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Death Of Louis Xvi And Other Members Of The Royal Family








On the 21st of January, 1793, Louis XVI. was publicly beheaded in the
midst of his own metropolis, in the Place Louis Quinze, erected to the
memory of his grandfather. It is possible, for the critical eye of the
historian, to discover much weakness in the conduct of this unhappy
monarch; for he had neither the determination to fight for his rights,
nor the power of submitting with apparent indifference to circumstances
where resistance inferred danger. He submitted, indeed, but with so bad
a grace, that he only made himself suspected of cowardice, without
getting credit for voluntary concession. But yet his behaviour on many
trying occasions effectually vindicate him from the charge of timidity,
and showed that the unwillingness to shed blood, by which he was
peculiarly distinguished, arose from benevolence, not from
pusillanimity.

Upon the scaffold, he behaved with the firmness which became a noble
spirit, and the patience beseeming one who was reconciled to heaven. As
one of the few marks of sympathy with which his sufferings were
softened, the attendance of a confessor, who had not taken the
constitutional oath, was permitted to the dethroned monarch. He who
undertook the honourable but dangerous office, was a gentleman of gifted
family of Edgeworth of Edgeworthstown; and the devoted zeal with which
he rendered the last duties to Louis, had like in the issue to have
proved fatal to himself. As the instrument of death descended, the
confessor pronounced the impressive words,--"Son of Saint Louis, ascend
to heaven!"

There was a last will of Louis XVI. circulated upon good authority,
bearing this remarkable passage:--"I recommend to my son, should you
have the misfortune to become king, to recollect that his whole
faculties are due to the service of the public; that he ought to consult
the happiness of his people, by governing according to the laws,
forgetting all injuries and misfortunes, and in particular those which I
may have sustained. But while I exhort him to govern under the authority
of the laws, I cannot but add, that this will be only in his power, in
so far as he shall be endowed with authority to cause right to be
respected, and wrong punished; and that without such authority, his
situation in the government must be more hurtful than advantageous to
the state."

Not to mingle the fate of the illustrious victim of the royal family
with the general tale of the sufferers under the reign of terror, we
must here mention the deaths of the rest of that illustrious house,
which closed for a time a monarchy, that existing through three
dynasties, had given sixty-six kings to France.

It was not to be supposed, that the queen was to be long permitted to
survive her husband. She had been even more than he the object of
revolutionary detestation; nay, many were disposed to throw on Marie
Antoinette, almost exclusively, the blame of those measures which they
considered as counter-revolutionary.

The terms of her accusation were too basely depraved to be even hinted
at here. She scorned to reply to it, but appealed to all who had been
mothers, against the very possibility of the horrors which were stated
against her. The widow of a king, the sister of an emperor, was
condemned to death, dragged in an open tumbril to the place of
execution, and beheaded on the 16th October, 1793. She suffered death in
her 39th year.

The princess Elizabeth, sister of Louis, of whom it might he said, in
the words of lord Clarendon, that she resembled a chapel in a king's
palace, into which nothing but piety and morality enter, while all
around is filled with sin, idleness, and folly, did not, by the most
harmless demeanour and inoffensive character, escape the miserable fate
in which the Jacobins had determined to involve the whole family of
Louis XVI. Part of the accusation redounded to the honour of her
character. She was accused of having admitted to the apartments of the
Tuilleries some of the national guards, of the section of Filles de
Saint Thomas, and causing the wounds to be looked to which they had
received in a skirmish with the Marsellois, immediately before the 10th
of August. The princess admitted her having done so, and it was exactly
in consistence with her whole conduct. Another charge stated the
ridiculous accusation, that she had distributed bullets chewed by
herself and her attendants, to render then more fatal, to the defenders
of the castle of the Tuilleries; a ridiculous fable, of which there was
no proof whatever. She was beheaded in May, 1794, and met her death as
became the manner in which her life had been spent.

We are weary of recounting these atrocities, as others must be of
reading them. Yet it is not useless that men should see how far human
nature can be carried, in contradiction to every feeling the most
sacred, to every pleading, whether of justice or of humanity. The
Dauphin we have already described as a promising child of seven years
old, an age at which no offence could have been given, and from which no
danger could have been apprehended. Nevertheless, it was resolved to
destroy the innocent child, and by means to which ordinary murders seem
deeds of mercy.

The unhappy boy was put in charge of the most hard-hearted villain whom the
community of Paris, well acquainted where such agents were to be found, were
able to select from their band of Jacobins. This wretch, a shoemaker called
Simon, asked his employers, "what was to be done with the young wolf-whelp;
Was he to be slain?"--"No?"--"Poisoned?"--"No."--"Starved to death?"--"No."
"What then?"--"He was to be got rid of." Accordingly, by a continuance of
the most severe treatment--by beating, cold, vigils, fasts, and ill usage
of every kind, so frail a blossom was soon blighted. He died on the 8th
June, 1795.

After this last horrible crime, there was a relaxation in favour of the
daughter, and now the sole child of this unhappy house. The princess
royal, whose qualities have honoured even her birth and blood,
experienced from this period a mitigated captivity. Finally, on the
19th December, 1795, this last remaining relic of the family of Louis,
was permitted to leave her prison and her country, in exchange for La
Fayette and others, whom, on that condition, Austria delivered from
captivity. She became afterwards the wife of her cousin, the duke
d'Angouleme, eldest son of the reigning monarch of France, and obtained,
by the manner in which she conducted herself at Bourdeaux in 1815, the
highest praise for gallantry and spirit.





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Previous: Massacre Of Prisoners



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