For sure Marie-Antoinette had some weakness for men in uniform; she also gave preferential treatment to foreigners; and we can imagine that foreign men-in-uniform would make a pretty bad public relations campaign for any queen; but fortunately Versailles Court was cosmopolitan enough to accommodate her without any suspicion of treason. When we look at the list of people involved in series of attempts to spring her out of the Revolutionary Paris, we see the names of Fersen (Sweden), Esterhazy (Hungary), Besenval (Switzerland) and Lauzun. I must say that although Lauzun was the only autochthonous Frenchman, he happened to be the founder of the Foreign Legion.
Besenval, the Colonel of the Hundred Swiss, got on the Revolution’s Most Wanted List right from the start. The Hundred Swiss were loyal to the end — their bones make a neat little section at the underground cemetery in the Catacombs, but Besenval’s life being in danger before and more than anyone else’s, Louis XVI ordered him to get out of Paris: a bizarre rumor was spreading through the city that it was Pierre-Victor’s intention to set the town on fire and massacre the inhabitants. Too late! Our baron didn’t get very far before he got recognized; he did escape lynching, but not the jail.
Out of the four Count Valentin Esterhazy happened to be the only one to die of natural causes; his plan of escape rejected, he prudently immigrated himself, seeking help all the way in Saint Petersbourg; to his effort the French aristocracy owes a lot, he provided for the first wave of immigrants a safe passage through Valenciennes and sometimes even military escort; but he could not prevail over Louis XVI’s decision to ride it out and even spear-head the Revolution.
For the rest of them the turbulent events prepared a violent end: Duke Lauzun was guillotined in 1793 as a traitor and co-conspirator of Axel Fersen. Fersen and Lauzun collaborated on that unfortunate flight of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette to Varennes: unill 1793 Armand-Louis stayed in the army and on the side of the Revolution, and his hussar unit was supposed to join the king in the Parisian suburbs, but the royal family got lost. As soon as Lauzun submitted his resignation, the National Assembly responded with an order for his arrest. “You need courage in your profession!”said the duke to his jailer and they had a glass of white wine before the falling of the blade.
Besenval died in the same year, right after he got out of jail. Skillfully defended by his lawyer, Besenval had an iron-clad alibi and absolutely no evidence against him; but the time he spent in jail did not fail to kill him. As for the famous count, Fersen was murdered by an angry mob already in Sweden. During her trial Marie-Antoinette was not pestered with too many questions about her dear Axel: The nature of their relationship was no secret, but his was not a household name; and so, the judges cared little to put him in a spotlight. Glory to the men of action! The Queen had a good taste in men. Each one of them proved to be quite spectacular in his own right.