A nobleman describes the October Days (1789)


Charles, Marquis of Ferrières, was a French aristocrat, diplomat and delegate to the Estates General. Here the Marquis describes the events of the October Days, when the king and his family were forced to leave Versailles and take up residence in Paris:


“At six in the morning a crowd of women and armed men assembled in the square [at Versailles], summoned by the beating of drums. Shouts of rage against the royal bodyguards were heard. One of these columns marched up to the Royal Gate but found it locked. Another got through by the gate of the chapel, which was open. One of the National Guards from Versailles led the way up the King’s staircase… Some of the Bodyguard ran up and said: “My friends, you love your King and yet you even come into his palace to disturb him.” No one answered.

The column continued to advance. The Bodyguard mustered in their hall. The doors were soon broken down and they were forced to evacuate it. The conspirators approached the Queen’s apartments crying “We are going to cut off her head, tear out her heart, fry her liver – and that won’t be the end of it.” Miomandre flew to the door of the first anteroom, opened it hurriedly and called to a lady whom he saw: “Save the Queen, they mean to kill her. I am alone facing two thousand tigers. My comrades have been obliged to quit their hall.” After these few words Miomandre shut the door and bravely waited for the conspirators. One of them tried to stab him with his pike but he parried the blow. Another taking the pike by the head, struck him a blow with the butt which felled him to the ground… Miomandre, streaming with blood, was left for dead.

The conspirators poured into the great hall. Meanwhile the Duke of Orléans, in a grey frock coat and a round hat with a riding whip in his hand, was walking cheerfully around the groups, who filled the parade ground and the courtyards of the Chateau. He smiled at some and talked in a free and easy manner with others. All round him the air resounded with cries of “Our father is with us: Long live King Orléans.” Encouraged by these tributes to his popularity the Duke marched for a while with this group, but on reaching the top of the stairway he did not dare to traverse that gap which, in the definition of crime, separates intention from execution. He contented himself with pointing towards the Queen’s apartment and, turning towards the King’s quarters, disappeared.

Meantime Madame Auger, first Lady of the Bedchamber, got the Queen into a petticoat and threw a cloak over her shoulders. The Queen then ran up the private staircase leading to the King’s apartment and knocked at the door of the antechamber. In the noise and confusion her knocks were not heard and she waited for a few moments in fearful anxiety. At last the door was opened. The Queen entered and burst into tears calling, “Save me, my friends, my dear friends.”

The conspirators now in possession of the hall of the bodyguard broke down the doors leading to the Queen’s apartment and burst into her bedroom. Approaching the bed they stabbed it with their pikes. The men of the Bodyguard, who had barricaded themselves behind tables and stools, could not hold out for long. The tops of the tables were being knocked to pieces by repeated blows. The Duke was about to enjoy the fruit of his crimes. Then the Grenadiers of the old French Guards rushed up and, putting the conspirators to flight, occupied the inner post…

The whole chateau presented a picture of the deepest consternation. The Queen and the royal family had retired to the private apartments. The Queen, standing at an open window, had on her right Madame Elisabeth and on her left Madame Royale, while standing on a chair in front of her was the Dauphin. As he ruffled his sister’s hair, he kept saying, “Mama, I’m so hungry.” The Queen, with tears in her eyes, told him he must be patient and wait till the turmoil was over… “They’re going to kill my son,” cried the Queen, carried away by an involuntary spasm of fear. She took the Dauphin in her arms and got up hastily.

Then, someone came to tell the Queen that the people were calling for her. She hesitated a moment. Lafayette said she had to show herself in order to calm the people. “In that case,” she said with spirit, “I’ll do it, even if it costs me my life.” Then, holding the hands of her two children, she advanced to the balcony. “No children!” cried a man in the crowd, so the Queen handed over the Dauphin and the princess to Madame de Tourzel and advanced on to the balcony alone. One of the conspirators aimed his piece at her but shocked at the enormity of the crime he had planned, did not dare to carry it out.

Several persons insisted that the King should come and live in Paris. The mob repeated loudly “We want the King in Paris”. Lafayette suggested the only way to calm the disorder was for the King to agree to the people’s wish and take up residence in the capital. The King promised to go to Paris on the same day, on the condition that he was accompanied by the Queen and his family. He begged the people to spare the lives of his Bodyguard. Lafayette added his entreaty to that of the King.

The members of the Bodyguard showed themselves on the balcony… They threw their bandoliers down to the people, gave their hats to the Grenadiers and, borrowing forage caps from the latter, put them on their heads. The people applauded crying, “Long live the Bodyguard!” Rapturous joy succeeded the intoxication of fury. Peace was solemnly proclaimed. Frequent salvoes of artillery and musketry announced the victory of the people and the King’s departure for Paris…

The King left at noon. The heads of Monsieurs des Hutes and de Varicourt [two members of the Bodyguard executed by the mob] led the procession on pikes. Following them were 40 to 50 members of the Bodyguard, on foot and unarmed, escorted by a body of men armed with sabres and pikes. After that came two of the Bodyguard, wearing high boots with neck wounds, blood-stained shirts and torn garments. Each was held by two men in the national uniform with drawn swords in their hands. Further back, one could see a group of the Bodyguard mounted on horses, some riding pillion and others in the saddle with a member of the National Guard riding behind them.

They were surrounded by men and women who compelled them to shout ‘Vive la Nation!’ and to eat and drink with them. A mixed bag of pikemen, Swiss Guards, soldiers of the Flanders Regiment, women plastered with cockades and carrying poplar branches and other women sitting astride on the guns, came before and after the King’s coach. Every musket was wreathed in oak leaves, in token of the victory, and there was a continual discharge of musketry as the people cried “We are bringing the Baker, Mrs. Baker and the Baker’s boy”, slogans of gross insult to the Queen and threats against priests and the nobles. Such was the procession, barbarous and criminal, that surrounded the King, Queen and royal family on the six hour drive to the Hôtel de Ville…”