By Don Conway
Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France and wife of Louis XVI, was guillotined on October 16th, 1793. Her execution followed fourteen months in a variety of prisons in the Paris area. Her final cell was in the dungeon of La Conciergerie where she was transferred for her trial by the Revolutionary Tribunal. Her prayer book, pen, ink, and paper were available to her during her incarceration. Following her execution, her prayer book was turned over to the Revolutionary Tribunal and eventually made its way to the Louvre museum where it resides today. It was widely speculated that the Queen kept a secret diary during her months in prison but no trace of it could be found until 2015 when it was discovered in a trunk in the attic of an obscure apartment building in Paris.
The diary covers the period from the fall of the monarchy, in August 1792, until the day of her execution in 1793. The final, poignant, entry written in the early morning hours while she waited for her executioner, is presented here.
4:30 am, October 16, 1793
It is only a matter of hours now.
I tell the world of a life such as mine of the rise from Austrian, Hapsburg
princess to Queen of France to a prisoner in a cold, dark, rat-infested
dungeon? How do I tell the world of the meaning of such a life? My marriage to
Louis XVI at the age of fourteen cast me into a fantasy world. Yes, I indulged
myself in all the pleasures his fortune and my position allowed. And many that
were not allowed but which I took anyway. My beautiful Hans,* the sensuous
Duchesse de Polignac**, the Petit Trianon, exaggerated hairstyles and
extravagant dresses. Yes, I took advantage of all of them but they had no
meaning for me. Meaning came into my life after the birth of my children. It
was only then that I began to understand the responsibilities of a Queen. I
did, I really did, try to concern myself with the well-being of my subjects.
But I am Austrian and they are French. There was so much about them that I
could not grasp and by this stage in my life my reputation was too far soiled
to be accepted by the French.
And so I go to my death finally understanding that a true Queen must forsake her own life and wishes and devoted herself to the welfare of her country, even this adopted one, and its people. And so it seems the meaning of my life must be to serve as an example for all persons of power. You are nothing. Humanity is everything.
They are coming for me now. Auf Wiedersehen zum Leben***
*Hans Axel von Fersen was a Swedish soldier and Marie Antoinette lover for many years starting in 1774 while she was Queen of France.
**The Duchesse de Polignac was Marie Antoinette lesbian lover for many years.
***Goodbye to life.
Don Conway is an award-winning Architect and Writer (two golds and a silver medal from a national writing competition) also a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University. Says he is working hard on book number four.