The 10th of August 1792: fall of the French monarchy

The 10th of August 1792 is one of the key dates of the French Revolution. Why was the populace of Paris so enraged at the King and Queen?

The war on Austria had been declared a few months earlier, and had turned into a military disaster for France. The Austrians and their Prussian allies were advancing fast into French territory. Reports of their atrocities spread to Paris. Along their path, villages were set ablaze, women were violated by entire battalions, civilians were slaughtered. Patriots volunteered to defend the Nation at this hour of desperate need. From the perspective of the King and Queen, the Austrians and Prussians would restore the monarchy under its traditional form, and their rapid success was welcome news. From the standpoint of the Parisians, foreign invaders were the enemy, and Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, along with their followers, were traitors. The divorce between the monarchy and Paris was now complete. The closer the foreign armies drew to Paris, the greater the royal family’s danger became. Preparations had been made openly for days for an attack on the royal palace of the Tuileries.

Tuileries during the French Revolution

In my first novel, Mistress of the Revolution, I chose to place my heroine, Gabrielle, at the Tuileries on the 10th of August. I based her recollections and reactions on the Memoirs of two eyewitnesses who saw the storming of the Tuileries from the inside of the palace: Madame de Tourzel, Governess of the Royal Children, and Madame Campan, First Chambermaid to the Queen. Here is an excerpt from the latter’s account, with my notes in brackets:

The tocsin [church bells tolling in unison to warn of a disaster] sounded at midnight. The Swiss Guards were drawn up like walls; and in the midst of their soldierlike silence, which formed a striking contrast with the perpetual din of the National Guard. The King informed M. de J––-, an officer of the staff, of the plan of defense laid down by General Viomenil. M. de J––- said to me, after this private conference, “Put your jewels and money into your pockets; our dangers are unavoidable; the means of defense are nil; safety might be obtained by some degree of energy in the King, but that is the only virtue in which he is deficient.”

Marie Antoinette Kucharski 1791

An hour after midnight the Queen [to the right, in a portrait painted at the Tuileries by Kucharski] and Madame Elisabeth said they would lie down on a sofa in a room in the entresol, the windows of which looked out on the courtyard of the Tuileries.

The Queen told me the King had just refused to put on his quilted under-waistcoat [a sort of bullet-proof vest]; that he had consented to wear it on the 14th of July because he was merely going to a ceremony where the blade of an assassin was to be feared, but that on a day on which his party might fight against the revolutionaries he thought there was something cowardly in preserving his life by such means.

During this time Madame Elisabeth removed some of her clothing in order to lie down on the sofa: she took a carnelian pin out of her kerchief, and before putting it down on a table, she showed it to me, and asked me to read the motto engraved upon it around a stalk of lilies. The words were: “Forget injuries, forgive offenses.”

“I much fear,” added that virtuous Princess, “this maxim carries but little weight with our enemies; but it ought not to be any less dear to us on that account.”

The Queen asked me to sit down by her; [she and Madame Elisabeth] could not sleep; they were discussing mournfully their situation when a musket was discharged in the courtyard. They both rose from the sofa, saying: “There is the first shot. Unfortunately it won’t be the last; let’s go to the King.” The Queen wanted me to follow her; several of her maids went with me.

At four o’clock [in the morning] the Queen came out of the King’s Bedchamber and told us she no longer had any hope; that Monsieur Mandat [commander in chief of the National Guard], who had gone to the City Hall to receive further orders, had just been murdered, and that the people were at that time carrying his head about the streets. Day came.

Louis XVI reviewing troops

Louis XVI reviewing troops

The King, the Queen, Madame Elisabeth, Madame [Madame Royale, daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette] and the Dauphin went down to pass through the ranks of the sections of the National Guard; the cry of “Long live King!” was heard from some quarters.

I was at a window on the garden side; I saw some of the gunners leave their posts, go up to the King, and shake their fists in his face, insulting him in the most brutal language. Messieurs de Salvert and de Bridges drove them off in a spirited manner. The King was as pale as a corpse. The royal family came back inside. The Queen told me that all was lost; that the King had shown no energy; and that this sort of review had done more harm than good.

