Maria Antoinette, queen of France, at the height of her splendor.
Marie Antoinette was a most charming queen (1755 – 1793), and was sentenced to death by the French Revolution. She lived her final days imprisoned in the Conciergerie. From there she was taken straight to the guillotine.
When visiting her prison cell, one feels the cold hard hearts that sentenced her to death. Marie Antoinette was a high expression of civilization, social graces, and to some degree, of Catholic tradition. To put this charming queen in a harsh and cold prison cell, and from there to drag her to death, was due to the implacable hatred of revolutionaries.
In her prison cell, there is nothing to soften her last hours. No crucifix. No statue of the Blessed Mother. Not even a chair to rest her exhausted body from sorrow, pain and apprehension.
“Umbræ mortis circundederunt me” (the shadows of death surround me), says Sacred Scripture. It would have been normal that under the weight of the shadow of death, she would have at least a comfortable chair in which to sit. But no! All she had was a cot in which to sleep.
According to one description of her imprisonment, her cell window had neither glass nor shutters. With the first light of the morning, Marie Antoinette was awake.
The day was ugly and overcast. One witness saw her lying on her side, head in hand, listening to the drums. It was the drum roll of the republican guard, which has units in every part of Paris. It was to awaken and call the people to the square — today obtrusively called Place de la Concord —, to watch the queen’s beheading.
Representation of the soldiers watching the queen in her prison cell
She knew this. She heard the drums of hatred calling the people from all over Paris to witness the regicide.
What were her thoughts?
Perhaps of her days in the splendid Schönbrunn, the imperial palace in Vienna. Perhaps she thought about the Hofburg, another majestic palace that belonged to her family. Perhaps she remembered the beautiful Austrian towns, the tapestries, the splendid furniture, and the reverences and bows at court. Surely she thought of the marvelous things from the fabulous ambiance of her homeland, which she was never more to see.
Sketch of Marie Antoinette in the cart on the way to the guillotine
Her thoughts were soon interrupted by the groundswell of revolutionary hatred that was building up around her like a storm ready to unleash its thunder and lightning.
This reality is well expressed in the painting of Jacques Louis David (1748–1825), who saw Marie Antoinette sitting in a cart on her way to the guillotine.