What kind of primary source is this, and what strengths and weaknesses does it have as a source for a study of ‘Louis XVI and the French Revolution’?
The only way we can have knowledge of the past is through the study of its relics and traces left by the past societies. These remnants left behind are what is known as primary sources.
This source is a private letter from the queen to her friend. This is also a private source, as it was not meant to be seen by a large number of people but purely the private correspondence between two people. We know that this is a reliable source from the date that it was written. The king and queen attempted to flee in July 1791 and the letter was written in February 1791 explaining why they would be fleeing.The strength of this source therefore lies in the fact that we assume that the queen has not set out to tell her friend deliberate lies.
This letter is purely a matter of keeping in touch and also asking for advice. There are no political overtures in it just one woman asking for advice on how to help the country and her husband. This is also a document of record due to the fact that events that have been described actually happened. This means that the article is more reliable than other sources as the queen has written it and the opinions she is giving are honest.The weakness of this kind of particular sourced is that, things will not be entirely objective. The queen is writing about certain aspects of government and may be writing what she feels is the ideal.
Are there any particular words and phrases in the document that require elucidation or special comment before you can make use of it?In order to fully understand this source and its significance at the time, the first key area needing elucidation would be the manifesto mentioned in the first sentence, details on this would give us an overall understanding of what was being attempted by the monarchy. There are a number of points raised within the source that prelude to this manifesto.The queen mentions an M.de Maurepas and we would need to know who he is to understand why he is so hard to replace.Next to note are the parlements mentioned, there was one primarily in Paris and then 12 provincial parlements that along with Paris turned down the rescue package.”When we are free”, they allude to being able to flee Paris, but it seems that they are held captive, we would need to ascertain their exact circumstances at the time of writing to put it in context.
What can you learn from this source with respect to ‘Louis XVI and the French Revolution’? You should distinguish between witting and unwitting testimony.In writing this letter the queen is asking for advice and laying out her and the king’s plans on how to stop the reverse the current revolutionary acts and return the country to the previous, established method of governance. The key historical importance of this letter is that it highlights the assumptions and opinions of the king and queen that the revolution will be short lived and they will return to their rightful place. The queen wittingly testifies that the plans drawn up by her and the king would see a return to the previous ways and that the revolutionary leaders must be brought to justice. She openly acknowledges the importance that she places on religion and its place within the revised constitution.
In her first statement the queen unwittingly testifies that both she and the king expect to triumph over the revolution, by stating that they will issue the manifesto as soon as they are out of Paris, this is backed by her statement on the difficult choice of ministers to appoint when they are free. If we make the assumption that the king and queen would like to appoint a supportive Prime Minister, the queen, by stating that she is finds more disadvantages in men she would seek to appoint unwittingly reveals a lack of support for the monarchy and their plans.The language within the letter reveals an underlying air of derision and condescension. The queen portrays the people as being led astray and seems to volunteer tactics that would placate a child, “flatter it and then offer it an ultimatum as if they, the monarchy know best. This is reinforced by the comments about the parlements returning to “ordinary” law courts and being unable to “meddle” in administration or finance.
This language, coupled with the confident statements about release and return to power, further highlight the naï¿½ve assumptions and air of arrogance that the monarchy was known for.