow Capet:

For the coffin, . . . . . . . . . . . . .6 francs. For digging the grave,. . . . . . . . . 25 francs."

Beneath are the words, "Seen and approved by me, President of the Revolutionary Tribunal, that Joly, sexton of the Madelaine, receive the sum of two hundred and sixty-four francs from the National Treasury, Paris, llth Brumaire. Year II. of the French Republic. Herman, President."

The interment of the Queen of France did not cost the republic more than thirty-one francs, or six American dollars.


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Chicago: Luise Mühlbach, "Chapter XXIV. The Death of the 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 May 26, 2024,

MLA: Mühlbach, Luise. "Chapter XXIV. The Death of the 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. 26 May. 2024.

Harvard: Mühlbach, L, 'Chapter XXIV. The Death of the 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 26 May 2024, from