Trial of French King Louis XVI by the National Convention (1754-1793)

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The sitting of the Convention commenced by reading the act of accusation against Louis XVI, which was presented by Barbaroux in the name of the commission of twenty-one. It contained an enumeration of the principal charges made against the unfortunate monarch, and each charge was followed by a list of the pieces on which the proofs are to be founded.

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Trial of Louis XVI. late King of France; by the National Convention, at several adjourned sittings.

The national assembly decreed on the 3d of December that you should be tried by them; and on the 6th, that you should be brought to the bar, to hear the accusation read, and to give your answers.

Original in French


On the 11th of December, 1792, about one o’clock, the mayor and secretary went up into the apartment of the late king, and said to him, “I am charged to declare to you, that the Convention wait for you at their bar, and I am appointed to conduct you.”

The secretary then read these words, “Decree of the National Convention, of the 6th of December: Art. 5. Louis Capet shall be brought to the bar of the National Convention on Tuesday the 11th, to answer the questions which shall be put to him by the president.” This being done, the mayor asked him if he would go down, he appeared to hesitate a little, and said, “My name is not Louis Capet; my ancestors bore that name, but I never was called so; it is however like all the treatment I have experienced these four months past by force. This morning my son has been separated from me; it was an enjoyment of which they have deprived me. I have been expecting you these three hours.

The mayor, without making any answer, invited him again to go down, which he determined at length to do. Being in the carriage, which was lined with thick cushions, in order to be musket proof, he kept silence all the way, till the carriage was stopped by some misunderstanding among the guards who escorted him on the Boulevards.

He arrived at the Convention about two o’clock. He did not seem at all troubled. The mayor and attorney-general were on each side of him; behind him were Santerre, Berruyer and other officers.

The sitting of the Convention commenced by reading the act of accusation against Louis XVI, which was presented by Barbaroux in the name of the commission of twenty-one. It contained an enumeration of the principal charges made against the unfortunate monarch, and each charge was followed by a list of the pieces on which the proofs are to be founded. When it was read, several new charges were proposed by several of the members, and some which appeared to have little weight, or to be ill founded, were expunged.

The famous Marat voluntarily became the defender of Louis, by requesting that all those charges alluding to crimes committed before his acceptance of the constitution, should be omitted in the act of accusation. He spoke also of the amnesty which followed the acceptance, but the Convention paid no attention to his observations.

The Convention decreed, that the act of accusation should serve as the ground of those questions which were to be put to the king, and that after each question the president should say to him, What have you to answer? The president was also authorised to propose such questions as might arise from the king’s answers, and to make him sit down at the bar.

Barrere, the president, informed the Convention that Louis was at the door, and requested the representatives of the people to assume a dignity worthy of the grandeur of their functions. He reminded them, that they formed a tribunal on which the eyes of Europe were fixed, and whose sentence would be judged by posterity. He forbade them to show any signs either of approbation or disapprobation, and desired them to remember the coolness and silent dignity with which they received the king after his return from Varennes.

At half past two Santerre informed the Convention that Louis was arrived, and was waiting the orders of the assembly.

The president gave the order to introduce him. A most profound silence reigned in the hall. Louis appeared at the bar, attended by two municipal officers.

When Louis appeared at the bar, the president mentioned to him the decree by which the Convention established a tribunal to try him. Maillie, one of the secretaries, read the act of accusation, charge by charge, and at each the president asked the king what he had to say in his own defence. Louis contented himself with giving answers to each question in a few words, he made no speech, and did not, like Charles J. of England, deny the authority of the Convention to try him. He asked for copies of the act of accusation, of the pieces which are to serve as proofs, and of his own examination, of which the following is a true copy; he also requested that he might be allowed counsel.



—Louis! the French nation accuses you. The national assembly decreed on the 3d of December that you should be tried by them; and on the 6th, that you should be brought to the bar, to hear the accusation read, and to give your answers.


Louis, the French people accuse you of having plotted and formed a multitude of conspiracies to establish tyranny in destroying liberty. On the 10th of June, 1789, you made an attack on the sovereignty of the nation, by suspending their representatives, and by expelling them with violence from the place of their meeting.


There then existed no law.

On the 23d you surrounded the representatives of the people with troops; you presented a declaration ordering them to cease their meetings and separate.

The answer to the last charge will apply to this.

You ordered an army to march against the citizens of Paris, to shed their blood, and you did not dismiss that army till the revolution had been effected.

I had at that time a right to order troops to march according to my will. It never was my intention to cause the effusion of blood.

