Life In The Temple Prison


The Temple had been, as its name imported, the fortress and palace of the Knights Templars, and, having been erected by them in the palmy days of their wealth and magnificence, contained spacious apartments, and extensive gardens protected from intrusion by a lofty wall, which surrounded the whole. It was not, unfit for, nor unaccustomed to, the reception of princes; for the Count d'Artois had fitted up a portion of it for himself whenever he visited the capital. And to his apartments those who had the custody of the king and queen at first conducted them.

But the new Municipal Council, whom the recent events had made the real masters of Paris, considered those rooms too comfortable or too honorable a lodging for any prisoners, however royal; and the same night, before they could retire to rest, and while Louis was still occupying himself in distributing the different apartments among the members of his family and the few attendants who were allowed to share his captivity, an order was sent down to remove them all into a small dilapidated tower which had been used as a lodging for some of the count's footmen, but whose bad walls and broken windows rendered it unfit for even the servants of a prince.

Besides their meanness and ruinous condition, the number of the rooms it contained was so scanty, that for the first few days the only room that could be found for the Princess Elizabeth was an old, disused kitchen; and even after that was remedied, she was forced to share her new chamber, though it was both small and dark, with her niece, Madame Royale; while the dauphin's bed was placed by the side of the queen's, in one which was but little large. And the dungeon-like appearance of the entire place impressed the whole family with the idea that it was not intended that they should remain there long, but that an early death was preparing for them.

Even this distress was speedily aggravated by a fresh severity. Four days afterward an order was sent down which commanded the removal of all their attendants, with the exception of one or two menial servants. Madame de Tourzel, the governess of the royal children, was driven away with the coarsest insults. The Princess de Lamballe, that most faithful and affectionate friend of the queen, was rudely torn from her embrace by the municipal officers; and, though no offense was even imputed to her, was dragged off to a prison, where she was soon to pay the forfeit of her loyalty with her blood.

From this time forth the king and queen were completely cut off from the outer world. They were treated with a rigor which in happier countries is not even experienced by convicted criminals. They were forbidden to receive letters or newspapers; and presently they were deprived of pens, ink, and paper; though they would neither have desired to write nor receive letters which would have been read by their jailers, and could only have exposed their correspondents to danger.

After a few days they were even deprived of the attendance of all their servants but two—a faithful valet named Cléry (fidelity such as his may well immortalize his name), to whom we are indebted for the greater part of the scanty knowledge which we possess of the fate of the captive princes as long as Louis himself was permitted to live; and Turgy, a cook, who, by an act of faithful boldness, had obtained a surreptitious entrance into the Temple, and whose services seemed to have escaped notice, though at a later period they proved of no trivial importance. [...]

After a time the ingenuity of Cléry found a mode of obtaining for them some little knowledge of what was passing outside, by contriving that some of his friends should send criers to cry an abstract of the news contained in the daily journals under his windows, which he in his turn faithfully reported to them while employed in such menial offices about their persons as took off the attention of their guards, who day and night maintained an unceasing espial on all their actions and even words.

From the very first they had to endure strange privations for princes. They had not a sufficient supply of clothes; the little dauphin, in particular, would have been wholly unprovided, had not the English embassadress, Lady Sutherland, whose son was of a similar age and size, sent in a stock of such as she thought might be wanted. But as the garments thus received wore out, and as all means of replacing them were refused, the queen and princess were reduced to ply their own needles diligently to mend the clothes of the whole family, that they might not appear to their jailers, or to the occupants of the surrounding houses, who from their windows could command a view of the garden in which they took their daily walks, absolutely ragged.

Such enforced occupation must indeed in some degree have been welcome as a relief from thought, which their unbroken solitude left them but too much leisure to indulge. Cléry has given us an account of the manner in which their day was parceled out. The king rose at six, and Cléry, after dressing his hair, descended to the queen's chamber, which was on the story below, to perform the same service for her and for the rest of the family. And the hour so spent brought with it some slight comfort, as he could avail himself of that opportunity to mention any thing that he might have learned of what was passing out-of-doors, or to receive any instructions which they might desire to give him.

At nine they breakfasted in the king's room. At ten they came down-stairs again to the queen's apartments, where Louis occupied himself in giving the dauphin lessons in geography, while Marie Antoinette busied herself in a corresponding manner with Madame Royale. But, in whatever room they were, their guards were always present; and when, at one o'clock, they went down-stairs to walk in the garden, they were still accompanied by soldiers: the only member of the family who was not exposed to their ceaseless vigilance being the little dauphin, who was allowed to run up and down and play at ball with Cléry, without a soldier thinking it necessary to watch all his movements or listen to all his childish exclamations.

