Marie Antoinette and Her Son

Author: Luise Mühlbach

Chapter XX. To the 21st 0f January.

"We must look misfortune directly in the eye, and have courage to bear it worthily," said Marie Antoinette." "We are prisoners, and shall long remain so! Let us seek to have a kind of household life even in our prison. Let us make a fixed plan how to spend our days."

"You are right, Marie," replied Louis; "let us arrange how to spend each day. As I am no longer a king, I will be the teacher of my son, and try to educate him to be a good king."

"Do you believe, then, husband, that there are to be kings after this in France?" asked Marie Antoinette, with a shrug.

"Well," answered Louis, "we will at least seek to give him such an education that he shall be able to fill worthily whatever station he may be called to. I will be his teacher in the sciences."

"And I will interest him and our daughter in music and drawing," said the queen.

"And you will allow me to teach my niece to embroider an altarcover," said Madame Elizabeth.

"And in the evening," said Marie Antoinette, nodding playfully to Princess Lamballe, "in the evening we will read comedies, that the children may learn of our Lamballe the art of declamation. We will seek to forget the past, and turn our thoughts only to the present, whatever it may be. You see that these four days that we have spent here in the Temple have been good schoolmasters for me, and have made me patient, and—but what is that?" exclaimed the queen; "did you not hear steps before the door? It must be something unusual, for it is not yet so late as the officials are accustomed to come. Where are the children?"

And, in the anxiety of her motherly love, the queen hastened up the little staircase which led to the second story of the Temple, where was the chamber of the dauphin, together with the general sittingroom.

Louis Charles sprang forward to meet his mother, and asked her whether she had come to fulfil her promise, and go out with him into the garden. The queen, instead of answering, clasped him in her arms, and beckoned to Theresa to come to her side. "Oh! my children, my dear children, I only wanted to see you; I—"

The door opened, and the king, followed by his sister, Princess Lamballe, and Madame Tourzel, entered.

"What is it?" cried Marie Antoinette. "Some new misfortune, is it not?"

She was silent, for she now became aware of the presence of both of the municipal officials, who had come in behind the ladies, and in whose presence she would not complain. Manuel, who, since the 10th of August, had been attorney-general—Manuel, the enemy of the queen, the chief supervisor of the prisoners in the Temple, was there—and Marie Antoinette would not grant him the triumph of seeing her weakness.

"You have something to say to us, sir," said the queen, with a voice which she compelled to be calm.

Yes, Manuel had something to say to her. He had to lay before her and the king a decree of the National Assembly, which ordered old parties who had accompanied "Louis Capet and his wife" to the Temple, either under the name of friends or servants, to leave the place at once. The queen had not a word of complaint, but her pride was vanquished; she suffered Manuel to see her tears. She extended her arms, and called the faithful Lamballe to her, mingled her tears with those of the princess, and then gave a parting kiss to Madame de Tourzel and her daughter.

The evening of that day was a silent and solitary one in the rooms of the Temple. Their last servants had been taken away from the royal prisoners, and only Clery, the valet of the king, had been suffered to remain, to wait upon his master. The next morning, however, Manuel came to inform the queen that she would be allowed to have two other women to wait upon her, and gave her a list of names from which she might choose. But Marie Antoinette, with proud composure, refused to accept this offer. "We have been deprived of those who remained faithful to us out of love, and devoted their services to us as a free gift, and we will not supply their places by servants who are paid by our enemies."

"Then you will have to wait upon yourselves," cried Manuel, with a harsh voice.

"Yes," answered the queen, gently, "we will wait upon ourselves, and take pleasure in it."

And they did wait upon themselves; they took the tenderest care one of another, and performed all these offices with constant readiness. The king had, happily, been allowed to retain his valet, who dressed him, who knew all his quiet, moderate ways, and who arranged every thing for the king in the little study at the Temple, as he had been accustomed to do in the grand cabinet at Versailles. The ladies waited upon themselves, and Marie Antoinette undertook the task of dressing and undressing the dauphin.

The little fellow was the sunbeam which now and then would light up even the sombre apartments of the Temple. With the happy carelessness of infancy, he had forgotten the past, and did not think of the future; he lived only in the present, sought to be happy, and found his happiness when he succeeded in calling a smile to the pale, proud lips of the queen, or in winning a word of praise from the king for his industry and his attention.

