The last treasures of France’s doomed queen, Marie Antoinette, are among the 500 artifacts to be auctioned next week by Christie’s in Paris.
The items, which include paintings, furniture, and the last letter written by Marie Antoinette to her sister-in-law, are being sold in order to revive the wealth of the scandalized House of Orleans, descendants of the last monarchs of France.
The story begins nine years ago when the pretender to the French throne, the Comte de Paris, passed away. His son, Prince Henri d’Orleans, believed that he had inherited one of the greatest family fortunes in Europe. At one point, the Orleans family was worth 200 million euros. But instead, when it was revealed to Prince Henri exactly how much he inherited, it was only a measly 12.2 million euros.
Three years after the Comte’s death, Prince Henri brought a complaint before a Paris judge to try to establish the reason for such a dramatic loss of inheritance. Henri d’Orléans explained at the time that he wished to “demand justice and put things back the way they should be”.
His lawyers were unsuccessful, however, in tracing millions of euros withdrawn by his father in the years before his death The inquest did manage to shed some light on the financial side of the Comte’s relationship with his former nurse, Monique Friese, with whom he lived with for 20 years before his death. She is accused by five of his children of having “unduly benefited” from their father’s wealth. That charge mostly stems from the Comte’s purchase of a house for his mistress and the subsequent funds that he spent on upgrading and furnishing the property.
The family is just one of the claimants to the throne, tracing its lineage back to Louis XVI. The Orleanistes, as they are known, are the best documented pretenders, claiming to be descended directly from the last French king, Louis Philippe (1830-1848) and the brother of Louis XVI, who was guillotined along with Marie Antoinette and their only son during the Revolution. Although there are other rival claimants to the throne, the Orleans family has generally been accepted by most French royalists as the most legitimate.
Ironically, it was the obscene expenditure and opulent lifestyle of the last court at Versailles that led in part to the French Revolution of 1789 and the abolition of the monarchy in favour of a republic, although it was later reinstated before being finally axed for good.
Among the artifacts the Orleanistes are auctioning include a silk purse Marie Antoinette worked on during the last days of her life. Ivory colored, with red roses on it, she made the purse while a prisoner in the Temple Palace in 1792. It is the item generating the most excitement in this auction - that, along with a letter Marie Antoinette wrote to Madame Elizabeth, her sister-in-law, on the fateful day of October 16, 1793.
In the celebrated final letter, written just hours before her execution in what is now the Place de la Concorde, Marie Antoinette, by then a wizened woman of 48, wrote: “I pardon my enemies the wrongs that they have done me … I also had friends … Let them know that, to my last moment, I was thinking of them.”
The purse has been estimated to be worth about 15,000 euros. Also up for auction is the quill used by King Louis Philippe to sign the act of abdication in 1848, and rosary beads belonging to his wife, Queen Marié-Amelie, with a much more affordable price tag of 300 – 500 euros.
The entire auction is estimated to be worth only 1 million euros - a far cry from the luxury of years gone by.
Parts of this article comes from the UK newspaper The Independent