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Trial of Louis XVI

trial of louis xvi, trial of louis xvi and marie antoinette
The trial of Louis XVI was a key event of the French Revolution It involved the trial of the former French king Louis XVI before the National Convention and led to his execution


  • 1 10–11 December 1792
    • 11 The charges
    • 12 Cross-examination
  • 2 The defense, 26 December 1792
    • 21 The defense team
    • 22 Declaration of Louis XVI in his defense
  • 3 The verdict, 14–15 January
  • 4 The punishment, 16–17 January
    • 41 The Mailhe amendment
    • 42 The vote
  • 5 References
  • 6 Sources
  • 7 External links

10–11 December 1792edit

The trial began on 3 December On 4 December the Convention's president Bertrand Barère presented it with the indictment drafted by Jean-Baptiste Robert Lindet and decreed the interrogation of Louis XVI Louis made his entrance into the Convention chamber then: "Louis", said Barère de Vieuzac, "the nation accuses you, the National Assembly decreed on 3 December that you would be judged by it; on 6 December, it decided that you would be brought to the dock We shall read you the act giving the offenses with which you are charged"citation needed

The chargesedit

Louis was then read the charges by the Convention's secretary, Jean-Baptiste Mailhe:

"Louis, the French Nation accuses you of having committed a multitude of crimes to establish your tyranny, in destroying her freedom"1

  1. On 20 June 1789, Louis shut down the Estates-General, resulting in the commoners non-nobles, non-clergy swearing not to disband Mailhe characterized this as an attack on the sovereignty of the people12 Louis's answer: "No laws then existed to prevent me from it"1
  2. "You ordered an army to march against the citizens of Paris" and ceased only after the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789 Louis's answer: It was my right but "I never had an intention of spilling blood"3
  3. Despite promises made to the National Constituent Assembly, Louis refused to acknowledge the abolition of feudalism, as stated in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen He invited troops to Versailles and feted them in a lavish banquet where the tricolor cockade was purportedly "trampled under foot" resulting in the insurrectionary Women's March on Versailles on 5 October, 1789 Louis's answer: My refusals were just; I never saw the desecration of the cockade4
  4. At Fête de la Fédération of 14 July 1790, Louis took an oath which Mailhe said he did not keep by conspiring with the counter-revolutionaries Antoine Omer Talon and Mirabeau Louis's answer: I do not remember5
  5. Louis is accused of disbursing millions to "effect this corruption" and planning escape Louis's answer: "I felt no greater pleasure, than that of relieving the needy"5
  6. Louis planned to escape on the Day of Daggers on 28 February 1790 when hundreds of nobles with concealed weapons entered the Tuileries Palace and again when he wanted to visit Saint-Cloud 10 April 1790 Louis's answer: "Absurd"5
  7. Louis did attempt to escape to Verennes on 21 June 1791, protesting in writing the activities of the National Constituent Assembly Louis's answer: Refer to what I told the assembly at that time6
  8. That Louis was complicit in the Champ de Mars Massacre on 17 July 1791 Louis's answer: "I do know nothing of it"7
  9. Back in July 1791, the Declaration of Pillnitz was being drafted by Leopold II of Austria brother of Queen Marie Antoinette and Frederick William II of Prussia who "pledged themselves to re-erect in France the throne of the absolute monarchy, and you were silent on this convention till the moment when it was known by all Europe" Louis's answer: This is my minister's fault7
  10. Louis supported the counter-revolutionary Arles rebellion Louis's answer: I followed my ministers' advice8
  11. When Avignon and the Comtat Venaissin were annexed to France following a referendum, Louis delayed and sent commissioners that supported its civil war Louis's answer: I don't remember the delay and the fault lies in the commissioners, not me9
  12. Louis did nothing about the counter-revolutions in Nîmes, Montauban, and Jalès fr until Saillant's rebellion Louis's answer: This was done by my ministers9
  13. Louis sent twenty-two battalions against the people of Marseilles who were marching to subdue the counter-revolutionaries of Arles Louis's answer: Provide written proof9
  14. Louis received a letter from M de Wittgenstein, Commandant General of the Army of Southern France le Midi10 asking for additional time to rally support for the throne Louis's answer: I don't remember the letter and he doesn't work for me anymore11
  15. Louis paid his former bodyguards even after they emigrated out of France to Coblentz along with other noble émigrés Louis's answer: I stopped paying the bodyguards after they emigrated As for the nobles, I don't remember11
  16. Louis's two exiled brothers, Louis Stanislas Xavier and Charles Philippe, both future French kings, are accused of raising regiments, borrowing money and contracting alliances to overturn the revolution A letter signed by the two written to Louis is produced Louis's answer: I disowned them once I became aware of their proceedings I know nothing of this letter12
  17. Louis is accused of neglecting the defense of the country by not providing sufficient men, money or arms and refusing the establishment of a camp of 20,000 near Paris Louis's answer: The fault lies with my ministers13
  18. A letter from Hippolyte-Jean-René de Toulongeon fr is produced that indicates Louis's approval of his emigration to Vienna14 This is used as evidence that he encourages desertion to the service of his brothers Lous's answer: "I know nothing of this; there is not a word true in this charge"15
  19. A letter from Choiseul-Gouffier, former ambassador to Constantinople, establishes Louis's desire for peace between Turkey and Austria so that Austria could use the Turkish border troops against France Louis's answer: Choiseul-Gouffier is a liar16
  20. The Prussians were advancing on France but Louis waited until 10 July 1792 to inform the Assembly Louis's answer: I didn't know until then; my ministers were responsible16
  21. Louis made Charles d'Abancour minister of war, a suspicious choice since he was the nephew of ex-Finance Minister Charles Alexandre de Calonne who had joined the anti-revolution émigré group at Coblenz It was during D'Abancour's tenue that Longwy and Verdun were lost to the Prussians and émigrés Louis's answer: I didn't know he was his nephew17
  22. Louis is accused of destroying the French navy with his Secretary of Navy Bertrand de Molleville organizing the mass emigration of officers When the Assembly accused Molleville, Louis replied he was "satisfied with his services" Louis's answer: "I have done all that I could to retain the Officers" A lack of proper complaint precluded me from removing him18
  23. Louis is accused of having agents in the French colonies fomenting counter-revolution see Haitian Revolution Louis's answer: "I had nothing to do with that"18
  24. Louis is protecting fanatical internal enemies of France, aristocrats and "non-juring" clergy those who refuse to take the Civil Constitution of the Clergy oath, so that he can restore the Ancien Régime Louis's answer: "I know nothing of this project"19
  25. On 29 November 1791 the Assembly issued a decree that "non-juring" priests would no longer receive state funds Louis vetoed this decree Louis's answer: The constitution gave me the power to veto2021
  26. Anti-revolutionary disturbances from these "non-juring" clerics increase and Louis's ministers say they are not breaking the law On 27 May 1792 the Assembly issues a decree allowing for the deportation of the clerics, if twenty "active citizens" over the age of 25, paid direct taxes equal to three days' labor request and the department concurs Louis, again, vetoes Louis's answer: The constitution gave me the power to veto2219
  27. The reputation of the King's bodyguards was poor, accused of anti-revolutionary sentiments On 29 May 1792, the Assembly decreed their disbanding Louis signed, if reluctantly He is accused of writing the guards "a letter of satisfaction" and continuing to pay them Louis's answer: I stopped paying them once new guards were appointed2319
  28. Louis kept the Swiss Guards among his bodyguards contrary to the constitution24 The Assembly had expressly ordered their departure Louis's answer: "I have executed all the decrees that have been enacted"19
  29. Louis Collenot d'Angremont fr first to be guillotined due to his activities on August 10 and a person going by the name of Gilles were counter-revolutionaries in the pay of Louis Louis's answer: I have no knowledge "The idea of counter-revolution never entered my head"25
  30. You tried to bribe, with considerable sums, several members of the Constituent and Legislative Assemblies;26 letters from Dufresne Saint-Léon and several others, which will be presented to you, establish this fact
  31. You allowed the French nation to be disgraced in Germany, in Italy, and in Spain, since you did nothing to exact reparation for the ill treatment which the French experienced in those countries27
  32. On 10 August you reviewed the Swiss Guards at five o’clock in the morning; and the Swiss Guards fired first on the citizens28
  33. You caused the blood of Frenchmen to flow29


