The French Revolution: Violent from its inception

Violent from its inception:

Dispelling the myth of the “liberal” and “radical” phases

of the French Revolution

French Revolt

This 1789 engraving depicts French soldiers or Parisian militia carrying the severed heads of the Bastille’s commander Bernard-Rene Jordan, Marquis de Launay (1740-1789) and Paris mayor Jacques de Flesselles (1721-1789) on pikes. Both men were killed by enraged Parisians on the same day as the storming of the Bastille on 14 July, 1789. The caption reads “Thus we take revenge on traitors”. This image is part of the Library of Congress’ French Political Cartoon Collection.

Oh Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!

-Marie-Jeanne Philippon, Madame Roland (1754-1793) immediately before her death on the guillotine.

Have we not seen France dishonoured by a hundred thousand murders? The whole territory of this fair kingdom covered with scaffolds? And this unhappy land drenched with the blood of its children through judicial massacres, while inhuman tyrants squandered it abroad in a cruel war, sustained in their own private interests? Never has the bloodiest despot gambled with men’s lives with so much insolence, and never has an apathetic people presented itself for butchering more willingly. Sword and fire, frost and famine, privations and sufferings of every kind, none of these disgust it with its punishment…

-Comte Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821), Considerations on France (1796)[1].

 

The French Revolution began, and for its entire duration remained, soaked in innocent blood. Mob tyranny, popular mob “justice”, and widespread paranoia reigned from the moment the Bastille fell until the dawn of the Terror in fall 1793. Contrary to the self-serving and prevailing liberal historiography which dominated nineteenth century studies of the Revolution, which urged that the conflict be separated into a legitimate, ideal, more civilized “liberal” phase (1789-1793) and a tragically unintended, accidental “radical phase” (the Terror, fall 1793-summer 1794), in actuality a clear, uninterrupted, chronological line of popular violence unrestrained by the revolutionary leaders exists from 14 July 1789 onward. From the storming of the Bastille through the Great Fear, October Days, Champs de Mars massacre, and September Massacres, the Revolution – hardly restrained by the liberal Enlightenment ideals which purportedly united its adherents – saw thousands of people slaughtered without trial in the name of liberty.

In his fifteen years on the throne before the Revolution, the alleged ‘tyrant’ Louis XVI never executed so many people. The pre-Terror revolutionary violence culminated in the infant Republic’s savage suppression of the Catholic royalist Vendee Rebellion, which saw a quarter of a million people, mostly rural civilians, exterminated on the orders of the Republican government in Paris, and the passage of the Law of Suspects a year after the 1792 September Massacres. The Revolution’s true power derived not from the logical appeal and inspiring charisma of its Enlightenment ideals, but from the terror of unrestrained popular violence and brutality which constantly characterized it from the moment of its beginning in summer 1789. This essay will review the major events of the Revolution before the start of the official Terror, and show that these mass murders were all committed by people who believed themselves acting in its name. This was all prior to the Terror which saw some 17,000 people sent to the guillotine. In truth, the entire Revolution was a terror, and no one was safe from its wrath.

When a mob of thousands of enraged Parisians stormed the Bastille on the morning of 14 July 1789, far from being a prison overflowing with oppressed victims of the brutal ancien regime, only seven old men were housed within its decrepit walls.[2] Immediately after seizing the fortress, the mob captured its captain, the Marquis de Launay, and dragged him toward the Hôtel de Ville, the city hall, in a storm of verbal and physical abuse. Outside the Hôtel, a discussion began among the mob as to what they should do with their prisoner. The badly beaten Marquis shouted “Enough! Let me die!”[3], and the crowd readily obliged him. He was repeatedly stabbed and his head sawn off and fixed on a pike. Following his death, as the above image shows, the mob paraded his head through the streets of Paris, but their fury for blood was hardly sated. The very same afternoon after the storming, the unofficial mayor of Paris, Jacques de Flesselles, was assassinated, shot on the steps of the city hall while trying to justify his actions to the mob.[4] As the above illustration shows, his head was also mounted on a pike and paraded around Paris.

In the Great Fear immediately following the storming of the Bastille, uprisings among peasants across rural France and among the urban poor in Paris saw a number of suspected counter-revolutionaries killed between mid-July and early August.[5] In the provinces, peasants began to arm themselves and seize seigniorial estates, murdering some of their landlords and their families in cold blood without trial.[6] Where was the sense of law and the due process of justice to which all French citizens were, according to Enlightenment ideals, supposed to be entitled when these landlords were being murdered? Why were none of these lords, as much citizens of a ‘free’ France as their peasant labourers, allowed to petition to the King or to a local court before they were slaughtered? From its inception, as in Paris at the Bastille and in the rural provinces, the participants in the Revolution proved either pathetically unable or cruelly unwilling to not engage in extrajudicial violence. The National Assembly’s self-serving silence against the mobs served only to embolden their sense of righteousness and impunity in launching attacks against perceived enemies of the Revolution.

The popular violence of the Revolution further accelerated in the October Days of 1789, with severed heads on pikes once again making a macabre appearance. Enraged by reports of ostentatious court living at Versailles – where the politically tone-deaf aristocrats callously partied, feasted, and allegedly dared to ‘desecrate’ the tricolour –without concern for the famine gripping the poor throughout France, an armed mob of Parisian citizens dominated by women who had often been involved in capital’s bread riots stormed the royal chateau, slaughtered the royal Swiss Guards, and rampaged through the palace attempting to find and murder Queen Marie Antoinette.[7] The then-popular Marquis de Lafayette managed to take some control of the situation, calming the mob’s fury by appearing with the King and Queen on one of the palace’s balconies, convincing the King to publicly agree to return to Paris, and –tempering the crowd’s visceral hatred of L’ Autrichienne – kissing the Queen’s hand in a gesture of fealty.[8] The result was that King Louis XVI promised to release stores of bread to the Parisian citizens, and, refusing to accept his word, the marchers forced the French royal family and courtiers to return, effectively under arrest, to Paris, with the guards’ heads again mounted on pikes before the royal carriage.[9]

The moderate royalist Lafayette, erstwhile commander of the Paris-based National Guard, lost all his popularity—and moderate reformers their most prominent Paris spokesman – on 17 July 1791 in the Champs de Mars massacre, during which suspected counter-revolutionaries, including many members of the Guard, were murdered by enraged Paris mobs after Lafayette ordered his men to fire and disperse the mob. Both sides suffered rather minimal losses, but the conduct of the revolutionaries – making a demand backed by violence – shows yet again how the republican mob cared nothing for the rule of law. Why had the mob gathered? The National Assembly – the Revolution’s own legislature – had, on the same day, issued an edict confirming that the unpopular Louis XVI would remain king under a constitutional monarchy. The young republican leaders Danton and Desmoulins – neither of whom survived the Terror – led the mob, who carried a petition from the Girondist republican Jacques Pierre Brissot – who also died in the Terror – to compel the King to abdicate[10]. Lafayette’s reputation never recovered from the bloodshed, and thus the moderates and reform-minded royalists lost most of their influence among Parisians.

