Saturday, May 26, 2007

Last Letter of Marie-Antoinette



The following is the original French text of the October 16, 1793 letter written by Marie-Antoinette Queen of France a few hours before her execution to her sister-in-law Madame Elisabeth. An English translation is included below, as well as images of the original letter. The sweetness and innocence of Marie-Antoinette's soul are captured in the lines in which she expresses her steadfast adherence to the Catholic religion and her concern for her friends and family. Note the delicate manner in which she refers to her little son's accusation of incest, wrested from him by his tormentors, showing more concern for Elisabeth's feelings than for her own agony. Although it is known that she had previously received the ministrations of a priest faithful to the Holy See while in prison, in order to protect him she wonders aloud if there are any Catholic priests left in France. Also, in the last sentence she states her refusal to "speak," that is, to confess, to a juring priest, one who had denied the Pope by swearing an oath to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Robespierre kept the letter; it never reached Elisabeth.
Ce 16 octobre, à quatre heures et demie du matin.

C’est à vous, ma soeur, que j’écris pour la dernière fois. Je viens d’être condamnée, non pas à une mort honteuse – elle ne l’est que pour les criminels, mais à aller rejoindre votre frère. Comme lui innocente j’espère montrer la même fermeté que lui dans ses derniers moments. Je suis calme comme on l’est quand la conscience ne reproche rien. J’ai un profond regret d’abandonner mes pauvres enfants. Vous save
z que je n’existais que pour eux et vous, ma bonne et tendre soeur, vous qui avez par votre amitié tout sacrifié pour être avec nous, dans quelle position je vous laisse ! J’ai appris par le plaidoyer même du procès que ma fille était séparée de vous. Hélas ! la pauvre enfant, je n’ose pas lui écrire, elle ne recevrait pas ma lettre, je ne sais pas même si celle-ci vous parviendra. Recevez pour eux deux ici ma bénédiction ; j’espère qu’un jour, lorsqu’ils seront plus grands, ils pourront se réunir avec vous et jouir en entier de vos tendres soins. Qu’ils pensent tous deux à ce que je n’ai cessé de leur inspirer : que les principes et l’exécution exacte de ses devoirs sont la première base de la vie, que leur amitié et leur confiance mutuelle en fera le bonheur. Que ma fille sente qu’à l’âge qu’elle a, elle doit toujours aider son frère par les conseils que l’expérience qu’elle aura de plus que lui et son amitié pourront lui inspirer ; que mon fils, à son tour, rende à sa soeur tous les soins, les services que l'amitié peuvent inspirer ; qu’ils sentent enfin tous deux que dans quelque position où ils pourront se trouver ils ne seront vraiment heureux que par leur union ; qu’ils prennent exemple de nous. Combien, dans nos malheurs, notre amitié nous a donné de consolation ! Et dans le bonheur on jouit doublement quand on peut le partager avec un ami, et où en trouver de plus tendre, de plus uni que dans sa propre famille ? Que mon fils n’oublie jamais les derniers mots de son père que je lui répète expressément : qu’il ne cherche jamais à venger notre mort.

J’ai à vous parler d’une chose bien pénible à
mon coeur. Je sais combien cet enfant doit vous avoir fait de la peine. Pardonnez-lui, ma chère soeur, pensez à l’âge qu’il a et combien il est facile de faire dire à un enfant ce qu’on veut et même ce qu’il ne comprend pas. Un jour viendra, j’espère, où il ne sentira que mieux le prix de vos bontés et de votre tendresse pour tous deux. Il me reste à vous confier encore mes dernières pensées. J’aurais voulu les écrire dès le commencement du procès, mais, outre qu’on ne me laissait pas écrire, la marche a été si rapide que je n’en aurais réellement pas eu le temps.

