Marie Antoinette was taken to the scaffold today in 1793.
She heard her sentence at 4 a.m. when the jurors filed into the hall. She was exhausted from a two-day trial accusing her of everything from espionage to incest. She was weak from uterine bleeding, little food and lack of sleep. She heard the verdict and showed no reaction. She was likely relieved. She was so tired, she tripped walking down a dark stairwell outside the courtroom. A gendarmerie offered her his arm. He was later arrested.
She returned to her cell to write to her sister-in-law Elisabeth and her children. At 5 a.m. she was still writing this letter when the drums began to beat. Loaded canons were placed on bridges, soldiers with bayonets took to the streets. Marie Antoinette would be taken to the scaffold.
At 7 a.m. Marie was urged to drink a little soup a prison girl had saved for her. She dressed for the scaffold and asked the guard on duty to turn away so she could change the undergarments that had soiled with her constant bleeding. He refused.
At 8 a.m. a juror priest came to hear her confession. Juror priests were those who had taken an oath to the new republic. Marie, whose religion had become increasingly important to her as she grew older, declined her confession.
At 10 a.m., Sanson, the executioner, came to cut her hair for the guillotine. She made no protest.
At 11 a.m. an open cart arrived to ferret away the former queen. This was a deliberate humiliation. Louis XIV had driven to the scaffold in state, in a closed court chariot.
Suddenly she was overtaken by the overwhelming need to relieve herself. Maybe she was sick or scared. Maybe she preferred to deny the crowd the delight of seeing her soiling herself in public. Her request for a privacy was refused. She was forced to attend to her needs in the open, on the street.
The crowd yelled and cat-called to her on her the long ride to square. She sat unmoved on her wooden seat, her mouth closed, her arms still and tied behind her back. Artist Louis David drew a rough sketch of her, a common hag sitting tall with the characteristic pride so often confused as arrogance.
Sanson helped her to the stage as she inadvertently said her last words. She stepped on his foot by accident. She said, “I didn’t mean to do it.”
Before the blade fell, she didn’t scream or beg. Her counterparts had, but she didn’t. She didn’t cry either. She just cooperated in the way the strong do when they are too weak to do anything else. The way the courageous and the damned methodically move towards last resorts.
The blade fell at 12:15 p.m. The cut was clean, the crowd cheered. A man rushed the scaffold to soak his handkerchief in Marie Antoinette’s blood. Her body was removed to a cemetery that held the bodies of the guards who’d died trying to protect her at the palace and the common people crushed to death during her marriage festivals years ago. The bill for her internment came to 15 livres, 35 sous.