The execution of Louis XVI. The monstrous crime that gave birth to the Republic of France.
Louis XVI. King, father and victim.
In memoriam. Louis XVI, martyred by the French Republic.
The 14th of July is a very famous date in history. It is is the national day in modern France. It commemorates the fall of the Bastille in 1789 and the commencement of the French revolution. All over the world French people will be celebrating on that anniversary. There will be fireworks and dancing in Paris and champagne corks will be popped in order to toast liberty, equality and fraternity. In capital cities, all over the world, receptions will be held in French embassies. Ambassadors will be wearing the sashes of the Legion of Honour and congratulations will be pouring in from heads of state, to add to the day of celebration.
I don't personally think that there is anything to celebrate. The French Republic was founded on a monstrous crime and the criminal act was the judicial murder of King Louis XVI and the later one of his wife Queen Marie Antoinette. Instead of wearing sashes and dancing in the streets, the French people and their representatives should be donning sackcloth and ashes. Any representatives of a political system, that was founded on the back of a heinous crime, should be bowing their heads in shame. I certainly won't be celebrating.
There are plenty of other people who can argue the politics of late 18th century France. I do not propose to do this now. My opinion on the relative merits of monarchies versus republics is well known to any who read my articles. To any readers, who are coming across me for the first time, I am a royalist. I've yet to come across a Republic that has actually been of any great benefit to its citizens. But any debate on this issue must be deferred for another time. In this article I just want to retell the story of the last journey taken on this earth by the martyr King Louis XVI. You can contrast the dignity and courage of this man as he travelled to the guillotine, with the behaviour of the howling mob that surrounded him. Decide then, whether you want to celebrate the French republic, or not.
My account is based on that left by 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 head of King Louis XVI is shown to the people.
Louis XVI Martyr-King
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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.