A key turning point in the escalation of popular violence occurred in fall 1792. The most violent outbreak of revolutionary mob attacks to date occurred with the September Massacres. Fearing that foreign and royalist armies would attack Paris and that the city’s incarcerated inmates represented a fifth column threat, urban poor sans culottes armed with the demagogue Marat’s latest incendiary, bloodthirsty edition of L’Ami du Peuple, attacked the overflowing Paris prisons stocked with suspected counter-revolutionaries. The prisoners included nonjuring Catholic clergy who objected to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, noble mothers and children, prostitutes, and the infirm. Some 1,300 were murdered in cold blood without any semblance of legal process or fair trial, including over 200 priests and the Queen’s closest friend the middle-aged Princess Marie Louise de Lamballe[11], who was, by several accounts, raped by the mob and her breasts cut off before being decapitated and her head struck on a pike.[12]

The violent trajectory of the Revolution before the Terror culminated in the brutal suppression of the Vendee royalist rebellion from March 1793 to March 1796, which began when outraged Catholic monarchists and other French conservatives in that province received word that the Republic’s leaders had ordered a general mobilization (levee en masse), conscripting most able-bodied Frenchmen to fight and defend the Republic against Austrian encroachment. As hundreds of thousands of rural Catholic traditionalists and monarchists rose against the Revolution, republican soldiers were called in to suppress the revolt. The Republic’s generals Jean-Baptiste Carrier and Turreau were ordered by the Committee of Public Safety to put the entire region to the sword and kill all those suspected of any degree of collaboration with the Catholic and Royal Army, as the Vendee rebel leaders called themselves. It is this savage conflict that saw suspected counterrevolutionary men and women stripped naked, tied together, and thrown into local rivers to drown by the Republic’s military forces, who sadistically called these paired executions ‘republican marriages’[13]. Their inability to distinguish between combatant, sympathizer, and civilian in the region led to an unprecedented degree of bloodshed, all conducted in the name and defence of the nascent Republic.

Historians disagree as to how many royalist combatants and sympathizers died, with liberals estimating the dead at some 130,000 and others approaching as high as 250-300,000.[14] The highest figure cited is the controversial estimate of 450,000 dead by Peter McPhee, who argues along with several other scholars that the Vendee suppression can be considered a genocide.[15] If we accept the more mainstream figure of some quarter of a million people killed, and take into account France’s contemporary population of just under 30 million around 1789, then, were a similar proportion of French to be killed today, the figure would be some 550-600,000 out of some 66 million people. This is genocidal in scale. Even if one does not hold the Committee of Public Safety directly responsible for the hundreds of thousands of Vendee civilians who died in the carnage, it is undeniable that the forces loyal to the Republic engaged in these targeted scorched earth campaigns at the behest of the governing revolutionary republican authorities in Paris. Given that the royalists viewed the Republic itself as illegitimate – hence why the Vendee citizens were outraged to hear that their men were to be conscripted to fight in the republican army against the Austrian monarchy – one can only accept the view that the Vendee was an illegal rebellion and example of treason if one views the Republic itself as a legitimate political entity.

When a political movement is soaked in blood from its very onset, it is insulting to basic intelligence to argue somehow that it was not violent from its foundation. Before the guillotine, the “national razor”, severed some 17,000 heads, long before the official start of the Terror, Parisian mobs massacred hundreds of royal guards who were simply doing their duty, slaughtered over 1,300 innocent civilians and clergy in Paris jails, and within four years of the Bastille’s storming (itself a violent event), the nascent Republic’s generals slaughtered approximately a quarter of a million people in three years’ time. The term “liberal revolution” with its conjuring of fidelity to restrained, rational liberal Enlightenment ideals is an ignorant misnomer at best and at worst a crass, deliberate fiction. The supreme irony is that from its foundations the Revolution’s radicals lauded the ideals of liberty and universal justice while never consistently abiding by them; decrying the supposed tyranny of an ancien regime that brutally tortured and executed a handful of would-be-regicides and murderers over several centuries, the radical revolutionaries bathed the infant Republic in blood, slaughtering some 250,000 Catholic Frenchmen and women in three years in the name of liberty and justice.

From its inception the Revolution was bathed in innocent blood, the blood of both real and imagined enemies. It was ‘radical’ and violent from the moment the Bastille fell and the royal guards were hacked to death and their heads put on pikes. Even if the official Terror began in fall 1793, real terror reigned in practice since July 1789. Thus, the true symbols of the Revolution even before the Terror were not the tricolour cockade or Lady Liberty/Marianne, but the haunting spectre of the national razor and the macabre spectacle of heads on pikes. All were truly equal in revolutionary France only when they stood in the shadow of the scaffold or before the fury of the mob. The Revolution betrayed its liberal ideals from the onset, and the fact that neither the National Assembly nor successive revolutionary legislatures ever condemned the popular violence speaks volumes. Where was their commitment to justice, to the rule of law? It was silent, shamed, and cowed before the threat of the mob. Bourgeoisie republican leaders’ self-serving silence served only to legitimize and embolden radical revolutionaries in both the Committee of Public Safety and among les sans-culottes in the Paris streets. The Committee and the urban poor were united in one thing: loyal to abstract Enlightenment ideals and willing to sacrifice anyone and anything to advance them, they consistently showed callous disregard for human life and the values they allegedly espoused, seeing an enemy worthy only of death in anyone who dared challenge the notion of sovereignty resting in a people who showed themselves to be nothing if not violent, inconsistent, changeable, and bloodthirsty. The ancien regime was far less savage than the supposedly liberal Republic which replaced it, and killed far fewer people in the centuries it ruled France than those who died as enemies of the Revolution from 1789-1794. As Louis XVI’s sister Princess Elisabeth said to her tribunal judges shortly before her death under the guillotine – she was condemned to death for the crime of being “the sister of a tyrant” – “If my brother had been what you call him, you would not have been where you are, nor I where I am now”.[16]

The French Revolution was the predominating radical terrorist movement of its day. From 1789-1794 the Revolution killed far more people in the name of Liberty than Daesh (ISIS) or Al Qaeda has ever killed in the name of Allah. Yet, whereas international government leaders, popes, patriarchs, Muslim scholars, imams, and community leaders have all denounced ISIS (an apocalyptic jihadist group which targets non-Wahhabi Muslims along with Christians, Yazidis, and other non-Muslims), in France today the Revolution is idolized on the coinage, museums, art galleries, the national anthem, official flag, all public buildings, etc. Year after year, millions of French people celebrate the anniversary of Bastille Day, blissfully unaware that they are celebrating a revolution which led to the extrajudicial murder and massacring of hundreds of thousands of French men and women whose great ‘crime’ was to oppose the brutal march of “liberty”, of unrestrained, illegal popular violence, and the Republic’s attempted eradication of over a thousand years of French Catholic culture, history, and monarchical tradition.

 

French Rev 2

A true symbol of the French Revolution: the values of the tricolour and liberty cockade are inseparable and indistinguishable from the macabre spectacle of the severed heads of “enemies of the revolution” mounted on pikes and paraded through the Paris streets. The bottom caption of this 1789 engraving reads “This is how we punish traitors”. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.[17]

 

Bibliography:

Andress, David. Massacre at the Champ de Mars: Popular Dissent and Political Culture in the French Revolution. Suffolk, England: The Royal Historical Society, 2000.

Bergeron, Louis. Le Monde et son Histoire. Volume VII, Chapter VII. Paris: Bouquins, 1986.

Clerk, Kenneth. Civilisation: A Personal View. New York: Penguin, 1987.

