For the Love of Marie Antoinette

Anyone who knows anything about Marie Antoinette knows about her favorite, Axel Fersen. Although even experts in the field cannot definitively say whether they were physical lovers or not, there is no doubting that there was a strong bond between them. They shared a lifelong relationship that can at least be classified as a very deep and lasting friendship that began in their late teens and endured until Marie Antoinette’s death in 1793. The first recorded evidence of their association pertains to an opera ball, a masked event on January 30, 1774, when Marie Antoinette was only eighteen years old and not yet Queen of France. Fersen, who was only a few months older, notated the event in his journal as follows:

“The Dauphine talked to me for a long time without me knowing who she was; at last when she was recognized, everybody pressed round her and she retired into a box at three o’clock: I left the ball.”

Marie Antoinette’s husband Louis Auguste, then Dauphin, was in attendance along with his brothers and their wives, and the small circle of young royals seemed to approve of Fersen. A couple of weeks later the Swedish count was invited to a few of the famous bals à la Dauphine, little informal dances given by Marie Antoinette in her personal apartments. Although this may seem like coquetry associated with the beginnings of a love affair, there was actually little opportunity for misbehavior, nor was Marie Antoinette inclined to it. Despite the salacious rumors that were commonly attached to her later in her husband’s reign, Marie Antoinette was by all accounts chaste and a bit of a prude. Although known to be flirtatious, she had a reputation among those who knew her for putting a swift end to men’s advances if they crossed the line of propriety.

Fersen left Versailles to continue his Grand Tour of Europe. He would not return to France for over four years. Marie Antoinette, by then Queen of France, immediately recognized Fersen when he stopped in to pay court, even if the rest of the royals did not. His journal entry from August 26, 1778 states:

“Last Tuesday I went to Versailles to be presented to the royal family. The queen, who is charming, said when she saw me, ‘Ah! Here is an old acquaintance.’ The rest of the family did not say a word to me.”

Fersen became part of Marie Antoinette’s intimate circle, in fact, one of her favorites.  Whenever he was in France, he spent much time at Le Petit Trianon playing cards, lounging about, and engaging in meaningful discussions with the rest of the privileged few, whatever the queen’s whim demanded in the moment.

For the rest of their association Marie Antoinette’s contact with Fersen was sporadic, a series of absences and reunions depending on his schedule of ambassadorial duties, which kept him perpetually traveling. But there was one event fully documented by historians during which Fersen risked his physical well-being, indeed his life, to aid her. This was the royal family’s ill-fated flight from Paris and subsequent capture in Varennes.

In October of 1789, Versailles was stormed by a volatile mob. The royal family was taken and held at the Tuileries Palace under strict guard. Until then, Louis XVI had regarded himself as a benevolent father to the people of France, and the reality—which contrasted starkly with this delusion—caused him to fall into a deep depression, rendering him incapable of any action toward self preservation. It was at this point that Marie Antoinette took charge, understanding that the longer they hesitated, the more they risked losing their lives. She had chosen to stand by her husband and share his fate, but she was not about to simply give up. In addition, she still believed in preserving the monarchy for their son, Dauphin Louis-Charles. She began writing copious letters in a secret cipher to her most steadfast friend, Axel Fersen, and they began planning an escape. By June of 1791, the groundwork was laid.

With his military background and firsthand experience of covert operations, Fersen was ultimately qualified to plot the escape. He arranged the whole thing down to the smallest detail. At this point, he could have just played it safe and sent someone less recognizable to enact the plan, which might have been the wiser decision on his part. But due to his deep affection for Marie Antoinette, and in lesser part her husband, he refused to rely upon anyone else. A letter dated a few months before, gives us an insight into his personal investment:

“I am attached to the King and the Queen and I owe it to them for the kindness they showed me when they were able, and I should be vile and ungrateful if I deserted them now that they can do nothing for me …”