You suffered the national cockade to be trampled under foot before your eyes, and the white cockade to be worn. You constantly rejected the constitution.

As to the decrees, I made the observations I then thought I ought to marke; as to the cockade, the charge is false.

You took an oath at the federation of the 14th of July, which you did not keep: you seduced Mirabeau to cause an insurrection in the departments.

I do not remember all that passed then, but I know that the whole was prior to the acceptance of the Constitution.

You distributed money to the Fauxbourg St. An∣toine, that the people might favour your escape.

This accusation is absurd; I ever took a pleasure in
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giving money to the people: there was nothing in my con∣duct that had the appearance of a plot for a counter-revo∣tion.

Was it not in consequence of the same project that you feigned an indisposition, to facilitate your retreat to St. Cloud.


You swore to maintain the constitution, and on the 21st of June you attempted to escape with a false passport, and ordered your ministers to sign no act of the legislature.

I do not remember what passed at that time; but for my journey to Varennes, I refer to the answers I made to the deputies of the constituent assembly, who accompanied me on my return.

You coalesced with La Fayette; you hired writers of journals, and spent considerable sums of money to overthrow the constitution.

I recollect writing one letter to Fayette, but have no recollection of the rest.

You favoured the rebellion at Arles.

The ministers did all that, and the assembly proposed ministers to me I knew nothing of.

You made no attempts to stifle the plots of counter-revolution, which were manifested in several parts of the republic.

I was not apprised of those things, I was informed of nothing; besides, it would require time for me to answer all these questions.

You paid your former body-guards at Coblentz, and you sent considerable sums to Rochefort and to your brothers.

I ceased to give them any thing as soon as they passed the Rhine.

You refused your sanction to a decree for forming a camp near Paris;—you ordered them to be stopped in their march; the army was incomplete, you ordered no recruiting.

I presented at the time the statement to the assembly, if they were mistaken it is not my fault.

You threw confusion and disorder in the army.

I cannot answer this accusation.

Why did you defer so long to inform the legislative body, that 50,000 Prussians were marching against France?

My diplomatic correspondance was carried on by the ministers, therefore it is not my fault.

You suffered our navy to go to ruin; all the officers emigrated; there is scarcely one left for the service.

I did not send away those officers.

The state was torn by the factions of the fanatic priests; you shewed yourself openly their protector, and manifested a design of recovering your former power.

I cannot answer that, having no knowledge of it.

The legislative assembly passed a decree against the factious priests, you suspended its execution.

I had a right to do so.

There was in Paris clandestine associations to operate a counter-revolution, paid by the civil list.

I have no knowledge of these facts; the project of a counter-revolution never entered my head.

Who were the members of the constituent assembly you endeavoured to corrupt.

I never endeavoured to corrupt any.

On the 10th of August you passed in review the Swiss troops at 5 o’clock in the morning, and on that day they fired on the people.

The constituted authorities were assembled at the castle; I had demanded a deputation to proceed with me to the legislative assembly: when I saw they did not come, I repaired thither with all my family.

Why, some days before the 10th of August, did you order all the ports of the Swiss guards at the Thuilleries to be doubled?

The castle was threatened; as I was one of the constituent authorities, I had a right to defend myself.

The president then asked Louis if he had any thing further to say.

Louis—I beg the assembly to give me communication of the act of accusation; I should desire to examine it minutely: —I should also wish to have a counsel.

Marat shewed him all the papers one after another;—among the papers signed by his own hand, he acknowledged but a very few.

The president asked him why he caused a hole to be made in the wall of his apartment, and to be covered over with an iron door.

He answered, that he had no knowledge of this.

The president told him that the assembly permitted him to retire.

Louis, on retiring, said, I have desired to have a counsel.

The assembly then decreed, that the desire of Louis to have a counsel should be granted.

After his interrogatory he was conducted into the Confe∣rence-Hall, and accepted a bit of bread, observing that he had not broken his fast. He was then conducted home in the same manner he had been taken to the Convention, and arrived at his apartment at half past six.

On the 26th of the same month, the president informed the Convention that Louis and his defenders were ready to appear at the bar, and gave orders for their admission.

Louis then entered, accompanied by Mess. Malesherbes, Trouchet (Mr. Target having refused being counsel for the unfortunate monarch) and Deseze, his counsellors; by the mayor of Paris, and the commandant of the National Guards.

The president informed Louis, that the Convention had decreed, that he should be heard definitively that day.

