The Last Letter

Marie Antoinette

Several years ago I read Évelyne Lever’s, “Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France.”  Her writing style was compelling, transporting me back in time, enabling me to pass through the magnificent entrance of Versailles into the living quarters of the iconic Queen.  Under Évelyne Lever’s meticulous research and detail, Marie Antoinette came alive – it was as if I was sitting beside her during all of the transitions.  I confess that I broke down and cried when I read the last letter that Marie Antoinette wrote to her sister-in–law,  Princess Elizabeth (Louis XVI’s sister) at 4:30 a.m. on October 16, 1793, just hours before her execution.  The letter was given to Robespierre.  Princess Elizabeth never received the letter and met her fate the next year.

This is an excerpt of that letter that has been translated into English.

“It is to you, my sister, that I write for the last time.  I have just been condemned, not to a shameful death, for such is only for criminals, but to go and rejoin your brother.  Innocent like him, I hope to show the same firmness in my last moments.  I am calm as one is when one’s conscience reproaches one with nothing.  I feel profound sorrow in leaving my poor children: you know that I only lived for them and for you, my good and tender sister.  You who out of love have sacrificed everything to be with us, in what a position do I leave you!  I have learned from the proceedings at my trial that my daughter was separated from you…Let my son never forget the last words of his father, which I repeat emphatically; let him never seek to avenge our deaths….”

Marie Antoinette lived during a time of economic uncertainty and political instability. During her last years, she became the symbol of lavish wealth and tyranny.  Even so, I often think of her as a women imprisoned, her children taken from her, waiting to rejoin her husband.

32 thoughts on “The Last Letter

    • Marie Antoinette was complex and, from what I read, she was decisive and courageous whereas the King was indecisive. She recognized the danger that surrounded them. They tried to escape, but they really didn’t have any understanding of how to slip away quietly. It was a fiasco!!! Because they failed to recognize that the people of France were demanding a new form of government, they lost everything.

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  1. Robespierre was the worst kind of tyrant – one that started out with good intentions, but got so blinded by his ideals that he ended up becoming worse than the people he fought against. I can recognize this type in militant idealist in certain people and I hope none ever rise to power. I know he wasn’t the focus of your post, but I’ve also read about Marie Antoinette and think she was unfairly vilified.

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    • How very well said. I agree that Marie Antoinette was the vilified. The very name Robespierre is synonymous with the Reign of Terror, however, as you said, at the beginning he seemed to be on the right track. He advocated against the death penalty and the abolition of slavery. He believed in universal suffrage and equality of rights. He was eloquent and persuasive. Yet, this is the man who justified his actions:
      “Terror is only justice: prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue; it is less a distinct principle than a natural consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing wants of the country.”

      In the end, it is all about sharing resources and striving towards a fair and equitable distribution of wealth.

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      • As you know, I love quotes – have them all over the place on post-it notes, but the one that I continue to come back to over and over is:

        “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
        Søren Kierkegaard

        Our world would be on a different course if we understood our history and remembered the hard-won lessons. Our decisions would reflect an awareness that we are a participant in a huge timeline. What we do today, should give honour to those who sought equality and peaceful outcomes. What we do today, will be recorded for future generations. A few years ago, I was in the middle of a business meeting and I found myself writing these words – “what would history think?” That was the tipping point for me – that was when I started to look back and it has made all of the difference. 🙂

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  2. I don’t know how people find the courage to write those ‘last’ letters. I am sure I wouldn’t even be able to hold a pen, let alone write a sensible sentence.

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  3. Marie Antoinette is one of my causes ! So greatly misrepresented – she didn’t even say Let them eat cake !… She was a devoted and intelligent mother, and totally frustrated for years by her husband’s sexual problems… cut off form her family… I could go on and on! I feel history has wronged her. She was the victim of others machinations, And as for the horrendous fate of her little son, I cry whenever i stupidly let thoughts of him slip past my defences.
    As you can see, I get very worked up about the poor woman !!!!

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    • Valerie – you are preaching to the choir!!! She was a child when she came to France. She had no support, experienced very little kindness, and was surrounded by political intrigue. And her husband was ineffectual. I can only imagine her desperation. And then when they took her children away from her, I had to put down the book for a while – simply had to take a break. So, as you can see, I also get very worked up about her. In fact, as I was rereading the post to my husband before I pressed the publish button, I felt the tears flow again – not only for Marie Antoinette, but for all who stand accused unjustly!!!

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  4. She was a victim of cultural conditioning, circumstances, and the siren call that turns power to corruption. All that but still a woman, a mother, a human being with a heart and soul like every other human being. Your post shows depth and compassion and I applaud you for that. I applaud anyone who can see both sides of the human coin and feels no need to point fingers. You’ve a heart of gold. Glad to call you friend.

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    • Well said, my dear friend! I have always found Marie Antoinette’s story very difficult to read, yet it is a cautionary tale that stands as a reminder that wealth and power are, in the end, vain pursuits. Our time in this existence is limited, so every moment counts. We simply do not have the time to point fingers or horde wealth. To me, success has been overrated and kindness undervalued. The Dalai Lama says it so much better:

      “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”
      ― Dalai Lama XIV

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  5. Executions came very easy in those days. I’m just reading on of David M. great books about Paris in another time of great trouble. It seems death comes too easy and a quick way to revolve differences and problems????

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    • I’m in the middle of reading “A Greater Journey” too! A remarkable book. Whenever I think of Paris I remember Vincent!

      “There is but one Paris and however hard living may be here, and if it became worse and harder even—the French air clears up the brain and does good—a world of good.”
      ― Vincent van Gogh

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  6. Her story’s so sad! Beautiful (excerpt of) letter, and impressive she wrote it full of love and sense just before being executed. Everything I’ve read about her tells me she must’ve been a remarkable woman. Thanks for sharing, Rebecca!

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    • I think that she was! She came from privilege and did not understand how difficult life was for the people of France. A reminder that every life is precious, not just a few. I am so glad that you joined the conversation – you made my day…

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  7. I think Marie Antoinette has been too harshly judged. I’m not surprised that you cried after reading this her last letter to her sister who was to suffer the same fate the following year. She was brave and stoical at the end. It must have been dreadful knowing her fate was already sealed.

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    • When they took her son away from her, Marie Antoinette would look out of a small window to see if she could catch a glimpse of him. You would be interested in knowing that Emma Hamilton (wife of Lord Nelson) was best friends with Marie Antoinette’s most beloved sister, Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples. Lady Hamilton was the one who comforted her when she learned about Marie Antoinette’s execution. History gives us so many stories…

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