The royal family captured at Varennes

Fersen showed up at the indicated hour, but due to a series of errors the venture was delayed. Finally, getting off to a late start, they set off on the road to freedom. After the first leg of the journey, Fersen unwillingly ceded control of the coach at Louis XVI’s insistence. Even after his maltreatment, the king did not want his people to believe he was attempting to leave France, especially aided by a foreign personage. With its new driver the coach continued on in lumbering fashion. The king was recognized when the party sought to change horses in Varennes, a mere forty miles from their destination, the royalist stronghold at Montmédy. The royal family was taken back to Paris, the escapade accomplishing nothing beyond adding to the case for treason against the king and queen, the one thing Louis had fervently hoped to avoid. In February 1792, Fersen made his final visit to Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette at the Tuileries palace. He again urged them to escape, which Louis absolutely refused to do.

Fersen was haunted by the bungled escape for the rest of his life. Some speculate that this was because of his love for Marie Antoinette, others that he missed out on the acclaim of his success. Regardless, his actions went far beyond the call of duty, especially since he was not French but Swedish and was beholden to the king and queen for no other reason than his personal obligation. It is apparent that there was some extraordinary force at work behind the scenes that any way one looks at it can be accurately termed love. Risking his life to get Marie Antoinette to safety is the true testament to the devotion her bore her.

cover 353Because the verity of their relationship will never be proven, it will always hold the allure of the unsolved mystery. In my novel Insatiable: A Macabre History of France~L’Amour: Marie Antoinette, I exploit the premise that Marie Antoinette and Axel Fersen were indeed lovers. I even take their relationship one step further by adopting the assertions of the gossip of the time attributing the paternity of her second son, Louis-Charles—who eventually became Dauphin of France—to Fersen. As my book is a work of alternate history, the love affair between Marie Antoinette and Fersen is the least of the liberties I take with the story. But in my defense, I am not the first to do so nor will I be the last.

*Originally run at Unusual Historicals February 2014

Beethoven and his Immortal Beloved

Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the most prolific composers of his time, and his music remains relevant today. Most of us are familiar with those moving musical works from Für Elise and Moonlight Sonata to his symphonies, which are nine in number and the basis for many a religious hymn. As with any form of creative expression there are detractors from his genius, but whoever listens to the music, whether he likes it or not, would agree that it was written with an abounding passion. And it would seem that Beethoven’s zeal was not confined to musical composition. He is also known in a lesser capacity as a writer of love letters.
Beethoven as a young man by Carl Traugott Riedel
Although destined for greatness, Beethoven was plagued by hardship his entire life, and it seemed this ill-fortune also extended to affairs of the heart. As a young man he was reported to have been officially in love twice, and though his affections were reciprocated on both occasions, his proposals were subsequently rejected due to class issues. But an ardent nature will not be tamed, and where the ladies were concerned, the fiery musician continued to follow his heart, unheeding of those early repudiations.
Along with numerous theories about the identity of his ‘Immortal Beloved’, there is also speculation about the actual date of the correspondence. The letters are dated July 6 and 7, but for some reason the year was omitted. This has bearing on the issue because, not only would Beethoven have been at different stages of his life during the possible years, he would also have been in different locations, exposed to different sets of associates, etc. For the sake of brevity, I have chosen the most commonly cited scenario: the summer of 1812 when, at 42 years of age, Beethoven was ordered by his doctor to the Czech spa town of Teplitz in an attempt to restore his declining health. This was where he is believed to have set forth his praise of one lucky female and made his mark in the annals of romance.
As the composer had never married and was not known to be openly courting an inamorata at the time, the intended recipient of these flowery declarations of love is a mystery that has not been solved even after 200+ years of investigation by Beethoven scholars. Despite his reputation as an irascible bachelor with a difficult personality—or perhaps because of it—he was something of a ladies’ man. As women made up the bulk of his piano students and general admirers of his genius, he was deep in female company for the entirety of his life. In fact, his Moonlight Sonata is dedicated to one of these early students, a young Italian countess named Giulietta Guicciardi. With such a passionate temperament, Beethoven suffered many such infatuations—too many, in fact, to list here—and no one can say with any certainty who was the subject of his famous missive.
The writings themselves really offer no further clues, either. Much of the letters are filled with mundane events and boring news of his travel, and aside from fretting over the postman’s schedule, Beethoven never mentions any place names that might pinpoint a location and help identify the woman. And although he is very clearly smitten—referring to his lady friend as “my angel”, “my only treasure”, “my most precious one”—he never calls her by name. But this intrigue only adds to the fascination surrounding the affair.
Beethoven at age 50 by Joseph Karl Stieler
Obscure tangents aside, some of the lines are exceedingly romantic with the capacity to send a woman’s heart soaring in flights of fancy as effectively as his soul-stirring sonatas. I have taken the liberty of sharing my favorite passages. Keep in mind that the following was not all set forth in one brilliant flash of transcription. That said, it is still quite dazzling!
 
