Axel von Fersen the Younger

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Axel von Fersen the Younger
Hans Axel von Fersen2.jpg
Count Axel von Fersen, dressed in the robes of a Swedish Privy Councilor, with the Knight chain of the Order of the Seraphim and the Commander Grand Cross chain of the Order of the Sword around his neck.
Born (1755-09-04)4 September 1755
Stockholm, Sweden
Died 20 June 1810(1810-06-20) (aged 54)
Stockholm, Sweden
Parents Count Axel von Fersen the Elder
Hedvig Catharina De la Gardie

Hans Axel von Fersen ([hɑːns ˈaksɛl fɔn ˈfæʂɛn]; 4 September 1755 – 20 June 1810) was a Swedish Count, Grand Marshal of Sweden, a Lieutenant General in the Royal Swedish Army, one of the Lords of the Realm, aide-de-camp to Rochambeau in the American Revolutionary War, diplomat and statesman. He is famous in history as the friend of Queen Marie Antoinette of France, and because of his death at the hands of a Stockholm lynch mob.

Descent and early life[edit]

He was born in 1755 to the statesman and Field Marshal Axel von Fersen the Elder and the countess Hedvig Catharina De la Gardie (through her relatives to the Royal House of Vasa), and was nephew of Eva Ekeblad and grandson of General Hans Reinhold Fersen. Axel was born the second of four children. His older sister was Hedvig Eleonora [born July 2, 1753] and his two younger siblings were his sister Eva Sophie Piper [born March 30, 1757] and his brother Fabian Reinhold [born October 7, 1762]. He had two female cousins who were Swedish ladies-in-waiting and leading socialites of the Gustavian age: Ulla von Höpken and Christina Augusta von Fersen.

It is said that his ancestors had come from Scotland to Sweden at the time of the Thirty Years' War, which took place from 1618 to 1648. Upon arriving in Sweden the family made their name quickly during the reigns of Christina [Queen regnant of Sweden from 1632 to 1654]; Charles X [King of Sweden from 1654 to 1660]; and Charles XI [King of Sweden from 1660 to 1697]. In 1735 the Fersen family purchased Steninge Palace, which overlooks lake Mälaren outside of Stockholm, Sweden.

Axel's father, the de facto parliamentary leader of the Hats party, was politically the most influential man in Sweden at the time and also one of the richest in the realm. He was the lord of four grand houses in Sweden: Löfstad [inherited through his wife], Steninge, Ljung and Mälsåker. Additionally he owned mines, land, forests and iron foundries in Sweden and Finland. He also owned a large share of Sweden´s East India Company, the country´s most profitable undertaking ever.

The younger Axel was influenced to a great degree by French civilization, owing in part to his father's ties and services to Louis XV of France. Axel's childhood tutor was a man named Jacob Johan Forslund. Even at an early age he was brought up learning different languages, including basic Latin, spoken French, and later also English, German and Italian. His later education was above all military.

The Grand Tour (1771-1775)[edit]

On the 3rd of July 1770 Axel makes his first journey abroad with the intention of seeing the world as well as finishing his studies at various military schools and academies, including at Brunswick, Turin, Strasbourg and Lüneburg. He is accompanied by his private teacher, a Hungarian named Jean Bolemany and a servant. Besides learning languages such as French, German, and Italian, his education comprises etiquette and good manners, fencing, riding, music, and history to name but some. Although it is not known everywhere he went and his exact itinerary on this rite of passage, a rough sketch can be gleaned from his diary entries.

In October 1771 he passes through Switzerland, including the towns of Basle, Geneva, Lausanne and Ferney. In Ferney he meets the philosopher Voltaire. In England nearly seven years later, Axel looks back on that meeting:

"I once had two hours of his society when I was at Geneva some years ago. M. Constant, an intimate friend of his, gave me a letter of introduction to him...I was struck by the beauty of his eyes and the vivacity of his expression. It was, I confess, curiosity rather than admiration which led me to seek his acquaintance...He was not only extremely clever, but also very lucky; and one of the reasons of his success was that he was disliked, admired and befriended by different great people in such a way that his fame could not fail to spread." [1]

In August 1772 Gustav III stages a coup d'état that overthrows parliamentary rule in Sweden. He will rule the country until his death in 1792, but from now until April of 1774 the incipient revolution in Sweden will be on a war footing with her closest neighbors, including Denmark-Norway, Russia, and Prussia.

In November of 1772, meanwhile, Axel continues on to Turin, Italy where he pays a visit to King Charles Emmanuel III and presumably Marie's brother, Leopold, then Grand Duke of Tuscany. On January 1, 1774 his travels take him to France for the first time, where he pays court to the reigning monarch and his mistress, Louis XV and Madame du Barry. While at Versailles he attends the ceremony of the Order of the Holy Spirit. A little over a week later, Axel meets Marie Antoinette, then Dauphine, for the first time:

"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." [2]

On the fifteenth of February he attends another ball at Versailles, also attended by the Dauphin and Dauphine; the Dauphin's two brothers, the Comte d'Artois and the Comte de Provence; their wives; and Mme. de Lamballe, all dressed in the costume of Henry IV. Among others in Paris he meets Mdm. du Deffand, the Comtesse de Brionne, Madame de Noailles, Mercy d'Argenteau and the Comtesse de La Marck.[3] It is during this month that Axel's sister Sophie is proposed to by Duke Frederik Adolf, the king’s youngest brother and third-in-line to the throne, though she does not accept. Axel continues on the Grand Tour by traveling to England in the middle of May. While Axel is in England, the French king Louis XV dies from smallpox, and Louis and Marie Antoinette become king and queen. Axel meanwhile will stay in England for roughly four months, meeting all people of note, including King George III, Queen Charlotte, and others. By the beginning of 1775 Axel has returned to Sweden, where he'll remain for approximately the next three years, serving under his king, Gustavus III.

A familiar face[edit]

In the late summer of 1778, Axel and his friend Barrington Beaumont arrive in Paris after a three-month stay in England. With the city nearly deserted, they resolve to go to Normandy, accompanied by one of Axel's good friends and countrymen, the Baron de Stedingk, to see a large camp that is maneuvering under the command of the Maréchal de Broglie. Besides military matters they are treated to dinner and dances which are attended by the officers' wives. Afterward, Axel and Beaumont visit the nearby monastery of La Trappe. Axel later pays his visits to the French royal family for the first time since his Grand Tour more than three years earlier:

August 26: "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."

September 8: "The queen, who is the prettiest and most amiable princess that I know, has had the kindness to inquire about me often; she asked Creutz why I did not go to her card parties on Sundays; and hearing that I did go one Sunday when there was none, she sent me a sort of excuse. Her pregnancy advances and is quite visible."

November 19: The queen treats me with great kindness; I often pay her my court at her card-games, and each time she makes to me little speeches that are full of good-will. As someone had told her of my Swedish uniform, she expressed a wish to see me in it; I am to go Thursday thus dressed, not to Court, but to the queen's apartments. She is the most amiable princess that I know." [4]

A world apart from the constraints of Versailles lay Marie's own personal property next door in the Petit Trianon. While Versailles was fettered with elaborate etiquette and formal dress, Marie made the Petit Trianon all about simplicity. For example, a white gown, a gauze kerchief, and a straw hat were the uniform dress of the Princesses, in the manner of Madame Bertin's rustic down-to-earth look.[5] Marie's guests - only those personally invited were allowed into its private nook - were not required to stand up in her presence as they would like a subject to a queen, but rather all people there were treated equally as friends. In other words, it was the stark opposite of Versailles.