De Beauchesne, Alcide-Hyacinthe. La vie de Madame Élisabeth, sœur de Louis XVI, Volume 2. Paris: Henri-Plon Éditeur-Imprimeur, 1870.

Doyle, William. The Oxford History of the French Revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Hibbert, Christopher. The Days of the French Revolution. New York: William Morrow and Co, 1980.

Hussenet, Jacques (dir.). “Détruisez la Vendée !”. Regards croisés sur les victimes et destructions de la guerre de Vendée. La Roche-sur-Yon, France: Centre vendéen de recherches historiques, 2007.

Jones, Peter M. The Peasantry and the French Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Chapter 3.

Library of Congress. “Prise de la Bastille par les Citoyens de Paris… C’est ainsi que l’on punit les traitres.” Library of Congress. http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3b51512/

Maistre, Count Joseph de. Considerations on France. Translated and edited by Richard A. Lebrun. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

McPhee, Peter. Review of Reynald Secher, A French Genocide: The Vendée. H-France Review, Vol. 4 (March 2004), No. 26.

Morris, Gouverneur. A Diary of the French Revolution, Volume 1. North Stratford, New Hampshire: Ayer Publishing, 1939.

Schama, Simon. Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. New York: Vintage Press, 1989.

Scurr, Ruth. Fatal Purity: Robespierre And the French Revolution. New York: Owl Books, 2006.

 

End notes:

[1] Maistre, Count Joseph de, Considerations on France, translated and edited by Richard A. Lebrun (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

[2] Clerk, Kenneth, Civilisation: A Personal View (New York: Penguin, 1987). Pg. 216.

[3] Schama, Simon, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (New York: Vintage Press, 1989). Pg. 405.

[4] Hibbert, Christopher, The Days of the French Revolution (New York: William Morrow and Co, 1980). Pgs. 69-82.

[5] Jones, Peter M, The Peasantry and the French Revolution. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988). Chapter 3.

[6] Doyle, William, The Oxford History of the French Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Pgs. 114-5.

[7] Schama, Ibid. Pg. 459.

[8] Ibid, pg. 468.

[9] Morris, Gouverneur, A Diary of the French Revolution, Volume 1 (North Stratford, New Hampshire: Ayer Publishing, 1939). Pg. 243.

[10] Andress, David, Massacre at the Champ de Mars: Popular Dissent and Political Culture in the French Revolution (Suffolk, England: The Royal Historical Society, 2000). Pg. 239.

[11] Bergeron, Louis, Le Monde et son Histoire, Volume VII, Chapter VII (Paris: Bouquins, 1986). Pg. 324.

[12] Hibbert, Christopher. Ibid, p. 175.

[13] Scurr, Ruth, Fatal Purity: Robespierre And the French Revolution (New York: Owl Books, 2006). Pg. 305.

[14] Hussenet, Jacques (dir.), “Détruisez la Vendée !”. Regards croisés sur les victimes et destructions de la guerre de Vendée (La Roche-sur-Yon: Centre vendéen de recherches historiques, 2007).

[15] McPhee, Peter, Review of Reynald Secher, A French Genocide: The Vendée (H-France Review: Vol. 4 (March 2004), No. 26.

[16] de Beauchesne, Alcide-Hyacinthe, La vie de Madame Élisabeth, sœur de Louis XVI, Volume 2 (Paris: Henri-Plon Éditeur-Imprimeur, 1870). Pgs 199-205, 219-250.

[17] “Prise de la Bastille par les Citoyens de Paris… C’est ainsi que l’on punit les traitres.” Library of Congress. http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3b51512/

 

Further Reading:

On the coronation and anointing of French monarchs

Titled women of the French nobility (duchesses and countesses) could inherit land and titles from their fathers if they had no surviving male issue to succeed them, but from antiquity the throne and crown of France adhered to Salic Law, which permitted succession to the throne only through the male line and excluded all females. A central theological and ceremonial reason for why the French monarchy did not permit female succession was the highly sacramental nature of the coronation rites, in which the king exercised a quasi-sacerdotal role and held certain sacred instruments which, it was believed, women could not touch. While queens of France were customarily crowned and anointed at their husband’s accession, this was often done in a separate ceremony. While French kings were most often crowned at the Reims Cathedral. French queens were crowned most often at the St Denis Basilica.

Thus, due to the strict enforcement of Salic Law, France has never had a female monarch. Reflecting their crucial importance in dynastic marriages, however, several queens of France were the daughters of previous French kings or reigning provincial dukes whose fathers, lacking any surviving male issue, married them to the men who ultimately succeeded to the French throne as king. Numerous French queen mothers also governed as regents on behalf of their underage sons until they reached their majority.

Three examples of French queens who were themselves the daughters of French kings or powerful dukes were 1) Queen Anne de Bretagne (1477-1514), consort to King Charles VIII from 1491-98 and then after Charles’ death consort to King Louis XII from 1499 to her own death, reigned as Duchess of Brittany in her own right from 1488; Anne’s daughter Queen Claude (1499-1524), consort to Francois I (1515-24) and daughter of King Louis XII, reigned as Duchess of Brittany in her own right after her mother’s death in 1514; and Queen Marguerite (1553-1615), consort to France’s first Bourbon King Henri III de Navarre/ IV de France (1572-1599), sister to French kings Francois II, Charles IX, and Henri III, who was the daughter of King Henri II and (from 1559-89) the powerful Queen Mother and regent Catherine de Medicis.

BNF - Latin 9474 - Jean Bourdichon - Grandes Heures d'Anne de Bretagne - f. 3r - Anne de Bretagne entre trois saintes (détail).jpg

Jean Bourdichon – Les Grandes Heures d’Anne de Bretagne, painted between 1503 to 1508 while Anne of Brittany was Sovereign Duchess of Brittany and Queen consort of France.

Treaty with the Kingdom of England which Anne of Brittany, Queen of France, signed and sealed in her capacity as the reigning Duchess of Brittany.

Claude of France, Duchess of Brittany.jpg

Claude de Bretagne, fille de France, daughter of King Louis XII and Queen Anne, Duchess of Brittany in her own right from 1488 to her death. Claude succeeded her mother as Duchess in 1514 and became Queen of France in 1515, dying in 1524.

Portrait of Henri III, King of Navarre (he himself succeeded his mother Jeanne d’Albret, who reigned as Jeanne III from 1555-1572) and from 1589 King of France, and his consort Queen Marguerite, fille de France, daughter of King Henri II of France and Catherine de Medicis. Marguerite’s mother Catherine de Medicis, infamous as a poisoner, allegedly had Henri’s Calvinist mother Queen Jeanne III of Navarre poisoned, and the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre (Catholics killing Huguenots) which followed Henri and Marguerite’s wedding seems to have taken place with Catherine’s foreknowledge, if not her explicit permission. Henri narrowly escaped the massacre with his life.

An overview of the French Sacre from 1364 to 1825 (from King Charles V de Valois to Charles X de Bourbon):

Like the English coronation ritual, the French ritual after being subject to considerable influence from the Roman ritual in the 12th and 13th centuries reverted to earlier French forms in the 14th century. The Roman text and ritual, however, were not completely abandoned but combined with the earlier texts and ritual so that this fourth and final recension was nearly twice the length of the earlier recension.[5]

The king spends the night before his Sacre at the Palace of Tau and is awakened in the morning by the clergy and officials involved in the coronation ritual. They assist in dressing the king for the Sacre and the king then chooses which of his nobles will serve as the Hostages for the Sainte Ampoule and the clergy, as well, also swear to return the Sainte Ampoule to the Abbey of St. Remi after the Sacre.

