26/11/2011

The shocking truth about Marie-Antoinette, by the hon. Edmund Burke.

August 1795, London.

It is with great sorrow that I find myself obligated to report, for the sake of posterity, on a grave but thoroughly excusable mistake I have made. I am, I most shamefully admit, too much of a coward to share my recent observations with my own colleagues. The queen has been executed, and I do not want to sacrifice my reputation along with hers. I can still do some good for my country by holding the values I have always defended against those who would throw us into a senseless and bloody uprising.

It has come to my notice via a certain friend of my old enemy Price, that it was possible to publish one's thoughts for posterity without fear that they would be known during my lifetime. Though I am ignorant of the mechanics I have no choice but to avail myself of this method.

When I first saw Marie Antoinette, as you will know – for I have no doubt but that you read my Reflections on the Revolution in France – I was dazzled by her beauty and goodness. Though she was, naturally, standing so far from me that I could barely make out her silhouette from that of the surrounding trees, I was struck at once by the purity and refinement of her face, body, and manner. Through the gracefulness of her movements, the beauty of her mind was scintillating. In my book I also reported with terrible sadness the manner in which ruffians, criminals, assaulted her in her own room at night so that she had to seek refuge in his majesty's own room. 

The creatures who took to the streets in that wretched summer of 89 had more in common, to my mind, with the zombies that were festering in the English country side than they had with the human race, and even less with that half angelic race to which the queen belonged. Their clothes stank, their mouths were but toothless, and yet, they clamoured for Parisian bread, which, if I remember correctly is harder than Robespierre's own heart, so that they could not even chew through it. But the women were the worst. They were stronger than then the men, hardly like women at all: able to carry the sticks they used to threaten those more graceful than them, and with voices that could be heard through the crowds, without a hint of that charm and gentleness which polite societies had come to expect from  members of the weaker sex.

This is all I knew of those happenings at the time I wrote my book. And I stand by every single word I wrote about the Parisian women – if they even deserve to be called that, which I doubt. But after my book was in print, I began to hear some extremely frightening reposts, which at first, I saw fit to quash and deny as any gentleman would who had first hand acquaintance with a lady of the quality of the queen of France.  This remained true until six weeks ago, when it was my misfortune to renew an old acquaintance, with a chevalier who had loved the queen even more than I had. His name, Rougeville, may not be known to you as he is not a writer and his part in this story is of little importance. Rougeville loved the queen chastely and hopelessly though he lived in close quarters to her as he was part of the king's circle. He was there on that fateful night, playing cards with the king in his rooms, when the queen burst in upon them. His account, told over a quart of clouded beer in the inn in which he was intent on putting an end to his days, still causes me to wake at night in terror and a sweat.

His Highness – for I must carry on calling him that, even though his head was two years ago – and my acquaintance had been playing a game of piquet, and had let themselves be distracted by some reflections of the king on cartography, as was their wont of an evening. The first they knew of the impending tragedy was some screaming in the adjacent corridor. The king's servant was sent to investigate, but even though the king was well aware that there were troubles in Paris, he imagined they had not reached Versailles and surmised that the noise came from a drunken boy who had fallen down some stairs. When his own servant did not return, he soon forgot the screaming to pick up his cards again. But as soon as he had started to lose, more screaming roused him to send another servant. That second servant not returning, he sent a third, and a fourth. In the meantime, the Swiss guards who had also heard the noise, had gathered in the corridor too, and the king could hear that some sort of battle was going on outside his rooms. So it was bravely and rather fearlessly that when a knock came on the door connecting his room to the queen's he demanded that Rougeville go and open it, while he kept himself at a distance only suited to his status – for the people of France would not forgive him if he allowed himself to be harmed. Rougeville opened the door, ready to rescue in his arms the object of his love from whatever evil had been unfolding.

But instead, he recoiled! The queen, who it is true, had been sick after sustaining a nasty bite while out on a hunt, looked frightful enough to put the fear of death in any one, love-sick chevalier, or not. Her face was a palish green, and she had scratched the part of her head when she had been bit, so that the bone was exposed. She still wore the wig that had been placed on her that morning by her maid, but it was covered with blood, grit, and what he could only surmise were bits of human entrails. Instead of standing straight she was crouched, her hands held in front her her, twisted like claws. Her fingers and her teeth were soaked in blood. Her graceful, youthful voice was replaced by a low whining growl.  The chevalier had not choice but to close the door on her, but most unfortunately, not before the king had caught a glimpse of his wife and of what lay behind her: murdered men and women, their heads broken, the eyes rolling out of their sockets and what little was left of their brains leaking on the blue carpets from Persia.

The account as I have told it in my book is not all false. The Parisian ruffians did come in to Versailles, but that was after they called to deal with the massacre of the king's swiss guards. Once they had decapitated and staked all the queen's victims, and managed to contain the monster itself, they decided that they might as well arrest the king and bring him to Paris. The latter was too shocked by what he had witnessed to protest, and merely requested that he might be allowed to change into clean drawers before coming. Rougeville escaped and was spared. But the image of the queen haunts him till now, as it will me, till the day I die. I can only pray that my release comes soon.

I have just heard from Rougeville and  he has requested that I listen to yet more of his gruesome confessions. I am to meet him tomorrow night. I can only wish that death takes me before I have to share in more of his nightmare.

 
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