I was in the billiard-room with my companions; we placed ourselves upon some high benches. I then saw M. d’Hervilly with a drawn sword in his hand, ordering the usher to open the door to the French nobility. Two hundred persons entered the room next to that in which the family were; others drew up in two lines in the preceding rooms. I saw a few men belonging to the Court, many others who were unknown to me, and a few who had technically no claim to the nobility, but whose devotion ennobled them at once.

They were all so poorly armed that even in that situation the indomitable French wit indulged in jests. M. de Saint-Souplet, one of the King’s equerries, and a page carried on their shoulders, instead of muskets, the fire tongs belonging to the King’s antechamber, which they had broken in two and divided between themselves. Another page, who had a pocket-pistol in his hand, stuck the end of it against the back of the person who stood before him, and who begged him to kindly rest it elsewhere. A sword and a pair of pistols were the only weapons of those who had taken the precaution to provide themselves with arms at all.

Meanwhile, the numerous bands from the suburbs, armed with pikes and cutlasses, filled the Carousel and the streets adjacent to the Tuileries. The sanguinary men from Marseilles were at their head, with cannons pointed on the Palace. In this emergency the King’s Council sent M. Dejoly, Minister of Justice, to the Assembly [legislative body] to request they send the King a deputation to serve as a safeguard to the executive power. His ruin was resolved on; they passed to the order of the day.

Royal family fleeing the Tuileries

At eight o’clock [still in the morning] … the procureur-syndic [Roederer, high ranking elected official of Paris] … went into the King’s Cabinet and requested to speak to him in private. The King received him in his Bedchamber; the Queen was with him. There Monsieur Roederer told him that the King, all his family, and the people who stayed with them would inevitably perish unless His Majesty immediately determined to go to the National Assembly. The Queen at first opposed this advice, but the procureur-syndic told her that she would bear responsibility for th
e deaths of the King, her children and all those in the palace. She no longer objected. The King then consented to go to the Assembly. As he set out, he said to the minister and persons who surrounded him, “Come, gentlemen, there is nothing more to be done here.”

The Queen said to me as she left the King’s Bedchamber, “Wait in my apartment; I will come to you, or I will send for you to go I know not whither.” She took with her only the Princesse de Lamballe [Head of the Queen’s Household and member of the royal family] and Madame de Tourzel [Governess to the royal children]

We saw the royal family pass between two lines formed by the Swiss grenadiers and those of the battalions of the Petits-Peres and the Filles Saint Thomas [two battalions of the National Guard still faithful to the monarchy]. They [the royal family] were so pressed upon by the crowd that during that short passage the Queen was robbed of her watch. A man of great height and horrible appearance, such as may be seen at the head of all insurrections, approached the Dauphin, whom the Queen was leading by the hand, and took him up in his arms. The Queen uttered a scream of terror, and was ready to faint. The man said to her: “Don’t be frightened, I won’t harm him!” and he gave him back to her at the entrance of the Chamber [of the Assembly.]

I leave to history all the details of that too memorable day, confining myself to recalling a few of the frightful scenes acted in the interior of the Tuileries after the King had left the palace.

The attackers did not know that the King and his family had left to go to the Assembly; and those who defended the palace were equally ignorant of it. It is supposed that if they had been aware of the fact the siege would never have taken place.

The men from Marseilles proceeded to drive from their posts several Swiss, who yielded without resistance; a few of the attackers fired at them; some of the Swiss officers, seeing their men fall, and perhaps thinking the King was still at the Tuileries, ordered a whole battalion to fire. The attackers disbanded, and the Carousel was cleared in a moment; but they soon returned, spurred on by rage and revenge. The Swiss Guards were but eight hundred strong; they retreated to the interior of the Palace. Some of the doors were battered in by guns, others broken through with hatchets; the populace rushed from all quarters into the palace; almost all the Swiss were massacred; the nobles, fleeing through the gallery which leads to the Louvre, were either stabbed or shot, and their bodies thrown out of the windows.