Beaumont relates the following from his memoirs on one of those days in the Petit Trianon:

"We were in the salon. The king had been there a few moments previously, but had gone out to hunt. The queen, seated at her harpsichord, discussed the operas of her protégé Gluck with Fersen, who was standing beside her. He was wearing the uniform of his Swedish regiment, in which she had expressed a wish to see him. The Princess de Lamballe sat near the window, talking to the Comte de Creutz, and working at her embroidery. The only other people present were the Comtesse d’Ossun (devoted to the queen), a pretty dame d’honneur, and the Duc de Coigny.

While I chatted with the dame d’honneur, I saw the queen look up at Fersen and smile, and she bade him be seated; and then she struck a few chords.

There was an immediate lull in everyone’s conversation, so we all heard her say, “It is the most beautiful air in Didon, and I am astonished that you have forgotten it. Of what could you have been thinking while you were at the opera?”

And then she sang, and her voice was the sweetest I ever heard, and thrilled one strangely; “Ah! Que je fus bien inspirée quand je vous reçus dans ma cour!” [Ah, I was greatly inspired when I received you in my court] [6]

But while an intimate few knew one side of the queen, there was another more sinister side being depicted from beyond the confines of her favorite idyll hamlet. Much jealousy is caused by her evening dinners and other private festivities at the Petit Trianon from those who were excluded from them. Even more sinister, as early as 1777 there is evidence of pornographic pamphlets (libelles) of the queen being sold on the very doorstep of Versailles, and even in towns which the court is known to seasonally move such as Compiègne, Fontainbleau and Saint-Cloud.[7] "By the false policy of Her Majesty's advisers, these enemies and libelers...were privately hushed into silence, out of delicacy to the Queen's feelings, by large sums of money and pensions, which encouraged numbers to commit the same enormity in hope of obtaining the same recompense." [8] Little by little Marie is being dehumanized in the public eye, and startling enough, it begins in the circles closest to the queen.

People talked of the air from Didon, shrugged, looked significant, and made bon mots at Her Majesty's expense. The dame d'honneur had told her lover; he was in the confidence of the Comte de Provence, who hated his sister-in-law, and had been one of the first to make evil insinuations against her, so in twenty-four hours' time everyone was discussing the queen's avowal, and of course the story lost nothing in the telling. Fersen could not fail to see that his presence was injurious to the queen; nevertheless I was somewhat surprised when he told me that he would leave France.

"It is the only way to give the lie to what they are saying." he said.[9]

The American war[edit]

Fersen, on the contrary, did not seem to consider that his peace of mind was of the slightest consequence, as long as he did what was best for the queen. His projected departure soon became known, and caused a great sensation.

"How is this, Monsieur?" said the Duchesse de Fitz-James. "You forsake your conquest!"

"Had I made one," said Fersen, refusing to see her meaning, "I should not forsake it. I go away free, and unfortunately without leaving anyone to regret me."

Mme. la Duchesse smiled, and tapped him on the arm with her fan, 'You are a regular hero of romance, M. le Comte, but not of French romance, you are too discreet for that! [10]

Before there was a revolution in France, there was a revolution in America, and that war had been raging well before Axel had resolved to go fight there. Back when he was taking the Grand Tour of Europe, the Intolerable Acts were being passed by Britain on her American subjects. When Axel returned to Sweden at the age of twenty, the Americans were fighting the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill. By 1780, Axel convinced his friend Barrington that going to America was the only option by touching upon the fact that in France currently "it is the fashion to rhapsodize over the Americans' rebelliousness against England".[11] Even, Benjamin Franklin, the American ambassador in France since 1785, is a big sensation in France. France had officially declared war against her natural enemy in February of 1778, but now in the beginning of 1780 a French contingent is finally being outfitted to fight with the rebels on North American soil.

On May 4, 1780 Axel secures his position as aide-de-camp to General Rochambeau and departs from the port of Brest. Nearly two months later his ship will make anchor at Narragansett Bay in Newport, Rhode Island, where the French make camp until June of next year. In mid-September Axel sets off as part of Rochambeau's suite to meet with the American General George Washington in Hartford, Connecticut. Washington's retinue includes the young Alexander Hamilton, General Henry Knox and the Marquis de Lafayette. Washington attempts to persuade Rochambeau and de Ternay to stage an attack against Clinton in New York before the onset of winter, however the French are still waiting to here back on whether France will send added reinforcements from across the sea. Both sides agree that superiority of sea is essential before any undertaking. The next day it is learned that British Admiral Rodney has arrived in New York with a fleet three times the size of the British already stationed there, and Washington and Rochambeau part quickly with the plan to remain on the defensive unless a solid opportunity presents itself. On meeting Washington, Axel remarks:

"He has the air of a hero; he is very cold, speaks little, but is polite and civil. An air of sadness pervades his whole countenance, which is not unbecoming to him, and makes him the more interesting." [12]

It is after this meeting in Hartford that Washington learns of the betrayal of Benedict Arnold. Major John André is hanged on October 2 for his part in the betrayal. This same month Axel writes his father about his burgeoning friendship with the Duc de Lauzun, who has offered him the position of proprietary colonel of his personal legion. By the end of October Rochambeau dispatches his son the Vicomte de Rochambeau to Versailles to petition Louis to send reinforcements and aid. By the end of the year the British under Cornwallis continue to make themselves masters of the South by disembarking 3,000 more soldiers at Chesapeake Bay, yet Washington, in his delicate position, cannot abandon his own position in the North without also abandoning the Hudson river and adjacent territories to the British. Both sides spend the remaining campaigning season by preparing for winter-quarters.

From March 6–13 Washington makes his first visit to the French lines in Newport, Rhode Island. Some of the discussions center on the defection of Arnold, who since turning has been causing immense havoc in Virginia. The Marquis de Lafayette is outfitted with his own contingent of one thousand light infantry and heads south to mirror Arnold's moves and to check him if possible. The need is also discussed for de Ternay's successor as Admiral, Destouches, to land in Virginia with succor for the Virginia militia and for Lafayette. To this effect he sets sail on the 6th, but is defeated on the 16th at the Chesapeake Bay by a British fleet. On May 6 the Vicomte de Rochambeau arrives in Boston from France and makes his way back to Newport. He does not get the reinforcements in men, but does bring back around six million livres and the promise that help is on its way from the West Indies in the form of de Grasse's fleet, bringing with him the one element Washington and Rochambeau agreed was indispensable to a successful campaign: superiority at sea.

