Purple has long been thought of as a royal, majestic color.
Marie Antoinette was quite fond of the color purple and used it frequently in her decorating and dressing. Many of her gowns were shades of lavender or purple. In fact, the pair of shoes she wore to the guillotine were a dainty pair of purple ladies slippers or mules. This inconsequential detail has stuck with me through the years. Not just because I love the color purple, but because it is poignant bit of information about a woman who had suffered greatly.
The year 1793 was not a particularly good one for Marie Antoinette. Shortly after New Years, her husband, Louis XVI, was executed. A few months later, her dearest friend was raped, beaten, beheaded, and her limbs posted on stakes around Paris. Next, she was separated from her children and forced to stay in a small cell at the Conciegerie, where paying spectators would file by to gawk at her. Physically, she was in hurting status. Her hair, normally a striking strawberry blonde, turned white almost overnight and then later fell out. She went blind in one eye and suffered from very painful menses.
Her torment was not over though. Before the year was out, she would be called before the Revolutionary Tribunal and forced to stand a humiliating trial. The charges lodged against Marie Antoinette prior to her death included incest, unnatural sexual proclivities and practices, and treason. The most ridiculous and insulting charge, was that she engaged in sexual relations with her ailing son, Louis XVII, in hopes the exertion would kill him. Antoinette sat proudly, day after day, listening to the outrageous charges brought against her. Most of the testimony was given by disreputable, drunken soldiers or palace servants with an axe to grind (no pun intended). The final day of trial lasted for twenty hours straight! Marie Antoinette gave an impassioned speech, imploring the mothers of France to believe her when she said she could not have engaged in that most "unnatural of acts." Though she moved many with her words and her broken-down appearance, the jury convened for only an hour and came back with a guilty verdict. Marie Antoinette, Crown Princess of Austria and Queen Consort of France, was sentenced to death.
Antoinette was allowed a few hours peace, wherein she wrote an impassioned and eloquent letter to her children and sister-in-law, Princess Elizabeth. One can only imagine she also prepared herself for her date with the blade. Perhaps she smoothed out the wrinkles in her gown and pinched her pale cheeks.
Perhaps she tucked her few stray strands of hair behind her ear, though it was unnecessary because she would be dealt the final indignity of having her head shaved bald. And finally, she slid her tired and aching feet into a worn but still-lovely pair of purple mules.
Purple mules that had once graced the hallways of a palace, skipped happily down the garden paths at Versailles, spun in circles during giddy dances in the Hall of Mirrors. Purple mules that would carry her from throne to tomb.
Marie Antoinette, it is said, held her head high during her humiliating journey to the guillotine. When mounting the steps, she accidentally stepped on the executioner's toes. "Pardon me, Sir, I did not mean to," she said. Grace, dignity, humility. Marie Antoinette and her mules made the color purple, at least in my mind, utterly regal.