And thus the days went by with the royal family-monotonous, sad, and dreary. No greeting of love, no ray of hope came in from the outer world, to lighten up the thick walls of the old building. No one brought the prisoners news of what was transpiring without. They were too well watched for any of their friends to be able to communicate with them. This was the greatest trial for the royal captives. Not a moment, by day or by night, when the eyes of the sentries were not directed toward them, and their motions observed! The doors to the anterooms were constantly open, and in them always there were officials, with searching looks and with severe faces, watching the prisoners in the inner rooms. Even during the night this trial did not cease, and the Queen of France had to undergo the indignity of having the door of her sleeping-room constantly open, while the officials, who spent the night in their arm-chairs in the anteroom, drank, played, and smoked, always keeping an eye on her bed, in order to be sure of her presence.

Even when she undressed herself, the doors of the queen’s apartment were not closed; a mere small screen stood at the foot of the bed; this was removed as soon as the queen had disrobed and lain down.

This daily renewed pain and humiliation—this being watched every minute—was the heaviest burden that the prisoners of the Temple had to bear, and the proud heart of Marie Antoinette rose in exasperation every day against these restraints. She endeavored to be patient and to choke the grief that rose within her, and yet she must sometimes give expression to it in tears and threatening words, which now fell like cold thunderbolts from the lips of the queen, and no longer kindled any thing, no longer dashed any thing in pieces.

Thus August passed and September began, sad, gloomy, and hopeless. On the morning of the 3d of September, Manuel came to the royal prisoners, to tell them that Paris was in great excitement, and that they were not to go into the garden that day as usual about noon, but were to remain in their rooms.

"How is it with my friend, Princess Lamballe?" asked Marie Antoinette.

Manuel was perplexed; he even blushed and cast down his eyes, as he answered that that morning the princess had been taken to the prison La Force. Then, in order to divert conversation from this channel, Manuel told the prisoners about the tidings which had recently reached Paris, and had thrown the city into such excitement and rage.

The neighboring powers had made an alliance against France. The King of Prussia was advancing with a powerful army, and had already confronted the French force before Chalons, while the Emperor of Germany was marching against Alsace. Marie Antoinette forgot the confusion and perplexity which Manuel had exhibited, in the importance of this news. She hoped again; she found in her elastic spirit support in these tidings, and began to think of the possibility of escape. It did not trouble her that beneath her windows she heard a furious cry, as the crowd surged up to the prison walls: "The head of the Austrian! Give us the head of the Austrian!" She had so often heard that—it had been so long the daily refrain to the sorrowful song of riot which filled Paris—that it had lost all meaning for Marie Antoinette.

Nor did it disturb her at all that she heard the loud beatings of drums approaching like muffled thunder, that trumpets were blown, that musketry rattled, and loud war cries resounded in the distant streets.

Marie Antoinette paid no heed to this. She heard constantly ringing before her ear Manuel’s words: "The neighboring nations have allied against France. The King of Prussia is before Chalons. The Emperor of Germany is advancing upon Strasburg." "0 God of Heaven, be merciful to us! Grant to our friends victory over our enemies.

Release us from these sufferings and pains, that our children may at least find the happiness which for us is buried forever in the past."

And yet Marie Antoinette could speak to no one of her hopes and fears. She must breathe her prayer in her own heart alone, for the municipal officials were there, and the two servants who had been forced upon the prisoners, Tison and his wife, the paid servants of their enemies.

Only the brave look and the clearer brow told the king of the hopes and wishes of his wife, but he responded to them with a faint shrug and a sad smile.

All at once, after the royal family had sat down to take their dinner at the round table—all at once there was a stir in the building which was before so still. Terrible cries were heard, and steps advancing up the staircase. The two officials, who were sitting in the open anteroom, stood and listened at the door. This was suddenly opened, and a third official entered, pale, trembling with rage, and raising his clinched fists tremblingly against the king.

"The enemy is in Verdun," cried he. "We shall all be undone, but you shall be the first to suffer!"

The king looked quietly at him; but the dauphin, terrified at the looks of the angry man and his loud voice, burst into a violent fit of weeping and sobbing, and Marie Antoinette and the little Theresa strove in vain to quiet the little fellow by gentle words.

A fourth official now entered, and whispered secretly to his colleagues.

"Is my family no longer in safety here?" asked the king.

The official shrugged his shoulders. "The report has gone abroad that the royal family is no longer in the Temple. This has excited the people, and they desire that you all show yourselves at the windows, but we will not permit it; you shall not show yourselves. The public must have more confidence in its servants."

"Yes," cried the other official, still raising his fists—"yes, that it must; but if the enemy come, the royal family shall die!"

And when at these words the dauphin began to cry aloud again, he continued: "I pity the poor little fellow, but die he must!"

Meanwhile the cries outside were still louder, and abusive epithets were distinctly heard directed at the queen. A fifth official then came in, followed by some soldiers, in order to assure themselves, in the name of the people, that the Capet family was still in the tower. This official demanded, in an angry voice, that they should go to the window and show themselves to the people.

