An account of the seance royale (1789)


An account of the seance royale from Jacques-Antoine Creuze-Latouche, a Third Estate deputy to the Esates-General:


“First of all the king read an address which was followed only by the same dismal silence in which it had been heard. People noticed that his voice trembled. During the king’s speech all present remained standing; when it was finished, the king gave permission to be seated and replace their hats.

A declaration of the king was read out, containing several articles without any introduction. One of the principal statements of this declaration is that the king annuls all previous decrees of the National Assembly up to this day, that he confirms that the orders are to meet separately and not in a single assembly.

The king made another speech, which included various features favourable to the privileged orders; they were acclaimed by the deputies of those orders, who immediately cried out ‘Vive le roi!’ But the deputies of the Third Estate remained motionless and totally silent.

After the king ‘s second speech, the Keeper of the Seals announced the ‘Declaration of the King’s Intentions’. They made up the most bizarre, the most despotic, the most contradictory set of instructions ever to be found in history: the king annulled all limited powers, prohibited the establishment of any future limited powers, desired that deliberation should take place by orders, etc., desired that all property rights should be observed, such as tithes, seigneurial dues, feudal rights, etc., and abolished mortmain (which is also a form of property), abolished lettres du cachet (with modifications which allow the continuance of their use in the most general way… In fact, he had drawn up the constitution by himself. Some features of these arrangements which favoured the privileged orders were greeted by them with cries of ‘Vive le roi!’ while there was unbroken silence and no response from the deputies of the Third Estate.

The king made a third speech, saying that he was familiar with all the cahiers, that he was going to declare himself the representative of the Nation. The three orders were forbidden by the king to hold any assembly before the next day, when he wished them to assemble separately. During this third address the king’s voice was noticeably altered, and it was generally perceived that he spoke with less assurance. H stood up, looked briefly at the silent and unmoving assembly, and departed.

When King Louis XVI had gone, nearly all the bishops, some of the cures and a large party of the nobility withdrew by the same door which had been opened for the court. The other deputies remained in their places: they looked at each other in astonishment, unsure as to what they should do and waiting for advice which would end their uncertainty.

Mirabeau rose. Then Monsieur de Breze, the king’s Master of Ceremonial, approached the assembly and spoke a few words in a slow and hesitant voice. ‘Louder!’ came the cry. ‘Gentlemen,’ he continued, ‘you have heard the king’s instructions.’

Mirabeau replied: ‘Indeed, sir, we have heard the views which have been put to the king; and you, who should not attempt to address the Estates General on his behalf, you who have no seat here, no right of speech, it is not for you to remind us of his words. However, to avoid any misunderstanding or delay, I declare that if you have been instructed to make us leave this place, you should seek permission to use force; for only the power of bayonets will dislodge us. ‘Hear hear!’ shouted the deputies with one voice.”