Marie Antoinette was the Austrian wife of King Louis XVI of France. Both were executed in the Revolution. She reportedly had little interest in affairs of state and no understanding of the state the country’s poor or the country’s finances were in, but loved the Versailles gardens and performances in which she pretended to be a shepherdess in an idyllic landscape. She would have been familiar with the pretty but planned and controlled Vienna woods.
Remembering the beautiful woods, from wildness tidied
The invention of a quiet life in fine weather
Escaping courtiers’ whispers about this and that
Some fellow worrying about the state finances
She made herself a shepherdess, and even her heavy husband
Consented to be a shepherd for a day or two.
Meanwhile the grimy vacant-eyed peasants stumbled against starvation
And a little lawyer beyond bribes dreamt of a pure Republic
The wilderness banished from the woods woke up
And all the intricate customs of Vienna and Versailles
Shrivelled in a new dawn over green French hills
That looked for a moment like a troubled channel.
The revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre was a lawyer, small in stature, known before the revolution for being scrupulously honest: he became obsessed by the idea of political purity and could be said to be the father of Western totalitarianism. The Channel (French – La Manche) is the body of water that divided revolutionary and later Napoleonic France from its constant enemy Britain during long wars.