"No, no, they shall not do it," cried the other functionaries.

"Why not?" asked the king. "Come, Marie."

He extended his hand to her, and advanced with her to the window.

"No, don’t do it!" cried the official, rushing to the window.

"Why not?" asked the king, in astonishment.

"Well," cried the man, with threatening fist, "the people want to show you the head of Lamballe, that you may see how the nation takes vengeance on its tyrants."

At that same instant there arose behind the window-pane a pale head encircled with long, fair hair, the livid forehead sprinkled with blood, the eyes lustreless and fixed—the head of Princess Lamballe, which the people had dressed by a friseur, to hoist it upon a pike and show it to the queen.

The queen had seen it; staggering she fell back upon a chair; she gazed fixedly at the window, even after the fearful phantom had disappeared. Her lips were open, as if for a cry which had been silenced by horror. She did not weep, she did not complain, and even the caresses of the children, the gentle address of Princess Elizabeth, and the comforting words of the king could not rouse her out of this stupefying of her whole nature.

Princess Lamballe had been murdered, and deep in her soul the queen saw that this was only the prelude to the fearful tragedy, in which her family would soon be implicated.

Poor Princess Lamballe! She had been killed because she had refused to repeat the imprecations against the queen, which they tried to extort from her lips: "Swear that you love liberty and equality; swear that you hate the king, the queen, and every thing pertaining to royalty."

"I will swear to the first," was the princess’s answer, "but to the last I cannot swear, for it does not lie in my heart."

This was the offence of the princess, that hate did not lie in her heart—the offence of so many others who were killed on that 3d of September, that dreadful day on which the hordes of Marseilles opened the prisons, in order to drag the prisoners before the tribunals, or to execute them without further sentence.

The days passed by, and they had to be borne. Marie Antoinette had regained her composure and her proud calmness. She had to overcome even this great grief, and the heart of the queen had not yet been broken. She still loved, she still hoped. She owed it to her husband and children not to despair, and better days might come even yet. "We must keep up courage," she said, "to live till the dawn of this better day."

And it required spirit to bear the daily torture of this life! Always exposed to scorn and abuse! Always watched by the eyes of mocking, reviling men! Always scrutinized by Madame Tison, her servant, who followed every one of her motions as a cat watches its prey, and among all these sentinels the most obnoxious of all was the cobbler Simon.

Commissioned by the authorities to supervise the workmen and masons who were engaged in restoring the partially ruined ancient portion of the Temple, Simon had made himself at home within the building, to discharge his duties more comfortably. It was his pleasure to watch this humiliated royal family, to see them fall day by day, and hear the curses that accompanied them at every step. He never appeared in their presence without insulting them, and encouraging with loud laughter those who imitated him in this.

Some of the officials in charge never spoke excepting with dreadful abuse of the king, the queen, and the children.

One of them cried to his comrade in presence of Marie Antoinette: "If the hangman does not guillotine this accursed family, I will do it!"

When the royal family went down to take their walk in the garden, Santerre used to come up with a troop of soldiers. The sentries whom they passed shouldered arms before Santerre; but as soon as he had passed and the king came, they grounded their arms, and pretended not to see him. In the door that led into the garden, Rocher, the turnkey, used to stand, and take his pleasure in letting the royal family wait before unlocking, while he blew great clouds of smoke into their faces from his long tobacco-pipe. The National Guards who stood in the neighborhood used to laugh at this, and hurl all sorts of low, vile words at the princesses. Then, while the royal prisoners were taking their walk, the cannoneers used to collect in the allees through which they wandered, and dance to the music of revolutionary songs which some of them sang. Sometimes the gardeners who worked there hurried up to join them in this dance, and to encircle the prisoners in their wild evolutions. One of these people displayed his sickle to the king one day, and swore that he would cut off the head of the queen with it. And when, after their sad walk, they had returned to the Temple, they were received by the sentinels and the turnkey with renewed insults; and, as if it were not enough to fill the ear with this abuse, the eye too must have its share. The vilest of expressions were written upon the walls of the corridors which the royal party had to traverse. You might read there: "Madame Veto will soon be dancing again. Down with the Austrian she-wolf! The wolf’s brood must be strangled. The king must be hanged with his own ribbon!" Another time they had drawn a gallows, on which a figure was hanging, with the expression written beneath, "Louis taking an air-bath!"

And so, even the short walks of the prisoners were transformed into suffering. At first the queen thought she could not bear it, and the promenades were given up. But the pale cheeks of her daughter, the longing looks which the dauphin cast from the closed window to the garden, warned the mother to do what the queen found too severe a task. She underwent the pain involved in this, she submitted herself, and every day the royal pair took the dear children into the garden again, and bore this unworthy treatment without complaint, that the children might enjoy a little air and sunshine.

