Saturday, 6 April 2013

Execution of a King

Louis XVI woke up at 5 o'clock on January 21 1793. By that time Louis XVI had been stripped of his title as King of France and was now only referred to as Louis Capet. Jean-Baptiste Cléry - the King's valet - helped Louis get dressed after which the former King went to meet Father Henry Essex Edgeworth de Firmont who was an Irish priest. Louis XVI said his last confession, heard his last mass and finally received the final Communion.

Louis was not to go to his family that morning. He had seen them the previous day where he promised to say a final goodbye to them but the priest convinced the King that such a scene would be too much for everyone involved. Louis made his last wishes clear to the priest - his great seal was to pass on to his son the Dauphin and his wedding-ring to Marie Antoinette. The King made his way through the Temple Prison and down to the second courtyard. Here a green carriage was waiting and next to it was Antoine Joseph Santarre, Commander of the Guard. Louis seated himself inside it and was joined by his priest - two militiamen also climbed in and sat opposite to their previous sovereign on his final journey.The carriage left the Temple Prison at 9 o'clock in the morning.

The green carriage drove through Paris for an hour at a slow pace. Before the carriage itself, drummers made sure that no cries of sympathy was heard and behind the carriage cavalry troops rode slowly along. The National Assembly and the Sans-Culottes took no chances - 80.000 armed guards were placed along the entire route of the King. There was to be no attempt at saving the sovereign.

The carriage arrived at what had always been known as the Place de Louis XV but had been renamed - it was now the Place de la Revolution. The King stepped out of the carriage and mounted the scaffold - contemporaries describe him as being "dignified and resigned". Louis XVI's last speech was very brief:

"I am innocent of all the crimes imputed to me. I pardon the authors of my death and pray to God that the blood you are about to shed will never fall upon France."

Many separate accounts of the King's last speech indicates that the King wanted to say more but was cut off when Antoine Joseph Santerre ordered a drum roll from the soldiers near the scaffold - it was considered to dangerous a risk to let the King say more in case he might try to rally support. After his speech a guard stepped nearer to the King and tried to grab his hands. Louis XVI refused to have his hands tied behind his back and the guard gave the former King this privilege.
Louis was placed on the plank which was then pushed in under the guillotine's blade. At 10.22 the blade fell and ended the life of the dethroned Louis XVI. Some say that the blade had to be raised again because it had failed to sever the King's head at the first stroke - this may be true but the King was certainly dead at the first stroke.
The executioner held up the severed head and shouted "Behold the head of a traitor" to the large crowd. Shouts of "Vive la Republique" spread across the Place de la Revolution.

Louis XVI's body was thrown into an unmarked grave but was laid to rest at the Basilica of St. Denis when the monarchy was restored in 1815.

Depictions of Louis XVI's execution:

Execution of King Louis XVI of France on January 21, 1793: contemporary English colored engraving.
Depiction of Louis XVI's execution from a contemporary English paper

Louis XVI mounting the steps to the Scaffold.

H. de la Charlerie:The Execution of Louis XVI (1754-93)
Drawing by H. de la Charlerie
Louis XVI (1754-93) at Prayer Before his Execution (engraving)

No comments:

Post a Comment