My angel, my all, my very self: Only a few words today and at that with pencil (with yours) …”
“Though still in bed, my thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved, now and then joyfully, then sadly, waiting to learn whether Fate will hear us – I can live only wholly with you or wholly apart from you.  I have decided to wander far away until I can fly to your arms and say that with you I have found my true home, can send my soul enwrapped in you into the realm of spirits.”
“My heart is full of so many things to say to you – ah – there are moments when I feel that speech amounts to nothing at all …”
“No other can ever possess my heart — never — never.  O God! why must one be separated from one so beloved?” 
“Farewell!  Continue to love me; never misjudge the most faithful heart of
Your beloved

Ever yours
Ever mine

Ever ours”
Adding to the mystery is the fact that the letters were ultimately found in Beethoven’s possession. They were only discovered upon his death fifteen years later in 1827 when his intimates were sorting through his personal effects. Despite his professions of eternal devotion and obvious desire to spend his life with his “Immortal Beloved”, he never achieved their union and died a confirmed bachelor.
Had he never sent the letters? Or had he dared to proclaim his love only to be spurned, yet again, and the evidence returned to him? We may never know. The mystery surrounding Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved persists today and perhaps will never be solved. 

New Book Cover Design Site!

It’s been awhile, but I come bearing gifts of astonishing beauty! I’m talking about a full revamping of my book covers, which was long overdue. The gorgeous new covers were designed by the talented and industrious Arleigh Johnson. Many of you know Arleigh in connection with her websites—Historical-Fiction.com, which houses her reviews for Historical Novel Society; and Royal Intrigue, dedicated to Jean Plaidy—but she is also an accomplished graphic artist, who designed the cover for Insatiable: A Macabre History of France ~ L’Amour: Marie Antoinette back in April of 2014. Her likeness also graces the cover of The Welsh Healer. So, without further ado, feast your eyes on these!

350TWH 300WOA-324Grace 333

cover 353 Gorgeous stuff, right? So check out the rest of Arleigh’s work at eBook Design.com, and if you know anyone looking for a cover artist, send them her way. Here is my testimonial:

I am a complete control freak and have personally seen to every aspect of my novels, from the writing and editing to the formatting and cover design. When I decided to upgrade my book covers, Arleigh was the only person I trusted with the job, and boy, did I make the right choice! She is extremely professional and takes direction well, so the developmental stages were quick and painless. She has the ability to thoroughly comprehend and process information, rendering insightful and eye-catching graphics, whether they be on a book cover or website banner. She patiently stayed with me until I was completely satisfied, and I am thrilled beyond words with the results! The new covers exceeded all of my expectations, and I regularly receive unsolicited comments from colleagues praising her sleek and attractive designs. With such breathtaking book covers, I finally feel like a bona fide author! I am proud to be her first customer, and I will never use anyone else.