One day, the 21st of September, the royal family had returned from their walk to their sitting-room. The king had taken a book and was reading; the queen was sitting near him, engaged in some light work; while the dauphin, with his sister Theresa, and his aunt Elizabeth, were in the next room, and were busying each other with riddles. In the open anteroom the two officials were sitting, their eyes fixed upon the prisoners with a kind of cruel pleasure.

Suddenly beneath their windows were heard the loud blast of trumpets and the rattle of drums; then followed deep silence, and amid this stillness the following proclamation was read with a loud voice:

"The monarchy is abolished in France. All official documents will be dated from the first year of the republic. The national seal will be encircled by the words, ’Republic of France.’ The national coat-ofarms will be a woman sitting upon a bundle of weapons, and holding in her hand a lance tipped with a liberty-cap."

The two officials had fixed their eyes upon the king and queen, from whose heads the crown had just fallen. They wanted to read, with their crafty and malicious eyes, the impression which the proclamation had made upon them. But those proud, calm features disclosed nothing. Not for a moment did the king raise his eyes from the book which he was reading, while the voice without uttered each word with fearful distinctness. The queen quietly went on with her embroidery, and not for a moment did she intermit the regular motion of her needle.

Again the blast of trumpets and the rattle of drums. The funeral of the royalty was ended, and the king was, after this time, to be known simply as Louis Capet, and the queen as Marie Antoinette. Within the Temple there was no longer a dauphin, no longer a Madame Royale, no longer a princess, but only the Capet family!

The republic had hurled the crowns from the heads of Louis and Marie Antoinette; and when, some days later, the linen which had been long begged for, had been brought from the Tuileries, the republic commanded the queen to obliterate the crown which marked each piece, in addition to the name.

But their sufferings are by no means ended yet. Still there are some sources of comfort left, and now and then a peaceful hour. The crowns have fallen, but hearts still beat side by side. They have no longer a kingdom, but they are together, they can speak with looks one to another, they can seek to comfort one another with smiles, they can cheer each other up with a passing grasp of the hand, that escapes the eye of the sentries! We only suffer half what we bear in common with others, and every thing seems lighter, when there is a second one to help lift the load.

Perhaps the enemies of the king and queen have an instinctive feeling of this, and their hate makes them sympathetic, in order to teach them to invent new tortures and new sufferings.

Yes, there are unknown pangs still to be felt; their cup of sorrows was not yet full! The parents are still left to each other, and their eyes are still allowed to rest upon their children! But the "one and indivisible republic" means to rend even these bonds which bind the royal family together, and to part those who have sworn that nothing shall separate them but death! The republic—which had abolished the churches, overthrown the altars, driven the priesthood into exile—the republic cannot grant to the Capet family that only death shall separate them, for it had even made Death its servant, and must accept daily victims from him, offered on the Place de Liberte, in the centre of which stood the guillotine, the only altar tolerated there.

In the middle of October the republic sent its emissaries to the Temple, to tear the king from the arms of his wife and his children. In spite of their pleadings and cries, he was taken to another part of the Temple—to the great tower, which from this time was to serve as his lodgings. And in order that the queen might be spared no pang, the dauphin was compelled to go with his father and be separated from his mother.

This broke the pride, the royal pride of Marie Antoinette. She wrung her hands, she wept, she cried, she implored with such moving, melting tones, not to be separated from her son and husband, that even the heart of Simon the cobbler was touched.

"I really believe that these cursed women make me blubber!" cried he, angry with the tears which forced themselves into his eyes. And he made no objection when the other officials said to the queen, with trembling voices, that they would allow the royal family to come together at their meals.

One last comfort, one last ray of sunshine! There were still hours in these dismal, monotonous days of November, when they could have some happiness—hours for which they longed, and for whose sake they bore the desolate solitude of the remaining time.

At breakfast, dinner, and supper, the Capet family were together; words were interchanged, hands could rest in one another, and they could delight in the pleasant chatter of the dauphin when the king told about the lessons he had given the boy, and the progress he was making.

They sometimes forgot, at those meetings, that Death was perhaps crouching outside the Temple, waiting to receive his victims; and they even uttered little words of pleasantry, to awaken the bright, fresh laugh of the dauphin, the only music that ever was heard in those dismal rooms.