After spending eleven months in Newport, Rhode Island in total inaction, the men under Rochambeau begin their march on June 12, 1781 to link up with Washington's army at Philipsburg on the Hudson. The strategy is to make a feint in order to make General Clinton believe their intended goal is the British in New York, but the two armies instead continue south through parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia in order to reach Cornwallis' position in Yorktown. On August 15 Axel is tasked with conveying a letter from Rochambeau to Barras nearly 220 miles back in Newport. Barras has been at the ready for a signal to join de Grasses's fleet at the Chesapeake. The rest of the army sets out south from Philipsburg two days later. Word arrives to the troops in early September of de Grasse's victory in gaining control of the Chesapeake Bay, and by the end of the month Washington, commanding around 8,000 Continentals, 7,800 Frenchmen, and 3,100 militia, has Cornwallis surrounded in Yorktown. By October 19 the British have surrendered the town, and consequently hastened the end of the war. Axel and the rest of the French then winter in and around Williamsburg until June of next year (1782). Fersen writes from his winter quarters:

"All our young colonels of the Court are going away to pass their winter in Paris...I shall remain here. I have no reason for going to Paris, except pleasure, and I must sacrifice that. We have gone into winter quarters and are established at Williamsburg...The cold weather is setting in, and we are not very well off for blankets but have to eke them out with our cloaks. The few remaining officers are extremely dull and depressed: you know French courtiers, and so can imagine the dismay with which they contemplate a long winter here - no women, no suppers, no plays, no balls! Nothing short of immediate action will console them" [13]

Axel, while waiting out the winter, takes some time to tour the state of Virginia. Anticipating the American Civil War nearly eighty years later, he remarks that he wouldn't be surprised to see Virginia separate herself from the rest of the states at some point due to the strain of "aristocracy" prevalent there as opposed to the northern states. After the winter ends it is still unclear to the men if they will continue campaigning in the West Indies or return home with the end of the war. By the end of November Axel is encamped in Boston where the fleet is being made ready to sail. In December 1782 they make sail for the West Indies and Venezuela but word reaches them of the signing of peace and the ships head back to France. Axel arrives back in Brest in June of 1783.[14]

Years leading up to the Revolution (1783-1787)[edit]

Following the end of hostilities, the United States and Sweden conclude a Treaty of Amity and Commerce. Axel himself is awarded the Order of Cincinnatus by Washington, though he is forbidden by his monarch for wearing a medallion that was earned fighting in a republican war.

On September 20, 1783 Axel plans on leaving for Sweden to see his family. It has been six years since he last saw his home country. While passing through Strasbourg he meets up with his brother Fabian, who is traveling abroad on the Grand Tour. Before he gets there, however, Gustavus III asks him to join his suite in Germany as Captain of the Guard. Gustavus has meanwhile been planning on making war on Denmark, and is currently on a trip through the Continent to see if he can secure aid. Gustavus promotes Axel to titulary-colonel in the Swedish army, chevalier of the Order of the Sword, and lieutenant-colonel of the light-horse cavalry of the king. Gustavus also uses his influence to persuade Louis to have Axel appointed proprietary colonel of the Royal Suédois French Army infantry regiment. Louis also appoints Axel second-colonel of the Royal Deux-Ponts regiment and chevalier of the Order of Military Merit.

Axel reaches Gustavus at Nürnberg, where they are visited by the Duke of Brunswick [who would command the Allied forces when war broke out with France in 1792] and follow him to Quedlingburg. From there they continue on to Italy, passing through Verona and Pisa before reaching Florence, where they stay a whole month. Here they are surprised and entertained by two of Marie Antoinette's brothers, Joseph II and Leopold. From there they make for Rome where they meet Pope Pius VI. Early in 1784 the suite travel to Naples to escape the cold weather, where they visit the Strada di Toledo; picnic among the groves and cascades of Caserta; and make an excursion to Mount Vesuvius and the ruins of Pompeii and Paestum. Gustavus returns to Rome after this, where he receives the news that there has been a change of administration in Denmark and with the death of Trolle in Stockholm in March, their program of building up their naval armaments ends. From Rome they continue on to Venice.[15]

In Europe following the end of the American war, the miracle of human flight is being realized in the hot-air balloon and rapidly becomes a popular craze. On August 27, 1783 the world's first hydrogen balloon flight takes place before a crowd of some 6,000 at the Champ de Mars. Over a year later Pilâtre and the Marquis d'Arlandes launch the first manned ascent in a hot-air balloon, which takes off from the western outskirts of Paris and travels over five miles before coming successfully to a rest.[16] The pilots are feted and turned into celebrities overnight. Many more will follow them in this and the coming years. Another craze arrives in April of 1784 when Beaumarchais is finally allowed to show the Marriage of Figaro at the Théâtre-Français amidst much controversy.[17]

On June 7, 1784 Axel returns to Versailles from Italy with Gustavus, who concludes a treaty of alliance with France on the 19th of the month. On June 27 Gustavus and the rest of his suite are invited to Petit Trianon by the French royal family. They are entertained with the performance of a new comic opera by Marmontel called Le Dormeur Eveille, and with music by Grétry. Axel, Taube and Armfelt sit in the royal box beside Marie, while Louis and Gustavus stand behind them. Supper is served at three tables in the Orchard Pavilion. After dinner the gardens are brilliantly illuminated, and all the ladies of the court, dressed in white, promenade with their men. The whole scene reminds Gustavus of the Elysian Fields, while Armfelt remarks the festivities as "divine".

A month later Axel returns to Sweden, tasking himself with the job of getting a dog for Marie which she names Odin. By mid-May through June of 1785 Axel is dividing his time between Paris and Versailles, while also spending time with his new regiment in Valenciennes. While this is going on, the Diamond Necklace Affair is taking place, and only months later the Cardinal de Rohan is arrested, bringing the facts of the affair into full light. Axel writes his father in September that everyone believes the queen [Marie] has fooled the king. On October 15 Necker's daughter Germaine is betrothed to Axel's kinsmen Staël. Concerning the event Axel writes to his friend Barrington Beaumont:

"Ne me plaignez pas, mon ami," said Axel, "for I am convinced that this marriage will suit him much better than it would have suited me. Entre nous, I never thought of it except to please my father, and I am not at all sorry it cannot be." [18]

Despite Marie's continuing decline in popularity, especially after the May trials of the culprits involved in the Diamond Necklace affair, things brighten considerably with the birth of Sophie Hélène Béatrice in July. Louis also has reason to be happy, as he leaves the seclusion of Versailles for the first time since his coronation in Reims to watch the submersion of a cone at Cherbourg harbor. Unfortunately, in August of 1786 Calonne finally apprises Louis XVI of the desperate state of the finances, and by the very end of the year it is announced formally that there will be a convening of an Assembly of Notables to discuss future measures.

The French Revolution arrives[edit]

In late-February of 1787 the Assembly of Notables is finally convened, but far from being a rubber-stamp for the government, the assemblage suddenly find that, individually and collectively, they have a powerful voice – and that France is paying attention. Axel is able to attend the closing of the last day of that meeting, and describes the gathering as "imposing".[19] For the entirety of the summer of 1787 Axel will be with his regiment in Valenciennes, excepting the occasional visit to and from Versailles. For some time now he has secretly been entrusted by Gustavus III with the role of special envoy to the king and queen of France over his kinsmen Staël, the latter being suspected of being won over to republicanism and no longer trustworthy. The affairs of the state of Sweden as regards France therefore are conducted not through the Swedish embassy but through Axel. To be closer to Paris he moves into a house in Auteuil borrowed from Count Esterhazy.

