Marie Antoinette’s Last Letter

Widow Capet 1793 by Sophie Prieur, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Widow Capet 1793 by Sophie Prieur, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Widow Capet, as Marie Antoinette was called after her husband’s death, was tried by the the Revolutionary Tribunal on October 14, 1793, and condemned to death. One of her last acts was to write a letter to her dear sister-in-law, the youngest sibling of Louis XVI, Madame Élisabeth. It was dated October 16 and written at half past four in the morning

In her letter to Madame Élisabeth, Marie Antoinette shows no animosity or wrath. Rather one person stated she was “subdued, but not exhausted by her adversities, she retains the memory of her blood and station, only to add a higher gracefulness to the calm and uncomplaining meekness with which she mediates upon her wrongs.”

Her letter follows almost verbatim:

Madame Élisabeth, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Madame Élisabeth, Courtesy of Wikipedia
It is to you, sister that I write for the last time; I have just been condemned, not to an ignominious death — it is such to the guilty alone — but to rejoin your brother. Innocent like him, I hope to show the same firmness in my last moments. I experience the tranquility of mind ever attending a guiltless conscience. It grieves me very sensibly to leave my poor children; you know that I existed only for them and you, my kind and affectionate sister; you, who have, through affection sacrificed every thing in order to be with us. In what situation do I leave you! I learned from what passed at my trial, that my daughter had been separated from you. Alas! poor child, I dare not write to her; she would not receive my letter. I do not know even whether this will reach you. Receive here my blessing for them both; I hope that one day, when they are older, they will be re-united to you, and enjoy your tender cares without interruption.

Let them both reflect on what I have unceasingly taught them, that virtuous principles and the exact performance of every duty, are the first basis of life; that their happiness will depend on their mutual affection and confidence. Let my daughter feel, that considering her age, she ought always to assist her brother with such advice as her reflection and her superior experience may suggest; let my son, in his turn, show his sister every attention and kindness that affection can inspire; in a word, let them both feel, that in whatever situation they may be placed, they will not be truly happy but by being united; let them take example from us: how much consolation in our misfortunes has our affection afforded us! And, in prosperity, happiness is doubled when shared with a friend; and where can one find a friend more tender, more dear, than in the bosom of one’s own family? Let my son never forget the last words of his father, which I emphatically repeat to him —

Let him never seek to revenge our death.

I have to speak on a subject very painful to my feelings; I know how much pain this child must have caused you; pardon him, my dear sister; consider his age, and how easy it is to make a child say whatever one pleases, and even what he does not understand. A day, I hope, will come, when he will so much the more forcibly feel the full value of your kindness and tenderness to them both. It now remains to confide to you my last thoughts. I would have written them from the beginning of the trial; but besides not being permitted to write, its progress has been so rapid, that I really should not have had time.

I die in the Roman Catholic and Apostolic Religion, that of my fathers, that in which I was educated, and which I have always professed; having no spiritual consolation to expect, not knowing whether there be here any priests of that religion; and, indeed, for a priest to visit me where I now am, would be too dangerous an undertaking.

Pen and ink of the Widow Capet on the Way to the Guillotine, by  Jacques-Louis David, 16 October 1793, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Pen and ink of the Widow Capet on the Way to the Guillotine, by Jacques-Louis David, 16 October 1793, Courtesy of Wikipedia
I sincerely ask pardon of God for all the faults I may have committed during my life: I hope that in his goodness he will hear my last prayers, together with those which I have long poured forth, entreating him to receive my soul in his mercy and kindness. I ask forgiveness of all with whom I am acquainted, and of you, sister, in particular, for all the pain, which, without intending it, I may have caused you. I forgive all my enemies the injury they have done me. I here bid adieu to my aunts, and to all my brothers and sisters. I had friends! The idea of being separated from them for ever, and of their afflictions, is the greatest grief I feel in dying; let them know at least, that to my latest moment, I thought of them.

Adieu, my kind and tender sister; may this letter reach you. Always think of me; I embrace you with my whole heart, as well as those poor and dear children: O my God! how heart-rending it is to leave them for ever! Adieu! Adieu! I must now occupy myself wholly with my spiritual duties. As I am not free in my actions, they will perhaps bring me a priest, but I here protest that I will have nothing to say to him, and that I will treat him as a perfect stranger.

References:

  • Hall, John E., The Port Folio, 1822

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