Marie Antoinette’s Letters to Her Dear Swedish Count, Now Uncensored

The 12 months was 1791, and whereas Marie Antoinette might not have had the favor of the folks of France, she did have a pen pal. Her confidant, Axel von Fersen, was a Swedish rely, and one of many French queen’s shut buddies.

Between the summers of 1791 and 1792, although the queen was stored underneath shut surveillance after a botched escape try, she nonetheless managed to sneak letters to the Depend of Fersen. He copied the letters, which at the moment are held within the French nationwide archives. However between the time the letters had been written and the time they arrived on the archives, some mysterious actor censored the letters, scrawling out phrases and features with tightly looped circles of ink.

The content material of the censored traces — and the identification of the fastidious scribbler — eluded historians for almost 150 years. In a paper printed on Friday within the journal Science Advances, scientists have now revealed the redacted content material of eight of the censored letters between Marie Antoinette and the Depend of Fersen. The researchers used a way referred to as X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, which may detect the chemical signatures of various inks with out damaging paperwork.

The uncensored contents of the letters present the depth of Marie Antoinette’s affections for her shut good friend throughout a time of turmoil. However in a blow to gossips, the contents don’t make clear whether or not they had been having an affair.

Emeline Pouyet, a researcher at Sorbonne College in France who was not concerned with the venture, referred to as the lifted redaction “an actual technical breakthrough” that contributes to the sector of conservation science.

“I feel it’s completely improbable,” mentioned Catriona Seth, a professor of French literature on the College of Oxford who was not concerned with the analysis. “Science is educating us issues we couldn’t have guessed.”

Marie Antoinette, who was executed in 1793, wrote many letters in her life.

Although the content material of the queen’s later correspondence with the rely is regularly political, the letters seize a few of the most excessive moments of her life. “She’s underneath home arrest, she fears for her life, she could also be killed,” Dr. Seth mentioned. “She is writing with this consciousness of her destiny.”

However just a few of the letters had redacted content material, Dr. Seth mentioned. And plenty of historians have questioned whether or not these censored traces may supply new insights into the French queen’s relationship with the Swedish rely.

The letters stayed within the Depend of Fersen’s household till 1877, once they had been printed by the rely’s great-nephew Baron of Klinckowström. Many historians suspect the baron was the letters’ censor, maybe to protect his household’s fame amongst rumors that the Swedish rely and the French queen had been secret lovers.

In 2014, the Nationwide Archives contacted Anne Michelin, an assistant professor on the French Nationwide Museum of Pure Historical past, to see whether or not she would possibly be capable of uncover the textual content.

Researchers can use X-ray tomography, or CT scans, to get well sure hidden texts, such because the inky insides of rolled papyri. These X-rays can visualize the textual content with out damaging the manuscripts.

However the redactions within the Marie Antoinette letters are a special form of beast. The censor scratched out traces utilizing the identical ink as the unique writing, making a black tangle of superimposed ink. The 2 inks didn’t have sufficient chemical distinction for CT scans to detect the underlying textual content. The researchers brainstormed potential strategies that might break by means of the censorship; all however one did not illuminate the redactions.

The tactic that prevailed was X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, or XRF, which differentiated the chemical signature of the ink utilized by the unique creator and the ink utilized by the censor. The preliminary XRF scans revealed that each texts had been etched with metal-gall ink, a standard ink made with iron sulfate. “However the iron sulfate just isn’t pure more often than not,” Dr. Michelin mentioned. “It accommodates different metallic parts, like copper and zinc. With that slight distinction, we are able to differentiate the inks.”

In some letters, copper was current solely within the unique ink, so isolating the component by itself would take away the censor. “So simply with the map of the copper, I can learn the textual content,” Dr. Michelin mentioned.

Different letters proved trickier. With no single elemental smoking gun, the researchers mapped the ratios of sure parts, resembling copper-to-iron, to tell apart between the inks and to disclose the textual content. And extra letters nonetheless evaded deciphering completely, as the unique and redacting inks had been too comparable in composition to be separated.

The ink scans may additionally have uncloaked the true identification of the redactor: not the grandnephew Klinckowström, however the Depend of Fersen himself. The scans confirmed that the rely began utilizing the identical ink to put in writing and redact after 1791. In a single letter, the rely redacted a line and added textual content above it in the identical ink to make sure the road would nonetheless be readable, altering “the letter of the twenty eighth made my happiness” to the milder “the letter of the twenty eighth reached me.” A handwriting skilled confirmed the tweak got here from the rely himself.

The group finally undid the censorship of eight of the 15 whole letters, revealing sentimental shows of affection between the French queen and the Swedish rely: phrases like “beloved,” “tender good friend,” “adore” and “madly.”

“Very clearly, Marie Antoinette has a really deep affection for von Fersen, who at this stage of her existence is without doubt one of the pillars of her affection,” Dr. Seth mentioned.

However Dr. Seth says these moonstruck effusions aren’t proof of a love affair. She in contrast them to the kissy-face emoji.

“You would possibly use it to imply ‘bye’ to a good friend, and but somebody who doesn’t learn about our emoji tradition will assume you have to be deeply in love,” she mentioned.

Apart from, the rely was a busy man.

“He’s nonetheless having an affair with one other lady on the time,” Dr. Seth added.

Earlier than beginning the venture, Dr. Michelin was not conversant in the rumored relationship between the Depend of Fersen and Marie Antoinette. Although she now has extra compassion for the maligned queen, she is considerably uninterested within the rumors.

“All of the queens and all of the kings in France had this love affair,” she mentioned dryly over a Zoom name. “It’s frequent.” | Marie Antoinette’s Letters to Her Expensive Swedish Depend, Now Uncensored

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