M. Pallas and M. de Marchais, ushers of the King’s chamber, were killed in defending the door of the Council Chamber; many others of the King’s servants fell victims to their fidelity. I mention these two persons in particular because, with their hats pulled over their brows and their swords in their hands, they exclaimed, as they defended themselves with unavailing courage, “We will not survive!–this is our post; our duty is to die at it.” M. Diet behaved in the same manner at the door of the Queen’s bedchamber; he met with the same fate. The Princesse de Tarente had fortunately opened the door of the [Queen’s] apartments; otherwise, the dreadful band seeing several women collected in the Queen’s salon would have fancied she was among us, and would have immediately massacred us had we resisted them. We were, indeed, all about to perish, when a man with a long beard came up, exclaiming, in the name of Petion [Mayor of Paris], “Spare the women! Don’t disgrace the nation!”

A particular circumstance placed me in greater danger than the others. In my confusion I imagined, a moment before the insurgents entered the Queen’s apartments, that my sister was not among the group of women collected there; and I went up into an entresol where I supposed she had taken refuge, to induce her to come down, fancying it safer that we should not be separated. I did not find her in the room in question; I saw there only our two chambermaids and one of the Queen’s two guards, a man of great height and military aspect. I saw that he was pale, and seated on a bed. I cried out to him, “Fly! the footmen and our people are already safe.” “I cannot,” said the man to me; “I am dying of fear.” As he spoke I heard a number of men rushing hastily up the staircase; they threw themselves upon him, and he was killed before my eyes.

I ran towards the staircase, followed by the maids. The murderers let go of the guard to come to me. The women threw themselves at their feet, and held their sabers. The narrowness of the staircase impeded the assassins; but I had already felt a horrid hand thrust into my back to seize me by my clothes, when someone called out from the bottom of the staircase: “What are you doing up there? We don’t kill women.” I was on my knees; my executioner let go of me and said with an atrocious accent: “Get up, you jade; the Nation pardons you.”

The brutality of these words did not prevent my suddenly experiencing an indescribable feeling which partook almost equally of the love of life and the idea that I was going to see again my son, and all that was dear to me. A moment before I had thought less of death than of the pain which the steel, suspended over my head, would cause me. Death is seldom seen at such close range without striking its blow. I heard every syllable uttered by the assassins, just as if I had been calm.

Five or six men seized me and my companions, and, having made us get up on benches placed before the windows, ordered us to cry “Long live the nation!”

I passed over several corpses; I recognized that of the old Vicomte de Broves, to whom the Queen had sent me at the beginning of the night to ask him and another elderly man to go home. These brave men asked me to tell her Majesty that they had but too strictly obeyed the King’s orders in all circumstances under which they ought to have exposed their lives in order to preserve his; and that for once they would not obey, though they would cherish the memory of the Queen’s kindness.

Near the gates, on the side next the bridge, the men who accompanied me asked whither I wished to go. Upon my inquiring, in turn, whether they were at liberty to take me wherever I might wish to go, one of them, a man from Marseilles, asked me while giving me a push with the butt of his musket, whether I still doubted the power of the people? I answered “No,” and I mentioned the number of my brother-in-law’s house. I saw my sister ascending the steps of the parapet of the bridge, surrounded by members of the National Guard. I called to her, and she turned round. “Do you want her to come with you?” said my guardian to me. I told him yes. They called the people who were taking my sister to prison; she joined me…

Our progress from the Tuileries to my sister’s house was most distressing. We saw several Swiss pursued and killed, and musket shots were crossing each other from all directions. We passed under the walls of the Louvre; they were firing from the parapet into the windows of the gallery, to hit the “knights of the dagger”; for thus did the populace designate those faithful subjects who had assembled at the Tuileries to defend the King.