The king enters Reims Cathedral after the singing of the canonical hour of Prime. At the king’s entrance into the cathedral a prayer is said and, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the hymn ‘Veni Creator Spiritus’ is sung. Upon his entrance into the choir the prayer, “God, the Ruler of heaven and earth, etc.” is said and Terce is sung as the abbot and monks of the Abbey of Saint-Remi come in procession bringing the Sainte Ampoule in its reliquary hanging by it chain around the abbot’s neck while four monks in alb bear a silk canopy over him. Upon arriving at the entrance of the cathedral the Archbishop of Reims and the other archbishops and bishops present solemnly swear to return the Sainte Ampoule to them after the Sacre. Then the abbot and monks enter the cathedral and proceed to the altar, everyone bowing reverently as they pass before them.

The coronation proper begins with the bishops’ petition that the traditional rights of the Church be maintained and the king’s reply, followed by the king’s taking of the coronation oath[6] in the Bourbon era on the Reims Gospel. Then the Recognition takes place followed by the singing of the Te Deum. Then the prayer, “Inscrutable God, etc.” is and then the buskins and spurs are placed upon the king’s feet and his invested and gird with the Coronation Sword, Joyeuse, with the formula “Accept this sword from our hands, etc.” Then the antiphon: “I was glad when they said to me, let us go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1). The king removes his coat and other outerwear and the special silver lachets on his silk shirt are opened to expose his chest, upper back and the joints of his arms. While special versicle and response and a collect (unique to the French rite) are said, a paten with Chrism on it is place on the altar, the Abbot of St. Remi presents the Saint Ampoule to the Archbishop, who with a small golden stylus removes a small particle from the contents of the Sainte Ampoule and carefully mixes it with the Chrism on the paten.

The king kneels while the Litany of the Saints is chanted by two archbishops or bishops, concluding with two prayers. The Archbishop then says the formal prayer of consecration:

God eternal, All powerful, Creator and Governor of the Heavens and the Earth, Maker and Disposer of angels and of men, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Thou who madest Abraham Thy faithful servant to triumph over his enemies, who hast raised to the highest in the Kingdom David, Thy humble servant, and hast delivered him out of the mouth of the lion, and out of the paw of the beast, and likewise from Goliath, and from the malicious sword of Saul, land from all his enemies, and has enriched Solomon with the wondrous gift of wisdom and of peace, forgive and accept our humble prayers, and multiply the gifts of Thy blessings on this Thy servant, who with all humble devotion, we, with one accord, choose for King, and we beseech Thee encompass him evermore, and in all places with the right hand of Thy power, so that strengthened by the fidelity of Abraham, possessed of the patience of Joshua, inspired with the humility of David, adorned with the wisdom of Solomon, he may be to Thee ever pleasing, and walk evermore without offence in the way of justice, and henceforth in such wise succour, direct, guard and uplift the church of the whole kingdom, and the people belonging thereto, may he administer with puissance and right royally the rule of Thy power against all enemies visible and invisible, may he not abandon his rights over the kingdoms of the Franks, the Burgundians, and of Aquitania, but aided by Thee inspire them with their sometime loyalty so that made glad by the fidelity of all his people, and provided with the helmet of Thy protection, and ever guarded with the invincible buckler, and compassed about with the celestial armies, he may happily triumph over his enemies, cause the infidel to fear his power, and with joy bring peace to those who fight under Thy banner. Adorn him by many a gracious blessing, with the virtues with the which Thou hast enriched Thy faithful ones aforesaid, counsel him richly in the government of the kingdom, and anoint him plenteously with the grace of the Holy Spirit.[7]

The Archbishop, sitting, then anoints the king with the Chrism in the form of a cross on the top of the head, on the breast, between the shoulders, on both shoulders and on the joints of both arms, each time saying:

I anoint thee with the holy oil in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.[7]

And all, within the sound of his voice, each time respond: “Amen”. While this anointing was taking place the choir sang the Antiphon:

Zadok the priest and the prophet Nathan anointed Solomon King in Jerusalem, and did proclaim this right joyfully, saying, May the king live forver.[7]

The Archbishop then said these prayers:

God Almighty anoint Thou this king to the government, as Thou hast anointed those priests, and kings and prophets and martyrs, who by faith have subdued kingdoms, exercised justice, and obtained the promises. May this Thy most holy unction fall upon his head, descend within, and penetrate even unto his very heart, and may he by Thy grace be made worthy of the promises, the which the most famous kings have obtained, so that in all happiness he may reign in this present life, and may be one with them in Thy heavenly kingdom, for the sake of our Saviour Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who was anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows, and by virtue of the cross has triumphed over the powers of the air, and has destroyed Hell, and vanquished the kingdom of the Evil One, and is ascended into Heaven as conqueror, to whom belongs all victory and glory and power, and who lives with Thee, and reigns in unity with Thee and the Holy Spirit to all eternity.

O God, the Strength of the Elect, and the uplifter of the humble,who in the beginning didst punish the world with a flood of waters, and didst make known by the dove carrying the bough of olive, that peace was yet anew restored to the earth, and hast with the holy anointing oil consecrate as priest Aaron Thy servant, and by the infusion of this unction hast appointed the priests and kings and prophets to govern the people of Israel, and hast by the prophetic voice of Thy Servant David foretold that with oil should the face of the church be made to shine, so we pray Thee, all-powerful Father, that Thy good pleasure may be sanctified in the blessing of this Thy servant with the oil of this heavenly dove, so that he may bring as did the dove of old, peace to the people committed to his charge. May he follow with diligence the example of Aaron in the service of God, and may he ever attain in his judgments to all that is most excellent in wisdom and equity and with Thy aid, and by the oil of this unction, make him to bring joy to all his people through Jesus Christ our Lord.

May Jesus Christ our Lord and God, and Son of God, who by the Father was anointed with the oil of gladness above all others who are one with Him, by this present infusion of the sacred unction pour upon thy head the blessing of the Holy Spirit, and make it go even unto the innermost recesses of thy heart, so that thou canst by this visible and material gift, perceive the things invisible, and after having with right moderation accomplished the temporal kingdom, mayest thou reign with Him eternally for the sake of Jesus Christ our Saviour.[7]

Then the Archbishop and the assisting priests and deacons the close the silver lachets of the king’s shirt which opened for the anointing.
After this, the king, standing up, was vested in the tunicle, dalmatic and royal mantle, all of ‘azure blue'[7] velvet sprinkled with fleurs-de-lys of gold, representing the three Catholic orders of subdeacon, deacon and priest.[8] by the Grand Chamberlain of France. Kneeling again, the king was anointed in the palms of both hands by the Archbishop with the formula:

Let these hands be anointed with holy oil, as kings and prophets have been anointed and as Samuel did anoint David to be king, that thou mayst be blessed and established as king over this people, whom the Lord, thy God, hath given thee to rule and govern, which he has vouchsafed to grant, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit, three in person and one in unity, be blessed and praised, now and for evermore. Amen.[9]

