Massacre Of Prisoners

The number of individuals accumulated in the various prisons of Paris

had increased by the arrests and domiciliary visits subsequent to the

10th of August, to about eight thousand persons. It was the object of

this infernal scheme to destroy the greater part of these under one

general system of murder, not to be executed by the sudden and furious

impulse of an armed multitude, but with a certain degree of cold blood

deliberate investigation. A force of armed banditti, Marsellois

partly, and partly chosen ruffians of the Fauxbourgs, proceeded to the

several prisons, into which they either forced their passage, or were

admitted by the jailers, most of whom had been apprised of what was to

take place, though some even of these steeled officials exerted

themselves to save those under their charge. A revolutionary tribunal

was formed from among the armed ruffians themselves, who examined the

registers of the prison, and summoned the captives individually to

undergo the form of a trial. If the judges, as was almost always the

case, declared for death, their doom, to prevent the efforts of men in

despair, was expressed in the words "Give the prisoner freedom." The

victim was then thrust out into the street, or yard; he was despatched

by men and women, who, with sleeves tucked up, arms dyed elbow-deep in

blood, hands holding axes, pikes, and sabres, were executioners of the

sentence; and, by the manner in which they did their office on the

living, and mangled the bodies of the dead, showed that they occupied

the post as much from pleasure as from love of hire. They often

exchanged places; the judges going out to take the executioners' duty,

the executioners, with reeking hands, sitting as judges in their turn.

Mailard, a ruffian alleged to have distinguished himself at the siege of

the Bastile, but better known by his exploits on the march to

Versailles, presided during these brief and sanguinary investigations.

His companions on the bench were persons of the same stamp. Yet there

were occasions when they showed some transient gleams of humanity, and

it is not unimportant to remark, that boldness had more influence on

them than any appeal to mercy or compassion. An avowed royalist was

occasionally dismissed uninjured, while the constitutionalists were sure

to be massacred. Another trait of a singular nature is, that two of the

ruffians who were appointed to guard one of these intended victims home

in safety, as if they were acquitted, insisted on seeing his meeting

with his family, seemed to share in the transports of the moment, and on

taking leave, shook the hand of their late prisoner, while their own

were clotted with the gore of his friends, and had been just raised to

shed his own. Few, indeed, and brief, were these symptoms of relenting.

In general, the doom of the prisoner was death, and that doom was

instantly accomplished.

In the meanwhile, the captives were penned up in their dungeons like

cattle in a shambles, and in many instances might, from windows which

looked outwards, mark the fate of their comrades, hear their cries, and

behold their struggles, and learn from the horrible scene, how they

might best meet their own approaching fate. They observed, according to

St. Meard, who, in his well-named Agony of Thirty-Six Hours, has given

the account of this fearful scene, that those who intercepted the blows

of the executioners, by holding up their hands, suffered protracted

torment, while those who offered no show of struggle were more easily

despatched; and they encouraged each other to submit to their fate, in

the manner least likely to prolong their sufferings.

Many ladies, especially those belonging to the court, were thus

murdered. The Princess de Lamballe, whose only crime seems to have been

her friendship for Marie Antoinette, was literally hewn to pieces, and

her head, and that of others, paraded on pikes through the metropolis.

It was carried to the temple on that accursed weapon, the features yet

beautiful in death, and the long fair curls of the hair floating around

the spear. The murderers insisted that the King and Queen should be

compelled to come to the window to view this dreadful trophy. The

municipal officers who were upon duty over the royal prisoners, had

difficulty, not merely in saving them from this horrible inhumanity, but

also in preventing their prison from being forced. Three-coloured

ribbons were extended across the street, and this frail barrier was

found sufficient to intimate that the Temple was under the safeguard of

the nation. We do not read that the efficiency of the three-coloured

ribbons was tried for the protection of any of the other prisoners. No

doubt the executioners had their instructions where and when they should

be respected.

The clergy, who had declined the constitutional oath from pious

scruples, were, during the massacre, the peculiar objects of insult and

cruelty, and their conduct was such as corresponded with their religious

and conscientious professions. They were seen confessing themselves to

each other, or receiving the confessions of their lay companions in

misfortune, and encouraging them to undergo the evil hour, with as much

calmness as if they had not been to share its bitterness. As

protestants, we cannot abstractedly approve of the doctrines which

render the established clergy of one country dependant upon the

sovereign pontiff, the prince of an alien state. But these priests did

not make the laws for which they suffered; they only obeyed them; and as

men and christians we must regard them as martyrs, who preferred death

to what they considered as apostacy.

In the brief intervals of this dreadful butchery, which lasted four

days, the judges and executioners ate, drank, and slept: and awoke from

slumber, or arose from their meal, with fresh appetite for murder. There

were places arranged for the male, and for the female murderers, for the

work had been incomplete without the intervention of the latter. Prison

after prison was invested, entered, and under the same form of

proceeding made the scene of the same inhuman butchery. The Jacobins had

reckoned on making the massacre universal over France. But the example

was not generally followed. It required, as in the case of St.

Bartholomew, the only massacre which can be compared to this in

atrocity, the excitation of a large capital, in a violent crisis, to

render such horrors possible.

The community of Paris were not in fault for this. They did all they

could to extend the sphere of murder. Their warrant brought from Orleans

near sixty persons, including the Duke de Cosse-Brissac, De Lesart the

late minister, and other royalists of distinction, who were to have been

tried before the high court of that department. A band of assassins met

them, by appointment of the community, at Versailles, who, uniting with

their escort, murdered almost the whole of the unhappy men.

From the 2d to the 6th of September, these infernal crimes proceeded

uninterrupted, protracted by the actors for the sake of the daily pay of

a louis to each, openly distributed amongst them, by order of the

Commune. It was either from a desire to continue as long as possible a

labour so well requited, or because these beings had acquired an

insatiable lust of murder, that, when the jails were emptied of state

criminals, the assassins attacked the Bicetre, a prison where ordinary

delinquents were confined. These unhappy wretches offered a degree of

resistance which cost the assailants more dear than any they had

experienced from their proper victims. They were obliged to fire on them

with cannon, and many hundreds of the miserable creatures were in thus

way exterminated, by wretches worse than themselves.

No exact account was ever made of the number of persons murdered during

this dreadful period; but not above two or three hundred of the

prisoners arrested for state offences were known to escape, or be

discharged, and the most moderate computation raises the number of those

who fell to two or three thousand, though some carry it to twice the

extent. Truchod announced to the Legislative Assembly, that four

thousand had perished. Some exertion was made to save the lives of those

imprisoned for debt, whose numbers, with those of common felons, may

make up the balance betwixt the number slain and eight thousand who were

prisoners when the massacre began. The bodies were interred in heaps, in

immense trenches, prepared beforehand by order of the community of

Paris; but their bones have since been transferred to the subterranean

catacombs, which form the general charnel-house of the city. In those

melancholy regions, while other relics of mortality lie exposed all

around, the remains of those who perished in the massacres of September,

are alone secluded from the eye. The vault in which they repose is

closed with a screen of freestone, as if relating to crimes unfit to be

thought of even in the proper abode of death; and which France would

willingly hide in oblivion.

After this dreadful massacre, the Jacobins eagerly demanded the life of

Louis XVI. He was accordingly tried by the convention and condemned to

be beheaded.