Welcome to 'Lost in the Myths of History'
It often seems that many prominent people of the past are wronged by often-repeated descriptions, which in time are taken as truth. The same is also true of events, which are frequently presented in a particular way when there might be many alternative viewpoints. This blog is intended to present a different perspective on those who have often been lost in the myths of history.
Saturday, 24 September 2011
Sophie was destined to witness many grand and tragic events on the national and international stage. A lady-in-waiting, close friend and confidante of the King's sister-in-law, the future Queen Hedvig Elizabeth Charlotte, she was also the confidante of her brother throughout the triumphs and tragedies of his career. Unlike his father, a stubborn proponent of aristocratic resistance to the Swedish monarchy, known for treating Gustav III with outrageous insolence, Axel von Fersen the Younger was a devoted royalist. He loyally served his own sovereign, while championing the cause of the ancien régime throughout Europe in an age of revolution.
During his long sojourns in France, as Gustav's envoy to the court of Louis XVI, Fersen developed a deep personal attachment to the doomed monarch and his consort, Marie-Antoinette, a lady of legendary charm. (Many have claimed that Marie-Antoinette and Fersen became lovers at some point. Yet, although Fersen had many mistresses, there is no proof of a liaison with the Queen.) Gustav III, also an enthusiastic admirer of the royal couple, tried his best to assist them during the French Revolution. Fersen played a central role in these secret diplomatic intrigues, designed to enable Louis XVI to regain control of his realm. Unfortunately, it was all a tragic débacle. Within a brief space of time, Fersen lost the three monarchs he had most loved. Gustav III was shot at a masked ball on March 29, 1792. Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette died on the guillotine, respectively, on January 21, 1793 and October 16, 1793. Fersen poured out his sorrow, mingled with a sense of humiliating failure, to his sister, in sad and desperate letters.
The spirit of revolution, moreover, also spread to Sweden, with terrible consequences for the Fersen family. In 1809, Gustav IV Adolf was deposed, and his ambitious, conniving uncle, Charles XIII installed in his place. Since Charles had no living, legitimate children, the Riksdag selected the Danish nobleman, Carl August of Augustenburg, as his heir. When Carl August died suddenly in May, 1810, the old Gustavian party, including Axel von Fersen and Sophie Piper, were falsely accused of poisoning him. During the funeral ceremonies, on June 20, 1810, Axel was savagely murdered by a mob. Sophie narrowly escaped a similar fate by fleeing Stockholm in disguise. Thankfully, however, an inquest subsequently revealed that the prince had succumbed to natural causes, and the Fersen family were rehabilitated. Axel received an honorable funeral, and Sophie spent her last years at the estate of Löfstad, where she passed away on February 2, 1816. Before her death, she had erected a touching memorial to her brother, bearing the inscription: "Åt en oförgätlig broder, mannamodet uti hans sista stunder den 20 juni 1810, vittna om hans dygder och sinnes lugn" ("To an unforgettable brother, whose courage in his last moments on the 20th of June 1810, bears testimony to his virtues and clean conscience").