Scientists decipher Marie Antoinette’s redacted love notes


WASHINGTON — “Not without you.” “My dear friend.” “You that I love.”

Marie Antoinette despatched these expressions of affection — or extra? — in letters to her shut buddy and rumored lover Axel von Fersen. Someone later used darkish ink to scribble over the phrases, apparently to dampen the effusive, maybe amorous, language.

Scientists in France devised a brand new technique to uncover the unique writing, separating out the chemical composition of various inks used on historic paperwork. They examined their technique by analyzing the personal letters between the French queen and the Swedish depend, that are housed within the French nationwide archives.

That allowed them to learn the unique phrases and even determine the one that scratched them out — Fersen himself.

“It’s always exciting when you discover that you can know more about the past than you thought you could,” stated historian Rebecca L. Spang, who research the French Revolution at Indiana University, and was not concerned within the examine.

The letters have been exchanged between June 1791 and August 1792 — a interval when the French royal household was stored below shut surveillance in Paris, after having tried to flee the nation. Soon the French monarchy could be abolished, and the following 12 months each Marie Antoinette and her husband, Louis XVI, could be beheaded.

This image provided by researchers shows a section of a letter dated Jan. 4, 1792 by Marie-Antoinette, queen of France and wife of Louis XVI, to Swedish count Axel von Fersen, with a phrase (outlined in red) redacted by an unknown censor. The bottom half shows results from an X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy scan on the redacted words. The copper (Cu) section reveals the French words, “non pas sans vous" (“not without you").
This picture offered by researchers reveals a piece of a letter dated Jan. 4, 1792 by Marie-Antoinette, queen of France and spouse of Louis XVI, to Swedish depend Axel von Fersen, with a phrase (outlined in pink) redacted by an unknown censor. The backside half reveals outcomes from an X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy scan on the redacted phrases. The copper (Cu) part reveals the French phrases, “non pas sans vous” (“not without you”).
Anne Michelin, Fabien Pottier, Christine Andraud through AP

“In this time, people used a lot of flowery language — but here, it’s really strong, really intimate language. We know with this text, there is love relationship,” stated Anne Michelin, a fabric analyst on the Sorbonne’s Research Center for Conservation and co-author of the analysis printed Friday within the journal Science Advances.

The wide-ranging letters, penned on thick cotton paper, talk about political occasions and private emotions. The redacted phrases, reminiscent of “madly” and “beloved,” don’t change the general that means, however tone of the connection between the sender and receiver.

Marie Antoinette and Fersen met in France once they have been each 18. They stored in contact till her demise.

“In 18th century western Europe, there’s a kind of cult of the letter as a form of writing that gives you access to a person’s character like no other,” stated Deidre Lynch, a historian who research the interval’s literary tradition at Harvard and was not concerned within the examine.

“Like a metaphorical state of undress, they’ve let their hair down and show are who they really are,” she stated.

But savvy writers have been additionally conscious that their letters could also be learn by a number of audiences. Some correspondents in 18th century Europe famously employed secret codes and so-called “invisible ink” to cover their full that means from sure eyes.

The letters exchanged between Marie Antoinette and Fersen, who by no means married, have been altered after the very fact. Certain parts of textual content have been scribbled out in darkish ink. His household stored the correspondence till 1982, when the letters have been bought by the French nationwide archives.

In eight of the 15 letters the researchers analyzed, there have been enough variations within the chemical composition of the inks — the proportion of iron, copper and different components — that they may map out every layer individually, and thus recuperate the unique textual content.

“This is amazing,” stated Ronald Schechter, a historian who research Marie Antoinette’s library at William & Mary and was not concerned within the examine. He stated that the method may additionally assist historians decipher redacted or censored “phrases and passages in diplomatic correspondence, sensitive political correspondence, and other texts that have eluded historical analysis due to redactions.”

Michelin stated probably the most shocking discovering was that her workforce may additionally determine the one that censored the letters. It was Fersen, who used the identical inks to jot down and redact a number of the letters.

His motivations, nevertheless, stay a matter of hypothesis.

“I bet he was trying to protect her virtue,” stated Harvard’s Lynch. “To throw out her letters would be like throwing out a lock of her hair. He wants two incompatible things: He wants to keep the letters, but he also wants to change them.”