Sometime during the summer/autumn Axel stands in as Gustav’s proxy at the baptism of the child of Germaine de Staël and her husband at the Lutheran Chapel in the Swedish Embassy. Later in the spring of 1788 Axel joins Gustav for the latter's Finnish campaign against Russia as lieutenant-colonel of the royal horse guards [20] but by December of 1788 Axel is again with his regiment in Valenciennes, France to witness the following:

"All men’s minds are in a ferment. Nothing is talked of but a constitution. The women especially are joining in the hubbub, and you know as well as I what influence they have in this country. It is a mania, everybody is an administrator and can talk only of progress; the lackeys in the antechambers are occupied in reading the pamphlets that come out, ten or twelve in a day, and I do not know how the printing-presses can do the work" [21]

On May 2, 1789 the Estates-General finally meets amid much fanfare and great hopes. Axel and Beaumont sit in one of the boxes of the Salle des Menus Plaisirs on the fifth of May as Louis reads his opening speech. Before long, however, the Third Estate has reconstituted itself as the National Assembly, arguing that the three orders are no more than arbitrary divisions of one body. By the end of June, the monarchy has reinforced its troop compliment around the capital, ostensibly to contain disorders in and around Paris, although mistrust is bred as many believe the troops will be turned against the recalcitrant Third Estate.

"They have brought about 12,000 to 15,000 troops into the neighborhood of Versailles, La Muette, Meudon, etc. What is most grievous is that they are not sure of the French soldier, and they are forced to employ foreigners as much as possible" [21]

Many of the other two orders have since come over to the side of Third, and things reach a fever pitch on the 20th of June when the Third Estate is locked out of the Salle de Menus Plaisirs ostensibly for work repairs. They instead meet at a nearby indoor tennis court and take the Tennis Court Oath, swearing to God and the Patrie never to be separated until they have formed a solid and equitable Constitution as their constituents have asked them to'.[22] On July 14 the Invalides and Bastille are both stormed and taken, coming only two days after the Lambesc affair. On July 16 Axel is at Versailles with the king and queen and others where there is debate on how the government is going to deal with the incipient revolution in Paris. At last after much debate, Louis decides to go to Paris with the guardsmen to show his personal goodwill towards the revolution, yet he implores all the royal family and attendants to make plans for their safety. The Princess de Lamballe [who in 1792 would lose her life in the September Massacres] relates the scene:

"No sooner, however, had the King left the room than it was as much as the Count de Fersen, Princess Elizabeth, and all of us could do to recover [the Queen] from the most violent convulsions. At last, coming to herself, she retired...at the same time requesting Fersen to follow [Louis] to the Hôtel de Ville. Again and again she implored him, as she went, in case the King should be detained, to interest himself with all the foreign ministers to interpose for his liberation" [23]

Axel and the Venetian Ambassador Pisani help the Duchess de Polignac into her coach as she makes her way out of Versailles in disguise, and she is followed by the Prince de Condé, Conti, and Bourbon, the Polignacs, the Comte d'Artois and his family, Baron de Breteuil, the Abbé Vermond and many others. Axel leaves following Louis' departure for the capital and arrives in time to watch Louis take the national cockade from the mayor Bailly and place it in his own hat. Bailly gives Louis the keys to the city of Paris at the same time as he humbles the king by claiming it is to the people that he owes his sovereignty. On August 8 the August Decrees are enacted, in which many particularisms of the ancien régime are thrown on the bonfire, including the abolition of tithes and hereditary titles. Meanwhile the revolution continues. Axel writes from Valenciennes:

"Riots are taking place in all the cities of the kingdom…So far all is confined to breaking into the tax offices and opening the prisons, for it is the lowest of the populace who make the disorder. The bourgeoisie was immediately armed and that did much to restore tranquility. We have had our little riot here but it is all over. Now the idle scoundrels have spread themselves over the country districts; they are pillaging, or putting under contribution all the abbeys and châteaux. They are hunted everywhere, and yesterday, in one spot, we captured 119; many more will probably be taken...Disorder is increasing throughout the country. The [new militia in Paris] has better pay than in our regiments and there are no means not employed to entice them. It is said that…there have been, since July 13th, 12,750 deserters, without counting the gardes françaises. The king’s authority is totally annihilated, so is that of the parliaments and the magistrates. The States-General themselves tremble before Paris, and this fear greatly influences their deliberations." [21]

Months later in October, with the revolution radiating to the rest of the country from Paris and the once royal army in near-total disintegration, one regiment still proves to be particularly trustworthy. Louis therefore decides to bring this regiment from Flanders to Versailles to be closer to him and his family. The king's Swiss bodyguard decides to host a fraternal dinner party at for the regiment, and Axel and Beaumont attend also. Despite having reservations at first, the king and queen make an appearance towards the end. It is this banquet, however, which provides fuel for the market women march on Versailles four days later, when it is rumored that the tricolor [cockade] was trampled upon at the banquet and disrespected. Axel is still in Versailles to witness the latter event also.

On the morning of the fifth, a large crowd of some 6,000 to 7,000 market women have gathered. As well as demanding bread, they insist that the royal bodyguard be punished, and after nearly sacking the Hôtel de Ville in search of arms, they begin the march to Versailles to bring their demands before the king. To this crowd is attached a group of some 15,000 rank and file of the National Guard. Although barred from entering the grounds of Versailles, the Salles des Menus Plaisirs is invaded by hundreds of the women who, though reassured to a degree that the government is doing all they can, still ask to see the king themselves.

At midnight Lafayette tells the Assembly that the National Guard has no coercive purpose. Calm can be restored if the King sends away the Flanders Regiment, if the gardes françaises replace the bodyguard close to the King and if Louis could bring himself to make some sympathetic gesture with the national cockade. As he meets with Louis inside the palace, he adds the additional stipulation that he guarantee food for Paris and consent to reside in the capital 'in the palace of his ancestors at the Louvre. After Lafayette returns to the National Assembly to give a report, calm reigns for a little while. However, at around 5:30am, an armed crowd manages to find their way into the palace grounds by way of the Cour des Ministres and begins making their way to the royal apartments. Two guards are killed in their attempt to stop the advancing crowd. Before any harm can come to the royal family, the first companies of National Guards advance against the crowds and deliver them from danger. Outside, the heads of the two slaughtered bodyguards are paraded around. Louis agrees to go to the balcony of the Cour de Marbre and tell the crowd that he will return with them to Paris. Axel recounts the departure in his diaries:

"I was witness of it all and I returned to Paris in one of the carriages of the king's suite: we were six hours and a half on the way [to Paris]. God keep me from ever again seeing so afflicting a sight as that of those two days"" [24]

Flight to Varennes[edit]

"I have to be away tonight," said Axel, "and I will return for a few hours on Tuesday if I can...It is supposed that I am going to Varennes to join my regiment."

"But I need not suppose so?" I queried.

