In France, 222 years ago, at exactly the hour I type this post, the Royal family had finished their evening meal and were sitting in the salon of the Tuileries. Talking in low voices, they all awaited the looming hour of ten o’clock. Once the clock struck ten, the orchestrated plan of escape was underway and everything was left to fate. A fate that would topple the monarchy and send Europe into a frenzy of constant struggles for the next 150 years.
It was a quarter before one in the morning of June 21st before Marie Antoinette arrived at the Place du Petit Carrousel (now the intersection of rue de Rivoli and rue de l’Echelle next to the Louvre) where the luxurious yet cumbersome berline of dark green with yellow wheels being driven by her supposed lover, Count Axel Von Fersen, awaited to whisk her and the rest of the royal family off to safety. A feat that required them to travel over 300km from Paris in a lumbering blinged out (cadillac) of a carriage to the fortified small community of Montmedy near the eastern border with Luxembourg. They would indeed travel over half way there before the entire venture collapsed in the little village of Varennes near the Argonne Forest.
One of the most detailed books on the escape is by Stanley Loomis–The Fatal Friendship: Marie Antoinette, Count Fersen and the Flight to Varennes. Every time I read an account of the flight, I have that glimmer of hope the ending turns out different–and that the little family, slowly lumbering along the countryside of France, somehow makes it to safety. Oh how the world would have been drastically altered…yet it wasn’t mean to be.
My route to Varennes was quite unexpected really. While chasing WWI ghosts through the Argonne forests with my husband and mother-in-law, our guide got wind of how fascinated I was with Marie Antoinette and the monarchy. While on our drive through the countryside, I spotted a sign that read “Varennes“. Instantly, I knew there was a connection from my history books, but for some odd reason it didn’t register within my conscious as to why it was so familiar. As our guide kept driving, I kept thinking— “why do I know that name, what happened in that town?” And then there it was…as we crossed the bridge into the village it hit me like a ton of bricks. The flight of the royal family! Our guide had been on the route there the entire day while showing us WWI sites…it was a surprise for me, the chasing French history fanatic!
And this my dear readers, is how you chase history— quaint villages and chance happenings!