Louis told him that Mr. Deseze would read his


Citizens, representatives of the nation:

THE moment is at length arrived, in which Louis, accused in the name of the French nation, and surrounded by the counsel which humanity and the laws have granted him, is about to present his justification. Even by the silence which surrounds me, I am informed that the day of justice has succeeded to the aera of prejudice.

The misfortunes of kings are somewhat more tenderly impressive, and more sacred, than the misfortunes of other men; even he, who but lately filled the most brilliant throne in the universe, must excite a more powerful interest. You have called him among you; he is come, calmly, with dignity, strong in his innocence, supported by the testimony of his whole life. He has revealed to you even his thoughts, in discussing, without preparation, without examination, accusations which he could not foresee, making, if I may so say, an extempore defence.

Louis could only say that he was innocent; I come to prove it to you, I bring the demonstrations. I could wish this space were so enlarged that the multitude of citizens, who have received the most baneful impressions to the prejudice of Louis, should now feel those of a different tendency. Louis knows that Europe expects with anxiety the sentence you are now to pass. He knows that posterity will some day examine it;—he knows it, but he considers only his cotemporaries. With him we forget posterity, and view only the present moment.

Had I judges only to answer, I would content myself with saying, that since the nation has abolished royalty, there can be no sentence to pronounce against Louis; but I speak to the people. I have to examine the affair under two points of view, that in which Louis was placed before his accep∣tance, and that in which he stands since his acceptance of the constitution.

In entering on this business, I first meet with the decree which pronounces that Louis shall be tried by the constitution. Apparently the legislators, said Louis, cannot bring forward this inviolability. What then have you done by your decree? you have constituted yourselves judges of the accusation which you make yourselves.

You have decreed, that Louis shall be heard. If then he ought to be heard, he has the right to defend himself. It does not depend on the judge to circumscribe the means▪ the convention shall weigh them when he shall have brought them forward. If Louis be mistaken, let them refute his errors.

Nations are sovereign: they are free to give themselves such forms of government as they please. I will not dispute this principle; and it is not forgotten that the efforts of one of the advocates of Louis contributed to insert this principle in the constitution. But the nation cannot itself exercise so∣vereignty, it is necessary the exercise of it should be dele∣gated.

In 1789 the nation desired a monarchial government; a monarchial government required the inviolability of its chief; it was necessary that he should impress that respect which renders amiable the obedience that the law commands. The character of this inviolability has been discussed, it has been pretended that it was not a contract of reciprocity, but this delegation was a contract so long as it was not revoked. It is a mandate if you please, but the mandatory could not submit to other conditions and other penalties than those imposed in the mandate.

I open the constitution at Chapter II. of royalty, and I see that the person of the king is inviolable; there is no excepti∣on, no modification, but there are circumstances in which we lose the character of inviolability.

This is the first case.

Art. V. of Section I. Chap. 2. of Title 3. “If the king have not made oath, or if, after having made it, he retract it, he shall be considered as having abdicated royalty.”

The nation here imposes on the king the duty of taking an oath: to retract his oath is a crime against the nation. The nation has foreseen this crime, and has enacted its penalty; it is not a dethronement—the word is not pronounced once, it is only a supposition, that the king shall be presumed to have abdicated royalty. You see that the constitution creates no tribunal, that it does not speak of trial, and that it mentions no word of dethronement.

But without retracting his oath, he could betray it; he might favour hostile and criminal enterprises against the state —the constitution has again foreseen this case.

Art. VI. “If the king put himself at the head of an ar∣my, and direct its force against the nation; or if he do not oppose, by a formal act, any such enterprize, which may be executed in his name, he shall be considered as having abdicated royalty.”

I desire that you will weigh well the character of the offence provided against by this article. There cannot exist one more criminal. It supposes all the machinations, all the perfidies, all the treasons, every horror, every scourge, every calamity of a bloody and intestine war, and yet what does the constitution pronounce? The presumption of having abdicated royalty.

Art. VII. “If the king, being gone out of the kingdom, does not return after the invitation made to him by the le∣gislative body.”

What does the constitution pronuunce again? The presumption of his having abdicated royalty.

Article VIII. says, “that after the express or legal abdication, the king shall be tried as other citizens for all crimes committed posterior to his abdication.” It results then that the king had a particular existence absolutely different from that of other citizens; and from whence did he derive this particular privileged existence, if not from the law, which had impressed upon him the character of inviolability, which he could not lose, but by his express and legal abdication. And it is from the most attrocious crime that a king can commit against a nation, that it supposes him returned to the citizens. In other respects the law is perfectly equal between the legislative body and the king:—the legislative body might also betray the nation, it might seize the national sovereignty; the nation had a right to pronounce a penalty against the deputies, and yet none has been pronounced.

