On 16th October 1793, Marie Antoinette was found in her cell at the Conciergerie in Paris dressed in her mourning dress, laying down on her bed in floods of tears. The day before, she had been brought to trial by the Revolutionaries of France at the Palais de Justice and she was tried for crimes against France. The men who sat before her at the Tribunal were all Revolutionaries under the famous Robespierre; and the public gathered in the viewing gallery to watch as their once Queen was convicted, as they knew she would be. According to the prosecution, ever since she had arrived in France from Austria, she was the cause of all the ills that had befallen the country. She was the reason that the poor could not afford to eat, she was guilty of spending the entire national treasury, guilty of plotting with France’s enemies against the state. Not only that, but her own son had given testimonial against her. And to add to everything else that would be thrown against her, she would be put on trial for committing incest with her own son.
She was, for all intents and purposes, on trial for committing high treason. This woman, former Queen of France and now known as the Widow Capet, would defend herself through the trial admirably and without giving away a single shred of emotion. I often wonder if, as she faced her prosecutors, she knew that it was already a foregone conclusion.
Witnesses were called against her and the first witness set the stage for each and every witness that would follow. Each witness seemed to give evidence based on gossip and hearsay. For instance, the first witness, a man by the name of Laurent Lecointre told stories of wild orgies that had gone on at Versailles. Yet he had been present at none of these. Marie Antoinette was cross examined and gave non committal replies such as “I do not believe so” or “I have nothing to say in reply”. Another witness, a surgeon by the name of Rossillon said that he had found bottles of wine that the Queen used to encourage troops to her bed in the Tuileries. He also accused her of sending money to her brother and said that she had been the one who had instigated the Champ-de-Mars massacre. All of which he accused her of without any evidence whatsoever. Yet as she was cross examined about all of these events, Marie Antoinette stayed calm and never contradicted herself in her replies. Another of the witnesses called against her was the editor in chief of Le Pere Duchesne, an extreme radical newspaper. This man was the one who encouraged the cobbler, a man named Simon who was looking after her son, to bring the accusations of incest between the Queen and her son to the court. One of the members of the court demanded that Marie Antoinette explain herself, and the Queen replied:
“If I did not reply, it is because nature refused to answer such a charge against a mother. I appeal to all the mothers who may be here present”
This reply made the women of the court feel some compassion for her.
And yet, despite the accusations being based on hear say and gossip, and despite defending herself well, she was found guilty of high treason. She herself quite obviously believed that she was innocent and had done everything in her power to save the monarchy yet it did not matter. She had been found guilty, despite the fact that no solid proof that she had committed treason had been brought forth. As she was read the verdict, she remained calm.
When she returned to her cell, she asked for a pen and paper and wrote her final letter to her sister.