2010-02-28 17:13:46 UTC
The Portrait of an Average Woman
By Stefan Zweig
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul
Marie Antoinette is one of the most famous women in history, so famous
that my spell-checker recognizes her name.
The reason she is famous is, of course, because they chopped off her
head. Had her head not been chopped off, she would have been just
another obscure princess, a nearly forgotten footnote in history.
There were two schools of thought at that time: The prevailing view
was that she was a wanton whore, the promiscuous lover of many men,
who neglected and abused her children, who committed incest, who held
wild sex parties, who spent the people's money and said “Let them eat
cake”, and who gave birth to illegitimate children by unknown fathers
and not by her husband, King Louis XVI.
However, in 1815, 22 years after her execution on October 16, 1793,
those few members of the French Royal Family who were still alive and
had not lost their heads to the guillotine regained most of their
power and a different view of Marie Antoinette emerged: That she was a
pure and virtuous woman, devoted to her husband and her children. She
was depicted as wearing a halo over her head.
The point by the author, Stefan Zweig, is that the truth was in-
between. Marie Antoinette was neither the wanton whore nor was she so
utterly pure. In short: She was average, no better and nor worse than
any normal women.
Stefan Zweig was originally a writer of novels. Towards the end of his
career, he switched over to history. However, he wrote his history
books in a novelist style. He takes the known facts about a person,
does not do original research and writes the history in a pleasant,
easy to read, style. He does not use footnotes. His works are far more
popular than the scholarly works by others on the same subject.
Here you might read what Marie Antoinette was thinking when she sat on
the block waiting to have her head chopped off. Of course, there was
no way for Stefan Zweig to know what she was thinking, as she lost her
head a few minutes later. However, there were thousands of people
watching this spectacle. It was observed that Marie Antoinette
maintained her composure. She did not cry. She did not look nervous.
Of course, there was nothing to be nervous about. She knew she was
going to die in a few minutes and there was absolutely nothing she
could do about it. Her last words were of apology to her executioner
for accidentally stepping on his foot. With this information, Stefan
Zweig can reach conclusions about what she must have been thinking.
A myth about Marie Antoinette is that she was beautiful. Those who saw
her have said that she was not beautiful, not at all. There were
almost profuse apologies for her ugliness. Perhaps her interest in
fine jewelry was to compensate for her lack of physical
attractiveness. Men would be looking at her diamonds, not noticing her
face. Her mother, Maria Therese, was concerned that she was so ugly
that a suitable husband could not be found for her. Fortunately, they
found a fat boy who was willing to marry her for her dowry, sight
unseen. That fat boy, aged 15, who married Marie Antoinette when she
was only 14 years old, later on became King Louis XVI.
However, there is a new angle to the claim that she was a wanton
whore. The real reason King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette,
were executed on the guillotine in 1793 was obviously that the
Republican Party wanted to make sure that they and the Royal Family
would never gain power again. For the same reason, Czar Nicholas II,
his wife Alexandra and their four daughters, their son and Anastasia's
dog were all executed was to make sure they would never come back to
power, as they certainly would have eventually, had they lived.
Therein lies a mystery: Marie Antoinette had four children, plus two
more who were stillborn. One daughter died at 11 months. Another
daughter was the only one to reach adulthood. She lived to age 72, but
had no children. The rule in France was a woman could never rule, so
she did not count.
That left two boys. One, Louis-Joseph, died at age 8, while Louis XVI
was still king, and his death was probably by natural causes.
The remaining boy was locked in a dungeon until age 10, when he was
reported to have died on June 8, 1795 from tuberculosis. He is known
as King Louis XVII, although he never ruled.
Therein lies the mystery, because that boy was believed to have
escaped and became known as “The Lost Dauphin”. In the succeeding
decades, dozens of boys claimed to be the Lost Dauphin. Even an
American Indian claimed it. The stakes were high. If any boy could
prove this, he would be made the King of France.
The Heart of the boy who died of tuberculosis in the dungeon at age 10
has been preserved and it was DNA tested in 2000. The results of the
tests were that he was a close relative, very likely the son, of Marie
Antoinette. DNA tests on all other known claimants have all been
negative. The American Indian, Eleazer Williams, was proven by DNA
testing to be a Mohawk Native American and not the King of France.
However, there is another test that has not been done. That is to
prove whether the boy who was DNA tested and found to be the son of
Marie Antoinette was also the son of King Louis XVI. Remember that one
of the charges against Marie Antoinette was that she was a promiscuous
whore and gave birth to children by men other than her husband. An
added factor in this charge was that Marie Antoinette was married for
eight years before she gave birth to her first child, and then she
gave birth to six children in fairly rapid succession. This tends to
suggest that her husband was impotent or incapable or just not
interested and she found another man to cure this inadequacy.
Not only has the heart of King Louis XVII been preserved and DNA
tested, but the heart of his elder brother has been preserved too.
That heart, however, has not been DNA tested.
The test on the elder brother is not as important because he was never
king because he died too soon and there was no reason to fake his
What does this all have to do with this book, “Marie Antoinette The
Portrait of an Average Woman”?
The answer is that this book is in part concerned with a man who was
believed to have been the lover of Marie Antoinette. His name was
Count Axel von Fersen (1755-1810). He is famous as the alleged lover
of Marie-Antoinette. Historians disagree about whether they were
lovers or not.
There is a lot of reason to believe that Count Fersen was more than
just an acquaintance. They met at a masked ball when both were young.
She arranged her private living quarters so that nobody, not even the
King, could see who was visiting her and entering her private bed
chamber. There is reason to believe that King Louis XVI knew that her
first born child was not his. Perhaps most importantly, even while she
was prisoner awaiting the guillotine, Count Fersen was able to visit
her and he risked his life in an unsuccessful attempt to help her
Both Napoleon and Tallyrand stated categorically that Count Fersen, a
minor member of the Swedish Royalty, had been the lover of Marie
Antoinette. As a member of the Swedish Royalty, Count Fersen could not
be subjected to the guillotine, but Napoleon insulted him for this,
refusing to address him by his proper title.
Therein lies this book. This book has been made into as movie. The
1938 movie stars Norma Shearer as Marie Antoinette, Tyrone Power as
Count Axel de Fersen, John Barrymore as King Louis XV and Robert
Morley as King Louis XVI.
There is also a 2006 movie based on the same story line, but the name
of Stefan Zweig is not included in the credits.
So, while reading this book, we await a DNA test on King Louis XVII
and his elder brother to determine who was their real father. Some day
the test will me made and then we will know who their real father was.
Was it Count Fersen, King Louis XVI or some other man?
New York NY
February 28, 2010