Louis is accused, he is accused in the name of the nation, he is accused of various crimes. But these crimes are provi∣ded for by the constitutional act, and then the penalty ought to be applied—or they are not, and then there exists no pe∣nalty applicable to them.

I go farther, I say that they are provided against, the constitution has foreseen the most atrocious of them all, that of a criminal war against the nation. In whatever manner this article may be understood, the crimes are there, they are there.—Well! the law declares only a presumption of the abdication of royalty. I well know, that now the nation has abolished kingly power, the penalty can be no longer applied—but could it change the fate of Louis? Has he not the right to say, “when the constitution was accepted, I was the prisoner of the nation, why did you not try me? You have abolished royalty, I do not contest your right. But because you have abolished royalty, will you punish me, and because you know no law you can apply to me, will you create one for the purpose—for me alone? You have all the powers, doubtlessly: but one power you have not, that of being unjust.

It has been said that Louis was: be tried as an enemy.

But is he not a cruel enemy who would put himself at the head of an army against the nation.

It has been said he was only inviolable for individual citizens. According to this principle, the representatives of the people would no longer be inviolable to the people for every thing they have done, said, or written, during their session? I read in Rousseau—”Where I see neither the law which pro∣secutes, nor the law which condemns, I will not appeal to the general will, for the general will cannot pronounce, as a general will, on any man, nor on any facts.”

If you deprive Louis of the right of inviolability as a king, you cannot deprive him of the right of trial as a citizen. And in the last case, I demand of you where are all the forms of preservation? Where are the juries, those hostages for the lives and honour of citizens? I demand where is the propor∣tion of suffrages which the law has so wisely established? Where is the silent ballot, which incloses in the same urn the opinion and the conscience of the judge? I speak to you with the plainness of a freeman. I look among you for jud∣ges, I see none but accusers. You will pronounce upon Louis, and you have accused him! You will pronounce upon Louis, and you have declared your wish respecting him! You will pronounce upon Louis, and your opinions are spread over Europe!

I shall here take the act of accusation—I observe you go back to the 20th of July, 1789. I go back also. But how could you accuse him of having wished at this aera to dissolve the assembly. Do you forget, that it was he who convened it? Do you forget, that for more than 150 years, princes, more zealous than him of their authority, had constantly re∣sisted their convocation? Do you forget, that without him, without the numerous sacrifices to which he consented, you would not be deliberating here this day on the interests of the state? He is reproached with having drawn troops round Paris, but I could say that these troops were intended for the protection of Paris against disturbers. I had occasion to see the order when I was employed to defend the command∣ant of these troops, whom the nation did not hesitate to acquit.

I will not speak here of the memorial in which Talon is mentioned as acting a part against the revolution, nor the
Page 15

papers annexed to this memorial. If I had to defend an ordinary client, I would say, that a citizen can never be tried upon papers found by the invasion of his house, without being previously inventoried or sealed.

The house of Louis was invaded, his chests broken, his drawers forced; no seal was put on his effects, and invento∣ries made; his papers may have been scattered, and those lost which should reply to what were brought against him.

The letters of a dead man are quoted, but are the letters of a person deceased proof? It is said that these letters speak of money distributed: but if this fact, which they do not explain, be true, should it be true that they have extorted from his sensibility, from his benificence, sums greater or less, is it not well known with what an unfortunate facility kings are circumvented and deceived. The copy of a letter to Mirabeau and La Fayette is spoken of, but the letter is not sent. Mirabeau and La Fayette were at the same time, the most popular men, they both loved the constitution; in this scheme the good of the state was the only aim.

He was reproached for his letter to Bouille; here there is not even occasion for him to justify himself—the National Assembly had voted thanks for the conduct of Bouille.

You have reproached him with the assemblies of people on the 28th February, but popular rumours had drawn to the palace men of warm tempers, and Louis had ordered them to quit their arms.

You have accused him of the massacres at the Champ de Mars; but do you then forget that the unhappy prince was suspended from his powers, a prisoner guarded in sight.

The nation has decreed a republic, but this was not the form of government the nation then wished. Did not the legislative assembly itself declare against the republic in the month of July last? If Louis had then betrayed the interests of the nation, or abused its confidence, you might complain— you might sigh over the lot of kings, but you could not try him.

I have not yet pronounced the word which must annihilate all this chain of accusation. I have not said, that since all these events Louis has accepted the constitution.—The constitution was the compact between the people and the king —all mists were then dispelled—the past was forgot.

