The yr was 1791, and whereas Marie Antoinette could not have had the favor of the folks of France, she did have a pen pal. Her confidant, Axel von Fersen, was a Swedish rely, and one of many French queen’s shut buddies.
Between the summers of 1791 and 1792, although the queen was saved underneath shut surveillance after a botched escape try, she nonetheless managed to sneak letters to the Depend of Fersen. He copied the letters, which are actually held within the French nationwide archives. However between the time the letters have been written and the time they arrived on the archives, some mysterious actor censored the letters, scrawling out phrases and features with tightly looped circles of ink.
The content material of the censored strains — and the identification of the fastidious scribbler — eluded historians for almost 150 years. In a paper printed on Friday within the journal Science Advances, scientists have now revealed the redacted content material of eight of the censored letters between Marie Antoinette and the Depend of Fersen. The researchers used a method known as X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, which might detect the chemical signatures of various inks with out damaging paperwork.
The uncensored contents of the letters present the depth of Marie Antoinette’s affections for her shut buddy throughout a time of turmoil. However in a blow to gossips, the contents don’t make clear whether or not they have been having an affair.
Emeline Pouyet, a researcher at Sorbonne College in France who was not concerned with the venture, known as the lifted redaction “an actual technical breakthrough” that contributes to the sector of conservation science.
“I feel it’s completely unbelievable,” stated Catriona Seth, a professor of French literature on the College of Oxford who was not concerned with the analysis. “Science is educating us issues we couldn’t have guessed.”
Marie Antoinette, who was executed in 1793, wrote many letters in her life.
Although the content material of the queen’s later correspondence with the rely is ceaselessly political, the letters seize a number of the most excessive moments of her life. “She’s underneath home arrest, she fears for her life, she could also be killed,” Dr. Seth stated. “She is writing with this consciousness of her destiny.”
However only some of the letters had redacted content material, Dr. Seth stated. And plenty of historians have puzzled whether or not these censored strains might provide new insights into the French queen’s relationship with the Swedish rely.
The letters stayed within the Depend of Fersen’s household till 1877, after they have been printed by the rely’s great-nephew Baron of Klinckowström. Many historians suspect the baron was the letters’ censor, maybe to protect his household’s fame amongst rumors that the Swedish rely and the French queen had been secret lovers.
In 2014, the Nationwide Archives contacted Anne Michelin, an assistant professor on the French Nationwide Museum of Pure Historical past, to see whether or not she would possibly be capable to uncover the textual content.
Researchers can use X-ray tomography, or CT scans, to get better sure hidden texts, such because the inky insides of rolled papyri. These X-rays can visualize the textual content with out damaging the manuscripts.
However the redactions within the Marie Antoinette letters are a distinct kind of beast. The censor scratched out strains utilizing the identical ink as the unique writing, making a black tangle of superimposed ink. The 2 inks didn’t have sufficient chemical distinction for CT scans to detect the underlying textual content. The researchers brainstormed potential strategies that would break via the censorship; all however one did not illuminate the redactions.
The tactic that prevailed was X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, or XRF, which differentiated the chemical signature of the ink utilized by the unique creator and the ink utilized by the censor. The preliminary XRF scans revealed that each texts had been etched with metal-gall ink, a standard ink made with iron sulfate. “However the iron sulfate shouldn’t be pure more often than not,” Dr. Michelin stated. “It accommodates different metallic components, like copper and zinc. With that slight distinction, we are able to differentiate the inks.”
In some letters, copper was current solely within the authentic ink, so isolating the ingredient by itself would take away the censor. “So simply with the map of the copper, I can learn the textual content,” Dr. Michelin stated.
Different letters proved trickier. With no single elemental smoking gun, the researchers mapped the ratios of sure components, comparable to copper-to-iron, to differentiate between the inks and to disclose the textual content. And extra letters nonetheless evaded deciphering solely, as the unique and redacting inks have been too related in composition to be separated.
The ink scans might also have uncloaked the true identification of the redactor: not the grandnephew Klinckowström, however the Depend of Fersen himself. The scans confirmed that the rely began utilizing the identical ink to put in writing and redact after 1791. In a single letter, the rely redacted a line and added textual content above it in the identical ink to make sure the road would nonetheless be readable, altering “the letter of the twenty eighth made my happiness” to the milder “the letter of the twenty eighth reached me.” A handwriting skilled confirmed the tweak got here from the rely himself.
The group finally undid the censorship of eight of the 15 complete letters, revealing sentimental shows of affection between the French queen and the Swedish rely: phrases like “beloved, tender buddy, adore and madly.”
“Very clearly, Marie Antoinette has a really deep affection for von Fersen, who at this stage of her existence is among the pillars of her affection,” Dr. Seth stated.
However Dr. Seth says these moonstruck effusions aren’t proof of a love affair. She in contrast them to the kissy-face emoji.
“You would possibly use it to imply ‘bye’ to a buddy, and but somebody who doesn’t find out about our emoji tradition will assume you have to be deeply in love,” she stated.
Apart from, the rely was a busy man.
“He’s nonetheless having an affair with one other girl on the time,” Dr. Seth added.
Earlier than beginning the venture, Dr. Michelin was not conversant in the rumored relationship between the Depend of Fersen and Marie Antoinette. Although she now has extra compassion for the maligned queen, she is considerably disinterested within the rumors.
“All of the queens and all of the kings in France had this love affair,” she stated dryly over a Zoom name. “It’s widespread.”