Louis XVI heard the 33 charges sitting in the armchair in which he had accepted the Constitution After the secretary had read him the accusation act, Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac repeated each charge and questioned Louis XVI

The defense, 26 December 1792edit

The defense teamedit

Louis XVI sought the most illustrious legal minds in France as his defense team He first asked Gui-Jean-Baptiste Target, former deputy of the National Constituent Assembly and hero of the Parlements of the ancien régime, to lead his defense, but the elderly lawyer refused on account of his age and obesity The task of lead counsel fell to Raymond Desèze, who was assisted by François Denis Tronchet Target's closest colleague, who came on board reluctantly, only at the King's insistence and Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes Louis XVI's former Secretary of State

Though he had only two weeks to prepare his defense arguments Desèze's brilliance so shone through in a first draft that, although it was moving, Louis rejected it as too rhetorical, saying, "I do not want to play on their the Convention's feelings"

When the time came to deliver the defense 26 December 1792, despite having had no sleep for over four days, he pleaded the king's case for three hours, arguing eloquently yet discreetly that the revolution spare his life Beginning with a description of why the charges were invalid under the terms of the Constitution of 1791 Louis, as king, was immune from prosecution, he attacked the right of National Convention to stand as judge and jury Finally, he moved to a rejection of the charges in the acte enonciatif drawn up by the constitution charge by charge, with a royalist history of the revolution, portraying Louis as 'the restorer of French Liberty" He finished, like many of the set-piece speeches of the revolution, with an appeal to history:

Louis ascended the throne at the age of twenty, and at the age of twenty he gave to the throne the example of character He brought to the throne no wicked weaknesses, no corrupting passions He was economical, just, severe He showed himself always the constant friend of the people The people wanted the abolition of servitude He began by abolishing it on his own lands The people asked for reforms in the criminal law he carried out these reforms The people wanted liberty: he gave it to them The people themselves came before him in his sacrifices Nevertheless, it is in the name of these very people that one today demands Citizens, I cannot finish I stop myself before History Think how it will judge your judgement, and that the judgement of him will be judged by the centuries

