THE OPENING OF THE ESTATES GENERAL (1789)

 

[Madame de Campan, one of the queen's ladies in wait­ing, gives some account in her well-known Memoirs of the arrival of the deputies of the third estate and of their prejudice against Marie Antoinette and the court.]

 

The Estates General opened May 4. For the last time the queen appeared in royal magnificence. . . . The first session of the Estates was held next day. The king deliv­ered his address with assurance and dignity.. The queen told me that he gave the matter much attention, and rehearsed his speech frequently in order to be quite master of the intonations of his voice. His Majesty gave public indica­tions of his attachment and deference for the queen, who was applauded; but it was easy to see that the applause was really meant for the king alone.

 

From the very early sessions it was clear that Mirabeau would prove very dangerous to the government. It is alleged that he revealed at this time to the king, and more particu­larly to the queen, a part of the plans he had in mind, and the conditions upon which he would abandon them. He had already exhibited the weapons with which his eloquence and audacity furnished him, in order that he might open negotiations with the party he proposed to attack. This man played at revolution in order to gain a fortune. The queen told me at this time that he asked for an embassy, - Con­stantinople, if I remember rightly. He was refused with that proper contempt which vice inspires, but which policy would doubtless best have disguised, if the future could have been foreseen. [NOTE: The queen abhorred Mirabeau, who had scandalized even the court by his private immorality.]

 

The general enthusiasm which prevailed during the early sessions of the Assembly, the discussions among the depu­ties of the third estate and nobility, and even of the clergy, filled their Majesties and those attached to the cause of monarchy with increasing alarm. . . . The deputies of the third estate arrived at Versailles with the deepest prejudices against the court. The wicked sayings of Paris never fail to spread throughout the provinces. The deputies believed that the king indulged in the pleasures of the table to a shameful excess. They were persuaded that the queen exhausted the treasury of the state to gratify the most unrea­sonable luxury.

 

Almost all wished to visit the Little Trianon [A simple little pleasure house in a secluded part of the gardens at Versailles.] The ex­treme simplicity of this pleasure house did not correspond with their ideas. Some insisted that they be shown even the smallest closets, on the ground that some richly furnished apartments were being concealed from them. At last they designated one which they declared was said to be decorated throughout with diamonds and twisted columns set with sapphires and rubies. The queen could not get these silly ideas out of her head and told the king about them. He thought, from the description of the room furnished to the guards in the Trianon, that the deputies had in mind the decoration of imitation diamonds in the theater at Fontaine­bleau constructed in Louis XV's reign.