After this the royal gloves are blessed with two prayers (adapted from those used to bless those of a bishop) and are placed upon the king’s hands. Then the ring is blessed with the prayer “Bless, O Lord, and sanctify this ring, etc.” and placed upon the king’s hand with the original French formula, “Receive the ring, etc.” and the prayer “God to whom belongs all power, etc.” Then the scepter is placed into his right hand with the formula “Receive the scepter, the sign of kingly power, etc.” and the prayer “Lord, the fount of all good things, etc.” and the Hand of Justice in his left hand with the form “Receive the Rod of virtue and equity, etc.” Then the peers[10] were summoned by name to come near and assist. The Archbishop of Reims took the Crown of Charlemagne from the altar and says the forms “God crown thee with a crown of glory, etc.”, “Receive this crown, etc.” (a conflation of the old French and the Roman forms) and the prayer, “God of eternity, the Commander of all powers, etc.” set it on the king’s head, while the other eleven peers touched it with their right hands. The Archbishop then says a number of blessings (all of them also found in other coronation rites). After this, the king was lifted up into his throne on the rood screen by the lay peers, as the Archbishop said the words “Stand fast and hold firm the place, etc.” and as the choir sings the antiphon:

Let thy hand be strengthened and your right hand exalted. Let justice and judgment be the preparation of thy Seat and mercy and truth go before thy face.

The Archbishop says the prayer “God, who gave to Moses victory, etc.” and kisses the king with the words “May the king live forever” and his cry is taken up by the peers and all the people present as they acknowledged him as their duly anointed, crowned and enthroned king.

Mass is then said, with the collect “God, who didst visit those who are humble, etc.”, the Epistle is Lev. 26:6-9 and the Gospel is Matthew 22:15-22, the king receiving Holy Communion under both species (bread and wine).[3][11] At the conclusion of the Mass the Oriflamme is blessed.

The king’s return to Paris and his Joyous Entry into the capital through the gate facing the Abbey of St. Denis (i.e., the same exit by which his corpse would later be brought for burial in the same abbey church) completed the inauguration of the French king

Sources:

3. “Coronation — LoveToKnow 1911”. 1911encyclopedia.org. Retrieved 2008-10-12.

5. The following account is based on that given in Coronation Rites by Reginald D. Maxwell Woolley, B.D. Cambridge University Press, 1915 and from “Pertinent Extracts from the Ceremony of the Sacre” in The Legend of the Ste. Ampoule by Sir Francis Oppenheimer, K.C., M.G., London: Faber & Faber Limited, 24 Russell Square.

6. From 1364 to 1484, this contained a clause in which the king promised to main the rights of the French Crown (i.e., against English claims to the throne of France)

7. Oppenheimer. Translation by Mrs. Kemp-Welsh.

8. Oppenheimer only mentions the dalmatic and royal mantle.

9. Text not given in either Woolley or Oppenheimer. The text quoted is translation of Archbishop Laud for the Coronation of Charles I of England.

10. Francois Velde (2005-10-11). “French Peerage”. Heraldica.org.Retrieved 2009-06-20.

11. Le Goff, Jacques (1990). “A Coronation Program for the Age of Saint Louis: The Ordo of 1250”. In Bak, János M. Coronations: Medieval and Early Modern Monarchic Ritual. Berkeley: University of California Press. Retrieved 2008-10-12.

Further Reading:

  • Menin, Nicolas. A Description of the Coronation of the Kings and Queens of France, Printed for S. Hooper, 1775.

A window into the real Marie Antoinette: devoted mother and conscientious queen

Princess Marie Thérèse Charlotte de Bourbon, fille de France, was born at the Palace of Versailles on 19 December 1778 as the first child and eldest daughter of King Louis XVI of France and Queen Marie Antoinette.[3] A child was anxiously expected after seven years of her parents’ marriage. Marie Antoinette almost died of suffocation during this birth due to a crowded and unventilated room, but the windows were quickly opened to let fresh air in the room in an attempt to revive her.[3] As a result of the horrible experience, Louis XVI banned public viewing, allowing only close family members and a handful of trusted courtiers to witness the birth of the next royal children.

When she was revived, the Queen greeted her daughter (whom she later nicknamed Mousseline[4]) with delight:

Poor little one, you are not desired, but you will be none the less dear to me! A son would have belonged to the state—you will belong to me.[5]

Marie Antoinette painted with her two eldest children, her firstborn child Princess Marie Therese (1778-1851) and her eldest son and heir the Dauphin Louis Joseph (1781-89). The Queen and her two children are painted here in the Petit Trianon’s gardens at Versailles by Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller (1785).

The Princess was baptized on the day of her birth.[6] She was named after the Queen’s mother, the Princess’ maternal grandmother, the reigning Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. Her second name, Charlotte, was for her mother’s favourite sister, better known as Maria Carolina of Austria, Queen of Naples.

Marie Thérèse’s household was headed by her governess, the princesse de Guéméné, who later had to resign due to her husband’s bankruptcy and was replaced by one of the queen’s closest friends, the duchesse de Polignac. Louis XVI was an affectionate father, who delighted in spoiling his daughter, while her mother was stricter.

Marie Antoinette was determined that her daughter should not grow up to be as haughty as her husband’s unmarried aunts. She often invited children of lower rank[7] to come and dine with Marie-Thérèse and encouraged the child to give her toys to the poor. In contrast to her image as a materialistic queen who ignored the plight of the poor, Marie Antoinette attempted to teach her daughter about the sufferings of others. On New Year’s Day in 1784, after having some beautiful toys brought to Marie-Thérèse’s apartment, she told her:

I should have liked to have given you all these as New Year’s gifts,but the winter is very hard, there is a crowd of unhappy people who have no bread to eat, no clothes to wear, no wood to make a fire. I have given them all my money; I have none left to buy you presents, so there will be none this year.[8]

Marie-Thérèse was joined by two brothers and a sister, Louis Joseph Xavier François, Dauphin of France, in 1781, Louis-Charles de France, Duke of Normandy in 1785, and Sophie Hélène Béatrix, Madame Sophie, in 1786.[9] As the daughter of the king, she was a fille de France, and as the eldest daughter of the king, she was styled Madame Royale from birth.

Sources on Princess Marie Therese (from Wikipedia):

3. Isabella Frances Romer (1852). Filia dolorosa, memoirs of Marie Thérèse Charlotte, duchess of Angoulême. pp. 4–6

4. Castelot, André (1962). Madame Royale, Librairie Académique Perrin, Paris, chapter Mousseline la sérieuse, p. 13.

5. Thieme, Hugo Paul (1908). Women of Modern France 7. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: George Barrie & Sons. Retrieved2013-12-01.

6. Isabella Frances Romer, Filia dolorosa, memoirs of Marie Thérèse Charlotte, duchess of Angoulême. p. 4.

7. Susan Nagel (2009). Marie-Thérèse: The Fate of Marie Antoinette’s Daughter. Bloomsbury. p. 47. ISBN 978-0-7475-9666-0.

8. Campan, Jeanne-Louise-Henriette, Madame. (1823). Mémoires sur la vie de Marie-Antoinette. Paris: Nelson Éditeurs. p. 184.

9. Gregory Fremont-Barnes (2007). Encyclopedia of the Age of Political Revolutions and New Ideologies, 1760-1815: A-L. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 427. ISBN 978-0-313-33446-7.

