Science & Nature

Secret phrases exchanged between Marie Antoinette and rumored lover uncovered in redacted letters

A photo of a partially-redacted page of a letter Marie Antoinette wrote to Fersen on January 4, 1792.



A photograph of a partially-redacted web page of a letter Marie Antoinette wrote to Fersen on January 4, 1792.
(Image credit score: @CRC)

“Beloved,”http://www.livescience.com/”madly” and “tender good friend” are among the many censored phrases scientists not too long ago uncovered in a sequence of secret letters Marie Antoinette exchanged along with her shut good friend — and rumored lover — Swedish rely Axel von Fersen.

Von Fersen and Antoinette, queen of France and spouse of King Louis XVI, exchanged a handful of secretive letters over the span of a 12 months within the late 18th century, throughout the French Revolution. By the time historians bought their palms on among the letters that von Fersen had saved, which have been bought from the Fersen household archive and are actually saved within the French Archives, somebody had marked out sure phrases and phrases.

Now, a bunch of French researchers has uncovered passionate language within the censored phrases in eight of 15 letters exchanged between the 2. An evaluation of the ink means that von Fersen himself censored Antoinette’s letters and drafts of his personal, in line with the findings, revealed Oct. 1 within the journal Science Advances

Related: Did Marie Antoinette actually say ‘Let them eat cake’?

The authors have been cautious to not make drastic conclusions about Antoinette and von Fersen’s rumored romantic relationship, although a relationship is “fairly apparent,” stated lead writer Anne Michelin, a researcher on the Conservation Research Center in France. 

But “the letters are just one side of this relationship,” and the emotions that they categorical of their writings might have been intensified by the disaster round them, Michelin instructed Live Science in an e mail.

Photo of a redacted passage of a letter dated to January 4,1792 (left) and superimposition of the uncovered language beneath the redactions (right).

Photo of a redacted passage of a letter dated to January 4,1792 (left) and superimposition of the uncovered language beneath the redactions (proper). (Image credit score: @CRC)

Behind the ink

To uncover the writing behind the redactions — tight swirls of darkish scribbles sophisticated by the addition of additional letters to throw off the reader — the researchers used a way referred to as X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF). 

The XRF scanner directs X-rays onto the picture, thrilling the atoms which can be current within the ink, which then emit distinctive wavelengths that permit researchers to determine which atoms are current in every pixel. They can then create a sequence of photographs during which the pixels are solely stuffed in if a sure wavelength — corresponding with a particular ingredient — is current.

Imagine that you just wrote the phrase “love” in an ink that is made up solely of copper and then you definitely scribbled over it with an ink that is made up solely of iron. If you scanned this piece of redacted writing for iron, this system would output a bunch of scribbles; however if you happen to scanned it for copper, the phrase “love” would seem.

Of course, that is a extremely simplified instance and the ink used within the letters and the redactions are made up of a mixture of parts. In the letters, the researchers regarded for variations within the ratios of copper to iron and zinc to iron. 

The XRF scanner analyzing Marie Antoinette's letter to Count Fersen, dated to September 26, 1791.

The XRF scanner analyzing Marie Antoinette’s letter to von Fersen, dated to September 26, 1791. (Image credit score: @CRC)

They discovered that among the redactions have been simply phrases resembling “amour” or “love,” and a few of them have been phrases resembling “ma tendre amie,” or “my tender good friend.” Some have been even longer, resembling “pour le bonheur de tous trois” which interprets to “for the happiness of all three” and “non pas sans vous,” which interprets to “not with out you.” 

Their methodology didn’t work in recovering the censored writing in seven of the paperwork as a result of each inks had very related composition, making it “inconceivable” to learn the underlying phrases, the authors wrote. Curators and historians are actually supervising the transcription of the total paragraphs that have been revealed.

“A incredible job…I believe the photographs converse for themselves,” stated Joris Dik, a professor and head of the Materials Science and Engineering division on the Delft University of Technology within the Netherlands, who was not concerned within the research. Dik and his colleagues at Antwerp University have been the primary to develop the XRF spectroscopy method about 10 years in the past, to scan for hidden photographs in massive surfaces resembling work.

Funerary monuments of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette at the Basilica of St. Denis in Saint-Denis, France.

Funerary monuments of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette on the Basilica of St. Denis in Saint-Denis, France.   (Image credit score: Sylvain Sonnet/Getty Images)

Who did it?

Next, the researchers tried to determine the scribbler. The fundamental speculation within the area was that the censor was seemingly somebody in von Ferson’s household — maybe to protect their fame — resembling his great-nephew.

But when the researchers additional analyzed the ink of the redactions, they stumbled on a unique story. 

With handwriting evaluation, they first found that lots of the letters that have been supposedly written by Antoinette have been truly copies of her letters written by von Fersen. Copying letters was frequent apply on the time for record-keeping, however he may have additionally copied them for political causes. If Antoinette’s letters had been encrypted, von Fersen might have copied them as he decoded them. “In instances of disaster, for his or her safety, it’s generally essential that the authors of the letters can’t be recognized,” Michelin stated.

They in contrast the composition of these inks utilized by von Fersen with the redaction inks and located that the composition of the redaction ink was the identical because the writing ink in one other letter. 

Related: How many French revolutions have been there?

“The coincidence was too large,” Michelin stated. What’s extra, in a single letter, von Fersen added a couple of phrases — a specialist confirmed it was his handwriting — above a redacted passage in the identical ink because the redaction. The redacted textual content learn “the letter of the twenty eighth reached me,” whereas the preliminary textual content was “the letter of the twenty eighth made my happiness.”

It’s not clear why von Fersen would have chosen to redact and preserve these letters reasonably than do away with them. “Perhaps this correspondence was vital to him for sentimental causes or for political methods,” Michelin stated. We can think about that he needed to maintain the correspondence in regards to the political scenario — quite a few passages within the letters are about this — maybe to have the ability to present it to folks from overseas royal courts to defend Marrie Antoinette’s place, she added.

If von Fersen is certainly the censor, and used the identical ink, “this is able to clarify why the final letters couldn’t be learn,” the authors wrote. The composition of the redaction ink and the composition of the ink within the letters written by von Fersen appear to be the identical from December 1791 to May 1792, which is why these redactions have been unreadable. Their methodology works, each Michelin and Dik famous, provided that the compositions of the 2 inks are totally different. 

So whereas “it isn’t a strong resolution that solves all circumstances,” this research makes large progress within the area of analyzing redacted texts, stated Matthias Alfeld, an assistant professor for X-rays in Art and Archaeology additionally within the supplies science and engineering division on the Delft University of Technology, who was not a part of the research. The authors employed an affordable strategy, bought reliable outcomes and total, it is excellent work, he instructed Live Science in an e mail.

Now, Michelin and her group hope to make use of synthetic intelligence to assist them decipher among the poorer high quality texts that they uncovered beneath the redactions. 

Originally revealed on Live Science.

Yasemin Saplakoglu

Yasemin is a workers author at Live Science, overlaying well being, neuroscience and biology. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Science and the San Jose Mercury News. She has a bachelor’s diploma in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a graduate certificates in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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