Let us examine what he has done since this acceptance.

The act of accusation comprehends both the facts which he was not charged to answer personally, and the facts personal to him. The constitution had not required on the part the king a warranty for his agents. It had, on the other hand ordained the responsibility of ministers. No one has a right at present to accuse the king and his ministers of the same acts.

Louis had been accused of having suffered the National Assembly to remain ignorant of the convention of Pilnitz. But this convention was a secret treaty between the emperor and the king of Prussia.

There was no reason of state which could render it a law to ministers to make known to an assembly, whose deliberations are public, an act which was not so.

You have reproached the unfortunate prince with having retarded a month the sending a decree relative to Avignon; this, citizens, was one of the heads of accusation against the minister Delissart. He had himself announced that his justification, which he was preparing in prison, would leave no doubt of his innocence. And could you, after his death bring the same accusation against the king?

You have reproached him with the troubles of Nismes, of Jales. Is it then for the king to be answerable for all the commotions inseparable from so great a revolution?

A letter of Witgenstein has been constituted a crime; all that he could do, was to give him no place after his recall. The government of Corsica has been spoken of, but he never had it. It has been said he had a commission in the northern army, it is impossible that La Fayette had demanded it, but the letter which gave him the commission remained in the war-office.

He has been reproached with the account drawn up by Narbonne. I will answer with one word only—when Nar∣bonne quitted the ministry, the legislative assembly decreed that Narbonne took with him the regret and confidence of the nation.

He has been reproached with the surrender of Longwy— the inhabitants were guilty. The surrender of Verdun— Who then was it that appointed the celebrated commander▪ who chose rather to die than surrender, if it were not Louis.

He is reproached with having retained the Swiss guards, contrary to the constitution, which forbad it.

Hear the facts: a decree had declared that the king should be requested to present a new formation of his regiment of Swiss guards, and nevertheless the assembly had ordained that it should be continued as temporarily kept up until the aera of its formation. On the third of July the assembly ordered the departure of three battalions of this regiment. On the 17th the assembly received a letter from d’Affry, remonstrating against the decree, and claiming the capitulations. A new decree, ordering the departure of the two battalions, and d’Affry placed between the capitulations and the decree, adresses and remonstrances to the assembly—they pass to the order of the day, and the battalions quit Paris.

I now proceed to such facts as may be thought to concern him personally. He was at first attacked for not having sanctioned the decree on the priests, and on the camp of Paris. I could say that the constitution granted him a sanction absolutely free, and that should he be mistaken, they could not attribute his error to him as a crime. But if a great number of citizens appeared to support this last decree, a greater number seemed to resist it; he thought it prudent to refuse his sanction: but at the same time, by a wise measure he ordered the camp at Soissons, and this camp was more useful to our armies than that of Paris would have been.

His letter to the bishop of Clermont is opposed to him: but it was an opinion purely religious, and anterior to his acceptance of the constitution; and when he accepted it, he did not think it free from spots, as even in the acceptance itself, legal reforms appear.

He is reprobated with having paid his guard; but the assembly in ordering it to be disbanded, had said it should be formed anew; it became therefore his justice and humanity to pay it till it should be recomposed.

He has been reproached with having given assistance to the emigrants—with having protected by his ambassadors the coalition of powers. He has been reproached with his keeping a resident at the court of Vienna. I answer, that he constantly opposed the efforts of the emigrants—I will quote a fact: he is informed by his resident, of an attempt made by the emigrants to obtain arms and ammunition at Frankfort,
Page 18

and of the refusal of the magistrate of Frankfort, He ordered his resident to thank the magistrate of Frankfort, and to invite him to persist in his refusal.

I will venture to say, there is not a single emigrant who has received assistance from him. He supplied the expences of his nephews, the eldest was fourteen, the second only eleven. There existed no law which fixed the age at which emigration was a crime—the Convention has made one—his nephews were without resources: was it necessary that he should smother the sentiments of humanity? Because he was a king, should he cease to be a relation? He has made presents to the gouvernante of his children; but she had been gouvernante of his children, and had left France since 1789. Choiseul Beauprie has been in Italy since 1790, and has never borne arms against France. He has given assistance to Rochefort, but Rochefort was not an emigrant. He is re∣proached with having remitted money to Bouille—the letter of Bouille says;

Given to Monsieur, the king’s brother, by his order.

