Marie Antoinette Confronts A Delirious Mob

March 31, 2016

march on Versailles

A gaunt and haggard woman seized a drum and strode through the streets, beating it violently, and mingling with its din her shrieks of “Bread! Bread!” A few boys follow her—then a score of female furies—and then thousands of desperate men. The swelling inundation rolls from street to street; the alarm bells are rung; all Paris composes one might, resistless mob, motiveless, aimless, but ripe for any deed of desperation. The cry goes from mouth to mouth, “To Versailles! To Versailles!” Why, no one know, only that the king and queen are there….. The king and queen are warned of the approaching danger, and Louis entreats Maria Antoinette to take the children in the carriages and flee to some distant place of safety. Others join most earnestly in the entreaty. “Nothing,” replies the queen, “shall induce me, in such an extremity, to be separated from my husband. I know that they seek my life. But I am the daughter of Maria Theresa, and have learned not to fear death.”

French RevolutionFrom the windows of their mansion the disorderly multitude were soon descried, in a dense and apparently interminable mass, pouring along through the broad avenues toward the palaces of Versailles. It was in the evening twilight of a dark and rainy day. Like ocean tides, the frantic mob rolled in from every direction. Their shouts and revels swelled upon the night air. The rain began to fall in torrents. They broke into the houses for shelter; insulted maids and matrons; tore down every thing combustible for their watch fires; massacred a few of the body guard of the queen, and, with bacchanalian songs, roaster their horses for food. And thus passed the hours of this long and dreary night, in hideous outrages for which one can hardly find a parallel in the annals of New Zealand cannibalism….

Marie AntoinetteToward morning, the queen, worn out with excitement and sleeplessness…had retired to her chamber for rest…. Hardly had the queen placed her head upon her pillow before she heard a dreadful clamor upon the stairs—the discharge of firearms, the clashing of swords, and the shouts of the mob rushing upon her door. The faithful guard, bleeding beneath the blows of the assailants, had only time to cry to the queen, “Fly! Fly for your life!” when they were stricken down. The queen sprang from her bed, rushed to the door leading to the king’s apartments, when, to her dismay, she found that it was locked, and that the key was upon the other side. With the energy of despair, she knocked and called for help. Fortunately, some one rushed to her rescue from the king’s chamber and opened the door. The queen had just time to slip through and again turn the key, when the whole raging mob, with oaths and imprecations, burst into the room, and pierced her bed through and through with their sabers and bayonets….

Soldiers of the French RevolutionNearly all of the interior of the palace was ransacked and defiled by the mob. The bloody heads of the massacred guards, stuck upon poles, were raised up to the windows of the king, to insult and to terrify the royal family with these hideous trophies of the triumph of their foes.

Marie Antoinette on the balcony

At length the morning succeeding this dreadful night dawned lurid and cheerless. It was the 8th of October, 1789. Dark clouds overshadowed the sky, showers of mist were driven through the air, and the branches of the trees swayed to and fro before the driving storm…. Muskets were continually discharged by the more desperate, and bullets passed through the windows of the palace. Maria Antoinette, in these trying scenes, indeed appeared queenly. Her conduct was heroic in the extreme. Her soul was nerved to the highest acts of fearlessness and magnanimity. Seeing the mob in the courtyard below ready to tear in pieces some of her faithful guard whom they had captured, regardless of the shots which were whistling by her, she persisted in exposing herself at the open window to beg for their lives; and when a friend. M. Luzerne, placed himself before her, that his body might be her shield from the bullets, she gently, but firmly, with her hand, pressed him away, saying, “The king cannot afford to lose so faithful a servant as you are.”

Marie AntoinetteAt length the crowd began vigorously to shout “The queen! The queen!” demanding that she should appear upon the balcony. She immediately came forth, with her children at her side, that, as a mother, she might appeal to their hearts. The sight moved the sympathies of the multitude, and execrating, as they did, Maria Antoinette, whom they had long been taught to hate, they could not have the heart, in cold bold, to massacre these innocent children. Thousands of voices simultaneously shouted, “Away with the children!” Maria, apparently without the tremor of a nerve, led back her children, and again appearing upon the balcony alone, folded her arms, and, raising her eyes to heaven, stood before them, a self-devoted victim. The heroism of the act changed for a moment hatred to admiration. Not a gun was fired; there was a moment of silence, and then one spontaneous burst of applause rose apparently from every lip, and shouts of “Vive la reine! Vive la reine!” pierced the skies.

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John S. C. Abbott, Marie Antoinette (Akron, Ohio: The New Werner Company, n.d), 118-23.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 518

 

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