The King’s Speech … Remembering Louis 16th …

Anyone who has been in France on a July 14,  France’s National Day, will know that this is a day the French go a little mad; they dance in the streets, have firework displays and they march their armed forces and deadly weapons down Ave des Champs-Elysées. All, to commemorate the day they had stormed […]

Louis 16th

Anyone who has been in France on a July 14,  France’s National Day, will know that this is a day the French go a little mad; they dance in the streets, have firework displays and they march their armed forces and deadly weapons down Ave des Champs-Elysées. All, to commemorate the day they had stormed the Bastille fortress-prison in Paris which led to the end of the monarchy and had, as they rightfully claim, gave, not only France, but the world, parliamentary democracy.

We all know what they did with their King and Queen – Louis 16th and Marie-Antoinette. They chopped their heads off.

For Louis this had happened on January 21 1793.

Yesterday, it was 218 years ago.

And yesterday, while most French went about their life as always, totally unaware of the significance of the day, a few remembered. A very few remembered. And some did so not without the thought in mind: good riddance of …

Louis, born on August 23, 1754 ruled as King from 1774 until 1792 – first as King of France and Navarre and then as King of the French. He was therefore a King for 18 years. He was ‘relieved of his crown and privileges’ on August 10 that year of 1792 when an angry mob took him, his wife and their children to Paris as prisoners. He was tried by the National Convention, found guilty of high treason and on January 21 the following year, was executed by guillotine.  The beheading, watched by cheering Parisians, took place on Place de la Concorde in central Paris; the square was then called Place de la Révolution.

Executed as plain citizen Louis Capet – Capet, as name the revolutionaries had given him wrongly believing that a Hugh Capet was the founder of the Capetian Dynasty.

Louis was 39.

Standing on the scaffold before the guillotine’s blade had dropped he had made a short speech. Like all, or rather most in our jails today, he claimed his innocence. He was ready to die he said. It had looked as if he still wanted to speak on, but the bourreau (executioner), a general in the National Guard, Antoine-Joseph Santerre, quickly pushed him down onto the bascule, the guillotine’s vertically-positioned tilting board and pressed the déclic button to release the blade. Louisette, as the guillotine would be named in honor of Dr. Antoine Louis, who had drawn up the blueprints for the apparatus, gave Louis his last kiss.

Louis' executioner Santerre

So yesterday some French remembered.

Several requiem masses were held in churches all over France, but the most notable was the one held in the Royal Chapel (Chapelle Royale) of the Chateau of Versailles. Never before had permission been granted to hold such a mass there. Royalists had tried to have such a mass held in Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral in 1993 for the bicentennial of Louis’ death, but to no avail because the then Archbishop of Paris, Jean-Marie Lustiger who was born Jewish of Polish parents, had refused to grant permission.

The secret society Acéphale also commemorated Louis’ death. As they have been doing for a few years already now at 10 a.m. they gathered on Place de la Concorde for a brief ritual. They laid s wreath and said a prayer.

Emblem of secret society Acephale

And on Sunday (January 23) at 7.30 p.m. a candle-lit march will set off on the square  (Place de la Madeleine) in front of the Ste-Marie-Madeleine church close to Place de la Concorde to Square Louis XVI which was once the cemetery of La Madeleine where about 3000 beheaded corps, which included those of Louis and Marie-Antoinette, had been buried.

The guillotine was a more practical version of the 13th century Halifax Gibbet, the wooden structure into which men were strapped so that their heads could be chopped off.

It was first proposed as a means of execution by Dr Joseph-Ignace Guillotin in 1789 and after his version, a 4-meter (13 ft) high wooden structure, had been tested on three cadavers on April 15, 1792, in a basement room of a hospice in the commune of Kremlin-Bicêtre, just south of Paris, it was put to work.

‘In all cases where the law imposes the death penalty on an accused person, the punishment shall be the same, whatever the nature of the offence of which he is guilty; the criminal shall be decapitated; this will be done solely by means of a simple mechanism’, read Art 2 of the proposition which Dr Guillotine had submitted for debate in the French parliament.

France abolished capital punishment in 1981, but the last execution was carried out in 1977.

If you want to read more about execution by guillotine, you can read my book Die in Paris where I write in detail of the French serial killer, Dr Marcel Petiot’s, guillotine death. You can order the book from any online book-selling site.

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

2 Responses to “The King’s Speech … Remembering Louis 16th …”

  1. 2
    Sara Louise Says:

    I love reading about this period of French history so this post was a treat for me. Thanks Marilyn 🙂

  2. 1
    Jo Wake Says:

    A horrid way to depose a king. Not that we British can claim clean hands for regicide either. I always feel sorry for the children.

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