Declaration of Louis XVI in his defenseedit

"You have heard my defense, I would not repeat the details In talking to you perhaps for the last time, I declare that my conscience reproaches me with nothing, and my defenders have told you the truth I never feared the public examination of my conduct, but my heart is torn by the imputation that I would want to shed the blood of the people and especially that the misfortunes of August 10th be attributed to me I avow that the many proofs that I have always acted from my love of the people, and the manner in which I have always conducted myself, seemed to prove that I did not fear to put myself forward in order to spare their blood, and forever prevent such an imputation"

The verdict, 14–15 Januaryedit

Given overwhelming evidence of Louis' collusion with the invaders, the verdict was a foregone conclusion Ultimately, 693 deputies voted "yes" in favor of a verdict of guilty Not a single deputy voted "no," though 26 attached some condition to their votes Twenty-six deputies were absent from the vote, most on official business Twenty-three deputies abstained, for various reasons Several abstained because they felt they had been elected to make laws rather than to judge

The punishment, 16–17 Januaryedit

The Mailhe amendmentedit

For the king's sentence, deputy Jean-Baptiste Mailhe proposed "Death, but I think it would be worthy of the Convention to consider whether it would be useful to policy to delay the execution" which was supported by twenty-six deputies This "Mailhe amendment" was regarded by some of Mailhe's contemporaries as a conspiracy to save the king's life It was even suggested that Mailhe had been paid, perhaps by Spanish gold

The voteedit

Paris voted overwhelmingly for death, 21 to 3 Robespierre voted first, and said "The sentiment that led me to call for the abolition of the death penalty is the same that today forces me to demand that it be applied to the tyrant of my country" Philippe Égalité, formerly the Duke of Orléans and Louis' own cousin, voted for his execution, a cause of much future bitterness among French monarchists

There were 721 voters in total 34 voted for death with attached conditions 23 of whom invoked the Mailhe amendment, 2 voted for life imprisonment in irons, 319 voted for imprisonment until the end of the war to be followed by banishment 361 voted for death without conditions, just carrying the vote by a marginal majority Louis was to be put to death


  1. ^ a b c Trapp 1793, p 55
  2. ^ "The Trial and Execution of Louis XVI" 
  3. ^ Trapp 1793, pp 55-56
  4. ^ Trapp 1793, pp 56-57
  5. ^ a b c Trapp 1793, p 57
  6. ^ Trapp 1793, pp 58
  7. ^ a b Trapp 1793, p 59
  8. ^ Trapp 1793, pp 59-60
  9. ^ a b c Trapp 1793, p 60
  10. ^ Wittgenstein, M de April 4, 1792 "Copie de la lettre écrite par M de Wittgenstein, commandant général de l'armée du Midi" in French Catalogue Collectif de France Retrieved October 19, 2016 
  11. ^ a b Trapp 1793, p 61
  12. ^ Trapp 1793, pp 61-62
  13. ^ Trapp 1793, p 62
  14. ^ "An Impartial History of the War, from the Commencement of the Revolution in France" Russel & Allen 1811 Retrieved October 19, 2016 
  15. ^ Trapp 1793, pp 62-63
  16. ^ a b Trapp 1793, p 63
  17. ^ Trapp 1793, pp 63-64
  18. ^ a b Trapp 1793, p 64
  19. ^ a b c d Trapp 1793, p 65
  20. ^ Baines, Edward 1817 "History of the Wars of the French Revolution, from the Breaking Point of the War in 1792, to the Restoration of a General Peace in 1815" Retrieved October 20, 2016 
  21. ^ Belloc, Hilaire 1911 "The French Revolution" Retrieved October 20, 2016 
  22. ^ Pfeiffer 1913, p 209
  23. ^ Pfeiffer 1913, pp 209-212
  24. ^ "The Constitution of 1791 National Assembly" 1791 Retrieved October 20, 2016 The King may choose the men of his guard only from among those who are at present on active service in the troops of the line, or from among citizens who have served for a year as National Guards, provided they are resident in the kingdom and have previously taken the civic oath 
  25. ^ Trapp 1793, pp 65-66
  26. ^ "the Trial and Execution of Louis XVI" 
  27. ^ "the Trial and Execution of Louis XVI" 
  28. ^ "the Trial and Execution of Louis XVI" 
  29. ^ "the Trial and Execution of Louis XVI" 


  • David P Jordan, The King's Trial - Louis XVI vs the French Revolution, University of California Press, 1979 ISBN 0-520-04399-5
  • Pfeiffer, Laura Belle 1793 The Uprising of June 20, 1792 
  • Trapp, Joseph 1913 Proceedings of the French National Convention on the Trial of Louis XVI 
  • Michael Walzer, Regicide and Revolution - Speeches at the Trial of Louis XVI, Columbia University Press, 1993 ISBN 978-0-231-08259-4

External linksedit

  • The regicide députés

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