The Children of the Revolution

Izzy Smith – Year 8 Historian

Izzy Smith (Year 8) has written a short story for the Historical Association Historical Fiction Competition 2019. Historical fiction allows students to use their historical imagination to bring the past to life and to creatively fill some of the many gaps left by the written records that have survived. Izzy has effectively captured a really interesting dynamic between personal friendships, family loyalties and political divisions. Mr S Yates


“I am over here Josephine– catch!” Marie Thérèse bellowed fervently, whilst her radiant smile illustrated her thoughts.

Marie Thérèse danced around the manicured lawns, eagerly awaiting my arrival. Deeply opulent were the surroundings, with infinite displays of water fountains and sumptuous sculptures elaborately on display.  Fortunately, this was the place I called work. An escapism from the outside world.  Although my family had huge conflict with the situation, the money somewhat suppressed the discontent. Passionately frustrated, it was challenging for father to understand. He vented his thoughts at all opportunities – often declaring my employees as vultures enjoying the carcass and his comments towards the “Austrian one – Madame Deficit” were equally scathing. With the demands of work, I rarely returned home; when I did, the pressures of life engulfed any moment of happiness.  Mother was deeply aggrieved trying to feed a family when most of the income was absorbed simply buying bread. Watching her youngest child, my brother Victor, looking so terribly ragged and begging for food on the unrestful streets was equally heart breaking. Eva, my dearest elder sister, had married a shop owner and moved to central Paris to be part of the change. Updates would often arrive about her life; her most recent declaring the atmosphere in Paris was changing.

Princess Marie Thérèse was eleven years old and appeared elated to have me as her maid.  With only a couple of years separating our age – an innocent, vibrant friendship grew.  Conversations often evolved around an intrigue and naivety about our two different worlds.

“Why does everyone talk about the desires to be like the American people?” Marie Therese inquisitively asked. Thoughtfully I responded, albeit mindful her parents could have featured significantly in the response.  Father often blamed her parents and their elaborate desire to spend, as a reason for the country’s financial woes and the increasingly heavy tax burden.

“Fairness,” I carefully declared, “people want rights and equality for all citizens.”

“What a marvellous idea! If I were Queen, I would bring equality.” I’m not sure she understood the meaning, although the statement reflected Marie Thérèse. Within the security of the Palace gardens and away from the other servants, “Maid and Princess” didn’t reflect our relationship. Surrounded by walls, the relationship was built on equality and I felt protected from the deep unrest that was circulating.  

Today began like any normal day. We played in the garden, chatted about the enchanting fireworks that have covered the sky the previous week, marking the conclusion to another one of her mother’s parties. Frenziedly, Marie Thérèse’s tutor darted towards us, “You must go inside, there’s a march……thousands of women……. they’re angry about the bread prices, they’re armed with pitch forks and spades. The revolutionaries have joined them – you must go inside Marie.”  

Riddled with anxiety and concern, my thoughts were abruptly interrupted by the vast noise circulating around the Palace.  Marie Thérèse, now surrounded by the protection of her guards, was bundled inside. Reassuringly she glanced at me, like a mother assuring her child, that everything would be okay. Somehow this felt different. Suddenly the noise intensified and as I glared at the palace balcony – there was Marie Thérèse’s mother. Crowds screamed, shouted, cursed at the Queen and she bowed her head but surprisingly did not look fearful at the people below baying for her blood.  October 6th 1789, Marie Thérèse and I unknowingly said our farewells.

Life became very different after that day. Emphatically, my parents snatched the opportunity to move to central Paris with my sister. The apartment was cramped but the rampage on the dark, winter Paris streets appeared to inject life into the rest of the family. Father seemed excited about the brutal massacres and repeatedly joined the crowds watching the guillotine in action. Witnessing the death of the aristocrats and clergy gave him deep satisfaction. “Unity,” became his new voice. Fear of my past was the only dark cloud that loomed over the family. Dominantly, father declared the day we left for Paris, my work was never to be spoken about. True to his word, my time at the Palace became a ghost of the past.  Perpetually, my inner thoughts always wondered to my dear friend. I longed to tell the young child, how I loathed the revolution. I didn’t feel I ever belonged to the unity.

Glistening snow engulfed Paris that winter morning, a sweet smell of quietness rebelliously forced itself over the morning market. Startled by footsteps, a hooded man brushed passed me and hand delivered a white envelope.

12th February 1796

My Dearest Josephine,                                                                                   

We never did say “au revoir” so I wanted to take this opportunity. New beginnings await us. Life over the past seven years has made me deeply unhappy. Losing my family has left a hole in my heart forever.  Many stories I have heard about them, especially mother, have been cruel. The cry of my brother will haunt me forever. To know you are living has shone light on a deep darkness. I have deeply missed our friendship, our conversations, they seem to make so much more sense now.  The man who passed you the letter will wait until midnight. Let our friendship flow from where we left off and I will be forever humble if you will join me in Vienna. If the request is too great, sincerely with all my heart, I wish you and your family a deep happiness in this ever-changing world we now face.

Yours Forever,

Marie Thérèse

Izzy Smith (Year 8)

[Cover image: Bibliothèque Nationale de France – labelled for reuse]

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