The truth is, that he never remitted pecu∣niary assistance to Monsieur, and the order there spoken of was that of Monsieur, not that of the king. All that he did was to be security for his other brother in a sum of 400,000 livres, but it was in 1789, and he was induced to this step by the motive of humanity.
He is reproached with the manoeuvres of Dumoustier at the court of Berlin; but Dumostier was not his agent, he was the agent of the princes, his brothers.

A letter from Choiseul Gouffier is also opposed to him. It was thought that because he was the ambassador of Louis, they might impute to him the plans of Choiseul Gouffier, but the letter itself of this ambassador proves that it was but three days after his recall, and on account of his recall, that he had formed an intrigue against the national ambassador who replaced him. It was Choiseul who wrote, who acted, who spoke of his services to the princes, the king’s brothers, and the note proves that the king had no relation with him.

I come now to the reproaches of subordination of several members of the legislative assembly. This plan reduced the liquidation of the offices ten millions, it discharged the national bank, and charged the civil list with the interest of this sum. A corruption which turns to the profit of personal in∣terest may be conceived: but a caption that leaves us all the shame, and secures to others all the profit is scarcely to be imagined—the fact is, and it results from the papers communicated to the king, that it was he alone who prevented the plan of a decree from being laid before the assembly, and that he expressed his anger and indignation at it.

A reproach has been made against him which has excited the indignation of the people, and which must in fact appear a heavy charge; he has been accused of having paid his gar∣des du-corps at Coblentz. I must confess that this accusation made an afflicting impression upon me, I even suspected his good faith, the papers appeared to me decisive. I now come to make a due reparation in the eyes of Europe. All the papers relate to the month of October, 1791; hear what the administrator of the civil list writes to the treasurer in the month of November—”The intention of his majesty is to continue the pay of his gardes-du corps till they are replaced, but his majesty means that the amount of this shall not be delivered in a total to the etat major, but to every individual at the bank of the civil list upon his own receipt, and his certificate of residence within the kingdom.”

All the papers have been made as public as possible, he has been denounced to France, to all Europe; all these heads of accusation have been printed, and the paper, which alone answers all these accusations, has been the only one unknown—this ought to be with the other papers. By what strange fatality is it not found there? he has at length obtained, after much trouble an authentic copy of this letter from the office: he produces it to the eyes of Europe.

I come, lastly, to that disastrous day, the 10th of August. If we had believed that he had committed the crimes imputed to him, you would not see us at this bar lending him the assistance of our courageous veracity. All your successes since that day should permit you to be generous—I demand only that you be just; he feared that his palace would be invaded, he kept up the most exact correspondence with the popular au∣authorities, in short the people are there, the procureur syn∣dic reads, with regret doubtless, the Vth article of the law which orders to repel force by force, the gunners, as their only answer, discharge their cannon before him.

Then the procureur syndic invites him to come to the assembly—he comes—an hour afterwards our misfortunes commence; how did the battle begin? I know not, history perhaps will be equally ignorant of it.

He is reproached with having passed his troops in review —well then reproach the mayor for having visited the post—was he not a constituted authority? was not his authority a deposit in his hands, to which the law forbid him to suffer the least attack? I know it has been said, that he had excited the insurrection, to gain the end of his plan, but who is now ignorant that this insurrection had been planned, ripened; that it had its agents, its council, its directory? who knows not that there had been signed acts and treaties on this subject.

Within this hall has been contested the glories of the 10th of August. I do not come to dispute the glory; but since it has been proved that this day was meditated, how can it be attributed as a crime to him? and you accuse him, and will pronounce sentence against him! against him who never yet gave a sanguinary order; against him who at Varennes, rather chose to return a captive, than expose the life of a single man! against him, who, on the 20th of June, refused every kind of assistance, and preferred to remain alone, surrounded by the people.

Hear history say, that Louis, exalted 20 years upon the throne, gave an example of morals, justice, and oeconomy, He abolished servitude in his dominions; the people wished for liberty—he gave it them.—The glory cannot be disputed to him, that he has ever anticipated the desires of the people —I stop—history shall finish—Think that history shall pass a sentence on your judgment.

When Mr. Deseze had sat down, the unfortunate Louis arose with much emotion, and addressed the Convention in these words:—”Citizens, you have heard the manner and matter of my defence. I pledge myself that the statement of my counsel is true in every respect. Perhaps this is the last time I shall address you; but be that as it may, and decide as you think proper, my conscience does not reproach me. I feel inexpressibly hurt by one of your charges, viz. that I wished to shed the blood of the people; and to have it said that I excited the horrible insurrection of the 10th of August. My soul is weighed down to the earth with the calumny, that I ever had any intention to cause the blood of the citizens to be spilt.”

