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

The 10th of August 1792 is one of the key dates of the French Revolution. Over the three years that had followed Bastille Day, the uneasy cohabitation between Louis XVI and the revolutionaries had slowly disintegrated. The attempt of the royal family in 1791 to flee to the Austrian border had ended in failure. Overnight the King has lost his immense popularity. The war with Austria, declared during the spring of 1792 with the active support of the King and Queen and over Robespierre’s strenuous objections had further undermined the constitutional monarchy.

As expected by the King and Queen, the war promptly turned into a military disaster, but this did nothing to restore the power and popularity of the monarchy. The Austrians and their Prussian allies, far from being greeted as liberators as they advanced into French territory, committed atrocities. Along their path, villages were set ablaze, women were violated by entire battalions, civilians were slaughtered.

At the end of July 1792, news of “Brunswick’s Manifesto” reached the capital. It was an official proclamation signed by the Duke de Brunswick, commander in chief of the Prussian armies, threatening the inhabitants of Paris with the severest retaliation if the King or Queen were harmed. That declaration had been intended to instill terror in the hearts of the populace. It had the opposite effect of inflaming the Parisians and of proving the collusion between the monarchy and the enemy. Louis XVI and Austrian-born Marie-Antoinette now appeared as traitors. An attack on the Palace of the Tuileries, in the heart of Paris, where the royal family now resided, had been expected since the beginning of August.

In Mistress of the Revolution, my heroine Gabrielle witnesses the events of the 10th of August from inside the Tuileries and hears for the first time La Marseillaise as it is sung in unison by the insurgents. The Palace was defended by a few thousand Swiss and National Guards, along with lightly armed noblemen.

The royal family had left the Palace early in the morning to seek refuge with the Assembly nearby. However, the King had left instructions to defend the Palace. The Swiss put up a valiant but hopeless fight. Eventually, when a crowd numbering in the tens of thousands attacked, all of the defenders were massacred or captured in a matter of hours.

Here is how Gabrielle recounts the events: The King, from the Assembly, had waited until the afternoon to order the Swiss Guards to surrender. It was too late. Over two thousand people had died, including most of the defenders and twelve hundred attackers. From the Assembly, one could hear cannon and musketry fire. From time to time, insurgents, covered with blood, brought to the Representatives news of the slaughter next door in the Chateau, as well as objects, correspondence or documents they had seized. Some would, in later months, be used to prove the treason of the King and Queen.

There was a lot of destruction, but no plunder, for all persons caught stealing in the Palace were killed on the spot by their fellow insurgents. The King and Queen were at first received with respect, but, as the extent of the butchery became known, the attitude of the Assembly became hostile. The royal family was ordered to sit in the reporters’ cubicle, a stifling space resembling a cage. They were now prisoners.

There would be no turning back: the next day the monarchy was suspended and the royal family taken to the grim medieval tower of the Temple. Louis XVI would only leave it to be tried and executed a few months later, and Marie-Antoinette to be transferred to the Conciergerie to face in turn the Revolutionary Tribunal and the guillotine.

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