Je meurs dans la religion catholique, apostolique et romaine, dans celle de mes pères, dans celle où j’ai été élevée et que j’ai toujours professée, n’ayant aucune consolation spirituelle à attendre, ne sachant pas s’il existe encore ici des prêtres de cette religion, et même le lieu où je suis les exposerait trop s’ils y entraient une fois. Je demande sincèrement pardon à Dieu de toutes les fautes que j’ai pu commettre depuis que j’existe ; j’espère que, dans sa bonté, il voudra bien recevoir mes derniers voeux, ainsi que ceux que je fais depuis longtemps pour qu’il veuille bien recevoir mon âme dans sa miséricorde et sa bonté. Je demande pardon à tous ceux que je connais et à vous, ma soeur, en particulier, de toutes les peines que, sans le vouloir, j’aurais pu leur causer. Je pardonne à tous mes ennemis le mal qu’ils m’ont fait. Je dis ici adieu à mes tantes et à tous mes frères et soeurs. J’avais des amis, l’idée d’en être séparée pour jamais et leurs peines sont un des plus grands regrets que j’emporte en mourant ; qu’ils sachent du moins que, jusqu’à mon dernier moment, j’ai pensé à eux.

Adieu, ma bonne et tendre soeur ; puisse cette lettre vous arriver. Pensez toujours à moi ; je vous embrasse de tout mon coeur ainsi
que ces pauvres et chers enfants. Mon Dieu, qu’il est déchirant de les quitter pour toujours ! Adieu, adieu ! je ne vais plus m’occuper que de mes devoirs spirituels. Comme je ne suis pas libre dans mes actions, on m’amènera peut-être un prêtre ; mais je proteste ici que je ne lui dirai pas un mot et que je le traiterai comme un être absolument étranger.
Here are pictures of the queen's last letter, stained by her tears, followed by an English translation. When she speaks of her children the words themselves fall like tears.

16th October, 4.30 A.M.

It is to you, my sister, that I write for the last time. I have just been condemned, not to a shameful death, for such is only for cri
minals, but to go and rejoin your brother. Innocent like him, I hope to show the same firmness in my last moments. I am calm, as one is when one's conscience reproaches one with nothing. I feel profound sorrow in leaving my poor children: you know that I only lived for them and for you, my good and tender sister. You who out of love have sacrificed everything to be with us, in what a position do I leave you! I have learned from the proceedings at my trial that my daughter was separated from you. Alas! poor child; I do not venture to write to her; she would not receive my letter. I do not even know whether this will reach you. Do you receive my blessing for both of them. I hope that one day when they are older they may be able to rejoin you, and to enjoy to the full your tender care. Let them both think of the lesson which I have never ceased to impress upon them, that the principles and the exact performance of their duties are the chief foundation of life; and then mutual affection and confidence in one another will constitute its happiness. Let my daughter feel that at her age she ought always to aid her brother by the advice which her greater
experience and her affection may inspire her to give him. And let my son in his turn render to his sister all the care and all the services which affection can inspire. Let them, in short, both feel that, in whatever positions they may be placed, they will never be truly happy but through their union. Let
them follow our example. In our own misfortunes how much comfort has our affection for one another afforded us! And, in times of happiness, we have enjoyed that doubly from being able to share it with a friend; and where can one find friends more tender and more united than in one's own family? Let my son never forget the last words of his father, which I repeat emphatically; let him never seek to avenge our deaths.

I have to speak to you of one thing which is very painful to my heart, I know how much pain the child must have caused you. Forgive him, my dear sister; think of his age, and how easy it is to make a child say whatever one wishes, especially when he does not understand it. It will come to pass one day, I hope, that he will better feel the value of your kindness and of your tender affection for both of them. It remains to confide to you my last thoughts. I should have wished to write them at th
e beginning of my trial; but, besides that they did not leave me any means of writing, events have passed so rapidly that I really have not had time.

I die in the Catholic Apostolic and Roman religion, that of my fathers, that in which I was brought up, and which I have always professed. Having no spiritual consolation to look for, not even knowing whether there are still in this place any priests of that religion (and indeed the place where I am would expose them to too much danger if they were to enter it but once), I sincerely implore pardon of God for all the faults which I may have committed during my life. I trust that, in His goodness, He will mercifully accept my last prayers, as well as those which I have for a long time addressed to Him, to receive my soul into His mercy. I beg pardon of all whom I know, and especially of you, my sister, for all the vexations which, without intending it, I may have caused you. I pardon all my enemies the evils that they have done me. I bid farewell to my aunts and to all my brothers and sisters. I had friends. The idea of being forever separated from them and from all their troubles is one of the greatest sorrows that I suffer in dying. Let them at least know that to my latest moment I thought of them.

