The Death of Louis XVI

The execution of Louis XVI

"Gentlemen, I am innocent of everything of which I am accused. I wish that my blood may be able to cement the happiness of the French." 
Last words of Louis XVI
The National Convention declared Louis XVI guilty of high treason and on January 20, 1793, they condemned him to death.  The date of execution was set for January 21, 1793.
Louis spent his last evening saying goodbye to Marie Antoinette, their children, and his faithful sister, Princess Elisabeth.  According to the king's valet de chambre who was present, it was an agonizing, heart-rendering scene.  Marie Antoinette and Princess Elisabeth wailed.  The king's daughter, Madame Royale, fainted at her father's feet.  To make the parting easier, the king lied and promised his family he would visit with them the next morning.  

The king retired to his room where he had a last meal and then fell into bed, exhuasted.  He woke shortly before five in the morning.  After dressing, he dispersed of his personal belongings (his seal, ring, looking glass, and locks of hair) and then took part in a brief mass, officiated by the L'Abbé de Firmont. 

At eight o'clock 1,200 mounted guardsmen arrived at the Temple Prison to escort the dethroned king to the Place de la Révolution.  It would take the king two hours to travel the short distance, his journey hampered by angry mobs clogging the narrow streets hoping to catch a glimpse of him or offer a final taunt.

Louis asked Henry Essex Edgeworth, also known as L'Abbé Edgeworth de Firmont, to accompany him.  The priest recorded the event, which was later published in a slender edition titled A Journal of the Terror: Being an Account of the Occurrences in the Temple During the Confinement of Louis XVI by M. Cléry, the King's Valet-De-Chambre; Together With, a Description of the Last Hours of the King by the Abbe De Firmont . (I was fortunate enough to purchase a first edition copy of this enthralling journal several years ago.  I highly encourage those interested in Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI to obtain a copy for themselves.)

An Account of the King's Final Moments by L'Abbé de Firmont:
"The King, finding himself seated in the carriage, where he could neither speak to me nor be spoken to without witness, kept a profound silence. I presented him with my breviary, the only book I had with me, and he seemed to accept it with pleasure: he appeared anxious that I should point out to him the psalms that were most suited to his situation, and he recited them attentively with me. The gendarmes, without speaking, seemed astonished and confounded at the tranquil piety of their monarch, to whom they doubtless never had before approached so near.

The procession lasted almost two hours; the streets were lined with citizens, all armed, some with pikes and some with guns, and the carriage was surrounded by a body of troops, formed of the most desperate people of Paris. As another precaution, they had placed before the horses a number of drums, intended to drown any noise or murmur in favour of the King; but how could they be heard? Nobody appeared either at the doors or windows, and in the street nothing was to be seen, but armed citizens - citizens, all rushing towards the commission of a crime, which perhaps they detested in their hearts. 

The carriage proceeded thus in silence to the Place de Louis XV, and stopped in the middle of a large space that had been left round the scaffold: this space was surrounded with cannon, and beyond, an armed multitude extended as far as the eye could reach.  As soon as the King perceived that the carriage stopped, he turned and whispered to me, 'We are arrived, if I mistake not.' 

My silence answered that we were. One of the guards came to open the carriage door, and the gendarmes would have jumped out, but the King stopped them, and leaning his arm on my knee, 'Gentlemen,' said he, with the tone of majesty, 'I recommend to you this good man; take care that after my death no insult be offered to him - I charge you to prevent it.'

… As soon as the King had left the carriage, three guards surrounded him, and would have taken off his clothes, but he repulsed them with haughtiness- he undressed himself, untied his neckcloth, opened his shirt, and arranged it himself. The guards, whom the determined countenance of the King had for a moment disconcerted, seemed to recover their audacity. They surrounded him again, and would have seized his hands.

'What are you attempting?' said the King, drawing back his hands. 'To bind you,' answered the wretches.
'To bind me,' said the King, with an indignant air. 'No! I shall never consent to that: do what you have been ordered, but you shall never bind me. . .'

The path leading to the scaffold was extremely rough and difficult to pass; the King was obliged to lean on my arm, and from the slowness with which he proceeded, I feared for a moment that his courage might fail; but what was my astonishment, when arrived at the last step, I felt that he suddenly let go my arm, and I saw him cross with a firm foot the breadth of the whole scaffold; silence, by his look alone, fifteen or twenty drums that were placed opposite to me; and in a voice so loud, that it must have been heard it the Pont Tournant, I heard him pronounce distinctly these memorable words:

'I die innocent of all the crimes laid to my charge; I Pardon those who have occasioned my death; and I pray to God that the blood you are going to shed may never be visited on France.'

He was proceeding, when a man on horseback, in the national uniform, and with a ferocious cry, ordered the drums to beat. Many voices were at the same time heard encouraging the executioners. They seemed reanimated themselves, in seizing with violence the most virtuous of Kings, they dragged him under the axe of the guillotine, which with one stroke severed his head from his body. All this passed in a moment. The youngest of the guards, who seemed about eighteen, immediately seized the head, and showed it to the people as he walked round the scaffold; he accompanied this monstrous ceremony with the most atrocious and indecent gestures. At first an awful silence prevailed; at length some cries of 'Vive la Republique!' were heard. By degrees the voices multiplied and in less than ten minutes this cry, a thousand times repeated became the universal shout of the multitude, and every hat was in the air."

Terrible Tidbits About the Death of Louis XVI:
  • When Louis attempted to address the crowd which had gathered to witness his execution, Antoine-Joseph Santerre, a general in the National Guard, ordered a drum roll, thereby drowning out the king's words.
  • The blade fell at precisely 10:22 a.m.
  • Louis XVI was executed by Chief Executioner, Charles Henri Sanson.
  • Sanson executed nearly 3,000.
  • Sanson brought his son to witness the king's execution.
  • Sanson's son would serve as Marie Antoinette's executioner.
  • Louis XVI was executed at the Place de la Revolution; today it is known as the Place de la Concorde.
  • Once the blade fell and the body was removed, the crowd pushed forward.  Many dipped their handkerchiefs in the king's blood so they would have souvenirs of the "glorious" day.  Click here to read more about the morbid souvenirs made of Louis XVI's blood.
  • After his execution, Louis XVI's corpse was transported to the Madeleine Church Cemetary. 
  • Louis XVI's body was thrown into a pit of quicklime and his head was placed between his legs.
  • After the king's execution, L'Abbé de Firmont remained in France.  Despite the mortal danger it presented, he continued a correspondence with the king's sister, Princess Elisabeth. 
  • On January 21, 1815, the remains of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were exhumed and reburied in the Basilica of Saint-Denis.
  • Edme Gaulle and Pierre Petitot sculpted statues of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette which are now part of a memorial in the Basilica of Saint-Denis.
Memorial of Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette


  1. Dear Leah Marie,

    Although I do love your posts, I read this one with tinges of sadness and pity.

    It is horrible, the cruel human lifestyle that ends the life of a man who did not want to be king.

    I feel myself shake with sorrow just to think about that event, the goodbye's to his family,

    the journey to the scaffold..I imagine the horror of bearing witness. I only hope

    he knew he ended his family's long line with an admirable dignity, worthy of a King.

    The awful cruelness dealt to him had no meaning in the last breaths, earning him his much deserved

    respect some two hundred and nine teen years ago.

    Well done on the writing once again, Madame Leah Marie.

    I await for more!


  2. Demain est un jour sombre.
    L'anniversaire du jour où une minorité d'excités a fait divorcer la France de son histoire, et de ses fondations. Aujourd'hui, elle vacille...
    RIP, Louis de France.


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