Traditionally, history is presented to young people as events which occurred in the distant past. What is seldom pointed out is the news of today will be the history of tomorrow. In twenty years time, for example, how will the current Muslim immigration to Europe, with its resultant chaos, apportioning of blame, and hand-wringing, be presented? What stories will emerge, fact or fiction? And, as always, fact is so much stranger, so absolutely beyond belief, than fiction.
We know history is all about people, power and politics. When it is presented in textbooks as facts and dates, it is no wonder history appears dry and ditchwater dull to Middle Graders. History is all about people; what they were like, how they lived, and how they most likely thought. Strong characters drive history.
The French Revolution, which took place a mere two hundred and thirty-seven years ago, was one of the bloodiest times in history. And in it, we find some of the world’s most naïve, vicious, glamorous and perhaps most tragic characters.
The history books I had in school attributed the cause of the French Revolution to the terrible conditions in which the peasants lived, and also to the apparent callousness of the nobility. If memory serves me right, the final straw was when a Marquis drove his coach at such speed through the narrow streets that a young boy was knocked under his carriage and killed. (Or perhaps that was Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities! ).
When Louis XVl became King of France, the country was in total disarray The economy was a mess, the court was totally debauched, and there were problems with the nobility.
The middle classes were becoming wealthy through trade, manufacturing, and banking. The nobility lived high on the work of the peasants, who were becoming increasingly resentful and restive
Louis was only twenty, shy, inexperienced, naïve, and rather narrow-minded. He reinstated the courts of justice, the parlements, thinking they would solve his problems. They didn’t. Like Charles l of Britain, Louis believed in the Divine Right of Kings. He soon tired of his country’s problems and preferred to listen to the counsel of his beautiful, cosseted, and sheltered from reality child-bride, Marie Antoinette. Neither Louis nor Marie-Antoinette had the merest inkling of what a struggle life was for those not born into a world of wealth and subservience to one.
It did not help the mood of the peasants that rainstorms and hail ruined the crops of 1788, People were starving, and riots broke out. Louis was put in the position of acknowledging the National Assembly and relinquishing his power. Instead, he vetoed the Assembly and the Revolution began. On 14th July, a mob stole 30,000 muskets from les Invalides, and stormed the Bastille. Five years later, in January 1793 Louis was guillotined. Marie-Antoinette followed him to the guillotine that August.
Revolutions are never the solutions; the after-effects, the destruction, the crippling socialism is prevalent in modern day France. The great churches, even the ‘glorious towers of Notre Dame’ are absolutely devoid of any Spirit. Desecrated under Robespierre.
. The arrogance of the nobility gave way to the Reign of Terror under Robespierre.
What wealth of history lies here! What fabric of modern Americans, many who can weave their genealogy into this rich, colourful, tragic fabric.
As for Marie-Antoinette herself, the young child bride… Many years ago I visited an exhibition in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, of her jewels. Everything was so lovely, but what struck me, and has stayed in my mind ever since, as particularly poignant, were her beautiful matched pear drop diamond earrings.
Truly, I have never seen anything so beautiful. I have seen my own country’s Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, but never have I seen anything which tugged at my heartstrings as did these. Poor lovely Marie-Amtoinette, they say you had a good heart. You loved your husband and your children dearly. Were you kind to your maids, the personal maid who dressed you, did your hair? How many stories lie here, just begging to be told.
Marie Antoinette – Picture Courtesy of Smithsonian Pictures in the Public Domain