Farewell, my good and tender sister. May this letter reach you. Think always of me; I embrace you with all my heart, as I do my poor dear children. My God, how heart-rending it is to leave them forever! Farewell! farewell! I must now occupy myself with my spiritual duties, as I am not free in my actions. Perhaps they will bring me a priest; but I here protest that I will not say a word to him, but that I will treat him as a total stranger.
(Translation by Charles Duke Yonge)
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27 comments:

de Brantigny said...

The so called procecutor Fouquier-Tinville having heard the jury at 4 oclock in the morning ordered that the Queen and her two attorneys be returned to the Conciergerie (the pour attorneys, having lost the case are made to serve out the punishment of their charge). She desended the poorly lit staircase, and unable to see was given the arm of a jailer. For offering his arm he was denounced and sent to the Conciergerie as well. His name is recorded as Busne. For his act of pure charitie I pray that this Simon's soul is in Heaven.

She was not given the same privilege to have a non-juring priest to comfort he in her last moments. Had she confessed to a juring priest, he no doubt would have spread more gossip and scandal.

I can see her now as she approched the scaffold, still the Queen, her once red hair now totally turned white, cut jaggedly about her shoulders. She is still proud. Once the wife of a King now the mother of one, to which she has paid obiesiance to along with her daughter. The knife edge falls. It is done.

Unknowingly, the criminal Robspierre saved the letter and due to him we can see the real mind of the Queen, not the one sent to us by the hsitory books, no the real one, mother, wife, martyr.

Dieu savez la Reine.

de Brantigny

elena maria vidal said...

Busne also removed his hat when helping the queen, out of respect for her. What a gallant and true Frenchman! That is true, thanks to Robespierre we have this letter. If it had been passed on to Madame Elisabeth, it surely would have been stolen and destroyed by the guards in the Temple prison. But Robespierre hid it under his mattress.

Yes, the queen showed prudence as well as loyalty to the Pope by not confessing to the juring priest.

marie said...

This was very very moving..I know so little about this courageous woman. But through this blog and the posts of many I am learning each day...that is a positive thing:).

Thankyou Elena for bringing to light a woman of substance and great stature.

Yours in friendship,

Marie

elena maria vidal said...

I am so glad, Marie. One of the main purposes of this blog is to present the truth about Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.

Kimberly Wasson said...

Thank you so much, Elena, for your continuing portrayal of the true nature of these beautiful, faithful Catholic monarchs. The "last letter of Marie-Antoinette" has been read to my children many times over the last several years It is heartbreaking, yet incredibly inspiring. I am frequently reminded, in the contemplation of Marie-Antoinette's death, of the words of the brave martyred mother and her seven sons in the book of Maccabees. The Queen had no reason to believe her children would be spared, yet her words are filled with hope.

Having also read the King's final letter, I am so moved by his sincere desire that his children not avenge his death. Faith to the last!

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, dear Mrs Wasson, and I am delighted to hear that you read the queen's last letter to your children. Yes, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, while they struggled with human faults and failings, were indeed true Catholic monarchs. people tend to condemn Marie-Antoinette for her joie de vivre and love of beauty but those qualities make her such an engaging character. Yes, the Mother of the Macabees is a perfect comparison. And the King's letter is beautiful, too. I have it on this blog, somewhere.

Kitchen Madonna said...

I've become a Marie Antoinette fan this year. So thank you for your posts. She was a martyr queen. What I learned in graduate school about the French Revolution was propaganda.

readerjoy said...

I have just finished Hillaire Belloc's book on Marie Antoinette and it was very enlightening and informative. I was looking for more information and I came across this site and forum. I enjoyed reading her last letter which Belloc discusses but does not include in the book.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, readerjoy! Belloc's is one of the better biographies of the queen. There are many articles on this site about the queen. Just do an on-site search on various topics concerning her or email me.

Benedicamus said...