"Not unless you like...If I have not arrived at Arlon by twelve on Friday night, come back to Paris, unlock my bureau, and burn everything you find...; and, if within the next twenty-four hours you hear I am killed or imprisoned, burn all my papers. But I hope it will not come to that, for we have so arranged matters....." [25]

Conversation recalled by Barrington Beaumont on the afternoon of June 20th, 1791

Although the situation of the royal family was bad before, things become considerably more desperate on April 18, 1791 when they are prevented by a large hostile crowd from traveling to Saint-Cloud to attend Mass. It is now that they realize they are virtual prisoners within their own country, and escape plans are being seriously considered for their deliverance. Escape plans had been broached earlier by the Comte de Mirabeau, who, once one of the Revolution's earliest heroes, has since May of 1790 been intriguing with the royal family. To this effect Mirabeau has many conversations with Axel on the subject, but Mirabeau's death on April 2, 1791 puts an end to that.[26] Following the events concerning the aborted trip to Saint Cloud, Axel revives these plans with vigor. In June Axel has acquired the famous berline and drives it to a courtyard at Eleanore Sullivan's residence on the Rue de Clichy in Paris. The escape is arranged to take place on the 20th of that month coinciding with a particular guard change.

Axel sees the queen earlier on the day of the 20th, but the escape does not take place until later that night. At 11:15pm the royal children are brought out without difficulty. At 11:45 the king's sister Madame Elizabeth appears, followed by Louis himself. A half hour later they are still waiting for Marie. However, she comes out at the same time as the torchlit carriage of Lafayette appears with some of his men, though she is able to conceal herself enough to avoid detection. Lafayette, with the royal family slipping away practically in front of his eyes, is coincidentally the man in charge of keeping security tabs on them.

Axel drives the carriage first from the Place du Carrousel to the Porte Saint-Martin. After driving rapidly away through the deserted streets, he decides to call at Eleanore's house to find if his German coachman has started off with the berline as instructed. To this effect he takes a slight detour and stops a little beyond the house. After finding that all is according to plan, they set off again to the Barrier Saint-Martin where the berline is found and the glass coach they had started in left deserted. Axel will hold the reins as far as Bondy, seven miles from Paris, where the queen's maids and a fresh relay of horses await them. They take the post road and Axel takes the road to Bourget, departing each other a little before 3am. If all goes well Axel is to meet them there; if not, the contingent plan is for him to travel to Brussels to deliver an important letter to the Austrian ambassador Mercy d'Argenteau, and to take action to stir the other European powers to action.

It is decided by Bouillé that when the carriage reaches Pont de Somme-Vesle, the young Duc de Choiseul would provide a military escort, but by 4:30pm the royal family is now two hours late for the rendezvous. He at last leads his men off convinced that the plan has miscarried. The royal family reaches Pont de Somme-Vesle only shortly afterward. Sainte-Menehould is reached at 8pm and Clermont an hour-and-a-half later. Varennes is finally reached on the 22nd around 11pm, but it is here that they are discovered and eventually held in custody until troops from the National Convention arrive. They depart Varennes surrounded by 6,000 armed citizens and National Guardsmen. Having left behind him a long declaration which has been read and published in all the newspapers in his absence, Louis himself has made it impossible to sustain the pretense that he has been 'abducted'.

At last there was a clatter of horse's hoofs outside. I darted to the door to meet Axel. He did not speak, and it was too dark to see his face. Still I did not realize what had happened, not until we stood in the little room, where the lights were flaring. Then I knew why he had not spoken- the despair in his eyes was such as no words can describe.

"Everything has failed," he said at last, "and I am desperate. They were recognized and arrested within sixteen leagues of the frontier." [27]

War against France (1791-1793)[edit]

It is discovered even before the royal family has returned to Paris that Fersen was one of the people who facilitated their escape, and a warrant is put out for his arrest. With no options left in France, Axel begins to arrange matters form the outside. At Coblentz, Germany he puts himself in touch with the exiled princes, notably the Comte d'Artois and the former Controller-General Calonne, where plans are being hatched to get the other European powers to declare war on France. At the end of June in Aix-la-Chapelle, Axel discusses this exact thing with Gustavus III. Axel suggests that Crawford go in his place to England in order to better find out the British position as regards the French monarchy. Meanwhile news from France is that the King's role in the government is declared to be 'suspended' until the Assembly has completed its work on the new constitution. While in Brussels Axel works out a cypher code and secret methods of writing with his friend Barrington in order to forward any news to him that might arrive. This method will also be used when Axel and Marie write to each other:

"The simplest plan was to write an ordinary letter with the lines rather far apart, and then to write the real information between the lines, using milk instead of ink. The milk calligraphy was invisible until the paper was covered with coal or other dust; when the dust was shaken off, the secret writing stood out as black as that for which ink had been used. In this manner we wrote to each other, and sent the letters by couriers..." [28]

On the 17th of July a massacre takes place on the Champ de Mars by the National Guard, prompting Lafayette and the mayor Bailly to resign. From August 2-14th Axel is in Vienna to discuss the situation with Marie's brother Leopold, now Emperor. On August 27, 1791 the Declaration of Pillnitz is issued from Pillnitz Castle near Dresden. It declares the joint support of the Holy Roman Empire and Prussia for King Louis XVI against the Revolution but stipulates that Austria will go to war if and only if all the other major European powers also go to war with France, which at this point in time not likely of happening. On the 8th of September the French minister of war decrees that travel out of the country is suspended. Five days later Louis signs the new constitution and is installed the next day as 'King of the French'. Axel writes a few days later on the state of preparations to Count Coblentz:

"As to Ostend, he told me that vessels of war cannot enter that port; that the season was too far advanced to send troops this year; moreover, we must know what England and Holland would say to the arrival of a fleet in that port. I can see clearly that they are dragging things along purposely to prevent the king of Sweden from sending troops this year; they fear his activity, and also that he may command in person. They want to avoid acting, or else to act alone if it becomes necessary. Nothing is being done; the requisitions have not been sent, although they assure me the troops are to march at once. They are all agreed that the congress must be an armed one; but they are losing time awaiting replies and doing nothing positive. My conversation with Coblentz has made me lose heart. I see a well-formed plan to do only trifling things over the winter, to try to patch up matters for the time being, and not to act until spring, and not then unless it is absolutely necessary" [29]

On October 1, following the creation of a new constitution, the National Assembly reconstitutes itself as the Legislative Assembly. On October 19, 1791 Sweden and Russia conclude the Treaty of Drottningholm, in which they pledge to defend the other in case of foreign attack. On October 31, the Assembly states that all émigrés who, by the first of January 1792, have not dispersed from what are deemed to be armed camps will be declared guilty of conspiracy, and sentenced to the death penalty and the confiscation of their property. In Paris around this time, Brissot delivers an eloquently scathing speech before the Assembly which in effect is a call to arms:

"Why has Russia suddenly made peace on its eastern frontier with Turkey if not to concentrate on something more sinister? Why has the King of Sweden, a known correspondent of the Queen's, mobilized his armies? Why have the arch-enemies Austria and Prussia fallen into each other's arms at Pillnitz? The answer to all these questions is a dagger pointing directly at the heart of the only true free nation of men in the Old World. I tell you that you must avenge your glory or condemn yourselves to eternal dishonor." [30]