Storming Tuileries 10 August 1792 Duplessis Bertaux

Storming Tuileries 10 August 1792 Duplessis Bertaux

The brigands broke some vessels of water in the Queen’s First Antechamber; the mixture of blood and water stained the skirts of our white gowns. The fishwives screamed after us in the streets that we were in the service of the Austrian Woman. Our protectors then showed some consideration for us, and made us go up a gateway to pull off our gowns; but our petticoats being too short, and making us look like persons in disguise, other fishwives began to bawl out that we were young Swiss Guards dressed up like women. We then saw a tribe of female cannibals enter the street, carrying the head of poor Mandat. Our guards made us hastily enter a little tavern, called for wine, and invited us to drink with them. They assured the owner that we were their sisters, and good patriots…

I trust Madame Campan’s account here, all the more so that it is confirmed by the unimpeachable Madame de Tourzel. You will note the numerous mentions of the “men from Marseilles” and their atrocious (to Madame Campan’s Parisian ear) accent. Those were volunteers who had come all the way from the South to Paris to enlist. Louis XVI, in one of his last acts as King, had vetoed the formation of a camp near Paris to gather them before they were sent to the front. Hence their distinctly hostile feelings towards the monarchy. Those men, while storming the Tuileries, were singing a new song, which was called La Marseillaise in their honor, and later became the French national anthem.

Louis XVI order to surrender 10 August 1792

Louis XVI order to surrender 10 August 1792

But let us go back to the 10th of August. The King, who arrived at the Assembly before nine in the morning, waited until the afternoon to order the Swiss Guards to surrender. Here is a copy of the order, signed in his own hand. It was too late. The death toll was horrendous: over 2,000 had died in a few hours, including most of the defenders (Swiss Guards, servants and noblemen) and 1,200 insurgents.

Why did the King wait so long? Why did he not order the Swiss Guards and the noblemen to surrender before he left the Tuileries for the Assembly? The slaughter could have been avoided, and the future might have been quite different, even though the abolition of the monarchy seemed a foregone conclusion. Louis XVI was a kind man, and he would not have wantonly let his most faithful supporters die to defend the Tuileries’ furniture. I believe there is a clue in Madame Campan’s account: note how Marie-Antoinette and another witness mention the King’s “lack of energy.” I am no fan of retrospective psychiatric diagnosis, but I believe Louis XVI suffered from clinical depression at the time.

Let us hear the conclusion of this tragic day from Gabrielle:

At the Assembly, the King and Queen had been at first received with respect, but, as the extent of the slaughter became known, they were ordered to sit in the reporters’ cubicle, a stifling space resembling a cage. All over Paris, the statues of the Kings, even those decorating the entrance to the cathedral of Notre-Dame, even that of the beloved Henri the Fourth on the Pont-Neuf, the New Bridge, were pulled down and broken. The next day, the Assembly suspended the monarchy. The royal family was imprisoned in the Temple, an enclosed compound in the middle of Paris, which, as its name indicated, had been the seat of the Templars.

The dynasty founded by Hughes Capet, Count de Paris, the most ancient reigning family in the world, had governed France without interruption for over eight centuries. It was overthrown in the course of these few days of August 1792. The former King was now a private citizen, and revolutionaries affected to call him simply “Louis Capet”, after the surname of his long departed ancestor. The Queen became the “Capet Woman”.

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30 Comments to “The 10th of August 1792: fall of the French monarchy”

  1. Dear Marta,

    I couldn’t agree more about Madame Campan’s memoirs. An irreplaceable document, a gifted writer, but she is often so prejudiced… She certainly knew how to keep a grudge. Look at my series on the daughters of Louis XV. Obviously she was also trying to justify herself against the attacks against her during the Restoration (often, by the way, from people who had spent the Revolution safely tucked away in London.) Like all testimony, hers needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

    Thanks so much for visiting, and I hope you will be back!

