When 14 year old Maria Antonia Josephina Johanna of Austria left the court of her mother, Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, to marry the Dauphin of France, she was totally unprepared for the Snake-pit that was The Court of Versailles. It was the beginning of a journey which would lead her into the saddest role in European history, and make her the most misunderstood of all royal wives.
Coddled, spoiled, pampered, and educated in things that would be useless as the Queen of France, Maria left her home, her loving family, and was met at the border of France by the ministers of King Louis XV. He was already her grand-father-in-law, as she had married the Dauphin by proxy. She was stripped of all things Austrian, stood naked in front of the women who would be her ladies-in-waiting, and was clothed in French fashions from head to toe.
Even her pet dog was taken from her and sent back to Austria.
Marie Antoinette, as she was known to the French, remained a virgin for nearly seven years after her wedding vows. Louis-Auguste, the Dauphin had a physical problem making sex painful, and nearly impossible. Louis couldn’t rise to the occasion until surgery was performed, and he really wasn’t all that interested in going under the knife.
But, after much coaxing from his aging Grandfather and his Grandfather’s mistress, a former prostitute, Madame du Barry, he did the right thing, had the nip tuck, and promptly knocked UP the very frustrated Marie.
She gave him two children, a girl and a boy.
After doing his duty, Louis decided he’d rather spend his time riding horses, working on his collection of clocks, and running the country. Louis, like his contemporary and arch enemy, King George III of Great Britain was THE only French monarch not to take a mistress. He was faithful – to the bitter end. But, he wasn’t all that torn UP about Marie Antoinette having a very close male friend; he assumed it was platonic. Anyway, the clocks and all, kept him busy.
The marriage was, like most royal unions, a parade of ceremony, duties, waves, and ennui.
Enter, Axel von Fersen, and handsome Swedish Count who was traipsing across Europe at the insistence of his father, so that he might better himself. Apparently, though very educated and polished, he was a ner-do-well at home.
When Axel and Marie Antoinette met, sparks flew. Handsome, refined, clean – as most every one else at Versailles was filthy and lice infested, I’m sure that was refreshing – Axel won the Queen’s heart quickly and completely.
And Axel fell hard for the Queen.
Already hated by the court and blamed for France’s every problem, Marie was lonely, unhappy, and ready to really fall in love.
Though it is impossible hundreds of years later to say just how far things went – and respected historians like Lady Antonia Fraser and Eleanor Herman, disagree on the topic – many believe that they were madly in love.
As France’s economy fell further into the abyss – are you listening Washington, DC? – revolution became a reality.
Fersen escaped France’s UPcoming revolution by being called home to accompany his King during the war with Russia. But, the lovers stayed in touch.
As the revolution began, the mobs of Paris ‘captured’ the royal family and forced them to the Tuileries in the city.
Once in Paris, plots and plans were made for an escape for the Queen and the children. Marie Antoinette would not leave Louis, and a grand plan was generated to get them all out of France.
Axel von Fersen was the mastermind behind it.
From afar, he planned, financed – to his financial ruin, and convinced the Royal Couple to try to escape, and try they did. The plan hoped to get the family to Austria, where Marie’s brother, Leopold was emperor. Leopold wasn’t much help, rather wishy-washy about the plan, he offered no troops because he was afraid of an another war with France – which, by the way, was already at war with itself!
Marie’s insistence on alterations to the plans already in motion caused the Bourbons to be captured at Varennes-en-Argonne. The family was supposed to travel as servants according to von Fersen, riding in smaller black coaches. Marie insisted on a huge green coach that would take the entire family. It broke down, they spent the night in Varennes, and Louis decided to go shopping!!!!! A merchant recognized his image on a coin, and the jig was UP.
They were captured, the end was determined, the guillotine fell.
Many believe that Louis VII, who never ruled, was the son of Axel von Fersen. Lady Antonia Fraser, whom I respect greatly, says a big heck no to that. Eleanor Herman, whom I also respect, says yes.
Regardless of the paternity of the child, Axel von Fersen, back in Sweden pined for Marie Antoinette for the rest of his life.
He died while leading the funeral cortage of Prince Carl August, the heir to the Swedish throne. von Fersen was suspected in his death, but as the second highest ranking person in the land, felt he was honor bound to lead the procession of the funeral.
He was pulled from his horse and stomped to death by the mob.
Seems there was no happy ending for the lovers.