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In this painting by Joseph Kranzinger Marie Antoinette is 16 years old. It was only later that the Marie Antoinette letters of love were written to the count, when she was unhappy in her marriage.   Source: Joseph Kranzinger / Public domain

X-ray Reveals Someone Censored Marie Antoinette’s Letters

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A team of scientists has x-rayed Marie Antoinette’s letters to the Swedish count, Axel von Fersen, which were part of an affair as Marie was married at the time. Now, not only has a new way to unveil redacted content from ancient letters has been discovered, but rumors have been confirmed that the queen was cheating on her husband, the king of France no less!

The rumored “love letters” were exchanged between Marie Antoinette and the Swedish count, Axel von Fersen, during the French Revolution between 1791–92. An article in ArsTechnica explains that redacted sections of the letters have now been disclosed using a new x-ray scanning method. The identity of the unknown censor has puzzled historians for 150 years, but now, “X marks the spot!” according to Daily Mail , as a new x-rays of ink composition have allowed researchers to read the controversial redactions.

In this part of Marie Antoinette’s letter of 4 January 1792 to the count the copper elemental map revealed the original words “non pas sans vous.” (Anne Michelin / Science Advances)

In this part of Marie Antoinette’s letter of 4 January 1792 to the count the copper elemental map revealed the original words “non pas sans vous.” (Anne Michelin / Science Advances )

The Forensics Behind Marie Antoinette’s Letter Censorship

Love. We’ve all dreamed about it, felt it and lost it. When most of us were children our parents were completely confused as to what love actually is. Innocently, they peddled us fairytale notions of an elusive magical force, knowing nothing of the high levels of dopamine and norepinephrine that are released during attraction to make us stay together long enough to procreate. These chemicals make us euphoric, energetic, creative and even giddy from time to time. But when it came to Marie Antoinette, well she was so “in love” it is a wonder she could eat or sleep. And chemicals have now revealed she was a cheating wife in love with another.

The team of researchers from Paris's Centre de Recherche sur la Conservation (CRC) have published a new paper about some of Marie Antoinette’s letters in the journal Science Advances . They scanned a collection of secret love letters that were exchanged between Marie Antoinette and Swedish Count Axel von Fersen and distinguished the different types of inks used in the original text, and in the redactions. The words “beloved,” “madly” and “adore” emerged from the scans, which stand testimony to how smitten the lovers had become. However, many of the letters were found to be copies.

Swedish Count Axel Fersen in a portrait by Carl Frederik von Breda. (Carl Frederik von Breda / Public domain)

Swedish Count Axel Fersen in a portrait by Carl Frederik von Breda. (Carl Frederik von Breda / Public domain )

Tracking Down The Anonymous Love Censor

The new x-ray method used to make these discoveries is called fluorescence spectroscopy micro scanning. This non-destructive analysis technique peers deep into chemical structures, and team leader, chemist Anne Michelin, told CNN that they applied the technique to 15 redacted sections of the collection of 8 historical letters. By charting the ratios of chemical variations in the inks, between “copper-to-iron and zinc-to-iron,” the researchers revealed the original underlying text.

Bringing light to the most complicated sections of these 8 sections of redacted text, the researchers applied “multivariate statistical analyses.” This subdivision of statistics represents the observation and analysis of more than one outcome variable. In this case, the method analyzed the two different inks, distinguishing how they related to each other.

It turned out that the same inks were used to write some of the supposed letters “from” Marie, and that same ink was used to make many of the redactions. Thus, many of the love letters were copies that the count had made himself, revealing he was the anonymous person who had censored the content with redactions from the original letters from Marie Antoinette. But why would the count do such an apparently bizarre thing as to rewrite love letters from a queen?