  2. Marta says:

    Dear Catherine,

    Your theory about Louis XVI clinical depression caught my attention. There might be some truth in it and this would be a very interesting field of research/study.
    But this is not the main reason why I would like to add a comment on your blog. Please, do not take Madame Campan’s Mémoires 100% reliable. I believe that her story about 10th August is reliable with regards of her personal experience, but I also believe that there are many contradictions in her memories. I am sure you are well aware of contemporaneous Mémoires, such as the one of Monsieur le baron de Goguelat, baron d’Aubier, Cant-Hanet and many others, who heavily discredit the authenticity of Campan’s truth. Further to this, I am not sure that the first edition of the Mémoires was indeed the authentic one (as it is known that the manuscript was corrected at some point by Abbé Girod).
    The reason why Madame Campan does not write in a “nice” way about the king, has also its reason. Louis XVI at one point, refused her one of her request and actually, I could trace back in german critics from the early XIX where they quote from Campan’s Mémoires, about the king. Quotation that cannot be found in any of her Mémoires… (basically she treats him being fat).
    Sorry if I were pushy with my observations, but I wanted to let you know about my views, as I a researcher.

    Phd, French Litterature & History
    Main field : Mémoires of Campan and Cléry

  3. Thanks, George! All I can say is the more you delve into the 18th c, the more fascinating it gets.
    Marie-Antoinette, yes, an extraordinary figure, as misunderstood today as she was then, and that’s saying a lot. Sure, modern misunderstandings are far more sympathetic to her than the old hate-filled images, but IMO most people still don’t “get” her (i.e. the Coppola film, which misses the point in spite of its stunning visuals.)

  4. George says:

    Catherine, I just discovered your blog, as a Marie Antoinette fanatic and sympathiser, I adore what you have done!

    I’ve always had a passion for history, despite it being the only subject I failed… but if I had learnt about the stuff you specialise in… then there is no question I would of suceeded.

    You to me, are my favourite historian and I can’t wait till your books I ordered arrive!!!

  5. Catherine Delors says:

    Monsieur de Verin, certainly the King missed the summer relief Saint-Cloud had provided from the oppressive atmosphere of the Tuileries.

    Elena, I believe you are right, both on the childhood trauma following the death of his elder brother, the Duc de Bourgogne, and the relationship between TB and depression, or melancholy as it was then known.

  6. Merci, cher Monsieur C de V. I was also reflecting today upon how depression can be a side effect of TB.

    I think Louis struggled with “melancholy” at various times throughout his life, perhaps due to the childhood infection with TB. With the regimen of exercise and his strictly adhered to routine he was able to keep melancholy and TB from overwhelming him. However, losing his son, his authority, his home, seeing his people and family suffer, and being deprived of the exercise and fresh air vital to his health, left him in a very bad state. If we consider the courage with which he faced the worst moments of crisis, including his death, then he is to be admired, especially in the light of everything else. The Queen is to be admired as well, for she could have slipped out of the country with her children and left Louis to his doom (there were many plans for her escape) but she refused to budge from Louis’ side. She would not leave him to face the disasters alone.

  7. Also, you are correct, Catherine, about Louis and TB. Louis contracted TB when he was five by being made to sit at the bedside of his dying older brother. It was a traumatic experience in many ways for a small boy, especially since he himself became quite ill. Louis, then the Duc de Berry, was generally regarded as unhealthy and not likely to live to adulthood, and so more attention was given to Provence, who seemed to have better health and king like qualities. Louis managed to survive, however, and the rest is history. But the TB would come back to haunt him and his oldest son, too. I think seeing Louis-Joseph die just as he had watched his older brother die long ago revived a lot of the childhood trauma (just my theory.) And death from TB is not pretty to watch…..

  8. “I did not expect this post to garner such lively and excellent comments. Thank you all!”

    Don’t be surprised, it was really an excellent post !

    Re: Elena Maria Vidal, I really like your analysis of the king’s need for exercise and fresh air. His disappointment (I’m trying to think of a stronger word than disappointment, but it’s escaped me) at being able to remove the royal family for a few days to St.-Cloud in 1791 is further evidence of this. Although the king hoped to be able to hear the mass privately there with a non-juring priest, St.-Cloud was one of the royal hunting residences, purchased in 1785 (a huge scandal at the time, as the queen purchased it in her own name; the scandal was in the fact that the queen owned something in her own name apart from the king.). I’m sure the king and his family looked forward to the chance to leave Paris for a few days as they had been able in 1790 when they stayed at St.-Cloud in July of that year.