Further Reading on Princess Marie Therese Charlotte de France:

Remembering Queen Marie Antoinette of France

I have just been condemned, not to a shameful death, for such is only for criminals, but to go and rejoin your brother. Innocent like him, I hope to show the same firmness in my last moments. I am calm, as one is when one’s conscience reproaches one with nothing.

I feel profound sorrow in leaving my poor children: you know that I only lived for them and for you, my good and tender sister…

Let my son never forget the last words of his father, which I repeat emphatically; let him never seek to avenge our deaths.

I die in the Catholic Apostolic and Roman religion, that of my fathers, that in which I was brought up, and which I have always professed…

I pardon all my enemies the evils that they have done me.

-Excerpt from Queen Marie Antoinette’s last letter, written at 4:30am to her sister-in-law Princess Elisabeth of France, 16 October 1793.

Today we remember Her Most Christian Majesty Queen Marie Antoinette of France and Navarre, guillotined by the radical French Republic on 16 October 1793. May her memory, and that of her martyred son and husband, be eternal!

1783

1783 “Rose Portrait” of the 28-year old Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, by court painter Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun/

Born on 2 November 1755 to the Austrian Habsburg monarch Maria Theresa (1717-1780, r. 1740-80), reigning Queen of Hungary and Croatia, Archduchess of Austria, and from 1745-65 de jure Empress consort of the Holy Roman Empire, and her husband, Prince Franz Stefan, Duke of Lorraine (1708-1765), Holy Roman Emperor, Princess Maria Antonia, as she was known before her marriage, had a happy and warm childhood. Her mother and father created a warm, informal family life in the royal palace of Schoenbrunn in Vienna centered around their devout Catholic faith.

Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa of the House of Habsburg, Queen of Hungary and Croatia, sovereign Archduchess of Austria. Queen Marie Antoinette's mother lived from 1717-1780, ruling the Habsburg dominions from 1740-80 and serving as Holy Roman Empress from 1745-65 with her husband's death. She then co-ruled with her son Joseph II (r. 1765-90) as Dowager Empress until her own death in 1780.

Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa of the House of Habsburg, Queen of Hungary and Croatia, sovereign Archduchess of Austria. Queen Marie Antoinette’s mother lived from 1717-1780, ruling the Habsburg dominions from 1740-80 and serving as Holy Roman Empress from 1745-65 with her husband’s death. She then co-ruled with her son Joseph II (r. 1765-90) as Dowager Empress until her own death in 1780.

The widowed Empress Maria Theresa with her children, including Archduchess Maria Antonia (Marie Antoinette).

The widowed Empress Maria Theresa with her children, including Archduchess Maria Antonia (Marie Antoinette).

At the age of 15, in 1770, Maria Antonia became Dauphine (Crown Princess) of France upon her marriage to the Dauphin Louis-Auguste de France (1754-1793), favourite grandson and heir of the ailing King Louis XV of France of the Bourbon dynasty.

Painting of the wedding of then-Dauphin Louis-Auguste de France and Austrian Archduchess Maria Antonia on 16 May 1770.

Painting of the wedding of then-Dauphin Louis-Auguste de France and Austrian Archduchess Maria Antonia on 16 May 1770.

Profile medallion of Marie Antoinette as Archduchess of Austria and Dauphine of France.

Profile medallion of Marie Antoinette as Archduchess of Austria and Dauphine of France.

Upon her husband’s accession to the French throne as Louis XVI on 10 May 1774, when she was only 18, Marie Antoinette became Queen of France and Navarre.

Antoine François Callet's portrait of King Louis XVI in royal robes.

Antoine François Callet’s portrait of King Louis XVI in royal robes.

Marie Antoinette's monogram as Queen of France, 1774-1793.

Marie Antoinette’s monogram as Queen of France, 1774-1793.

Denied any real political influence, Marie turned her attentions to fashion, arranging elaborate parties and banquets, card games, and gardening. She established a friendship through letter correspondence with Queen Charlotte of Great Britain, consort of King George III.

King Louis XVI of France (1755-1793) shown at the age of 20 in 1775, a year after ascending to the Throne.

King Louis XVI of France (1755-1793) shown at the age of 20 in 1775, a year after ascending to the Throne.

The young Queen painted in 1775 at the age of 19. Courtesy of the Musée Antoine Lécuyer.

The young Queen painted in 1775 at the age of 19. Courtesy of the Musée Antoine Lécuyer.

Queen Marie Antoinette in a court dress worn over extremely wide panniers. By Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1778).

Queen Marie Antoinette in a court dress worn over extremely wide panniers. By Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1778).

The royal couple were widely ridiculed by the French public for their failure to produce an heir; Marie Antoinette’s brother the Emperor of Austria Joseph II even weighed in on their marital problems, as did their mother Empress Maria Theresa, who gave her daughter rather forward advice on how best to begin a normative sexual life with her husband the King. Finally, reportedly after a small surgical correction (possibly circumcision) the King and Queen began to enjoy a normal married life. After eight years of marriage, the Queen at last gave birth to a daughter, Princess Marie-Thérèse Charlotte (1778-1851), the first of her four children, and in 1781 to a son and heir, the Dauphin Louis Joseph (d. 1789). In 1785 she gave birth to a son who would survive Louis XVI by several years, Louis Charles (d. 1795, r. de jure as Louis XVII from 1793-95).

Portrait of the young Dauphin Louis Charles, heir of France, son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. By Marie Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun.

Portrait of the young Dauphin Louis Charles, heir of France, son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. By Marie Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun.

Alexander Kucharsky's portrait of the seven year old Louis Charles, Dauphin of France, in 1792, less than a year before his father Louis XVI's death.

Alexander Kucharsky’s portrait of the seven year old Louis Charles, Dauphin of France, in 1792, less than a year before his father Louis XVI’s death.

Within the Kingdom of France, a growing number of the population eventually came to dislike her, accusing L’Autrichienne, “the Austrian woman” (a nickname given Marie Antoinette upon her arrival to France by Louis XV’s hostile daughters,Mesdames de France), of being profligate, promiscuous, and of harbouring sympathies for France’s enemies, particularly Austria, her country of origin. The Diamond Necklace affair further damaged her reputation. The Queen later became known as Madame Déficit because France’s financial crisis was blamed on her lavish spending and her perceived opposition to the social and financial reforms of the more liberal-minded ministers Turgot and Necker. To counter anti-monarchical sentiment which focused particularly on the Queen’s alleged (but false) extramarital affairs and financial irresponsibility, Versailles royal portraitists released several paintings of the Queen with her children, showing her as a faithful wife and devoted mother.

Marie Antoinette with her two eldest children, Marie-Thérèse Charlotte and the Dauphin Louis Joseph (1781-89), in the Petit Trianon's gardens, by Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller (1785).

Marie Antoinette with her two eldest children, Marie-Thérèse Charlotte and the Dauphin Louis Joseph (1781-89), in the Petit Trianon’s gardens, by Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller (1785).

This State Portrait by Vigée-Lebrun (1787) of Marie Antoinette and her three surviving children Marie Thérèse, Louis Charles (on her lap), and Louis Joseph, was meant to help her reputation by depicting her as a mother and in simple, yet stately attire.

