The prison, an imposing structure on the Seine, was the last place on earth Marie Antoinette ate and slept, wept and prayed. It was here she spent her final hours before being lead to the guillotine. The Conciergerie is where Marie Antoinette had her head shaved in preparation for the blade, it is where she received her last rites, and it is where she wrote her last letter.
Marie Antoinette's last letter is poignant, filled with sadness and resignation. Her priorities, you will note, are completely in line. She mentions her husband's remarkable strength of character and bravery in the face of death. She thanks her devoted sister-in-law, who gave up her freedom and life to remain near her. The mother in her speaks tenderly and regretfully of her children. Finally, she thinks of herself, asking God for mercy. It is a remarkable and telling letter from a very misunderstood and maligned woman. Read for yourself...
October 16, 1793
"God, have pity on me! My eyes have no more tears to shed for you my poor children; farewell!"4:30 in the morning
I am writing to you for the very last time. I have just been condemned to a death that is in no way shameful – since a shameful death is a fate reserved for criminals – but I am going on a journey to meet your brother once again. I hope I will show the same fortitude as he in my last moments.
I am calm, as one always is when one’s conscience is clear. I am deeply saddened to abandon my children: you know that I have lived for them alone, as well as for you, my dear and gentle sister, who through your friendship have given everything to be with me.
Where can we find more affection than in the bosom of our families? May my son never forget the dying words of his father, which I have expressly repeated to him: "Never seek to avenge our death."
I have told you things that weigh heavily on my heart. I know how much trouble this boy must cause you: forgive him, my dear sister; remember his youth and how easy it is to speak to a child, yet how hard it is for him to understand you. The day will come, I trust, when he will feel only the worth of your love for the two of them.
Farewell, my good and dear sister; may this letter find its way to you! Think always of me; I embrace you with all my heart, you and my poor, dear children – my God, it is heart-wrenching to leave them for ever! Farewell, farewell! I will now give myself up to my spiritual preparation.
Read more of Marie Antoinette's Letters in this wonderful collection edited by noted historian, Olivier Bernier: