History : Jul-Aug 2016
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 69 “Louis must die so that France may live.” –maximilien de robespierre, jacobin leader distrust. Louis’s constant attempts to obstruct political change and preserve his power led to the forced relocation of the royal family from Ver- sailles to the Tuileries Palace in Paris in October 1789. His queen, Marie-Antoinette, became a popular target for revolutionaries. They accused her of plotting with her brother, the Archduke of Austria, whose government would soon emerge as revolutionary France’s principal enemy. Alarmed by the radical turn of events in Paris, Austria offered sanctuary to many noble French émigrés. In June 1791 the royal family tried to escape to Austria over France’s northeast bor- der but were captured near Varennes. Louis and his family returned to Paris, where they were placed under house arrest. At the close of 1791 war drums were already beating, and in 1792 northern France was invaded by the combined armies of Austria and Prussia. In the first stages of the war, King Louis gam- bled on regaining popularity in France as a figure of national unity in the face of an outside threat. But his domestic position was weakening daily. The French people increasingly saw him as a traitor, and an insurrection finally removed the monarchy from power in August 1792. Even as it was being declared, however, the Republique Française was born into blood, tur- moil, and paranoia. The invasion, the prospect of a siege of Paris, as well as Marie-Antoinette’s suspect Austrian links, led to increasingly vio- lent rhetoric in radical revolutionary quarters. Believed to be plotting against the republic, im- prisoned nobles and clerics were slaughtered in Paris and other cities in the wave of bloodletting known as the September Massacres. Fate of the Former King Amid such hatred of the nobility it was almost inevitable that the popular fury would fall on the beleaguered king, now languishing with his family imprisoned in the Temple fortress. Pub- lic clamor to put Louis on trial for his alleged crimes—which included his support for foreign invasion—grew steadily louder throughout the turbulent fall of 1792. Finally the Assembly agreed to discuss the possibili- ty, although its members proved very divided on the issue. On one side was the Girondin faction, so- called because they were from the Gironde region of France, near Bordeaux. In spite of their anti-royal sentiments, the Girondins also condemned the Sep- tember Massacres, led, in the words of their leader Jacques-Pierre Brissot“by disorganizers who want to level everything—private property, riches, the price of goods.” Ranged against the Gi- rondins was the Montagnard faction, nicknamed after the French word for “mountain” due to their position at the highest part of the Assem- bly chamber. Their leader was Maximilien de Robespierre, who would cast a dark shadow over France later the following year when he emerged as the leading figure in the wholesale butchery known as the Reign of Terror. The uncompromising struggle between the two factions centered more and more on the question of what to do with the king. Against the reticence of the Girondins who feared—rightly, as it turned out—that a trial would radicalize the revolution, the Montagnards considered that that step had become inevitable. The Montagnard agitators won. By early Oc- tober 1792 the former Assembly, now known as the National Convention, formed a committee to establish grounds to try the monarch. Their principal obstacle was the constitution of the year before, which declared that the person of the king was inviolable. Opposing this view, the radical elements pointed out that, as the 1791 Constitution predated the existence of the re- public, it no longer applied. Arguing that the former king himself had, on several occasions, AKG/ALBUM LIBERTÉ, ÉGALITÉ, FRATERNITÉ A republican engraving from 1792. The toppling of the king was seen by the revolutionaries as the fulfillment of the revolutionary ideals of 1789.