Marie-Antoinette and Fersen


Marie Antoinette Kucharski


Axel Fersen

Elena at Tea at Trianon has a post on the nature of the relationship between the Queen and Hans Axel von Fersen. Were they lovers? There has been endless speculation on that point, but I agree with Elena that there is simply no evidence of it. It would have been out of character for Marie-Antoinette, and Fersen was engaged in a torrid sexual liaison with another woman during the years that preceded the Revolution.

What is ascertained is that he was utterly devoted to Marie-Antoinette, and was the mastermind of the disastrous flight of the royal family to Varennes in 1791. He came back to Paris the following year, at great personal risk, to visit the King and Queen and discuss other possible flight plans. None were implemented.

Horribly, Fersen met the end he dreaded for Marie-Antoinette: years later, in 1810, he was dragged from his carriage and torn to pieces by a lynch mob in his native Stockholm. During the State funeral of the heir to the Swedish throne, the crowd accused him of having poisoned the young prince, who had in fact died from a stroke. The troops attending the procession made no efforts to save him.

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17 Comments to “Marie-Antoinette and Fersen”

  1. Aly says:

    I think MA knew she couldn’t be sexually involded with Fersen for the same reasons mentioned above: 1. She was a good catholic
    2. she had children and she would be risking them from being taken away from her
    3. would not cheat on her husband because she would be like the person she hated most, du berry
    Therefore, i think she just loved Fersen (vice versa) with much affection. I don’t think it reached to anything sexual.

  2. Carina says:

    It´s difficult to say which kind of relationship they had!
    I studied the biografies of both of them and also realise the manners, society background etc…(for example: to write “to love somebody” was a normal way of writting)
    But there are indeed evidences that their relationship was romantically, because of fersens “dagbok” (diary) and his letters to his sister sophie, the queens present (a ring) for fersen,the swedish diplomats who write worried letters to the swedish king (before fersen joined the american war there were a lot of humours that the queen and the swedish nobleman would be more than friends).
    I think fersen was an introvite character…and he really loved the queen, but he had more control of his feelings as her…she was very sensitive and affective.
    His father had pushed him to marry…but he never did (he wrote the reason in a letter to his beloved sister)
    He had a lot of women, but after the death of the queen he wrote that nobody could replace “elle” (the queen)…his mistress (elenore) left him, because she knew that fersen loved the queen more than her…

  3. monica says:

    I don’t know. Her letters to Fersen certainly have that ‘romantic’ aspect in them — and there was supposedly one diary entry by Fersen, ‘stayed there’ indicating he spent the night at the Tuileries. Marie Antoinette was certainly indignant regarding Madame Du Barry, but she was also a naive 14 year old then who didn’t even know what a mistress was. As a woman, she might have looked on liaisons differently — her favorite, Polignac, certainly had extra-marital affairs and she never withdrew her friendship because of that. That’s not saying that MA and Fersen had a sexual affair but it isn’t impossible either.

  4. Catherine Delors says:

    Louisette – I haven’t read Tony Spawforth but Simone Bertiere mentions the stove story. Here are the facts as she relates them:

    – In 1787 Fersen mentions, in one of his letters to her, lodgings for himself “en haut” (on the upper floor.) The Queen’s apartments were on the second floor, so this could be the same floor.
    – In October of the same year he requests that a recess for a stove be installed
    – Still in October 1787 Marie-Antoinette asks  in a “note de service” that a stove be installed in one of her private cabinets “with pipes to warm up a little room next to it”

    Certainly this suggests that Fersen was to be given his own discrete lodgings at Versailles (the “little room” next to her private cabinet.) He traveled a lot at the time between his regiment, quartered in Flanders, and Paris, and obviously was admitted to many a tete-a-tete with her whenever he came to Versailles. Does this change my opinion of a sexual liaison between them? Not really. Marie-Antoinette had not fully recovered from her last laying in (little Madame Sophie had been born in 1786 and died in June 1787.) That pregnancy itself had come as a surprise, and IMO it is unlikely that she would have risked another one so soon, especially with a man who was not her husband. There is no doubt that he was passionately in love with her, and yet he was involved at the time with numerous mistresses. Is this compatible with a sexual liaison with the Queen? I may be naive, but somehow it doesn’t add up.

