Reactions to Marie Antoinette’s execution

marie antoinette temple
(public domain)

As the news of Marie Antoinette’s execution spread across Europe, reactions poured in.

Her niece Archduchess Marianne, the daughter of Emperor Leopold II, who had been born the day Marie Antoinette left for France, wrote to the Bishop of Nancy, “Monseigneur, I heard of the unfortunate Queen’s death in some black-sealed letters I received from Dresden. It is a terrible event.”1

Marie Antoinette’s sister Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples, was devastated. Maria Carolina – heavily pregnant with her 17th child – was so distraught that it was feared that she would lose the baby. She cried, “Good God! Did you ever think the French would have treated my sister and her husband in so horrible a way?”2 She gave birth to a healthy daughter two months later, but she did not rally quickly. She wrote, “I am so excessively ill that I can barely hold my pen and spend only the briefest time out of bed. The torments I have endured have ruined my health.”3

Her daughter, Princess Maria Amalia, later Queen of the French, wrote that her mother, with a face “bathed in tears”, took all of her children into the royal chapel for a special Mass to pray for Marie Antoinette, leaving them “awestruck as they saw their mother kneeling with a bowed head before the altar making intercessions for her sister’s soul.”4

When Naples finally made peace with France in 1796, Maria Carolina bitterly commented, “I am not and never shall be on good terms with the French… I shall always regard them as the murderers of my sister and the royal family.”5 She had placed a picture of her sister in her boudoir with the words, “I will pursue my vengeance to the grave.”6

Her sister-in-law, Marie Clotilde, the future Queen of Sardinia, was already devastated by the death of her brother, and the execution of Marie Antoinette only seemed to confirm the fears she had for her sister, Elisabeth, who was still imprisoned. Those fears were realised the following year.

Marie Antoinette’s sister Maria Christina was in shock. She wrote, “Maria Theresa would never have believed that she put children into the world who would be tortured by the vicious, oppressed by cabals, covered in ignominy and end their lives on the scaffold. I cannot get over the sorrow which the unfortunate had to suffer even in her last months, especially because of her children… death ends all grief and anguish.”7

Wilhelmina of Prussia, Princess of Orange, wrote to her daughter Louise, “You will learn by this post that the unfortunate Queen of France has just perished in the same manner as her spouse but in even more degrading and horrible circumstances. You will find some of the details in the Journal de la Guerre, and the Gazette de Leyde has a few more details. You will no doubt be as revolted as I am.”8

Marie Antoinette’s supposed lover, Count Axel von Fersen, wrote, “I could only think of my loss. It was dreadful to have no positive details. That she was alone in her last moments, without comfort, with no one to talk to, to give her last wishes to, is horrifying. The monsters from hell! No, without revenge, my heart will never be satisfied.”9 When he met her daughter several years later, he wrote, “My knees almost gave way beneath me as I was going downstairs after seeing her. I was profoundly moved by mingled feelings of joy and of sorrow.”10

Her nephew, Emperor Francis II, in Vienna, declared that the court should go into mourning, but her name was soon no longer spoken. Napoleon Bonaparte later said, “It was a fixed maxim in the House of Austria to maintain a profound silence concerning the Queen of France. At the name of Marie Antoinette, they lowered their eyes and changed the conversation, wishing to evade a disagreeable and embarrassing topic. Such was the rule adopted by the entire family and recommended to Austrian envoys in foreign parts.”11

Her sister-in-law, the Countess of Artois, had fled to Turin, and the Count de Maurienne simply wrote, “We have gone into mourning for the Queen.”12

Marie Antoinette’s daughter, Marie Thérèse had, remained imprisoned following the deaths of her father, mother, aunt and brother. She did not know that any of them had died until August 1795 when Madame de Chanterenne, her caretaker, finally told her. She had broken down in anguish, but after her release, she found it in her heart to write to her uncle, asking him to forgive the French people. She wrote, “Yes, uncle, it is she whose father, mother and aunt have been made to perish by them, who, on her knees, begs you for their grace and for peace!”13Many years later, she cherished the bloodstained shirt of her father, a lace bonnet worked on by her mother in Conciergerie and fichu that her aunt her worn to her execution, She often spent the days of her parents’ deaths alone in prayer.

  1. In Destiny’s Hands by Justin C. Vovk p.269
  2. In the Shadow of the Empress by Nancy Goldstone p.498
  3. In the Shadow of the Empress by Nancy Goldstone p.498
  4. In Destiny’s Hands by Justin C. Vovk p.269
  5. In Destiny’s Hands by Justin C. Vovk p.276
  6. A sister of Marie Antoinette; the life-story of Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples by Catherine Mary Bearne p.204
  7. In the Shadow of the Empress by Nancy Goldstone p.486
  8. Correspondentie van de Stadhouderlijke Family 1793-1795 p.92
  9. Marie Antoinette and Count Fersen – The Secret Letters by Evelyn Farr p.361
  10. Marie Antoinette by Stefan Zweig p.458
  11. Marie Antoinette by Stefan Zweig p.456
  12. Joséphine de Savoie, comtesse de Provence, 1753-1810 by Tony-Henri-Auguste Reiset p.294
  13. The fate of Marie Antoinette’s daughter by Susan Nagel p.167

About Moniek Bloks 2765 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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