Marie Antoinette, Marie Louise, and The Crow

One anecdote about the French Queen, Marie Antoinette, involves a crow in the Corvidae family. Apparently, a black crow inhabited the woods and parks of Versailles and was frequently seen within the area of the Queen’s beloved Petit Trianon. Many people at the time considered crows to be a sinister omen, and so it was perhaps not the best thing to have a crow in the vicinity. Moreover, this crow was friendly enough that it was not concerned about its safety and would readily seek food or gather up bread crumbs when tossed out a window.

Crow - Illustration of Two Corbies by Authur Rackham in 1919, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Illustration of two corbies by Arthur Rackham in 1919. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

One morning while at Petit Trianon in October of 1785, Marie Antoinette was leaning out her boudoir window. She was gazing across the lawn of Petit Trianon and holding a biscuit and a cup of steeped milk. The crow suddenly appeared flapping its wings and begging for food. It landed on her window ledge, and despite the Queen being somewhat alarmed by the bird’s ominous visit, she gave it the remainder of her biscuit. She then shut her boudoir window and went about her business. However, later that morning Marie Antoinette told her husband about the incident and noted that it was unsettling because of her superstitious beliefs about the bird. 

Crow - Marie Antoinette

The Queen, Marie Antoinette. Author’s collection.

The following day, a similar scene played out between the crow and the Queen. Over the next few weeks, the same scene continued. Soon the crow became attached to the Queen’s morning feedings. In fact, on mornings when Marie Antoinette appeared decked out in her muslin gown and straw hat and made her way to her fairy tale hamlet of Hameau de la Reine, the crow faithfully followed her. It would fly from tree to tree along her route and never leave her until after she returned to Petit Trianon.

The crow’s appearance and morning feedings continued until about 1789. From that time forward, the bird was not seen and no one thought of it. The crow might have been forgotten forever if not for Napoleon’s second wife, Marie Louise. She began to occupy Petit Trianon in 1810 and was fond of breakfasting outdoors, One day she remarked to Napoleon that a crow was constantly hovering over the building where she breakfasted. She also told him that it cawed loudly as if expressing a wish to enjoy part of her breakfast. Napoleon, who was somewhat superstitious, encouraged Marie Louise to leave Petit Trianon immediately, which she did.

Crow - Empress Marie Louise, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Empress Marie Louise. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

However, Marie Louise’s departure was not permanent. She returned to Petit Trianon in 1814 and on 19 April when she was meandering arm in arm with her father along the pathways of Petit Trianon, they sat down a stone bench near a bridge. Supposedly, at that time, the Empress heard a a familiar sound, the formidable “caw! caw!” of the crow.

“They looked and saw a bird flying from the thicket behind them … [and] she recognized the crow, [supposedly, the same crow she had seen earlier and the same crow that had been so attached to Marie Antoinette.]”

This was the last time the crow was seen, and, as to its end, it remains a mystery. But could a crow live to be 29 years old?  According to this Cornell site, Frequently Asked Questions About Crows, “as of November 2010, the “oldest known wild American Crow was 29 1/2 years old.” If Marie Antoinette saw this crow in 1785 and it was last seen by Marie Louise in 1814 that would have meant the bird was at least 29 years old. So, I guess all things are possible.

References:

  • Our Dumb Animals, 1872.

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