Did Marie Antoinette Have an Affair With a Swedish Count?

Everyone’s heard of Marie Antoinette. Everyone associates her with a fabricated quote about cake, ostentatious fashion, and decapitation. More then two centuries after her death, she’s still a pop culture icon, showing up in everything from Katy Perry music videos to Queen songs.

However, some of the more sordid details of her life have remained obscure. In the 18th century, rumors swirled Antoinette was cheating on her husband. Thanks to some scribbled-over letters and x-ray technology, the rumors appear to have been confirmed – and, somehow, an 18th century relative of Princess Diana factors into all this!

A bust of Marie Antoinette | Sergei Karpukhin\TASS via Getty Images

Marie Antoinette’s relationship with a French count

To many French people during the 18th century, Antoinette symbolizes the gross excesses of monarchy better than anyone else. All these years later, her reign as Queen of France isn’t viewed in a better light. Regardless of her failures as a monarch, her love letters make her seem a touch more human than she is often portrayed.

Antoinette had a close relationship with a Swedish count named Axel von Fersen. Fersen’s close relationship with the queen led to speculation among the French people that the two might be lovers. These rumors reinforced the idea Antoinette was immoral and that her husband, Louis XIV, suffered from impotence.

Fersen and Antoinette had some correspondence. From those letters, it should have been easy to understand their relationship. Sadly, parts of Antoinette’s letters to Fersen were redacted by someone who drew scribbles on them. It’s not clear if Fersen or one of his descendants scribbled over the letters.

The contents of the redacted letters

A portrait of Count Axel von Fersen | Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

These redactions made the rumors Fersen and Antoinette had an affair look more plausible to some. After all, why redact a letter unless you have something to hide? People reasonably thought that Fersen or one of his descendants could have scribbled over parts of the letter to preserve Fersen’s honor, Antoinette’s honor, or both.

The rumors remained rumors for some time. However, in 2015, modern technology made it possible to know what Antoinette actually wrote. Thanks to scientific advancements, historians can now distinguish between the original text of the letters and the scribbles. We now know Antoinette did have romantic feelings for Fersen and vice versa.

Antoinette’s words are like those of a Valentine’s Day card. She said “My God, how cruel it is to be so near and not be able to see each other! She also told Fersen “my heart is all yours” and praised him for being so loving. Furthermore, Fensen told her “I love you and will love you madly all my life.”

Did Marie Antoinette have a child with Axel de Fersen?

An engraving of Marie Antoinette | Icas94 / De Agostini Picture Library via Getty Images

Antoinette had a daughter named Sophie who died when she was a little girl. Sophie was often believed to be Louis XIV’s daughter. However, some historians believe the new evidence points to Fersen fathering Sophie out of wedlock.

We now know Antoinette and Fernsen had an affair. In addition, Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire implied Sophie was Fersen’s daughter. Cavendish was a distant relative of Diana, Princess of Wales – a royal whose life and death inspired as much fascination as Antoinette’s. The scrutiny Antoinette and Diana faced for their affairs shows that interest in the sex lives of royals hadn’t waned in the intervening two centuries.

Also see: Queen Victoria Didn’t Believe in Women’s Rights – Or Did She?