On PBS, a delightful British show is aired called “Lucy Worsley’s Royal Myths and Secrets.” It is fascinating for two primary reasons – Worsley focuses on exposing the real truths beneath the myths and she exudes a passion as she invests in each episode.
Each show includes actors portraying smalls skits in the show, in which Worsley will play a sidebar role, as well as scholars who share context and researched observations. The skits add the human side to the scholar’s research and context.
Yesterday, Worsley focused on the French revolution and Marie Antoinette’s role, which is overstated, but still present. A few vignettes that offer context are truly enlightening.
– Antoinette is used as a scapegoat for the financial problems of the country, but the real cause is the French spent 1.5 billion francs to support the American independence effort, which is 2 1/2 times their annual budget of 600 million francs.
– Antoinette liked very extravagat things, but there is no record of her saying “let them eat cake,” which was referenced 50 years later. The saying may have come from an earlier queen.
– Antoinette was Austrian, so the French people did not like her to begin with; she also was more politically shrewd than her husband, Louis XVI and saw the danger of the revolution. This runs counter to the noted saying above which implies ignorance.
– Robespierre is scapegoated for the violence of the revolution, but while he was an idealist, he initially did not favor capital punishment. He argued it did not stop crime. He later said for France to change, the King must be executed, but this was after a power sharing agreement seemed to not be working. Robespierre was executed about two years after Louis XVI.
– While Bastille Day is celebrated for freeing political prisoners, it freed only seven prisoners, all common criminals. Four of these criminals were even rearrested. Yet, the storming of the bastille is an iconic event.
– What should not be forgotten, the first revolution did not free France from autocratic rule. War hero Napolean was made emperor about ten years later. And, after Napolean, a Bourbon king was reinstalled for fifteen more years. So, later change was needed.
This show was particular fascinating. It also showed fake news was alive and well back then. Antoinette cartoons were particulary viscious. And, the revolutionaries downplayed the executions, while loyalists played that up.
A fascinating sidebar is the French revolution inspired others. It was noted Lenin had a statue raised in Russia for Robespierre and, of course, violently ended the lives of the tsar and his family. This was over 120 years later.
We have seen a few shows and, if you love history, you will find these interesting. Even if you don’t, Worsley will make you wish she was your teacher with her enthusiasm.