The Queen’s Defense (14 October 1793)

Seven months after the execution of the King, shortly after the declaration of "Revolutionary Government," the Convention turned to the rest of the royal family. Fearing that Marie Antoinette and her son, the nominal King, would provide rallying points for royalists within France and abroad, a Revolutionary Tribunal indicted Marie Antoinette and her children for treason. Two attorneys were assigned to prepare her defense, and one describes the situation here.


On October 14th, 1793, I happened to be in the country when I received the news that I had been named with M. Tronson Ducoudray to defend the Queen before the revolutionary tribunal, and that the trial was to start on the following morning at eight o'clock.

I immediately set out for the prison filled with a sense of the sacred duty which had been imposed on me, mingled with an intense feeling of bitterness.

The Conciergerie, as is well known, is the prison in which are confined persons due to be judged or those due to be executed after sentence.

After passing through two gates one enters a dark corridor which one could not locate without the aid of a lamp that lights up the entrance. On the right are the cells, and on the left there is a chamber into which the light enters by two small barred windows looking on to the little courtyard reserved for women.

It was in this chamber that the Queen was confined. It was divided into two parts by a screen. On the left, as one entered, was an armed gendarme, and on the right the part of the room occupied by the Queen containing a bed, a table and two chairs. Her Majesty was attired in a white dress of extreme simplicity.

No one capable of sympathetic imagination could fail to realize my feelings on finding in this place the wife of one of the worthiest successors of St. Louis and the august descendant of the Emperors of Germany, a Queen who by her grace and goodness had been the glory of the most brilliant court in Europe and the idol of the French nation.

In presenting myself to the Queen with respectful devotion, I felt my knees trembling under me and my eyes wet with tears. I could not hide my emotion and my embarrassment was much greater than any I might have felt at being presented to Her Majesty in the midst of her court, seated on a throne and Surrounded with the brilliant trappings of royalty.

Her reception of me, at once majestic and kind put me at my ease and caused me to feel, as I spoke and she listened, that she was honoring me with her confidence.

I read over with her the bill of indictment, which later became known to all Europe. I will not recall the horrible details.

As I read this satanic document, I was absolutely overwhelmed, but I alone, for the Queen, without showing emotion, gave me her views on it. She perceived, and I had come to the same conclusion, that the gendarme could hear something of what she said. But she showed no sign of anxiety on this score and continued to express herself with the same confidence.

I made my initial notes for her defense and then went up to the registry to examine what they called the relevant documents. There I found a pile of papers so confused and so voluminous that I should have needed whole weeks to examine them.

When I observed to the Queen that it would not be possible for us to take cognizance of all these documents in such a short time and that it was indispensable to ask for an adjournment to give us time to examine them, the Queen said, "To whom must we apply for that?"

I dreaded the effect of my reply, and as I replied in a low voice: "The National Convention," the Queen, turning her head to one side said: "No, never!". . .

I added that we had to defend in the person of Her Majesty not only the Queen of France, but also the widow of Louis XVI, the mother of his children and the sister-in-law of our Princess, who were accused with her in the bill of indictment.

This final consideration overcame her scruples. At the words sister, wife and mother natural feelings rose superior to a sovereign's pride. Without uttering a single word, though she let a sigh escape her, the Queen took up her pen and wrote to the Assembly in our names, a few lines full of noble dignity in which she complained that they had not allowed us time enough to examine the evidence and claimed on our behalf the necessary respite.

The Queen's application was transmitted to Fouquier-Tinville, who promised to submit it to the Assembly, But, in fact, he did nothing with it or, at least, nothing useful for the next day, the fifteenth of October, the hearing began at eight in the morning.

Source: Georges Pernoud and Sabine Flaissier, The French Revolution, translated by Richard Graves (New York: Capricorn Books, 1970), 203–5.