  9. Catherine Delors says:

    Quite true, Elena. He also gained much weight following the move to the Tuileries. It was a place of misery for the entire royal family. Better than what was to come, though…

    I must say I did not expect this post to garner such lively and excellent comments. Thank you all!

  10. I wanted to add that Louis was a man accustomed to strenuous exercise, especially hunting and riding, not to mention his labors as a locksmith. It is my belief that he needed the fresh air and the exertion for both his mental and physical health. He was deprived of much of his riding after Oct 1789 and it had a devastating effect of his health and state of mind.

  11. Merci, Ellen and Catherine. And

    I fully agree with the following words on M. Chalut de Verin:

    ‘The king’s indecision really became pronounced with the revolution. He is recorded as withdrawing to his apartments and sobbing, and especially after the court moved to Paris the indecision became more pronounced. Observers record a man often completely removed from his surroundings, as if in a stupor. In May of 1792, for example, he did not utter a word for ten days straight to anyone except for his sister, Mme Elisabeth, when playing backgammon. On one occasion, he failed to recognize his son, the new dauphin …, and asked whose child it was.

    The stories of the queen’s political meddlings have gained her infamy, but she was in effect almost forced into making the decisions as the king often could not or would not make them himself. It wasn’t to advance her own political ambitions, however. Mme Campan relates that the queen was aware of her political limitations, both in light of her being a woman and in her education. However, as the king was either unable or refused to effectively “step up to the plate,” the queen was the only alternative rallying point for the crown.’

    This is all true. I have read about the king’s stupor and inability to recognize his own child as mentioned above in biographies of the king. He was very ill, and had no one he could totally trust but his queen. Even his beloved sister Elisabeth was naively corresponding with the brothers in exile. Marie-Antoinette was forced to take what measures she felt best to save her family and to save France.

    I would recommend everyone reading the biography by Petitfils.

  12. Catherine Delors says:

    Marjoke – True, the Spanish Bourbons are descended in direct line from Louis XIV, through his grandson the Duc d’Anjou. For French legitimists, that makes them the true heirs of the French throne since the Duc d’Anjou’s renunciation to his dynastic rights is of dubious legal validity.

    The other pretenders, the Orleans, are only descended from Philippe, brother of Louis XIV. So they are less directly related to the last reigning Bourbon Kings of France, indeed the brothers of Louis XVI.

  13. Marjoke says:

    Quote “Diane The dynasty has survived somehow, since the king of Spain is also a Bourbon.”

    The Bourbons from Spain are fare related to the main branch. These Bourbons are descents from the second grandson of Louis XIV. They are excluded from the French throne.

    After the fall of Napoleon, the France Bourbons returned in the person of the brothers of Louis XVI.

  14. Catherine Delors says:

    Thank you, Monsieur de Verin, for your beautifully clear analysis, and the recommendation of Munro Price’s book. The role of the Baron de Breteuil, it seems, was extremely important, before and during the Revolution and I am interested in Mr. Price’s take on this too little known character.

    And I do hope you start your own blog someday…

  15. No, I don’t necessarily prefer Marie-Antoinette to Louis XVI. Politically, however, the queen’s influence on the king during the revolution was not a good thing. The king was often indecisive, we all know this. When numerous opportunities for compromise came, he committed to them, but then later backed down because of the queen’s influence and those of others. That’s not to say the king and queen were working for a return to absolute monarchy (absolute only in name, to be honest, as the king’s will was often interpreted by the various parlements and sovereign courts during the ancien regime). Had they regained their freedom, I still don’t think the monarchy would have been able to reinstate itself as it had been before 1789. I also don’t think it would have wanted to. I maintain that Louis XVI was an enlightened monarch and was willing to make concessions, which are best-outlined in his declaration of 23 June 1789. However, especially with such vocal detractors as Jean-Paul Marat, this was hardly enough. Other developments such as the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (laughable in light of the ideas of liberty being hailed at the time, as well as how it ironically went back to earlier ambitions of Louis XIV and the creation of a Gallican Church) were in effect meant to further eliminate the king’s positive relationship with the revolution. In the end, it was bad advice, a wavering personality, and events that spiraled out of control and led to the fall of the monarchy.