Elena,
I couldn't find your email address at the site, so I thought I'd just post this link for you in the comments. Sorry it's off topic!
Did you know about this exhibit?
(The Economist wrote an article about it)
http://www.economist.com/books/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10918031&CFID=7589788&CFTOKEN=41184440

I saw it and thought of you.
Best,
Abigail

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, and I would love to go. Thanks, Abigail!

Nicole said...

I just returned from visiting Le Louvre where I happened to read Marie Antoinette's letter printed on silk and I was so moved by it. I know so little about the actual woman, just the common knowledge and teasing. This letter shows her emotional depth, strength, discipline and pureness of heart that you just don't get a chance to see in the history books. Thank you for posting this, as seeing the actual letter is quite striking and reading the translation cleared up a few lines I didn't understand before.

jmacshane said...

Hello Elena,

I have chosen to study the how the image of Marie Antoinette has been constructed throughout history, and I was wondering what the title of the novel is that contains this letter. I truly believe that Marie Antoinette has been wrongly judged through time and this letter is proof that she has been would like to use your book as one of my sources.

Thankyou

elena maria vidal said...

That is wonderful. The name of my book is "Trianon." You can get it here:

http://astore.amazon.com/httpteaattria-20/detail/0911845968

kj said...

hey elena, really a great and emotional post about a wonderful lady. I am glad to know her last words thanks to you. The way the lady was misunderstooded and executed was indeed shameful.

Matterhorn said...

Dear Elena,

May I put this beautiful letter on my blog, on the 16th? Of course I will link back to your post.

elena maria vidal said...

Be my guest!

Thoma433 said...

I am such a huge fan of Marie Antoinette! She was such an amazing woman and she endured so much in a lifetime cut short. And just to let every know there is a Lecture on Marie Antoinette at the Metropolitan Museum of Art tomorrow November 2nd @ 11am!! Thank You for such an amazing Blog Elena, I'm so glad I found it!!

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you! I wish I could make the lecture!

Benita Wheeler said...

i think it shows to be a queen, you must show strength and have strength. She was one strong woman despite what everyone said. She was deserving of her crown

cc7330f8-3dd1-11e0-bc74-000bcdcb471e said...

Elena, I arrived to your excellent web site by doing research in the Ineternet. How did you get access to this incredible document? Is there something about it in a book? I am quite disgusted with the French revolution; we learn so many lies in school...

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you for your kind words. I got the pictures from a friend of mine who viewed the letter at an exhibition in Paris.

cc7330f8-3dd1-11e0-bc74-000bcdcb471e said...

I hope you don't mind me asking, but was this taken in a museum or exhibition? I ask, because I refuting a bunch of lies someone wrote and I'd love to have a source. Did you write the book you mentioned? I just asked my library to buy it, since I found none. Do you know Juliette Benzoni? She wrote an interesting series (3 books) about the Duque de Batz.

elena maria vidal said...

The letter was shown at an exhibit about Marie-Antoinette at the Grand Palais in Paris a few years ago. There are photos of it available on the Marie-Antoinette Online forum at www.marie-antoinette.org. Just do an on-site search about "Marie-Antoinette's last letter." I am the author of the novels TRIANON and MADAME ROYALE. So sorry, I have never heard of Juliette Benzoni.

cc7330f8-3dd1-11e0-bc74-000bcdcb471e said...

I have a feeling you'd love Juliette Benzoni. The titles are:
"Un Homme pour le Roi," "La Messe Rouge" and "La Comtesse des Ténébres." I believe they are all available in English too. All the best and keep up the good work!

Syed"PROUD 2 BE ON OF THEM" said...

Its Moving ... Its Realy Moving. One can feel his/her eyes wet and a lumph in throat while reading this!!! SHE DID WHAT WAS COMPULSORY FOR THE WIVES OF THAT ERA : OBEY ORDERS OF THEIR HUSBANDS .... hatsoff for you elena ... Its totaly different from what they write in history books.

Diane said...

This letter came in a timely manner as I just finished reading the novel Madame Tussaud" by Michelle Moran, Madame Tussaud lived through the French Revolution and was even Madame Elizabeth's sculpting teacher. A wonderful book I highly recommend.