Friday, September 8, 2017

Walking Through Time- Marie Antoinette

There's something about the past that intrigues me, sends tingles up my spine.

When I first learned of Marie Antoinette, I was about 12, but from that moment on, I was hooked on history.  I wanted to learn more about this girl, who was not much older than I when she was sent to France to become Queen and then tragically beheaded by a people who had come to despise her.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I took our three kids ages 20, 18, and 13 to Paris to take a walk through time and get a glimpse of the past.

Le Procope, opened 1686, rue de l'Ancienne Comedie
We began our time in Paris with a private French Revolution walking tour, which my husband arranged through Paris Perfect. This was a great way to get our kids, especially our 13-year-old son, excited about seeing historically important places. Our guide, who spoke English very well, took us among other places, to the oldest street in Paris. It was here that the first ever cafe in Paris opened in 1686, called Le Procope which served a new drink called "coffee" to guests such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire (who supposedly drank 40 cups of coffee daily), Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and many other historical figures.

As part of our tour, our guide took us into Le Procope where we sat, drank coffee and discussed the past.  The cafe is now kind of a living museum displaying various items including the writing desk of Voltaire as well as a copy of the last letter that Marie Antoinette wrote to her sister-in-law to bid farewell to her daughter and son only hours before her beheading on October 16, 1793.  As we stood there surrounded by our children, looking at her tear stained letter sealed in a plexiglass case, I wondered if I could have been so eloquent in saying the last goodbye to my children.

Her words still echo in my mind, "...I feel profound sorrow at leaving my poor children: you know that I only lived for them and for you, my good and tender sister...let him (my son), never seek to avenge our deaths...My God, how heart-rending it is to leave them forever! Farewell! Farewell!..." (The original letter is housed in the French National Archives, English translation found at Tea at Trianon)

Royal bedchamber in Versailles

In my search for more of Marie's life, we traveled to the town of Versailles, about 50 minutes southwest of Paris by train.  Here, at the Palace of Versailles, we strolled through the splendor Marie knew as her home.

I had to remind myself that Marie, daughter of the Empress of Austria, was sent away to France to be married to Louis XVI at only 14.  She and Louis lived here in the palace surrounded by the court, servants, and luxury.

Panorama view of the Gardens of Versailles
The gardens of Versailles with their neatly shaped plots and magnificent fountains are well worth the few extra euros to visit.  I could have spent the entire day exploring mind often slipping back to a time when the women strolling along the paths wore large hooped skirts and powdered wigs stretching sometimes over three feet high.  I could almost hear Marie's playful footsteps rushing off to her Petite Trianon, her private country quarters on the outskirts of the gardens to get away from the constant pressures of the court.

My daughter, Jess, in the gardens at one of the main fountains

Only five years after arriving in Paris, Marie's life  would change forever.

Upon learning of the death of King Louis XV, their only real parental or monarchical guide, Louis XVI and Marie fell upon their knees, cried, and exclaimed, "O God, guide us, protect us! we are too young to reign" from the Memoirs of Marie Antoinette.  She was only 19 and now she would be Queen of France.

I love my daughters, ages 20 and 18. I think they're amazing and very talented, but I can't imagine them or anyone their age being capable of ruling an entire kingdom. Anyone with teenagers knows that they are much too guided by their passions and often cannot see what consequences their actions bring.  It seems tragically pre-destined that young Marie would incur the wrath of an already impoverished people while trying to navigate being a newly married teenager, a young mother, as well as a Queen.  

Near the end of our time in Paris, we visited The Conciergerie, a former medieval palace turned prison, where Marie was held leading up to her trial as well as just before her execution. This was where she spent her last night alive, where she wrote her last letter.  We stood in her cold, stone cell and somehow I felt her aura near me. Her sadness at leaving her children. I could hear her pen scratching across the tear stained parchment. Staring at the silver tears painted on the walls years later by King Louis XVIII to honor her, I felt a tear form in my eye and a chill run up my spine.  Two hundred and twenty four years I stood...bridging time...connected in some small way.

This is now the window in her cell.
Today it is a chapel to pay homage to Marie Antoinette

More Information on Marie Antoinette:

Marie Antoinette: The Journey  by Antonia Fraser



  1. How fascinating. I am a history junkie too. When I graduated high school, my mother offered to take me to Disney World, but I talked her into going to Williamsburg, Va. during the summer with all the living history actors. I'd love to visit Europe and all the historical spots.

    1. I admit, I loved Disney as a kid, but I get so much more out of visiting historical places! :)

  2. I've visited Versailles and heard the story of Marie from our tour guide who still called her 'Our Queen'. Women were married much too young in those days, as the life spans were much shorter, partly due to the lack of medical ways of fighting infection. Building Versailles depleted the national treasury. There were many reasons for the beheading of the royals and the nobles. The Scarlet Pimpernel - an old movie focuses on those who tried to help some of the nobles escape the revolution. Sounds like you had a fantastic trip.

    1. Yes, girls were married much too young and unfortunately still are in some places! Yes, we had a wonderful trip! Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Hi, Kathryn! This gave me chills to read. I've always found Marie's story so tragic. I can't imagine being focused enough to write anything hours before I was to be beheaded! I visited Paris for four days in early summer 2014. What a magical city! I long to go back. I'm glad that you and your family had a great time in Paris!

    1. Fundy Blue- Thanks! Paris is a magical city! I hope to go back again as well. :)