At two dinner was served, and regularly at that hour the odious Santerre, with two other ruffians of the same stamp, whom he called his aids-de-camp, visited them to make sure of their presence and to inspect their rooms; and Cléry remarked that the queen never broke her disdainful silence to him, though Louis often spoke to him, generally to receive some answer of brutal insult. After dinner, Louis and Marie Antoinette would play piquet or backgammon; as, while they were thus engaged, the vigilance of their keepers relaxed, and the noise of shuffling the cards or rattling the dice afforded them opportunities of saying a few words in whispers to one another, which at other times would have been overheard.

In the evening the queen and the Princess Elizabeth read aloud, the books chosen being chiefly works of history, or the masterpieces of Corneille and Racine, as being most suitable to form the minds and tastes of the children; and sometimes Louis himself would seek to divert them from their sorrows by asking the children riddles, and finding some amusement in their attempts to solve them.

At bed-time the queen herself made the dauphin say his prayers, teaching him especially the duty of praying for others, for the Princess de Lamballe, and for Madame de Tourzel, his governess; though even those petitions the poor boy was compelled to utter in whispers, lest, if they were repeated to the Municipal Council, he should bring ruin on those whom he regarded as friends. At ten the family separated for the night, a sentinel making his bed across the door of each of their chambers, to prevent the possibility of any escape. [...]

As time passed on, the prospects of the unhappy prisoners became still more gloomy. On the 21st of September the Convention met, and its first act was to abolish royalty and declare the government a republic, and an officer was instantly sent to make proclamation of the event under the Temple walls; and, as if the establishment of a republic authorized an increase of insolence on the part of the guards of the prisoners, the insults to which they were subjected grew more frequent and more gross.

Sentences both menacing and indecent were written on the walls where they must catch their eye: the soldiers puffed their tobacco-smoke in the queen's face as she passed, or placed their seats in the passages so much in her way that she could hardly avoid stumbling over their legs as she went down to the garden. Sometimes they even assailed her with direct abuse, calling her the assassin of the people, who in their turn would assassinate her.

More than once the whole family had to submit to a personal search, and to empty their pockets, when the officers who made the search carried off whatever they chose to term suspicious, especially their knives and scissors, so that, when at work, the queen and princess were forced to bite off the threads with their teeth. And amidst all this misery no one ever heard Marie Antoinette utter a word to lament her own fate, or to ask pity for herself.

She mourned over her husband's fall; she pitied Elizabeth, to whom malice itself could not impute a share in the wrongs of which Danton and Vergniaud had taught the people to complain. Most of all did she bewail the ruined prospects of her son; and more than once she brought tears into Cléry's eyes by the earnest tenderness with which she implored him to provide for the safety of the noble child after his parents should have been destroyed.

The insults increased, each being an additional omen of the future. The most painful injuries were reserved for the queen. Toward the end of October the dauphin was removed from her apartment to that of the king, that she might thus be deprived of the comfort of ministering to his daily wants. But Louis himself was not spared. One day an order came down to deprive him of his sword; on another he was stripped of his different decorations and orders of knighthood.

The system of espial, too, was carried out with increased severity. Their linen, when it came hack from the washer-woman, and even their washing-bills, were held to the fire to see if any invisible ink had been employed to communicate with them. Their loaves and biscuits were cut asunder lest they should contain notes. The end was approaching. A week or two later the king was removed to another tower, and was only permitted to see his family during a certain portion of the day.

At last it was determined to bring him to trial. On the 11th of December he was suddenly informed that he was to be brought before the Convention; and from that day forth he was cut off from all intercourse with his family, even his wife being forbidden to see or hear from him. The barbarous restriction afforded him one more opportunity of showing his amiable unselfishness and fortitude.

The regulation had been made by the Municipal Council, not by the Assembly; and its inhuman and unprecedented severity, coupled with a jealousy of the Council, as seeking to usurp the whole authority of the State, induced the Assembly to rescind it, and to grant permission, for Louis to have the dauphin and his sister with him.

Yet, lest these innocent children should prove messengers of conspiracy between him and the queen and Elizabeth, it was ordered at the same time that, so long as they were allowed to visit him, they should be separated from their mother and their aunt; and Louis, though never in greater need of comfort, thought it so much better for the children themselves that they should be with the queen, that for their sakes he renounced their society, and allowed the decree of the Council to be carried out in all its pitiless cruelty.

While the trial lasted, the queen and those with her had been kept in almost absolute ignorance of what was taking place. They never, however, doubted what the result would be, so that it was scarcely a shock to them when they heard the news-men crying the sentence under their windows —the only mercy that was shown to either the prisoner who was to die, or to those who were to survive him, being that they were allowed once more to meet on earth.

Further reading:
The Life of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France by Charles Duke Yonge