  16. Ellen Moody says:

    Je suis d’accord avec Elena Maria Vidal. I’ve no time now to comment but will come back tonight and post on ECW and here too.

    Thank you,

  17. Clarice says:

    Well i guess cause you prefer MA than him in the opposite to me. ;)
    And well i also disagree that Louis were died on tuberculosis ( in the temple) without the guillotine. It was more than rare that he was ill. The first when he got his first 4 baby-teeth where he went with his mother to Meudon. Then he got the illness (tuberculosis) of his brother when it became stronger on March 20. 1761. And later he got the same problem again in 1791 were he ws 3 weeks in his bed with fever.I more guess he suffered on chronical Bronchitis or Pneumonia. And yes the guards noted that he coughed BUT NOT all night long. And he would had lost weight as a “side effect” and he would also be tried all the time, like a heightened breathing . And the guards and the guys which took “care” for the laundry had notcied it when he had spat out blood as an effect of tuberculosis like it was in 1791. But yes i know that a Pneumonia can swtich in a tuberculosis very easly, but in this case i think not. ;)
    I´m not medic but i have a great friend which studie it and which is founded in the time and Louis family too. ;) And so also think that i wrote. ;)

  18. The psychological state of Louis XVI makes for some fascinating discussions. I definitely agree that the king was suffering from depression. I think it first started after his pretty charismatic and enlightened reform project under Calonne was rejected by the Assembly of Notables and Parlements in 1787. Louis XVI was very enthusiastic at this attempt to revitalise the kingdom and saw it as another step in his enlightened reign (in addition to the achievement of American independence, abolition of various taxes and social restrictions, etc.) Contemporaries record the king starting to over-eat at this time, as well as go on longer hunting excursions.

    The death of the first dauphin was a debilitating blow to the king and queen. It’s sad, because the dauphin was loved by the people (Thomas Jefferson recorded the people’s love for the “little dolphin” as American Ambassador to Versailles). His death could have been used by the king and queen as a rallying point in favor of the monarchy at this critical point in the early stages of the revolution. However, the royal couple were too-consumed by grief and overwhelmed by the menace posed by the more vocal members of the États généraux.

    The king’s indecision really became pronounced with the revolution. He is recorded as withdrawing to his apartments and sobbing, and especially after the court moved to Paris the indecision became more pronounced. Observers record a man often completely removed from his surroundings, as if in a stupor. In May of 1792, for example, he did not utter a word for ten days straight to anyone except for his sister, Mme Elisabeth, when playing backgammon. On one occasion, he failed to recognize his son, the new dauphin Louis-Joseph, and asked whose child it was.

    The stories of the queen’s political meddlings have gained her infamy, but she was in effect almost forced into making the decisions as the king often could not or would not make them himself. It wasn’t to advance her own political ambitions, however. Mme Campan relates that the queen was aware of her political limitations, both in light of her being a woman and in her education. However, as the king was either unable or refused to effectively “step up to the plate,” the queen was the only alternative rallying point for the crown.

    For a really good history on this subject and the critical years between 1787 and 1793, much can be learned from Munro Price’s “The Fall of the French Monarchy: Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and the baron de Breteuil.” It’s very well-written, if I ever start my own blog it will be one of the first books I review !

  19. Catherine Delors says:

    I think, Clarice, we need to agree to disagree on some points.

    As for the physical illness, I was referring to tuberculosis, which killed both of Louis’s sons, and would probably have killed him if the guillotine had not interfered. I believe Louis was already very sick during the summer of 1792. While he was jailed at the Temple in the following months, the guards noted that he coughed all night long.

