The execution of Marie Antoinette

marie antoinette
(public domain)

Just after midnight on 16 October 1793, her defence council was finally allowed to do its job.

Her two defence councillors, Chauveau-Lagarde and Tronçon-Ducoudray, quickly discussed their strategy, and it was decided that Chauveau-Lagarde would focus on her alleged conspiracy with the foreign powers while Tronçon-Ducoudray would focus on alleged conspiracy with enemies within France. They defended the Queen for three hours and called the evidence “ridiculously absent.”1 Marie Antoinette thanked Chauveau-Lagarde, and told him, “How tired you must be, Monsieur Chauveau-Lagarde! I am sensitive to all your troubles!”2 At three in the morning, Marie Antoinette was removed from the hall.

As the president instructed the jurors, he told them that Marie Antoinette was the “instigatrice of all the great tyrant’s crimes.”3 He added, “You have to judge the entire political life of the accused ever since she came to sit by the side of the last king of the French; but you must, above all, fix your deliberation upon the manoeuvres that she never for an instant ceased to employ to destroy the rising liberty.”4

An hour later, the jurors returned with a verdict, and Marie Antoinette was returned to the hall. The president read out, “The Tribunal, after the unanimous declaration of the jury, in conformity to the laws cited, condemns the said Marie Antoinette of Lorraine and Austria, widow of Louis Capet, to the penalty of death, her goods confiscated for the benefit of the republic, and this sentence shall be executed at the place de la Révolution.”5

Marie Antoinette showed no emotion. Chauveau-Lagarde later wrote, “The queen, sitting alone, listened calmly, and we could only realise that something had just taken place in her soul, something of a revolution that was very remarkable.” He added, “She did not give any sign of fear or indignation, or weakness. It appeared she was annihilated by surprise.6 Chauveau-Lagarde and Tronçon-Ducoudray were immediately arrested, but they were released later that same day.

Marie Antoinette walked up to the barrier behind which the crowd was watching and rose “her head majestically.”7 She was returned to her cell, where she sat down to write a final letter to Madame Elisabeth, her sister-in-law. She kissed the pages of the letter and gave it to the warden. Elisabeth would never receive the letter.

After praying, Marie Antoinette tried to sleep for a little while. Around 7 in the morning, her maid Rosalie found her on the bed, dressed in all black. Rosalie offered her something to eat, but Marie Antoinette replied, “My child, I no longer need anything; everything is over for me.”8 Shortly after, Rosalie helped her undress, but the guard who was situated in the room refused to give her privacy. She changed her chemise, which was covered in blood due to vaginal haemorrhaging. She put on a white negligee and draped a muslin scared over her shoulders. On her head, she wore a white mourning cap.

(public domain)

A priest arrived, but she refused him, saying, “I thank you, but my religion forbids me to accept the forgiveness of God through a priest who is of another persuasion.”9 Around 10 in the morning, four officials arrived to read out the sentence, although Marie Antoinette protested that it was not necessary. She was then ordered to hold out her hands, which terrified her, and she said, “Will my hands be tied? The King’s hands were not tied.”10 Nevertheless, they were tied behind her back. Her hair was then cut, and a linen cap was placed on her remaining hair.

An open cart waited to take Marie Antoinette to the place of her execution. She was escorted from her cell, and she was helped into the cart. The priest, whom she had refused, sat next to her, and he told her to have courage. She countered with, “Courage? I have so long served an apprenticeship in it that is not likely to fail me today.”11 Crowds had gathered on the streets as the cart made its way. It stopped briefly in front of the women who had once marched on Versailles. One banner read, “Here’s the vile tyrant whom we hunted right in front of us!”12

marie antoinette execution
(public domain)

Just after noon, Marie Antoinette reached the guillotine, and the crowds fell silent. As she climbed the steps, someone shouted, “The infamous Autrichienne, she’s screwed!”13 She accidentally stepped on the executioner’s foot and quickly apologised, “Sir, I beg your pardon; I did not do it on purpose.”14 As the final preparations were made, Marie Antoinette prayed. She was then tied to the plank, and her head was held in place by the wood. With a pull of the cord, the blade fell – ending the life of an Archduchess, a Dauphine and a Queen. She was 37 years old.

The executioner showed her head to all four corners of the scaffold. Her head and body were taken to the Madeleine cemetery, where her husband had also been taken. The gravediggers had just started their lunch, and her body and head were left unattended on the grass. Two weeks after her burial, the bill came – six livres for the coffin and 15 livres and 35 sous for the grave and the gravediggers.15

  1. Marie Antoinette’s darkest days by Will Bashor p.221
  2. Marie Antoinette’s darkest days by Will Bashor p.221
  3. Marie Antoinette’s darkest days by Will Bashor p.221
  4. Marie Antoinette’s darkest days by Will Bashor p.222
  5. Marie Antoinette’s darkest days by Will Bashor p.225
  6. Marie Antoinette’s darkest days by Will Bashor p.226
  7. Marie Antoinette’s darkest days by Will Bashor p.226
  8. Marie Antoinette’s darkest days by Will Bashor p.230
  9. Marie Antoinette’s darkest days by Will Bashor p.231
  10. Marie Antoinette’s darkest days by Will Bashor p.234
  11. Marie Antoinette’s darkest days by Will Bashor p.241
  12. Marie Antoinette’s darkest days by Will Bashor p.245
  13. Marie Antoinette’s darkest days by Will Bashor p.252
  14. Marie Antoinette’s darkest days by Will Bashor p.252
  15. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p. 527

About Moniek Bloks 2659 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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