In this letter from the count to Marie Antoinette on 13 October 1791 two methods were combined to reveal the text “ma tendre amie.” (Anne Michelin / Science Advances)

In this letter from the count to Marie Antoinette on 13 October 1791 two methods were combined to reveal the text “ma tendre amie.” (Anne Michelin / Science Advances )

A Count Protecting The Integrity Of A Cheating Queen

The researchers concluded that even though they know Count Fersen was the censor of the letters, the question remains outstanding as to whether the copies with the redactions were made for sentimental reasons or if this was all part of a greater political strategy . The team speculates in their paper that maybe the count wanted to “protect the honor” of the cheating queen. But they also consider that the count was maybe also protecting his own interests. Like, perhaps he knew his head would have been on a chopping-block if the affair had been made public.

We really should, however, wrap this up with Marie Antoinette . While everyone associates her with ostentatious fashion, and decapitation, this new way to analyze old letters has revealed that behind the charade, Antoinette was a cheat, unhappy in marriage , and lying to her husband and indeed an entire nation. Sometimes, not even the world is enough to satisfy a love hormone saturated heart.

Top image: In this painting by Joseph Kranzinger Marie Antoinette is 16 years old. It was only later that the Marie Antoinette letters of love were written to the count, when she was unhappy in her marriage.   Source: Joseph Kranzinger / Public domain

By Ashley Cowie

Comments

Invisihole's picture

The line "let them eat cake" has been attributed to the work of  Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Although before the translation it was "let them eat Brioche" and a fictional character is quoted to saying it. Some people attribute the works of Rousseau to fueling the revolution. At any rate, prior to the revolution women were allowed, for a lack of a better word, power- unofficially. The revolution with its numerous objectives, wanted to see the women in a more subservient manner. One way to do that was to portray the women who previously yielded such power as lustful, greedy, emotionally stunted or fueled, and untrustworthy. A large smear campaign. And it worked, the misconceptions rule to this day.

Hi All,

I mentioned History Channel's Documentary The French Revolution it is up on ytube an narrated by late actor star of Gilmore Girl's Edward Hermann. It's about 1:30.22.

Also Historian Lucy Worsley who I believe has an excellent way in helping History to Come too Life.

Lucy dresses up in the period involving The People an Royalty in Europe; often acting as an minor Footmen, manservant, maid servant an other times Scullery Maid all the while teaching about that Period in History.

It was through Lucy Worsley I found out Maria Antoinette never said Let them eat Cake it was King Louis the XIV Wife who said it. An that Robespierre was an Abolitionist an believed in The Right's of Jews living in France.

I looked up The French Revolution on ytube to make certain what The Historians an Scholars had said about King Louis the XVI an Maria's Love Life was right.

Yes it was correct.

In fact, I was reminded King Louis didn't even touch Queen Maria the night of their wedding. Both Louis an Maria were in fact Children Spouses. It's possible not something Louis was ready for Emotionally, Mentally what with Him being 15 of Age.

Considering the circumstances I'm not surprise Maria sought comfort from a boyfriend she probably loved before Louis XVI. Those days from Royal Princess an Non-Royal women had little say in who they were too Marry.

An Women weren't supposed to have longing's, desires, an needs in the way men did.

Well until next discussion Everyone, Goodbye!

Hi All,

2004, History Channel aired The French Revolution an although, I've been warned by many a History Channel "Can't trust History Channel; because they don't always share the Truth", that's fairly true.

When a History Teacher assigns me A Text Book for that same class which says the exact same thing the Historians an Scholars on History Channel regarding specific Subjects my class happens to be Studying then maybe there's something to the Topics at hand.

According to The History Channels' Documentary about The French Revolution shared that The King of France was only ever interested in Food, Not Sex, He ignored the very sight of Maria Antoinette.

It was such a problem indeed that Maria's own mother in Prussia once exclaimed if my daughter can't arouse The King what can? Modern standards of today could figure out King Louis XVI problem since that was the case.

According to the documentary pertaining to The French Revolution King Louis the XVI had to undergo an delicate operation so the French King would have an Heir.

However, if this quote Scarlet Letter is proof of The Queen having an Affair most likely King Louis XVI had no Interest in Maria after the two children were born.

It wasn't scandalous when King's of Europe did what she did but for Maria How Dare She?

An with that I'll lay this conversation too rest an sign off with until next discussion Everyone, Goodbye! Again, I watched a Documentary on The History Channel/ The French Revolution.

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