  20. Clarice says:

    >>a sense of political failure? o.0 Well he had no chance to change it. He tried like the taxes for the nobles etc… Ok some one will say its like a sense of political failure, but not for me, i´m sry. Louis was in that way a “lonelier” worrier in a fight which was lost already after his wedding. And after MA became really queen of France. Even if she wasn´t allowed to act in politic things…She did to much against his back, like his brothers…! And result, well…
    Which serious physical illness o.0? I agree with the points >>The death of a beloved child,(well-taken) worries about the safety of one’s family, excruciating religious scruples! yes!
    But not that he had a phy.illness! Sure all the facts wasn´t good for his health but is this a surprise when you are “totally alone” in a fight, lost everything you was actually living for and when you see now that everything you tried you pleased god was in vain? He had no “true” friend/s (except of his sister and children) he could really trust in and i mean not in the political way…
    Louis needed a shoulder to put his head on, you know… Cause i look at him for the man he was not for the king he had to be. :S you see… So many guys just look at him for the king. But almost no one know his character, his way why he act like this or this… his soul and mind. ;) You see ? ;) Its so sad.

  21. Catherine Delors says:

    The death of a beloved child, a sense of political failure, (well-taken) worries about the safety of one’s family, serious physical illness, excruciating religious scruples, all at the same time… I have no medical training, but I do believe that could cause debilitating sadness.

  22. Clarice says:

    Sure it was a prison and he wasn´t pleased to be under control like that. I know that very well ;) He “hated” LaFayette and Baily and the visits of them all the time. Sure he wasn´t amused to live in the Tuileries, but i mean more the whole situation. He treid to keept his postion as good as he can. But where except of the Tuileries he should go except of Versailes which wasn´t possible. But it was anyhow not a reason cause he had depressions in my eyes ;)

  23. Catherine Delors says:

    Indeed, Elisa! For me it is one of blogging’s great pleasures to be able to illustrate my posts in an attempt to bring the past to life.

  24. Elisa says:

    What a chaotic and terrible day, to say the least!

    Most of the pictures you included are new to me.

  25. Catherine Delors says:

    Elena – Many thanks for the link! There were so many things weighing on Louis: the death of his eldest son, certainly, and the religious turmoil of the Revolution, worries about the safety of his family, a sense of having failed his ancestors by accepting the constitutional monarchy. Also undermining him were physical health issues, in particular tuberculosis. This is indeed when Marie-Antoinette stepped up to a political role.

    Clarice – I strongly disagree: Louis had no emotional or political attachment to the Tuileries, a place that symbolized for him the Revolution and the control of the people of Paris over the monarchy. Especially after Varennes, it felt like a prison to him and his family.

  26. Clarice says:

    Why did Louis wait so long… Well, i think not he wanted to let all his royal men die just for nothing. And he had no depression at this moment. These “depression” which i wouldn´t cal like that were before but not at these terrible moment. I more guess, that Louis wanted to try to “keep” one of the last things which represent the royal Family. And in this case was it the Tuileries. After they lost Versailles eg. He was more disappointed. It wa hard for him to realize that the people especially in Paris “hate” him so much. And the first shock where he really felt it was after Varennes and again. And that, after he did actually everything the Assembly wanted from him, like the war against Austria. And he have to be sure that his family is saved in such a situation. Most of all when he had knew that his own wife betray him with high treason with the war against Austria. Well for me he was tooo deep in faith for god, cause if he wasn´t he had agreed with the revolutionaries in one point, to accept the dissolution of MA. It were the best for all. -.-
    Just my opinion… ;)

  27. Catherine Delors says:

    Thank you, Diane! Certainly King Juan Carlos is a Borbon y Borbon.

    The Bourbons were restored – for a time – to the throne of France as well after the Revolution. And we had the First and Second Empires. But true, nothing was ever the same. The 10th of August was a turning point in French history. What struck me about it is that it interrupted eight continuous centuries of Capetian rule over France.

  28. And I am convinced that since the death of his oldest son, which coincided with the beginning of the Revolution in 1789, Louis XVI was suffering from clinical depression. In the past, he had acted with much more energy and decision. This is one of the reasons Marie-Antoinette had to become more involved in the political arena.

  29. Superb post, Catherine! I have added it to my links for today’s historical events!

  30. Diane says:

    The dynasty has survided somehow, since the king of Spain is also a Bourbon.
    But all that world around Versailles was mortally wounded on 10th August 1792.
    After that, it was never the same.
    I have greatly enjoyed your account!

    Un saludo!

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