This State Portrait by Vigée-Lebrun (1787) of Marie Antoinette and her three surviving children Marie Thérèse, Louis Charles (on her lap), and Louis Joseph, was meant to help her reputation by depicting her as a mother and in simple, yet stately , essentially bourgeoisie, attire.

During the French Revolution, after a mob of angry Parisian women (and armed men) stormed the Palace of Versailles in October 1789 — attempting to kill the Queen and slaughtering the royal Swiss Guards — the revolutionary government placed the royal family under house arrest in the Paris Tuileries Palace.

Several events linked to Marie Antoinette, in particular the royal family’s bungled June 1791 attempt to flee to Varennes, and her perceived support for Austria against the revolutionary government, had disastrous effects on French popular opinion: over a year later, on 10 August 1792, the attack on the Tuileries forced the royal family to take refuge at the National Assembly.

Arrest of the royal family at the house of the registrar of passports, at Varennes, night of 21–22 June 1791, by Thomas Falcon Marshall (1854).

Arrest of the royal family at the house of the registrar of passports, at Varennes, night of 21–22 June 1791, by Thomas Falcon Marshall (1854).

On 13 August 1792, the family was imprisoned — ostensibly for their own safety from the mob calling for their heads — in the Temple. On 21 September 1792, Louis XVI was formally deposed as King and the monarchy declared abolished. Around this time, Marie Antoinette said to one of her close friends, Madame Campan:

… If the factions assassinate me … it will be a fortunate event for me; they will deliver me from a most painful existence… I am his wife; I will not suffer him to incur the smallest risk without my sharing it.

The increasingly radical revolutionaries wondered what to do with the man they considered an “ex-king”: Should he be sent into exile, perhaps to America? Should he be kept a prisoner for life? Should he be killed? What about a trial? Leading Jacobin anti-monarchists such as Robespierre and Saint Just called for the immediate execution of Louis, with some urging the assembly not to try him at all, but kill him without trial. The verdict was a foregone conclusion: the radical majority of revolutionaries in the National Assembly convicted the King of treason against the French Republic on 20 January (despite the fact that Louis XVI had never sworn loyalty to it or acknowledged the abolition of the monarchy). They sent Louis XVI to the guillotine on 21 January 1793. As this account notes, the King went to his death with great calm and noble dignity, pardoning all those who took part in it and praying that France might be spared further political violence:

My account is based on that left by Fr. Henry Essex Edgeworth, an English man and the priest who accompanied the King, when he journeyed through Paris on that final morning.

King Louis XVI leaves his sorrowing family.

King Louis XVI says farewell to his family.

On January 20 1793 King Louis XVI was sentenced to death by the National Convention. The execution was scheduled to take place on the following morning. That evening the King was allowed to spend some time with his family, in order to take his leave. He explained to his sorrowing children what was going to happen on the following day. He asked his young son and heir, Prince Louis Charles, not to try to take revenge on the French people. When he left his weeping offspring to return to his own room, he told them that he would come back to see them in the morning. He knew that would not be possible, but he felt it would be comforting for them to feel that he might.

The last journey of a King of France.

On the following morning the King was up at 5 AM. At eight o’clock a guard of 1200 soldiers arrived to escort him to the place of execution. He was brought there in a closed carriage. There was little conversation between the King and the priest, as they were accompanied in the carriage by two gendarmes. Louis just asked his companion to point out various psalms, from the prayer book which he was carrying. The two guards appeared to be very impressed by the dignity and fortitude of their prisoner. They had never been in such close proximity to the King before. The journey to the scaffold lasted for about two hours and the streets were lined all the way by armed citizens of the new Republic. The carriage was also surrounded by the troops and drummers were marching alongside, with the intention of drowning out any cries of sympathy there might be for the unfortunate monarch. All the houses appeared empty and there were no faces appearing at any of the windows. All the activity was in the streets, where the populace were all rushing forward to the great square, to witness the completion of the crime. Whether they all approved it is not known.

Eventually the sad cavalcade arrived at the Place Louis XV, where the instrument of execution was set up. This huge square was shortly to be renamed the Place de la Revolution and is now known as the Place de la Concorde. The guillotine, that Louis XVI was executed on, was in the centre of the square. Thousands of the victims of the illusion of liberty were to follow him to their deaths, on it’s blood-soaked timbers in the following years.

When the king noticed that the carriage had stopped, he addressed himself to the two guards, regarding the priest.

‘I recommend to you this good man; take care that after my death no insult be offered to him – I charge you to prevent it.’

Right up till the end, this good man always showed concern for other people.

The execution of King Louis XVI.

When he disembarked from the carriage, he was surrounded by three guards who attempted to seize him in order to take off his garments. The King royally dismissed them and took his own coat and neckerchief off and arranged the collar of his shirt. For a moment, the soldiers were disconcerted by this show of spirit but they soon recovered and surrounded him again. This time it was in order to bind his hands.

‘What are you attempting?’ said the King, drawing back his hands. ‘To bind you,’ answered the wretches. ‘To bind me,’ said the King, with an indignant air. ‘No! I shall never consent to that: do what you have been ordered, but you shall never bind me. . .’

They gave up the attempt after that.

The pathway to the guillotine was very rough and the priest feared that his King might stumble on the way to his death. King Louis XVI, however, walked resolutely forward and straight up the steps to the awaiting blade. He marched directly across the platform and silenced, with a look alone, the drummers who were standing at the base of the scaffold. Then, in a voice that seemed loud enough to be heard all over the city, he addressed the crowd. These were the final words of this King of France to his people.

“I die innocent of all the crimes laid to my charge; I Pardon those who have occasioned my death; and I pray to God that the blood you are going to shed may never be visited on France.”

He was attempting to proceed when an officer on horseback screamed at the drummers to start beating. They immediately commenced and any further words King Louis XVI might have been trying to say were drowned out.

Many voices in the crowd could be heard encouraging the executioners to perform their task. It was but the work of a few moments, to hustle the King into position and take off his head with one blow from the guillotine. For a moment, a hush fell over the throngs of people. But when one of the soldiers took the head of the dead king and showed it to them, they commenced cheering and throwing their hats in the air.

Thus died the saint and martyr King Louis XVI. His very last thoughts were for the welfare of the people who were murdering him. Remember this on the 14th of July (Bastille Day).

King Louis XVI on the scaffold moments before his death under the guillotine.

King Louis XVI on the scaffold moments before his death under the guillotine.

The death of King Louis XVI on 21 January 1793. From this moment, according to French royal law and tradition, he and Marie Antoinette's son and heir the Dauphin Louis Charles as now King as Louis XVII. Marie Antoinette was now Queen Mother of France, though, of course, the French Republic did not recognise her as such, calling her instead the

The death of King Louis XVI on 21 January 1793. The chief executioner Sanson shows the royal head to the people. From this moment, according to French royal law and tradition, he and Marie Antoinette’s son and heir the Dauphin Louis Charles as now King as Louis XVII. Marie Antoinette was now Queen Mother of France, though, of course, the French Republic did not recognise her as such, calling her instead the “Widow Capet”.

Marie Antoinette, kept afterwards in a state of close guard with no privacy, deeply mourned her husband. By this time her once-splendid hair had turned white from stress.

The Queen aged rapidly in her confinement and subsequent imprisonment, especially following her husband's death.