One cold December day in 1791 Axel confides with his friend Barrington Beaumont about another possible escape attempt for the royal family that was formed by the king of Sweden and Baron Taube. Because the roads were all closely watched, it is decided that Louis should escape through the woods under the pretext of going out to hunt and escape by sea, while Axel would convey Marie and the children by another route. They go over all the pros and cons before Axel announces his decision to go to Paris to bring the plan before the king. Preparations are made and the departure date scheduled for February 3, but word gets out of a suspected escape attempt and security tightens over the royal family. Axel and Beaumont resolve to go anyway and a week later set out for Paris. Axel, donning a large wig and false moustache, assumes the identity of a minister plenipotentiary of the Queen of Portugal. They arrive in Paris two days later without difficulty, and both Axel and Beaumont are able to sneak into the Tuileries and speak with Marie. The next day Axel lays the escape plan before Louis. The results with the king end up being unsatisfactory, however, as Louis believes they are under such close watch that they won't be able to make any moves, and that he will only allow himself to be guided through the woods on the approach of the allied armies. Moreover he adds that he is not in a position to refuse any of the demands of the revolutionists. As he tells Axel:

"I know that I am called feeble and irresolute, but no one has ever been in a position such as mine. It is true that I lost the opportune moment; it was July 14, I ought to have gone then, but you must remember that monsieur himself entreated me to stay, and the Marechal de Broglie said, 'We can go to Metz certainly, but what is to be done when we get there?' I lost the opportunity, and it has not come again." [31]

After heading back to their hotel one evening, both Axel and Barrington are treated to the rantings of their innkeeper who, unaware of the identities of his disguised guests, entreats them to all the popular calumnies of l'Autrichienne and the flight of the king to Varennes. As Beaumont remembers:

"Though I was prepared for anything, I admit I felt extremely uncomfortable when my host remarked that 'If Count Fersen ever ventured into Paris he would be torn in pieces.' Fersen listened impassively, with an air of polite interest, shrugged, and amiably assented.[32]

That night Fersen is able to see the king and queen for one more time, which, unbeknownst to him, was to be the last time. After this Axel and Beaumont head back north. Outside of Cambrai, their carriage is stopped by a Frenchmen doubting the authenticity of their passport, but with Axel feigning sleep, Beaumont manages to talk himself out of trouble and they are able to continue on.

On March 16 Gustav III is shot at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm. He will die from his wounds almost two weeks later. In Sweden Gustav's younger brother, the Duke Karl, becomes regent to the underage Gustav IV. On April 20, France officially declares war on Austria, and just over a week later French troops set foot on foreign soil in the Austrian Netherlands. On June 20 the Tuileries is stormed by a large crowd and Louis is made to wear a red bonnet of liberty and drinks a toast to the health of the people of Paris and the Nation. This is the coup that now ushers in the truly radical phase of the Revolution: the violent overthrow of the educated elite and notables who have dominated the Constituent and the reforming enterprises since the 1770s. Three days later Marie is able to get an encrypted letter out to Axel: "Your friend is in the greatest danger. His illness is making terrible progress...Tell his relations about his unfortunate situation". Axel meanwhile is attempting to send an emissary to England to persuade the king to go on the offensive and to declare that if innocent lives are attacked there will be retribution. On August 1 the Brunswick Manifesto is issued by the Duke of Brunswick, commander of the Allied forces.

"They are working at the manifesto. I have written one which I gave to M. de Limon, and he has given it to M. de Mercy [d'Argenteau], without his knowing that it is mine. It is very good, and such as they ought to desire. Nothing is promised to anyone, no party is affronted, we are pledged to nothing, and Paris is made responsible for the king and family." [33]

On the 9/10 of August the Tuileries is stormed again, but unlike before which only cost the king his dignity, much blood is shed this time. Of the 900-man Swiss Guard and the 100-200 courtiers and former officers left behind to defend the king, around 600 are massacred. The royal family finds refuge with the National Assembly. The monarchy and the constitution are suspended and the Assembly decrees that the electors will assemble on September 2 to vote a new parliament. Meanwhile, now the center of power lies not in the Assembly but in an 'Insurrectionary Commune' located at the Hôtel de Ville. Three days later the royal family are moved to the medieval citadel of the Temple in the district of Le Marais.

In September, the slowness of the Allied campaign begun earlier in the spring now seems to be on the very doorstep of the Parisians, as Longwy has been taken and Verdun and Metz are being invested. Suddenly the threat of the Brunswick Manifesto to inflict retribution on the Parisians comes home with startling realness. In light of the potential, real or imagined, of a fifth column stabbing them in the back while they are out fighting on the front lines, more than half of the total prisoner population in Paris are murdered in cold blood. One of the casualties of the September massacres is Marie's good friend, the Princess de Lamballe. Two weeks later the French defeat the Prussians at the Battle of Valmy, and that same day the Legislative becomes the National Convention, inaugurating 'Year One' of the French First Republic.

By November it was being decided whether Louis could be tried in a court of law, and if so which one. On November 7, following the French victory at Jemappes, Axel writes from Brussels:

"Breteuil came to tell me that the Austrians have been defeated before Mons…that retreat from Brussels is decided on…At nine o’clock the news was made public; consternation and fear general; nothing as seen but people running about in search for means to get away. For two days there had been orders to give no post horses without permission. I went to tell the news to Crawford and get them to pack their things. I packed mine and we arranged to go together, with Simolin, by Antwerp to Breda…The whole road from Mons was covered with war equipages and carts with wounded…I was engaged to dine with the Neapolitan ambassador; he sent to excuse himself. We had fixed our departure for the net day, but Mercy, who came in the evening to see Mme. Sullivan,…said he was not going to Ruremond, but to Düsseldorf, and begged us to come there too." [34]

On January 21, 1793 Louis is guillotined at the Place de Grève. Axel hears the news while in Cologne: "Received last night at 10:30, from the Archbishop of Tours, the sad details of the death of the king of France".[35] On the 1st of February France officially declares war against Great Britain and the Dutch Republic. By the end of March, however, the tide was beginning to turn against the French in the Netherlands. The general in charge of the northern army, Dumouriez, was defeated March 18 at Neerwinden and again three days later at Louvain. Blaming the policy of the Convention to execute revolutionary decrees in occupied territories which effectively served to alienate the native people, Dumouriez begins at this time to open negotiations with the Allies, and on April 5 he defects. It is understood that Dumouriez plans to turn his army against the Convention in Paris. On the 18th Axel was able to meet with him:

"We struggled through a crowd of people and found him in a lower room, the windows besieged by the people outside. He was alone with three aides-de-camp. He recognized Simolin [Russian ambassador to France]; I named myself; he made me a compliment, saying he ought to have known me by my handsome face. I thanked him for his courtesies to Berlin; he answered that if he had not done more it was not his fault, but that of circumstances. I told him that I was very glad to see him here; he answered that he had long intended it...He said his plan had been to capture and deliver up [to the Prince de Coburg] Lille, Condé, Valenciennes, and Maubeuge, with the commissioners who were there to serve as hostages; that this plan had partly failed through the imbecility of those he intrusted with it; but the proposal had already been made to exchange the four commissioners against the royal family; that his opinion had been that everything should be granted to get possession of the royal family; after that, no terms should be kept with those wretches; and finally, he said that even if the republic were recognized, the war should be continued to see which were the stronger, it or the Powers. — On the whole, I found him a true Frenchman, vain, confident, heedless; with much intelligence and little judgment. His scheme failed through excess of confidence in his strength and in his influence with the army." [36]

