Ink analysis reveals Marie Antoinette’s letters’ hidden words and who censored them

In a world torn apart by the French Revolution, doomed Queen Marie Antoinette exchanged secret letters with a rumored lover. Someone later censored them — and now scientists know who.

Chemical analyses of the ink reveal not only the obscured words, but also the identity of the censor, researchers report October 1 in Science Advances.

From June 1791 to August 1792, as Marie Antoinette and the rest of the royal family were confined to Paris’ Tuileries Palace following an escape attempt, the queen managed a clandestine correspondence with Swedish Count Axel von Fersen.

Whether the correspondents exchanged words of love or state secrets was a longstanding mystery, says Anne Michelin, a chemist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. Michelin and colleagues unraveled this mystery using X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy.

XRF, a noninvasive technique, works by shooting an X-ray beam at a sample, kicking the atoms in the sample into a higher-energy state. The sample then emits its own X-rays along a spectrum characteristic of its elemental makeup. With XRF, paleontologists have scrutinized fossils and art restorers have found hidden paintings (SN: 5/10/10; SN: 8/4/16).

an X-ray fluorescence scanner images one of Marie Antoinette's letters
An X-ray fluorescence scanner analyzes the ink in a letter dated September 26, 1791, written by the French Queen Marie Antoinette to the Swedish Count Axel von Fersen.@CRC

Here, the researchers zoomed in on the ink. Both correspondents used common gall ink made from iron sulfate, but different inks contain different proportions of trace elements, depending on the source, Michelin says. The team scanned the letters pixel by pixel, finding consistent differences in the copper-to-iron and the zinc-to-iron ratios of the original and redacting inks. By mapping each pixel’s elemental differences onto a gray scale, the hidden words emerged — words such as “beloved,” “tender friend” and “madly.”

As for the censor, it was von Fersen himself, Michelin says. The count was known to make copies of Marie Antoinette’s letters — and the ink used for the redactions was a match to those copies.

How much of their relationship was personal versus political may never be known, she adds, but we do know that “he kept these letters, even though it was risky for him.”

Source: Ink analysis reveals Marie Antoinette’s letters’ hidden words and who censored them

*This is a free press release. Upgraded press releases are ad-free!

New York #1 Best-Selling Author Finds Inspiration in Shen Yun

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—Dr. David West Reynolds holds a Ph.D. in archeology specializing in ancient Rome and Egypt. He’s also the New York Times #1 best-selling author of Star Wars guide books. His books have been translated into a dozen languages and have sold over 2 million copies around the world. He has also written books on…

Read Press Release

Mark Cuban believes that Bitcoin is the best store of value

Ethereum has more use cases than Bitcoins as per billionaire Mark Cuban and Shark TankCuban sees BTC as digital Gold, and deemed that Bitcoin is what the Gold folks are doingCuban advocates smart contracts platform Ethereum and layer 2 solutionsMark Cuban believes that investors could choose Bitcoin to invest in the longer time-frameEthereum and Bitcoin…

Read Press Release

The changing nature of beauty packaging

In a fiercely competitive market, packaging can make an enormous difference in which beauty products do best. Here we examine how sustainability and influencer marketing is affecting the look and feel of the beauty sector In 2020, the UK’s beauty industry was reportedly worth £27 billion, and has been valued at around $500 billion globally.…

Read Press Release

Ink analysis reveals Marie Antoinette’s letters’ hidden words and who censored them - Click To Share

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on reddit
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on whatsapp