prisoners of conciergerie


That time in eighteenth-century France when Barbara and the Doctor had a post-Aztecs followup chat about time-travel. And I loved it for the following reasons:

  • This is the first historical since The Aztecs, but what this conversation makes clear is that he and Barbara have talked about it since, and several times by the sound of it. 
  • While Ian continues to be the Doctor’s Science Bro, it’s clear that the Doctor’s relationship with Barbara is to a large extent grounded in the fact that they have both learned their lesson about time-travel and history the hard way. Or at least it’s heavily implied in The Aztecs:

(Gifs by Cleowho)

  • The Doctor doesn’t say ‘my position’; he says ‘our position’. He may be the more experienced time-traveller, but he considers Barbara to be a fellow traveller now. They have a genuine friendship these days, and a large part of that is because they both ‘get’ time travel, despite her still having a lot to learn. In fact what’s particularly lovely about their friendship is that they’re far more similar than they could ever have suspected at the start when Barbara was busy administering assorted verbal eviscerations.
  • The fact that all they can do is not get swept away with the tide of history bothers the Doctor, but what bothers and saddens him more is the fact that Barbara appears to be going through one of the however-many stages of learning how to be a time-traveller, which is moving past the frustration of not being able to change anything to simply finding everything absurd. And when at the end of the episode everyone (especially Barbara) is so flippant about the pointlessness of their actions when everything’s already been written, it bothers him. His insistence that they not get carried away with the flood, and his beautiful little speech at the end of the serial about their lives being important if only to themselves isn’t just about selfishness and self-preservation; it’s about not allowing the predetermined nature of history to render your life devoid of meaning. 

The Parallels between Marie Antoinette and Alexandra Feodorovna

Almost 117 years separate the births of Maria Antonia of Austria and Alix of Hesse, who became Queen Marie Antoinette of France and Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia respectively, but there are some eerie similarities and parallels to be drawn between these two most unfortunate woman. 

1. German Identity

Both these woman were German born (In Marie Antoinette’s time, Austria was still part of the German Confederation.) and in each case this accident of birth were to haunt them in later years when their adopted countries went to war with their countries of Birth

 Marie Antoinette was called “l’autrichienne”, meaning “ the Austrian or Austrian Bitch. She was accused of selling state secrets to her two brothers who succeeded each other as Holy Roman Emperor, Joseph and Leopold.

Alexandra was named the German Bitch, or German Spy. She was also accused of selling state secrets to her cousin, Wilhelm II. Even though Alix always maintained that she was more English than German, it was her German background that she was most associated with in the end.

2. Formative years

Both Marie Antoinette and Alexandra were the youngest daughters of their parents (Alexandra, being the youngest surviving daughter) and both would come to attain the grandest position of all their sisters.

  Both woman had very strong female figures in their lives while growing up. Marie Antoinette’s mother was, after all, Empress Maria Theresa who against all odds succeeded in keeping the Holy Roman Empire in tact in the face of adversity during the war of the Austrian Succession, showing that although she was a woman, she had the mind and heart equal to any King. Alexandra was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, who took over all responsibility of her education after the death of Princess Alice.

Both woman lost a beloved parent at an early age. Emperor Francis I died when Marie Antoinette was almost 10 years old and Alexandra lost her mother at the age of 6.

3. Preparation for fulfilling their future roles.

As the youngest daughter and 15th child, Marie Antoinette’s education was neglected and not up to scratch. When Maria Theresa started negotiations for the marriage of her daughter, she realised this lapse in care on her part and a hard and intense crash course was provided to the young archduchess to try and fill the gaps and prepare her for her role as Queen of France. Even though Marie Antoinette learned the french language and could speak it continually better, she retained a slight german accent. 

Alexandra, who had a better overall general education also had to undergo an intense crash course to prepare her as empress since her future father in law fell ill and died unexpectedly quick before she had enough time to really learn all the intricacies of the Russian court nor did she ever learn to speak Russian fluently.

4. Adaption to their new situations

Both woman grew up in relatively relaxed and informal courts, where there was a separation between formal state occasions and informal private family life, and both married  into extremely formal courts with very stiff etiquette and a rigid protocol to follow.

Marie Antoinette was known to rebel against the strict rules and make fun of and ridicule the over pompous ceremony that formed her new life. She loathed living every moment  of every day in full view of the hordes who came to watch her dress in the morning, eat breakfast, lunch and dinner and then again undress at night. She would eventually spend more and more time secluded in her private residences, the Petite Trianon in the park of Versailles and the Chateau of Saint Cloud.