But December took this last consolation from the queen. The National Assembly, which had now been transformed into the Convention, brought the charge of treason against the king. He was accused of entering into a secret alliance with the enemies of France, and calling the monarchs of Europe to come to his assistance. In an iron safe which had been set into the wall of the cabinet in the Tuileries, papers had been discovered which compromised the king, letters from the refugee princes, from the Emperor of Germany, and the King of Prussia. These monarchs were now on the very confines of France, ready to enter upon a bloody war, and that was the fault of the king! He was in alliance with the enemies of his country! He was the murderer of his own subjects! On his head the blood should return, which had been shed by him.

This was the charge which was brought against the king. Twenty members of the Convention went to the Temple, to read it to him, and to hear his reply. He stoutly denied haying entertained such relations with foreign princes; he declared, with a solemn oath, that he had declined all overtures from such quarters, because he had seen that, in order to free an imprisoned king, France itself must be threatened.

The chiefs of the revolution meant to find him guilty. Louis Capet must be put out of the way, in order that Robespierre and Marat, Danton, Petion, and their friends, might reach unlimited power.

There may have been several in the Convention who shrank from this last consequence of their doings, but they did not venture to raise their voices; they chimed in with the terrorism which the leaders of the revolution exercised upon the Convention. They knew that behind these leaders stood the savage masses of the streets, armed with hatred against monarchy and the aristocracy, and ready to tear in pieces any one as an enemy of the country who ventured to join the number of those who were under the ban and the sentence of the popular hate.

Still there were some courageous, faithful servants of the king who ventured to take his part even there. Louis had now been summoned to the bar as an accused person, and the Convention had transformed itself into a tribunal whose function was to pass judgment on the guilt or innocence of the king!

In order to satisfy all the forms of the law, the king should have had an advocate allowed him, and the benefit of legal counsel. The Convention demanded that those who were ready to undertake this task should send in their names. It was a form deemed safe to abide by, because it was believed that there would be no one who would venture to enter upon so momentous and perilous a duty.

But there were such, nevertheless. There were still courageous and noble men who pitied the forsaken king, and who wanted to try to save him; not willing to see him atone for the debts of his predecessors, and bleed for the sins of his fathers. And scarcely had the consent of the Convention been announced, that Louis Capet should have three advocates for his defence, when from Paris and all the minor cities letters came in from men who declared themselves ready to undertake the defence of the king.

Even from foreign lands there came letters and appeals in behalf of the deposed monarch. One of them, written in spirited and glowing language, conjured France not to soil its noble young freedom by the dreadful murder of an innocent man, who had committed no other offence than that he was the son of his fathers, the heir of their crown and their remissness. It was written by a German poet, Frederick Schiller. [Footnote: Schiller’s defence of the king is preserved in the national archives—See Beauchesue vol. i., p. 366.]

From the many requests to serve as his advocates, Louis chose only two to defend him. The first of these was his former minister, the philosopher Lamoignon des Malesherbes, then the advocate Trouchet, and finally, at the pressing request of Malesherbes, the distinguished young advocate Deseges. To those three men was committed the trust of defending the king against the dreadful charge of treason to his country, to be substantiated by hundreds and hundreds of letters and documents.

After the preliminary investigations were closed, the public charge was made in the Convention, which still held its sessions in the Manage. To this building, situated near the Tuileries, the king, accompanied by his three defenders and two municipal defenders, and surrounded by National Guards, was conducted from the Temple. The people danced around the carriage with wild shouts of joy and curses of the king. Within the vehicle sat Louis, completely calm and selfpossessed.

"This man must be filled with a singular fanaticism," said Colombeau, one of the leading officials, in the report which he gave to the Convention of the ride. "It is otherwise inexplicable how Louis could be so calm, since he had so much reason to fear. After we had all entered the carriage, and were driving through the streets, Louis entered upon conversation, which soon turned upon literature, and especially upon some Latin authors. He gave his judgments with remarkable correctness and insight, and it appeared to me that he took pleasure in showing his learning. One of us said that he did not enjoy Seneca, because his love for riches stood in marked contrast with his pretended philosophy, and because it could not easily be forgiven him that before the senate he apologized for the crimes of Nero. This reflection did not seem to affect Louis in the least. When we spoke of Livy, Capet said that he seemed to have taken satisfaction in composing great speeches which were never uttered to any other audience than that which was reached from his study-table; ’for,’ he added, ’it is impossible that generals really delivered such long speeches in front of their armies.’ He then compared Livy with Tacitus, and thought that the latter was far superior to the former in point of style." [Footnote: See Beauchesne, vol. i., p. 396.] The king went on talking about Latin authors while the carriage was carrying him through the roaring mob to the Convention, which Desege addressed in his defence in these courageous words: "I look for judges among you, but see only accusers."