The armies of the Duke of Brunswick meanwhile, despite sitting on the fringes of France, become bogged down in what Axel describes as "an ill-chosen and disastrous defensive". On August 2 Marie is moved to the Conciergerie while awaiting her trial. During this time Axel is still attempting to find any hope of saving Marie and the remaining royal family. On the 11th he writes:

"Having talked with La Marck on the means of saving the queen, and agreeing that there were none except to push forward at once a strong body of cavalry to Paris - which would be the easier to do at this moment, because there are no troops before the city and the granaries are full, - I went to see Mercy about it and found him all ice to the idea...He believes the royal family lost and that nothing can be done for them. He does not think the factious would negotiate." [37]

On October 6, 1793, Axel manages to pay Drouet a visit at the Saint-Elizabeth prison on the slim hope of hearing any news that might be of use. Drouet was the postmaster who recognized Louis on his flight to Varennes and was able to alert the authorities in time to stop them. Beaumont relates the scene from his memoirs:

"Fersen stood with his back to the light, wasted as few words as possible, and was stony in manner; even when both Drouet and the officer had the effrontery to assure him that Madame Capet was very well treated, had all she wished, and was in no danger, he did not comment. Could Madame de Staël have witnessed, she would doubtless have reiterated her usual observation as to his icy coldness of temperament, and his absolute insensitivity and passionless. I should have said that his nerves were strained almost to snapping, and that to see and speak to this Drouet was an almost unbearable test, even of his remarkable self-control. Still, though I imagined I had some idea of how he must be feeling, I was not prepared for him to speak as he did when he was alone with me..." [38]

Only ten days later Marie is executed. Axel hears the news of this while in Brussels:

"Though I was prepared for it and expected it since the transfer to the Conciergerie, I was devastated by the reality. I did not have the strength to feel anything. I went out to talk about this misfortune with my friends and Madame de Fitz-James and the Baron de Breteuil, whom I did not find...I thought about her constantly, about all the horrible circumstances of her sufferings, of the doubt she might have had about me, my attachment, my interest. That thought tortured me." [39]

Later years (1793-1810)[edit]

Fersen returned to Sweden, from where he was forced to watch the ever increasing expansion of the French revolutionary empire.[40] In late-December of 1793 Axel is suspected of possible complicity in Baron Armfeldt’s conspiracy to deprive the Duke of Sudermania of the regency and Axel is deprived of his diplomatic appointments and his post as ambassador. At the end of April 1794, Axel's father dies, leaving Axel with the estate at Ljung and Axel's sister Sophie with the estate at Löfstad.

In November of 1796 Prince Gustav is declared of age and becomes King Gustav IV Adolf. His accession will restore Axel, Arnfelt, and other supporters of the late Gustav III back to favor at court. It is Axel and his best friend Baron Taube who will become two of the most influential advisors to the young king, inculcating in him a "steadfast opposition to Revolutionary France, close relations with Russia, and hostility to Denmark, with the ultimate objective of acquiring Norway".[41]

In November of 1797 Axel attends the Second Congress of Rastatt and meets the famous general Napoleon Buonaparte:

"When I called at his hotel to pay my compliments he asked would I be kind enough to tell him what minister from Sweden is now in Paris. As you know, there is none. My reply was necessarily vague. Then he said that it was astounding that the Court of Sweden should behave in such a manner towards a nation, with which it had been on more or less friendly terms for a long while. Before I had time to respond, he remarked that the Court of Sweden seemed to take a pleasure in sending agents and ambassadors who were personally disagreeable to every French citizen.

“No doubt,” said he, “the king of Sweden would regard with disfavor a French minister who had attempted to raise the people of Stockholm against him. On the same principle, the French Republic ought not to allow men too well known for their connection with the late King and Queen of France to be sent to mock the minister of the first nation on earth.”

It was impossible not to understand this. I felt somewhat as I had felt the day we interviewed Drouet, and I preserved the same apparent indifference. I looked down serenely at M. le Général and merely said that I would make known to my Court what I had just heard; and I left him." [42]

While in Germany Axel makes a trip to Carlsruhe to secure for Gustav IV Adolf the hand of the Princess Friederike of Baden, whom the latter marries in October. In 1799, following his return to Sweden from Germany, Axel is appointed as one of the Lords of the Realm. In the fall of that year there is cause for concern in the Swedish government as many of the middle-class and the students at the University of Uppsala sympathize openly with the revolution in France. After students at Uppsala celebrate the return of Buonaparte to France from his Italian campaigns, Gustav IV Adolf appoints Axel as Chancellor of Uppsala. According to Adlerbeth, this amounts to "a declared French royalist being made the Swedish Jacobins' schoolmaster". Over this winter a wave of rioting occurs in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Norrköping, Linköping, Malmö and other Swedish towns following the onset of a severe winter and famine. Axel writes:

"Who, given the spirit that now prevails, can guarantee that there will not be a general upheaval" [43]

With the state bordering on financial bankruptcy and poor harvests and declining trade undermining his efforts to resolve the issue without recourse to parliament, Gustav Adolf reluctantly announces the first assembling of the Estates of his reign. The Riksdag is held in the provincial city of Norrköping to avert the dangers of meeting in the climate of the capital. In April an attempt to trick the Uppsala orchestra into performing a composition containing an excerpt from the Marseillaise leads to the trial and punishment of four known radicals of the university, one of whom is dismissed. The 'Music trial' proves the deathblow to what remains of Uppsala radicalism of the preceding decade. The Riksdag, meanwhile, dissolves in mid-June, but not before several prominent aristocrats walk out and renounce their noble status. Though creating a much-talked about sensation, they have virtually left a vacuum in the political field which their rivals only too gladly take up.

The next year Axel's mother Hedvig-Catharina de La Gardie dies. In 1801 Axel is appointed Marshal of the Realm. He is the highest official in court of Sweden. Around this time Axel's sister Sophie has returned to Sweden from Germany after the death of Evert Taube, and now takes over Axel's household in lieu of any wife. In 1803 Axel attends the meeting of the Imperial Diet in Dresden. In December 1804 Napoleon is officially crowned Emperor of the French, though he has exercised nearly unchallenged power since his coup in November of 1799. In 1805 Sweden joins the Third Coalition against France.

Swedish politics and Fersen's death[edit]

On May 28, 1810, while reviewing troops in Scania, the Crown Prince Charles August dies from apoplexy. Rumors run strong throughout the country that he has been poisoned by the partisans of Gustav IV, of whom Axel is a personal friend, and Axel and his sister Sophie are fingered as prime suspects. Axel's friend Barrington Beaumont, who has been out of touch with his friend for the past sixteen years, travels to Sweden only five days before the Crown Prince's sudden death. During this time Axel and his sister are being cursed at when they drive their carriage into town and Axel is constantly receiving anonymous death threats.