    And yes, the existence of a relationship between Fersen and the Queen, and the fact that he was admitted to her presence in private, was known in the upper echelons of the Court and in diplomatic circles. This again does not prove anything one way or the other. Only the protagonists knew the whole truth, and they took their secrets to the tomb.

  5. louisette says:

    What about the details that Tony Spawforth mentions in his biography on Versailles? He claims that Fersen was to be installed in her apartments. He mentions Marie Antoinette requesting a stove be placed in the quarters from the building department at Versailles. Fersen mentions in his papers the possibility of living at Versailles and of getting a stove. It’s strange an unrelated man would live in her quarters unless it was an affair and a very known indiscretion.

  6. Catherine Delors says:

    Absolutely, Donna Sandra, Fersen loved the Queen. No one could seriously dispute that. But I don’t believe his love for her had a sexual connotation.

  7. donnasandra says:

    What we do know is that he loved the Queen. He wrote it many times in his diary and after she was killed he compared all other women with Marie Antoinette. Maybe it’s not evidence but still it is interesting that he wrote that he could never love someone else as much

  8. Catherine Delors says:

    Wow, Amy, no need for this kind of messages to be post related! Thank you very very much for sharing this, and I will post a link to your review as soon as it is out. I really look forward to it.

  9. Hi Catherine! This is totally non-post related. However, I just wanted to let you know that I finished Mistress of the Revolution last night and I LOVED it, LOVED it, LOVED it. I can already tell it will be in the best of 2009 reads. I am also really looking forward to your next novel!

    I will be posting my review in a few days if you’d like to check out my blog.

    Thanks for such an awesome story!


  10. Catherine Delors says:

    True, Elisa, Fersen was not at a loss with the ladies.

    Elena, since I have your permission, I will post a link on Eighteenth Century Worlds. Thanks!

  11. That’s exactly it~ “historical romance” has permeated certain biographies. Please feel free to post the link to my article anywhere you think it might help.

  12. Elisa says:

    Marie-Antoinette’s “affair” with Fersen is included in Eleanor Herman’s book “Sex with the Queen”. I didn’t like the kind of evidence the author used to prove her point.
    I never thought Marie Antoinette had an affair with Fersen. After all he had plenty of other ladies who he had affairs…

  13. Catherine Delors says:

    Richard – True, the execution of Louis XVI created the feeling that no one person was sacred. Yet mob violence unfortunately happened in many places and eras, including our own.

    Elena – You are most welcome for the link. I found your post, in addition to its intrinsic merit in setting the record straight, very timely in that we had just had this discussion at Eighteenth Century Worlds. It is unfortunate that so-called “historical romance” has permeated not only historical fiction, but also serious biographies.

  14. Thank you for the link, Catherine. I have often thought the same thing as Penny~ why would Antoinette be so disapproving of Madame du Barry and then turn around and have an affair herself? Especially a long term affair, as Fraser claims. That would have been out of the question for the Queen of France, and Antoinette knew it. Her children could have been taken away from her; she would have been sent to a convent.

  15. Richard says:

    Disaffection reaches many levels. What was unthinkable before the revolution became thinkable with the murder of the King of France.


  16. Catherine Delors says:

    Yes, Penny, I thought of your comments on Antonia Fraser as I was reading Elena’s post. What a very odd wish for a biographer…

  17. Penny Klein says:

    What a coincidence, i just read about Fersen’s end in the fraser biography. Antoinette does seem to be a good Catholic so i cannot see her cheating on her spouse. Even Fraser reports that she did not approve of her father in law’s mistress, Du Barry on moral grounds. if she had been a better diplomat, she might have been able to keep her head. anyway it surprised me that Fraser said that one hopes that Antoinette had an affair with Fersen. Personally i think that would have been a very bad and dangerous idea.

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