The Queen aged rapidly in her confinement and subsequent imprisonment, especially following her husband’s death.

Marie Antoinette prisoner in the Temple Tower, attributed to Alexandre Kucharski, ca. 1792. (Private collection)

Marie Antoinette prisoner in the Temple Tower, attributed to Alexandre Kucharski, ca. 1792. (Private collection)

It was only a matter of time before the hatred and fury of the radical revolutionaries returned to the person of the hated Queen. Shortly after the King’s murder, she was removed from her children, and imprisoned in a dank and foul-smelling room in Paris’ Conciergerie prison. In October 1793 she was charged with treason against the Republic and conspiring with Austria (her late brother Leopold II had been, and his son Francis II, her nephew, was now the reigning Archduke of Austria and Holy Roman Emperor). She was permitted no attorney to speak in her defense.

Trial of the Queen, October 14-16 1793.

Trial of the Queen, October 14-16 1793. “Marie Antoinette au Tribunal revolutionnaire”, engraving by Alphonse Francois, from a painting by Paul Delaroche (1857). United States Library of Congress.

French Queen Mother Marie Antoinette at her trial, October 1793.

French Queen Mother Marie Antoinette at her trial, October 1793.

Marie-Antoinette_au_Tribunal_révolutionnaire_by_Alphonse_François

After a two-day trial begun on 14 October 1793, during which even the women of Paris (who hated her) felt her inquisitors went too far by forcing her son Louis XVII to testify against his mother and accuse her of molesting him, Marie Antoinette was convicted by the revolutionary tribunal of treason. When asked what her response was to the charges against her, the Queen ignored them, except the charge of incest with her own son, which she vehemently and eloquently denied:

I thought that human nature would excuse me from answering such an imputation, but I appeal from it to the heart of every mother here present.

Like her husband before her, Marie Antoinette was allowed no appeal. Her jailers refused her request to see her children one last time, so she spent her last hours in prayer and writing this letter to her sister-in-law Princess Elisabeth, who would ultimately follow the Queen to the guillotine in 1794*:

16th October, 4.30 A.M.

It is to you, my sister, that I write for the last time. I have just been condemned, not to a shameful death, for such is only for criminals, but to go and rejoin your brother. Innocent like him, I hope to show the same firmness in my last moments. I am calm, as one is when one’s conscience reproaches one with nothing.

I feel profound sorrow in leaving my poor children: you know that I only lived for them and for you, my good and tender sister. You who out of love have sacrificed everything to be with us, in what a position do I leave you! I have learned from the proceedings at my trial that my daughter was separated from you. Alas! poor child; I do not venture to write to her; she would not receive my letter. 


I do not even know whether this will reach you. Do you receive my blessing for both of them. I hope that one day when they are older they may be able to rejoin you, and to enjoy to the full your tender care. Let them both think of the lesson which I have never ceased to impress upon them, that the principles and the exact performance of their duties are the chief foundation of life; and then mutual affection and confidence in one another will constitute its happiness. Let my daughter feel that at her age she ought always to aid her brother by the advice which her greater
experience and her affection may inspire her to give him. And let my son in his turn render to his sister all the care and all the services which affection can inspire. Let them, in short, both feel that, in whatever positions they may be placed, they will never be truly happy but through their union. Let them follow our example. In our own misfortunes how much comfort has our affection for one another afforded us! And, in times of happiness, we have enjoyed that doubly from being able to share it with a friend; and where can one find friends more tender and more united than in one’s own family? Let my son never forget the last words of his father, which I repeat emphatically; let him never seek to avenge our deaths.

I die in the Catholic Apostolic and Roman religion, that of my fathers, that in which I was brought up, and which I have always professed. Having no spiritual consolation to look for, not even knowing whether there are still in this place any priests of that religion (and indeed the place where I am would expose them to too much danger if they were to enter it but once), I sincerely implore pardon of God for all the faults which I may have committed during my life. I trust that, in His goodness, He will mercifully accept my last prayers, as well as those which I have for a long time addressed to Him, to receive my soul into His mercy. I have to speak to you of one thing which is very painful to my heart, I know how much pain the child must have caused you. Forgive him, my dear sister; think of his age, and how easy it is to make a child say whatever one wishes, especially when he does not understand it. It will come to pass one day, I hope, that he will better feel the value of your kindness and of your tender affection for both of them. It remains to confide to you my last thoughts. I should have wished to write them at the beginning of my trial; but, besides that they did not leave me any means of writing, events have passed so rapidly that I really have not had time.

I beg pardon of all whom I know, and especially of you, my sister, for all the vexations which, without intending it, I may have caused you. I pardon all my enemies the evils that they have done me. I bid farewell to my aunts and to all my brothers and sisters. I had friends. The idea of being forever separated from them and from all their troubles is one of the greatest sorrows that I suffer in dying. Let them at least know that to my latest moment I thought of them.

Farewell, my good and tender sister. May this letter reach you. Think always of me; I embrace you with all my heart, as I do my poor dear children. My God, how heart-rending it is to leave them forever! Farewell! farewell! I must now occupy myself with my spiritual duties, as I am not free in my actions. Perhaps they will bring me a priest; but I here protest that I will not say a word to him, but that I will treat him as a total stranger.

Queen Marie Antoinette was executed on the Place de la Révolution on 16 October 1793. Here are two short videos which dramatise her death.

Marie Antoinette moments before her execution. In reality, her jailers cropped her hair extremely short so as not to get in the way of the guillotine (and, more realistically, to humiliate her). Unlike her husband the King, whom his killers permitted to ride to his execution in a closed coach, the Queen was seated in an open tumbrel, exposed to the jeers, taunts, and assaults of the Parisian crowd come to see her die.

Marie Antoinette moments before her execution. In reality, her jailers cropped her hair extremely short so as not to get in the way of the guillotine (and, more realistically, to humiliate her). Unlike her husband the King, whom his killers permitted to ride to his execution in a closed coach, the Queen was seated in an open tumbrel, exposed to the jeers, taunts, and assaults of the Parisian crowd come to see her die.

Marie Antoinette's execution, 16 October 1793.

Marie Antoinette’s execution, 16 October 1793. Her last known words were to one of her guards; she accidentally stepped on his foot, and said to him “Pardon me, monsieur, I did not mean to do it.”

Following the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1814, Louis XVI’s brother King Louis XVIII ordered his late brother and sister-in-law buried in a magnificent tomb befitting their royal status. Here they lie to this day. May God have mercy on them, remember them in His Kingdom, and one day restore the Bourbon monarchy in France:

The tomb of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in the royal Basilica of Saint Denis outside Paris.

The funerary monument of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in the royal Basilica of Saint Denis outside Paris. The sculptures, designed in 1830, are by Edme Gaulle and Pierre Petitot.

Mort à la République! Mort aux les traîtres républicaines! Mort à la Révolution! Mort à le drapeau tricolore! Mort aux tyrans! Mort à Robespierre et Saint-Just! Mort aux Jacobins! Vive la monarchie de France! Vive le roi et la reine de France! Vive la liberté!

*Tried before the revolutionary tribunal and accused of being “the sister of a Tyrant”, Princess Elisabeth, Louis XVI’s sister, responded: “If my brother had been what you call him, you would not have been where you are, nor I where I am!”. She was convicted, and guillotined the following day.

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