Science and Technology

Marie’s hidden love

| Updated on October 10, 2021

How technology helped unearth blacked-out words in the French queen’s love letters

An X-ray machine can see through your body — why can’t it read Marie’s love letters, even the bits that are “for your eyes only”?

“I love you madly,” wrote Marie-Antoinette, queen of France and wife of Louis XVI, to her paramour Axel von Fersen, a Swedish count.

Her letters, historians say, went through several intermediaries before it reached the intended recipient — such was the complexity of an extramarital affair during the tumultous days of the French Revolution.

The few surviving specimens of the secret correspondence show that somebody had blacked out the sweet words that came ripping out of the heart — no doubt, for reasons of discretion. It has been speculated, with some basis, that it was Fersen himself.

But now, technology has laid bare all. The Smithsonian Magazine, quoting a paper published in Science Advances, says X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy helped researchers unearth the hidden words. The technology can tell apart different inks, so the original writing under the blackout was revealed.

Whether Marie-Antoinette, who met her end in 1793 at the thin edge of the guillotine, had a physical relationship with Fersen or it was platonic, has been a matter of speculation and gossip for over two centuries. But there are some secrets that even X-ray fluorescence cannot pierce through.

Published on October 10, 2021

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