The president then presented him a note, and begged to be informed whether he knew the hand-writing.


Do you recollect these five keys?

I cannot say that I do. I remember some placed at the Feuillans, but I cannot say that these are the same.

The president asked him if he had any thing more to say in his defence.

He having answered in the negative, was permitted to retire, which he did, attended by his counsel.

As soon as he was gone, Manuel requested that the defence of Louis, as well as his accusation, should lay on the table, that every part of his defence should be printed and distributed among the members of the Convention, and sent to all the departments. It was also decreed, that the defence should be signed by the king himself and counsel.

The remaining part of this day, and the two following, the Convention was occupied in hearing the opinions of the several members. Some were for passing sentence of death immediately: others were for referring the sentence to the primary assemblies: others, again, were for banishing him for ever, and making it death for him to return.

On the 5th of January, 1793, the Convention received a letter from the king’s counsel, containing some observations on a charge made againg the king by one of the members of the Convention, of having constantly kept two ministers, one ostensible, the other private; and for having, in consequence of this secret ministry, sent Hayman to Prussia. They asserted, that the king, at the time he projected his journey to Montmedi, had transmitted to Bouille the sum of 993,000 livres, of which he was to give an account after his return to Paris. Bouille having retired to Luxembourg, the king’s brother, who went thither also, finding himself without resources, took from Bouille the sum of 670,000 livres. It was from this sum that the princes took 3,400 livres for the expence of Hayman’s journey to Prussia, on the king’s service. This exception was in consequence of a very extraordinary affectation in the princes, when they formed sentiments or entered into negociations with foreign powers. Louis could not prevent his brothers from abusing his name; and in a denunciation made to the national assembly on the 31st of March, in the king’s name, by the minister Dumourier, of a treaty between the princes and Hohenloe, Dumourier was particularly charged to testify to the assembly how much the king was afflicted and distressed an account of this step. On the 5th of July he denounced a loan of eight millions, nego∣ciated for the princes, in Holland, by one Harel-la-Verter. They concluded by this remark; that had there existed a secret ministry, some proofs would have been among the papers found at the Thuilleries, when the palace was attacked, as the king was in the habit of preserving all his papers.

On the 14th, the Convention adopted the three following questions, proposed by the president:

1. Is Louis guilty or not guilty of high treason; and of at∣tempts against the general safety of the state?
2. Shall the appeal to the people take place?
3. What punishment shall he suffer?

The next day it was decreed, that the sense of the Convention should be taken on each question, by a nominal call: and one of the secretaries having read the first question, and having finished the call, the president declared, that of 735 voters, 693 had voted in the affirmative, and therefore pronounced Louis Capet guilty of high treason and attempts against the general safety of the state.

The second question was then put, and there appeared a majority of 280 against an appeal. The president then rose, and said, The National Convention doth decree, that the sentence which it shall pronounce upon Louis Capet shall not be referred to the appeal of the people.

On the 16th the Convention took up the third proposition; when, after a very long debate, the president rose and announced, that of 720 votes, 366 were for death. In consequence of which, he declared in the name of the Convention, that the punishment which they pronounced against Louis Capet was—death.

On the 19th the Convention passed the following decree unanimously:—

1. The executive council shall be summoned to meet at 11 o’clock to-morrow morning, and a copy of the decree which pronounces sentence against Louis shall be delivered them.

2. The executive council shall be charged to notify this decree to Louis in the course of the day; to cause it to be executed within twenty-four hours after it has been notified to him; to take every measure of safety and police which to them shall appear necessary during the execution; to be careful that no insult be offered to his remains, and to give an account of their diligence to the Convention.

3 The mayor and municipal officers of Paris shall be enjoined to suffer Louis to communicate freely with his family, and to have with him such priests as he may desire in his last moments.

On the 20th the minister of justice informed the Convention, that the executive council had been summoned, and had assembled early in the morning, in order to execute the decree relative to Louis Capet. The council had called the mayor, the department, the commandant-general, and public accuser to their assistance. Having concerted with these the measures of execution, the minister of justice, president of the executive council, a member of council, the secretary, and two members of the department, went together to the temple about 2 o’clock, and being introduced to Louis, the president of the executive council told him, that they were charged to notify to him the extract from the minutes of the Convention, dated the 15th, 17th and 19th of January, which the secretary then read.

Louis presented them with a written paper, signed with his own hand. They answered that they would deliberate thereon; and having retired, resolved that it should be submitted to the Convention.

The following is a copy of the paper given by Louis to the president of the executive council.

