In October 1793, Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, was beheaded amid the violent aftermath of the French Revolution. At that time, The British statesman and philosopher, Edmund Burke, (1729-1797) wrote in his “Reflections on the Revolution in France” a critique of the Revolutionaries’ ongoing reign of terror. Persons of Royal ancestry in France were subject to arbitrary imprisonment and execution, along with anyone accused of aiding or sympathizing with them. In this speech, Burke laments the death of the Queen and the passing of an era.
“It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she had just begun to move in, glittering like the morning star full of life and splendour and joy.
Oh, what a revolution! And what a heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream, when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her, in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honour, and of cavaliers! I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards, to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult.But the age of chivalry is gone; that of sophistry, economists, and calculators has succeeded, and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom! The unsought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is gone. It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honour, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness.”
When she rode to her death on October 16, 1793, many gasped … for Marie Antoinette was just 38, but the crowd saw an old hag in peasant garb, ragged and grey – a stark contrast to elegant and voluptuous Queen of Trianon, the child of fortune, she had been just 4 years earlier. Marie Antoinette’s hair had been roughly shorn, her with hands tied tight behind her back, as she rode in the garbage cart amid the crowd’s whistles and jeers. Yet, the poor woman sat straight and tried to retain her dignity. To the end, Marie Antoinette displayed a queen’s bearing and courage, in the face of all adversity.
After her final ordeal, the body of Marie Antoinette was harshly pushed on to the guillotine plank, her head placed in the vice and at noon the blade fell to loud cheers all round. In the words of a revolutionary organ, “Never has Piere Duchesne seen such joy as seeing that [expletive] whore’s head separated from her [expletive] crain’s neck”. Sanson held her bleeding head high for all to see. Later her head was throne in the cart between her legs. The body of Marie Antoinette was left on the grass before being dumped in an unmarked grave. So ended the life of once the most illustrious and glamorous woman in all Europe.