Alexandra also hated the ceremonial life, in her case due to debelitating shyness, which came across as arrogance to her court. Neither was there much love lost between Alexandra and her inlaws and the courtiers. Alexandra viewed them as loose, immoral and debauched libertines, whereas they viewed her as a stiff, uncultured and arrogant prude. In response to the hostility she experienced at court, she secluded her family and herself in the Alexander Palace, performing and attending very little ceremonies and functions, pleading ill health as an excuse. 

5. “Inappropriate” Friendships

Marie Antoinette ruffled many a feather when she formed close friendships with courtiers deemed of insufficient rank. The system at versailles gave certain rights and privileges to certain ranks of the courtiers, the best going to the highest ranking and descending from there on down. Many high ranking courtiers became disgruntled that they should be excluded from salons and other gatherings, such as house parties and picnics, given by the dauphine, and later the queen, where they had a certain right to attend. Many of them started damaging and malicious rumors about the queen ranging from wild sex orgies to lesbianism with her friends, the Duchess de Polignac and the Princess de Lamballe.

Alexandra, with her distaste of the irreputable aristocrasy and her sense of discomfort in her new family, who she felt judged her as definitely not up to par to being Tsarina, formed close friendships with people from the minor nobility. To a court who centered their whole existence around the Tsar and Tsarina, they felt robbed of their way of life and created many enemies of Tsarina. It was the seemingly intimate friendship with a peasant who claimed to be a holy man, namely Grigory Rasputin,  that sparked the most scurrilous rumours and in the end helped to ruin Alexandra’s reputation entirely.

6. Weak Husbands

Louis XVI was a dear and genuinely good person, but a terrible ruler. He lacked any form of backbone and majestic presence. He felt the burden of being king terribly. It was inevitable that his young, charming and vivacious wife would outshine him at any event which is probably where the notion came into existence that Marie Antoinette ruled him. Although they probably never in love, I believe that as the years passed, and with mounting adversity, they formed a deep and trusting friendship.

Nicholas II may be a carbon copy of Louis XVI, with the exception that he was athletic, where Louis was fat and that he was passionately and deeply in love with his darling Alix, whereas Louis was resigned to the marraige he was forced into. Nicholas feared the day he would become Tsar and from the beginning relied heavily on the opinions and advise from his wife, but was also bombarded with orders from his relatives, especially his uncles and he relented to their will most of the time. 

Louis and Nicholas both had a stubborn streak as well, not to be confused with a sense of self. Both believed in their God-given right to rule as autocrats and were too short sighted to make concessions to preserve their thrones. 

7. Struggling to do their prime duty: Providing the heir

Marie Antoinette was bombarded by admonishing letters from her mother year after year by not providing an heir. In Marie Antoinette’s case it was the case that Louis either did not know how to make a baby, that he had some medical problems or that he could not bring himself to sleep with his wife either out of shyness because he felt inferior or out of apprehension because he was suspicious of her in the early years due to the influences of the anti Austrian courtiers. It took 11 years for her to fulfill her duty and gave birth to a son Louis Joseph, after giving birth to a daughter 3 years previously. The longed for heir was not up to scratch though and was a sickly child. Louis Joseph died at the age of 7.

Alexandra had no trouble consummating the marriage and gave birth in quick succession to 4 daughters. Daughters however could not succeed and Alexandra began to turn to the more mystic spiritualism, bordering on the occult, in the hopes of providing the crucial heir. After 10 years, (one year earlier than Marie Antoinette), she succeeded after giving birth to a son. This son and heir was not a healthy prince either. He suffered from hemophilia. 

8. Personal connections

Marie Antoinette and Alexandra had some more personal connections as well. 

Marie Antoinette formed a very close childhood friendship with Princess Charlotte of Hesse Darmstadt, ( Later the Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz) who was her exact contemporary, both being born in 1755. They kept a close correspondence throughout the years until the death of Charlotte in 1785.

During a state visit to France, Alexandra spent a night in Marie Antoinette’s apartments in Versailles. (What that must have been like?! Josephine Bonaparte did not relish occupying Marie Antoinette’s apartments in the Tuileries palace, saying it felt haunted)

Alexandra had an embroidered copy of the portrait of Marie Antoinette with her children in one of her rooms in the Alexander palace. Strange that she never took a lesson from that, in respect to her own actions, when looking at this picture.

9. Horrible deaths

Marie Antoinette was imprisoned with her family and afterwards in the Conciergerie Prison totaling up to almost a year before being taken to the scaffold to be beheaded. 

Alexandra was imprisoned for a year in Siberia, first in Tobolsk and the Ekaterinburg, before she was led down to the cellar of the prison, with her family, and executed. 

Both woman is synonymous with revolution and is almost always given as the one of the biggest contributors (some reasons undeservedly and unjustly put on them),  to the downfall of their thrones