The king was completely calm, yet he knew that his life was threatened, and that he was standing before a tribunal of death. As on the day when he was first taken to the Convention, he requested Malesherbes to forward a note to the priest whose attendance he desired, and who he believed would not deny his presence and attentions. His name was Edgewarth de Pirmont. The time was not distant when not the services of advocates were wanted by the king, but exclusively those of the priest.

The sentence of death was pronounced on January 26, 1793. Louis received it calmly, and desired merely to see his family, to have a confessor come to him, and to prepare himself for his death.

During these dreadful weeks Marie Antoinette was separated from her husband, alone with her children, who no longer were able to smile, but who sat day after day with fixed eyes and silent lips. The queen knew that the king had been accused, had made a private reply to the charges brought against him, and had been brought before the Convention. But not a word, not a syllable of the trial which followed, reached her. Madame Tison, the female dragon who guarded her, watched her too well for any tidings to reach her.

At last, however, the word was brought which the heart of the queen had so long anticipated tremblingly, for which she had prepared herself during the long nights with tears and prayers, and which now filled her with grief, anger, and despair. The king was condemned to death! He wanted only to see his family, to take his leave of them!

The Convention had granted this privilege to him, and had even gone so far in its grace as to permit the family to be without the presence of witnesses. The meeting was appointed, however, in the little dining-room of the king, because a glass door led into the adjoining room, and the officials could then look in upon the royal family. The functionary had withdrawn in order to conduct the queen, the children, and the king’s sister from the upper tower. The king was awaiting them, walked disquietly up and down, and then directed Clery, who was arranging the little room, to set the round table, which was in the middle of the apartment, on one side, and then to bring in a carafe of water and some glasses. "But," he added, considerately, "not ice-water, for the queen cannot bear it, and she might be made unwell by it."

But all at once the king grew pale, and, standing still, he laid his hand upon his loudly-beating heart. He had heard the voice of the queen.

The door opened and they came in—all his dear ones. The queen led the dauphin by the hand; Madame Elizabeth walked with the Princess Theresa.

The king went toward them and opened his arms to them. They all pressed up to him and clasped him in their midst, while loud sobs and heart-rending cries filled the room. Behind the door were the officials, but they could not look in upon the scene, for their own eyes were filled with tears. In the king’s cabinet, not far away, the Abbe Edgewarth de Firmont was upon his knees, praying for the unfortunates whose wails and groans reached even him.

Gradually the sobs died away. They took their places—the queen at the left of her husband; Madame Elizabeth, his sister, at his right; opposite to him, his daughter, Maria Theresa, and between his knees the dauphin, looking up into his father’s face with widely-opened eyes and a sad smile.

Louis was the first to speak. He told them of his trial, and of the charges which they had brought against him. But his words were gentle and calm, and he expressed his pity for the "poor, misled men" who had condemned him. He asked his family, too, to forgive them. They answered him only with sobs, embraces, tears, and kisses.

Then all was still. The officials heard not a word, but they saw the queen, with her children and sister-in-law, sink upon their knees, while the king, standing erect in the midst of the group, raised his hands and blessed them in gentle, noble words, which touched the heart of the Abbe Edgewarth, who was kneeling behind the door of the neighboring cabinet.

The king then bade the family rise, took them again in his arms, and kissed the queen, who, pale and trembling, clung to him, and whose quivering lips were not able to restrain a word of denunciation of those who had condemned him.

"I have forgiven them," said the king, seriously. "I have written my will, and in it you will read that I pardon them, and that I ask you to do the same. Promise me, Marie, that you will never think how you may avenge my death."

A smile full of sadness and despair flitted over the pale lips of the queen.

"I shall never be in a situation to take vengeance upon them," she said. "But," she added quickly, "even if I should ever be able, and the power should be in my hands, I promise that I will exact no vengeance for this deed."

The king stooped down and imprinted a kiss upon her forehead.

"I thank you, Marie, and I know that you all, my dear ones, will sacredly regard my last testament, and that my wishes and words will be engraven on your hearts. But, my son"—and he took the dauphin upon his knee, and looked down into his face tenderly—"you are still a child, and might forget. You have heard what I have said, but as an oath is more sacred than a word, raise your hand and swear to me you will fulfil my wish and forgive all our enemies."

The boy, turning his great blue eyes fixedly on the king, and his lips trembling with emotion, raised his right hand, and even the officials in the next room could distinctly hear the sweet child’s voice repeating the words: "I swear to you, papa king, that I will forgive all our enemies, and will do no harm to those who are going to kill my dear father!"

A shudder passed through the hearts of the men in the next room; they drew back from the door with pale faces. It seemed to them as if they had heard the voice of an angel, and a feeling of inexpressible pain and regret passed through their souls.

Within the king’s room all now was still, and the abbe in the cabinet heard only the gentle murmuring of their prayers, and the suppressed weeping and sobs.

