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Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution
TimelineGlobal Revolution
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Famous Faces

Swede on the Side: Axel von Fersen

Swede on the Side: Axel von Fersen Hans Axel, Count von Fersen, was a member of the high Swedish nobility, but made his career in the French army.  Born in 1755, he first met Marie Antoinette when she was still the young dauphine and he was a young officer. He went on to fight with the French on behalf of the Americans in the American Revolution, where in 1781, he distinguished himself at the Siege of Yorktown, serving as aide-de-camp to General Rochambeau.  For his valor he was promoted to Colonel . 

On his return to France  he became a regular visitor at Versailles and a favorite of the Queen.  Rumors began to spread that he was Marie Antoinette's lover.  Although historians have never been able to confirm or deny these rumors, it is certain that they  were used to reinforce the idea that the Queen was immoral and the King impotent.

It is also certain that Count von Fersen was loyal to the Queen and the monarchy, while serving his own King, Gustav III.  On the eve of the Revolution, he was sent to Versailles as a member of Sweden's diplomatic corps, following in the footsteps of his father, who had been Swedish ambassador there during von Fersen's youth. 

In June 1791, Axel von Fersen was instrumental in planning the Royal Family's attempted escape from the Tuileries; he even drove their carriage for the first stage of the ill-fated journey that ended with their capture at Varennes. From Brussels, where he fled to the protection of Marie Antoinette's brother, Joseph II, he continued to work on behalf of Marie Antoinette and her family. 

In 1792, he commissioned the drafting of the Brunswick Manifesto, a document signed by a coalition of European powers that threatened to invade Revolutionary France if the Royal Family was harmed.  It was this threat of invasion that triggered the war that pitted Revolutionary France against the monarchies of Europe.  Putting the Revolution on a war footing unleashed a new and powerful form of patriotism, as young men from throughout France were drafted to fight side by side to defend their fragile nation against the rest of Europe. 

Von Fersen's Brunswick Manifesto made the King and Queen without question enemies of this new French Republic that sought to defend itself from foreign invasion in their name.  The war also was used to justify the suspension of law and institution of emergency decrees and tribunals known as the Reign of Terror,  whose most prominent victim would be Marie Antoinette.

Count von Fersen survived the French Revolution, but in 1810 he died a violent death at the hands of a Swedish mob after rumors linked him to the death of the Swedish Crown Prince.

Famous Faces

Rumors and RevolutionThe Teen Queen: Marie AntoinetteHis Royal Hesitancy: Louis XVIThe Iron Fist: Maria TheresaSwede on the Side: Axel von FersenThe Queen's Crony: Princesse de LamballeMonsieur Moneybags: Jacques NeckerPass the Buck Chuck: Charles-Alexandre de CalonneMad Max: Maximilien RobespierreThe Warmonger: Jacques Pierre BrissotDear Abbe: Emmanuel Joseph Siey├ĘsCrooked Cardinal: Cardinal de RohanAmerica's Sweetheart: Marquis de Lafayette
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