June 20, 1810 is the date set for the Crown Prince's public funeral. The Light Horse forms the advance guard in the procession; Axel, as Grand Marshal, and other court dignitaries go in coaches before the coffin; while the rear is brought up by a squadron of cavalry which had accompanied the Crown Prince's remains from Scania. Guards are set to parade on the Riddarhustorget. Early in the morning Axel gets into a gilded white coach drawn by six white horses and heads off. Beaumont, who is there to watch him leave, decides to get General Silfversparre to be at the ready in case things get out of hand. The procession, meanwhile, proceeds slowly through the Hornglasse and the Södermalmplatz, but soon is met with threats and insults as soon as it enters the city.[44]

"First curses, then copper coins and various missiles were hurled at the carriage till its windows were broken; then savage threats and showers of stones become continuous, and, at last in the Riddarhustorget, at the instant when the escort was turning to the right, a tremendous crowd barred the way of Fersen's carriage...the [armed forces] remained passive while the rabble unharnessed the horses, and dragged Fersen out of the coach.

Axel, with a violent effort, flung back one of the ruffians who grasped him, and shook himself free of the others who were pressing round. There was a momentary lull; the curses shrank from shouts to mutterings. His face bled where a stone had cut it; his decorations were glittering in the sun; the guards, who were supposed to protect him, gazed at him with a sort of curious expectancy." [45]

It is at this moment when Beaumont arrives on the scene with General Silfversparre and some of his men, and this sight is enough to enrage the large crowd to new lengths. Axel, realizing that the authorities plan to do nothing, turns and dashes into the first door he finds. The crowd converges on this spot and a few run into the house behind him.

"Silfversparre, and I, and our sixteen men were utterly helpless, so tightly were we wedged in the crowd that we might just as well have been blocks of wood for all the power we had of independent movement. We were carried along by the surging crowd, and it seemed to me as though hell were let loose around us." [46]

Before long one man appears at the window, "and with a triumphant shout", hurls down Axel's cloak and sword, which are pounced upon by the angry crowd. Axel is dragged back out into the square. Axel's gloves are pulled off and thrown in his face and his coat torn off of his body and trampled upon. Silfversparre, attempting to save Axel, offers to arrest him and have him tried in court for the Crown Prince's murder. At this moment the guards deliberately turn and trot off, and this act turns the tide for the mob "which had been almost quiet, but now raised yells of delight and triumph, and fell upon Axel".[47]

Fersen's contemporary, Baron Gustaf Armfelt, states afterward that "One is almost tempted to say that the government wanted to give the people a victim to play with, just as when one throws something to an irritated wild beast to distract its attention. The more I consider it all, the more I am certain that the mob had the least to do with it. . . . But in God's name what were the troops about? How could such a thing happen in broad daylight during a procession, when troops and a military escort were actually present?"

Axel von Fersen died that day in Stockholm as formally Sweden’s highest-ranking official next to the King. His death sent shock waves throughout the country. The cause of death was determined to be "crushing of the ribcage" when the Swedish-Finn Otto Johan Tandefelt dressed as a sailor jumped with both feet on Fersen's chest.[48]

Aftermath[edit]

A few months after the murder Axel von Fersen and his family were cleared of any suspicion connected with the death of Carl August of Augustenburg, and he finally received a state burial with all pomp and ceremony. His sister Sophie Piper thereafter withdrew from Stockholm to her Löfstad manor, near Norrköping. Here she raised a memorial to her brother, with the inscription:

Åt en oförgätlig broder, mannamodet uti hans sista stunder den 20 juni 1810 vittna om hans dygder och sinnes lugn (English: To an unforgettable brother, the courage in his last moments on the 20th of June 1810, bears testimony to his virtues and clean conscience)

Fersen's relationship with Marie Antoinette[edit]

The young nobleman was, from the first, a prime favorite at the French court, owing partly to the recollection of his father's devotion to France, but principally because of his own amiable and brilliant qualities. Queen Marie Antoinette, who had first met Fersen when they both were eighteen (January 1774), was especially attracted by the grace and wit of "le beau" Fersen. However, it was nearly four years later on Fersen's second visit to France in the summer of 1778 when the relationship blossomed. Here he was accepted by Marie into her trusted circle and invited to her private gatherings at the Petit Trianon. It seems that the friendship grew very quickly in a short time and caused much jealousy among those at court. By the account of Barrington Beaumont, his friend left for the war in America in the early part of 1780 to avoid causing a scandal as it was known widely that the two were close and it was rumored that he was the Queen's lover.[49] He writes in his memoirs that Axel then asked Creutz to use his influence as Swedish ambassador to France to get him [Axel] appointed as aide-de-camp to Rochambeau. According to Creutz in a letter to Gustav III:

"The young Count Fersen has been so well received by the queen that this has given umbrage to several persons. I own that I cannot help thinking that she had a liking for him; I have seen too many indications to doubt it. The conduct of the young count has been admirable on this occasion for its modesty and reserve, but above all, in the decision he made to go to America. By thus departing he avoided all dangers; but it needed, evidently, a firmness beyond his years, to surmount that seduction. The queen's eyes could not leave him, during the last days, and they often filled with tears." [50]

The idea that somewhere along the line Marie and Axel consummated their love for each other is just speculation, and possibly wishful thinking on the part of some. It is simply impossible to state how far the relationship went. It was difficult for the Queen of France to remain alone for long; she was almost always accompanied by others, such as attendants of the court. Although it is an open question whether their relationship was platonic or not, there are plenty of primary resources available from people that were close to Marie and/or Axel, such as the memoirs of Madame Campan, the Princess Lamballe and Axel's friend Barrington Beaumont, that seem to suggest that it was exactly that. At the time that Marie was rumored to be Axel's lover she was also rumored to be the lovers of the Duc d'Orléans, the Comte d'Artois and others, and there is no shred of truth to those either.

Portrayal in popular culture[edit]

  • In 1938, von Fersen was portrayed by Tyrone Power in the film Marie Antoinette, opposite Norma Shearer as Marie Antoinette.
  • Von Fersen is a major but at the same time a minor character in the 1973 shoujo manga The Rose of Versailles by Riyoko Ikeda, as well as in the anime of the same name. Here, his affair with Marie Antoinette is a source of much of the drama of the period, and a driving cause behind the Queen's aloof behavior.
  • In 2006, von Fersen was portrayed by Jamie Dornan in the film Marie Antoinette.

Further reading[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Barrington, Michael. The Reminiscences of Sir Barrington Beaumont. p. 22. 
  2. ^ Fersen, Axel. The Diary and Correspondence of Count Axel Fersen. pp. 6–7. 
  3. ^ Gade, John Allyne. Under the Golden Lillies. p. 256. 
  4. ^ Fersen, Axel. The Diary and Correspondence of Count Axel Fersen. p. 12. 
  5. ^ Campan, Jeanne-Louise-Henriette. Memoirs of the Court of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France. 
  6. ^ Barrington, Michael. The Reminiscences of Sir Barrington Beaumont. pp. 38–40. 
  7. ^ Schama, Simon. Citizens. p. 175. 
  8. ^ Lamballe, Marie Thérèse. Secret Memoirs of Princess Lamballe. p. 125. 
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