At last the king spoke. "Now, go, my dear ones. I must be alone. I need to rest and collect myself."

A loud wail was the answer. After some minutes, Clery opened the glass door, and the royal family were brought into the view of the officials once more. The queen was clinging to the right arm of Louis; they each gave a hand to the dauphin. Theresa had flung her arms around the king’s body, his sister Elizabeth clung to his left arm. They thus moved forward a few steps toward the door, amid loud cries of grief and heart-breaking sobs.

"I promise you," said Louis, "to see you once more tomorrow morning, at eight o’clock."

"At eight! Why not at seven?" asked the queen, with a foreboding tone.

"Well, then," answered the king, gently, "at seven. Farewell, farewell!"

The depth of sadness in his utterance with which he spoke the last parting word, doubled the tears and sobs of the weeping family. The daughter fell in a swoon at the feet of her father, and Clery, assisted by the Princess Elizabeth, raised her up.

"Papa, my dear papa," cried the dauphin, nestling up closely to his father, "let us stay with you."

The queen said not a word. With pale face and with widely-opened eyes she looked fixedly at the king, as though she wanted to impress his countenance on her heart.

"Farewell, farewell!" cried the king, once more, and he turned quickly around and hurried into the next room.

A single cry of grief and horror issued from all lips. The two children, soon to be orphans, then clung closely to their mother, who threw herself, overmastered by her sobbing, on the neck of her sister-in-law.

"Forward! The Capet family will return to their own apartments!" cried one of the officials.

Marie Antoinette raised herself up, her eye flashed, and with a voice full of anger, she cried: "You are hangmen and traitors!" [Footnote: Beauchesne, vol. 1., p. 49.]

The king had withdrawn to his cabinet, where the priest, Abbe Edgewarth de Firmont, addressed him with comforting words. His earnest request had been granted, to give the king the sacrament before his death. The service was to take place very early the next morning, so ran the decision of the authorities, and at seven the king was to be taken to execution.

Louis received the first part of this communication joyfully, the second part with complete calmness.

"As I must rise so early," he said to his valet Clery, "I must retire early. This day has been a very trying one for me, and I need rest, so as not to be weak to-morrow." He was then undressed by the servant, and lay down. When Clery came at five the next morning to dress him, he found the king still asleep, and they must have been pleasant dreams which were passing before him, for a smile was playing on his lips.

The king was dressed, and the priest gave him the sacrament, the vessels used having been taken from the neighboring Capuchin church of Marais. An old chest of drawers was converted by Clery into an altar, two ordinary candlesticks stood on each side of the cup, and in them two tallow candles burned, instead of wax. Before this altar kneeled King Louis XVI., lost in thought and prayer, and wearing a calm, peaceful face.

The priest read the mass; Clery responded as sacristan; and even while the king was receiving the elements, the sound of the drums and trumpets was heard without, which awakened Paris that morning and told the city that the King of France was being led to his execution. Cannon were rattling through the streets, and National Guardsmen were hurrying on foot and on horse along the whole of the way that led from the Temple to the Place de la Concorde. A rank of men, four deep and standing close to one another, armed with pikes and other weapons, guarded both sides of the street, and made it impossible for those who wanted to liberate the king during the ride, to come near to him. The authorities knew that one of the bravest and most determined partisans of the king had arrived in Paris, and that he, in conjunction with a number of young and bravespirited men, had resolved on rescuing the king at any cost, during his ride to the place of execution. The utmost precautions had been taken to render this impossible. Through the dense ranks of the National Guard, which to-day was composed of mere sans-culottes, the raging, bloodthirsty men of the suburbs drove the carriage in which was the king, followed and escorted by National Guardsmen on horseback. The windows were all closed and the curtains drawn in the houses by which the procession passed; but behind those curtained windows it is probable that people were upon their knees praying for the unhappy man who was now on his way to the scaffold, and who was once King of France.

All at once there arose a movement in this dreadful hedge of armed men, through which the carriage was passing. Two young men cried: "To us, Frenchmen—to us, all who want to save the king!"

But the cry found no response. Every one looked horrified at his neighbor, and believed he saw in him a spy or a murderer; fear benumbed all their souls, and the silence of death reigned around.

The two young men wanted to flee, to escape into a house close by. But the door was closed, and before the very door they were cut down and hewn in pieces by the exasperated sans-culottes.

The carriage of the king rolled on, and Louis paid no more attention to objects around him; in the prayer-book which he carried in his hands he read the petitions for the dying, and the abbe prayed with him.