I demand a delay of three days, in order to make the necessary preparations to appear in the presence of God— I demand for that purpose to send for and see freely the person whom I shall name—the person whom I demand is, M. Escheavaux de Formont; he lodges at No. 483, rue de Bacq.

I demand to be freed from that perpetual inspection, which the council general has established over me for some months.

I demand in this interval, to be able to see my family as often as I shall request, and without witness.

I would request, that the National Convention would immediately proceed to deliberate on the fate of my family, and permit them to retire freely, wherever they think proper.

I recommend to the nation all the persons who were attached to me—there are many of them who have expended all their fortunes to purchase places under the new government, and who, having now lost their sole dependance, must be in circumstances of want. Among my pensioners were many aged and indigent persons, who had no other means of support except the pension which I gave them.



20th January, 1793.

After this paper was read, the Convention decreed that there was no room to deliberate thereon, having anticipated the greater part of the requests, in the decree of the day before.

On the 20th, at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, the unfortunate Louis took leave of his family.


On the 21st, conformably to the arrangements made by the executive council, Louis was put to death at the Place de la Revolution, heretofore Place de Louis XV.

Twenty-five citizens of known principles, well armed, acquainted with the manual exercise, and having each 16 rounds of shot, were chosen from each section to form a guard of 1200 men, who accompanied the unfortunate monarch to the place of execution.

Strong detachments from the different legions were posted in the streets through which the royal prisoner was to pass, and also in all the avenues leading to the Place de la Revolution, to prevent any confusion, and each section had a body in reserve, ready to move at moment’s warning, to maintain public order, should any attempt be made to disturb it.

Cannon were also distributed in every quarter, where it was thought they could be any way serviceable, had events made it necessary to have employed them.

Between eight and nine o’clock in the morning, Louis proceeded from his apartments in the Temple, and got into the Mayor’s carriage, who accompanied him, as did also M. Edgworth, or de Formont, an Irish priest, whom he request∣ed might attend him. Louis was dressed in a brown great coat, white waistcoat, black breeches and stockings; his hair was dressed.

The procession commanded by M. Santerre, proceeded along the Boulevard, to the Place de la Revolution. One hundred Gendarmes on horseback formed an advanced guard to the procession. The rear guard was composed of one hundred national guards from the military school. Vari∣ous reserves of cavalry lined the procession, and patroled the the out-skirts of the city.

The unfortunate monarch arrived at the foot of the scaffold at twenty minutes past ten. He mounted the scaffold with firmness and dignity—and appeared desirous to address the people. Drums and trumpets gave the signal, and at twenty-two minutes past ten his head was severed from his body. The Place de la Revolution was so strongly guarded by troops, that no person was suffered to pass after the king had entered it, those however who had previously entered and got near enough to the scaffold, notwithstanding the noise of drums and trumpets, heard him plainly pronounce these words—”Citizens, I forgive my enemies, and I die innocent!”

Louis, on mounting the scaffold, instantly took off his great coat and unfastened his shirt collar. His hair had been clubbed up close like an abbe, that no indignity might be offered him, or that it should occasion delay by hanging loose. The executioner went up to tie his arms, which the king recoiled at; but it was soon done—The executioner then took a large pair of scissors to cut off his hair, at which the king appeared very much mortified, and said, “I have put all right.” His hair, however, was cut off.

When the executioner shewed his head to the people, cries of “Vive la nation! Vive la Republic!” were heard on all sides.

His body was transported to the parish-church of La Mag∣delane, where it was interred without any insult being offered to it, between the persons who lost their lives during the illuminations on account of his marriage, and the Swiss who fell on the 10th of August.

Louis, before his departure from the Temple, delivered to the Commissioners of the Council General, who were upon the guard, his latter will, two copies of which he had written on the 25th of December last.

Thus perished in the 40th year of his age, Louis XVI. once the generous friend and ally of the United States, but who, by the infernal machinations of a wicked ministry, incurred the hatred of his nation.—A dreadful example to those princes who trample on the sacred “Rights of Man.”


NOTE: The Convention Nationale (National Convention) was the main governing body of the French Republic from September 20, 1792, until October 26, 1795.

Home Forums Trial of French King Louis XVI by the National Convention (1754-1793)

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      The sitting of the Convention commenced by reading the act of accusation against Louis XVI, which was presented by Barbaroux in the name of the commission of twenty-one. It contained an enumeration of the principal charges made against the unfortunate monarch, and each charge was followed by a list of the pieces on which the proofs are to be founded.

      [See the full post at: Trial of French King Louis XVI by the National Convention (1754-1793)]

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