A British report on the execution of Louis XVI (1793)


This report in the London Times from late January 1793 describes the execution of Louis XVI:


“By an express which arrived yesterday morning… we learn the following particulars of the King’s execution.

At six o’clock on Monday morning, the King went to take a farewell of the Queen and royal family. After staying with them some time, and taking a very affectionate farewell of them, the King descended from the tower of the Temple, and entered the Mayor’s carriage, with his confessor and two Members of the Municipality, and passed slowly along the Boulevards which led from the Temple to the place of execution. All women were prohibited from appearing in the streets, and all persons from being seen at their windows. A strong guard cleared the procession.

The greatest tranquility prevailed in every street through which the procession passed. About half past nine, the King arrived at the place of execution, which was in the Place de Louis XV, between the pedestal which formerly supported the statue of his grandfather, and the promenade of the Elysian Fields.

Louis mounted the scaffold with composure, and that modest intrepidity peculiar to oppressed innocence, the trumpets sounding and drums beating during the whole time. He made a sign of wishing to harangue the multitude, when the drums ceased, and Louis spoke these few words: “I die innocent; I pardon my enemies; I only sanctioned upon compulsion the Civil Constitution of the Clergy.” He was proceeding [continuing] but the beating of the drums drowned his voice.

His executioners then laid hold of him, and an instant after, his head was separated from his body; this was about a quarter past ten o’clock.

After the execution, the people threw their hats up in the air, and cried out Vive la Nation! Some of them endeavoured to seize the body, but it was removed by a strong guard to the Temple, and the remains of the King were exempted from those outrages which his Majesty had experienced during his life. The King was attended on the scaffold by an Irish Priest as his Confessor, not choosing to be accompanied by one who had taken the National oath. He was dressed in a brown great coat, white waistcoat and black breeches, and his hair was powdered.

When Monsieur de Malsherbes announced to Louis the fatal sentence of death, “Ah!” exclaimed the Monarch, “I shall then at length be delivered from this cruel suspense.” The decree was imported that LOUIS should be beheaded in the Place de Carousel, but reasons of public safety induced the Executive Council to prefer the Place to la Revolution, formerly the Place de Louis XV.

Since the decree of death was issued, a general consternation has prevailed throughout Paris… The Sans Culottes are the only persons that rejoice. The honest citizens, immured within their habitations, could not suppress their heartfelt grief and mourned in private with their families the murder of their much loved Sovereign.

The last requests of the unfortunate Louis breathes the soul of magnanimity, and a mind enlightened with the finest ideas of human virtue. He appears not to be that man which his enemies reported. His heart was sound, his head was clear, and he would have reigned with glory had he but possessed those faults which his assassins laid to his charge. His mind possessed the suggestions of wisdom; and even in his last moments, when the spirit of life was winged for another world, his lips gave utterance to them, and he spoke with firmness and with resignation. Thus has ended the life of Louis XVI.”