The coachman halted at the foot of the scaffold, and the king dismounted. A forest of pikes surrounded the spot. The drummers beat loudly, but the king cried with a loud voice, "Silence!" and the noise ceased. On that, Santerre sprang forward and commanded them to commence beating their drums again, and they obeyed him. The king took off his upper garments, and the executioners approached to cut off his hair. He quietly let this be done, but when they wanted to tie his hands, his eyes flashed with anger, and with a firm voice he refused to allow them to do so.

"Sire," said the priest, "I see in this new insult only a fresh point of resemblance between your majesty and our Saviour, who will be your recompense and your strength."

Louis raised his eyes to heaven with an indescribable expression of grief and resignation. "Truly," he said, "only my recollection of Him and His example can enable me to endure this new degradation."

He gave his hands to the executioner, to let them be bound. Then resting on the arm of the abbe, he ascended the steps of the scaffold. The twenty drummers, who stood around the staging, beat their drums; but the king, advancing to the very verge of the scaffold, commanded them with a loud voice to be silent, and the noise ceased.

In a tone which was audible across the whole square, and which made every word intelligible, the king said: "I die innocent of all the charges which are brought against me. I forgive those who have caused my death, and I pray God that the blood which you spill this day may never come back upon the head of France. And you, unhappy people—"

"Do not let him go on talking this way," cried Santerre’s commanding voice, interrupting the king, then turning to Louis he said, in an angry tone, "I brought you here not to make speeches, but to die!"

The drums beat, the executioners seized the king and bent him down. The priest stooped over him and murmured some words which only God heard, but which a tradition full of admiration and sympathy has transposed into the immortal and popular formula which is truer than truth and more historical than history: "Son of St. Louis, ascend to Heaven!"

The drums beat, a glistening object passed through the air, a stroke was heard, and blood spirted up. The King of France was dead, and Samson the executioner lifted up the head, which had once borne a crown, to show it to the people.

A dreadful silence followed for an instant; then the populace broke in masses through the rows of soldiers, and rushed to the scaffold, in order to bear away some remembrances of this ever-memorable event. The clothes of the king were torn to rags and distributed, and they even gave the executioner some gold in exchange for locks of hair from the bleeding head. An Englishman gave a child fifteen louis d’or for dipping his handkerchief in the blood which flowed from the scaffold. Another paid thirty louis d’or for the peruke of the king. [Footnote: These details I take from the "Vossische Zeitung," which, in its issue of the 5th of February, 1798, contains a full report of the execution of King Louis XVI., and also announces that the court of Prussia will testify its grief at the unmerited fate by wearing mourning for a period of four weeks. The author of this work possesses a copy of the " Vossische Zeitung " of that date, in small quarto form, printed on thick, gray paper. In the same number of the journal is a fable by Hermann Pfeffel, which runs in the following strain:

First moral, then political freedom.

A fable, by Hermann Pfeffel. Zeus and the Tigers.

To Zeus there came one day A deputation of tigers. "Mighty potentate," Thus spoke their Cicero before the monarch’s throne, "The noble nation of tigers, Has long been wearied with the lion’s choice as king. Does not Nature give us an equal claim with his? Therefore, O Zeus, declare my race To be a people of free citizens!" "No," said the god of gods, "it cannot be; You are deceivers, thieves, and murderers, Only a good people merits being free." [Footnote: "Marie Antoinette et sa Famine," par Lescure, p. 648.]

On the evening of the same day, the executioner Samson, shocked at the terrible deed which he had done, went to a priest, paid for masses to be said for the repose of the king, then laid down his office, retired into solitude, and died in six months. His son was his successor in his ghostly office, and, in a pious manner, he continued what his father began. The masses for the king, instituted by the two Samsons, continued to be read till the year 1840.

On the morrow which followed this dreadful day, the "Widow Capet" requested the authorities to provide for herself and her family a suite of mourning of the simplest kind.

The republic was magnanimous enough to comply with this request.


Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: Marie Antoinette and Her Son

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Marie Antoinette and Her Son

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Luise Mühlbach, "Chapter XX. To the 21st 0f January.," Marie Antoinette and Her Son, ed. CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb and trans. Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891 in Marie Antoinette and Her Son (New York: The Modern Library Publishers, 1918), Original Sources, accessed December 4, 2023,

MLA: Mühlbach, Luise. "Chapter XX. To the 21st 0f January." Marie Antoinette and Her Son, edited by CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb, and translated by Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891, in Marie Antoinette and Her Son, New York, The Modern Library Publishers, 1918, Original Sources. 4 Dec. 2023.

Harvard: Mühlbach, L, 'Chapter XX. To the 21st 0f January.' in Marie Antoinette and Her Son, ed. and trans. . cited in 1918, Marie Antoinette and Her Son, The Modern Library Publishers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 4 December 2023, from