Marie Antoinette's censored love letters have been read using X-rays

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By Christa Lesté-Lasserre

letter from Queen Marie-Antoinette to Count de Fersen

A missive from Marie Antoinette to Axel von Fersen, dated 4 January 1792, that has been partially redacted


During the throes of the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette expressed her emotion for Swedish number Axel von Fersen done words that are yet readable 230 years later.

Modern scanning exertion has successfully distinguished the ill-fated French queen’s ink from that of von Fersen, who scribbled implicit her substance successful what was astir apt an effort to support his adjacent person and probable lover, says Anne Michelin astatine Sorbonne University successful Paris.

She and her colleagues precocious investigated 15 letters exchanged betwixt Antoinette and von Fersen from 1791 to 1792 astatine the petition of the French National Archives. While the bulk of each missive was readable, definite words oregon sections had been hidden nether heavy penned loops and random letters – Js, Ls, and Ts mostly – intended to censor the document. Forensic units of the French National Police made an unsuccessful effort to uncover the hidden words successful the 1990s, but the exertion of the clip was lacking, says Michelin.

This year, Michelin’s squad utilized X-ray fluorescence scanning to hone successful connected the compositions of metallic elements similar copper, robust and zinc successful the letters’ ink. Because the assorted inks utilized successful the letters contained antithetic ratios of these elements, the researchers were capable to customise their scanning techniques to decipher archetypal words buried nether the layers of looping ink – sometimes needing to set their methods adjacent for a azygous word, which could instrumentality respective hours to scan.

Their analyses besides resolved the enigma of who had censored the letters. By comparing the compositions of the ink utilized for scribbling retired words and that utilized for von Forsen’s ain writing, the researchers confirmed that von Fersen himself had done the redacting.

“There were astir apt governmental reasons for keeping the letters,” says Michelin, adding that they mightiness person been intended to contiguous a much favourable nationalist representation of the queen, who was yet beheaded by guillotine successful 1793. “But von Fersen could person conscionable been precise attached to these letters, arsenic well.”

Marie Antoinette wrote to von Fersen astatine lengths astir governmental concerns of the time, including however the royal household was coping with the revolution, says Michelin. Her censored writing, however, featured much romanticist vocabulary – presumption similar “beloved” and “adore” and intimate phrases similar “No, not without you” and “you, whom I emotion and volition proceed to emotion until my…”.

Extramarital relationships were commonplace passim the past of French royalty, truthful a romance betwixt Marie Antoinette and von Fersen wouldn’t beryllium surprising, says Michelin. Even so, the recently discovered words don’t corroborate that they were lovers.

“Correspondence is ever conscionable 1 portion of the full story,” she says. “We write, but we don’t needfully constitute what we think. And what we constitute tin beryllium exacerbated by melodramatic situations, similar a revolution. The queen was nary longer escaped to determination around, truthful of people that would exacerbate her emotions. You tin truly consciousness that successful her writing.”

Unfortunately, the researchers’ scanning techniques inactive weren’t precocious capable to discriminate the buried words successful 7 of the letters, which stay a mystery, says Michelin.

Journal reference: Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abg4266

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