18. The Violent End of the Love of Marie Antoinette
Von Fersen eventually regained favor at court and was sent as an envoy to France, where he met Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797. Napoleon recalled the count’s efforts against the Revolution and on behalf of the executed French king and queen. As von Fersen recounted, Napoleon: “remarked that the Court of Sweden seemed to take a pleasure in sending agents and ambassadors who were personally disagreeable to every French citizen“. When he returned to Sweden, von Fersen grew alarmed by a rise in popular sympathy for revolutionary France. In 1801, he became Marshal of the Realm, Sweden’s highest court official, and did all he could from that position to thwart the spread of revolution to his country. In 1809, a coup deposed Sweden’s King Gustav IV Adolf and replaced him with his uncle, Charles XIII. A dispute then erupted about who should succeed Charles.
Von Fersen backed a faction that supported the deposed king’s son, Gustav, Prince of Vasa, and opposed the popular Charles August, who was adopted by Charles XIII and became Crown Prince, or heir to the throne. However, Charles fell off his horse in 1810, had a stroke, and died. Rumors spread that he was poisoned, and von Fersen became a prime suspect. On June 10th, as Marshal of the Realm, he rode in a carriage at the head of the Crown Prince’s funeral procession, only to be attacked by a mob as soon as he reached Stockholm. The crowd dragged von Fersen out of the carriage, and the funeral’s armed military escort did not intervene. He broke free and ran into a nearby house, but the mob followed and dragged him back out into the street, where it beat him to death.