The dangers threatening Louis and his court, which were now gigantic and appalling, forbade him to forsake the queen. By her side he did what he could to check the revolution; and, failing this, he helped her to maintain an imperial dignity of manner which she might otherwise have lacked. He faced the bellowing mob which surrounded the Tuileries. Lafayette tried to make the National Guard obey his orders, but he was jeered at for his pains. Violent epithets were hurled at the king. The least insulting name which they could give him was “a fat pig.” As for the queen, the most filthy phrases were showered upon her by the men, and even more so by the women, who swarmed out of the slums and sought her life.
At last, in 1791, it was decided that the king and the queen and their children, of whom they now had three, should endeavor to escape from Paris. Fersen planned their flight, but it proved to be a failure. Every one remembers how they were discovered and halted at Varennes. The royal party was escorted back to Paris by the mob, which chanted with insolent additions:
“We’ve brought back the baker, the baker’s wife, and the baker’s boy! Now we shall have bread!”
Against the savage fury which soon animated the French a foreigner like Fersen could do very little; but he seems to have endeavored, night and day, to serve the woman whom he loved. His efforts have been described by Grandat; but they were of no avail. The king and queen were practically made prisoners. Their eldest son died. They went through horrors that were stimulated by the wretch Hebert, at the head of his so-called Madmen (Enrages). The king was executed in January, 1792. The queen dragged out a brief existence in a prison where she was for ever under the eyes of human brutes, who guarded her and watched her and jeered at her at times when even men would be sensitive. Then, at last, she mounted the scaffold, and her head, with its shining hair, fell into the bloody basket.
Marie Antoinette shows many contradictions in her character. As a young girl she was petulant and silly and almost unseemly in her actions. As a queen, with waning power, she took on a dignity which recalled the dignity of her imperial mother. At first a flirt, she fell deeply in love when she met a man who was worthy of that love. She lived for most part like a mere cocotte. She died every inch a queen.
One finds a curious resemblance between the fate of Marie Antoinette and that of her gallant lover, who outlived her for nearly twenty years. She died amid the shrieks and execrations of a maddened populace in Paris; he was practically torn in pieces by a mob in the streets of Stockholm. The day of his death was the anniversary of the flight to Varennes. To the last moment of his existence he remained faithful to the memory of the royal woman who had given herself so utterly to him.