A Level and IB History Revision

Execution of Louis XVI

A brief overview of the execution of Louis XVI

On the 21st January 1793, former French King Louis XVI was executed by guillotine at the Place de la Revolution in Paris. The blade fell at 10.22am, after which it’s reported that a number of members of the public rushed forward to dip their handkerchiefs in his blood. His body was later buried and covered with quicklime.

Louis’ trial began on the 11th December 1792, and he was found guilty of treason by 693 of the National Convention’s 721 deputies on the 15th January. However, a much narrower majority of 387 to 334 voted for the death sentence on the 18th. His death warrant was finalised on the 20th January, and his execution was scheduled for the next day. A number of factors had contributed to him being found guilty, of which the Flight to Varennes and the events of the 10th August were the most significant.

On the morning of his execution, Louis woke at 5am after which he made his confession and attended mass. Accompanied by the Irish-born priest Father Henry Essex Edgeworth, his carriage left the Temple prison at around 9am. 80,000 armed men lined the route to the Place de la Revolution, where a crowd of around 100,000 people had assembled to see the execution.

Louis calmly took off his coat at the foot of the scaffold and, as he stood next to the guillotine, attempted to address the crowd. However, his speech was drowned out by the beating of the soldiers’ drums before he was seized, his hands quickly tied, and he was placed under the blade. Marie Antoinette was executed eight months later.

The execution of Louis XVI

The execution of Louis XVI

The death of Marat

The execution of Marie Antoinette

At 12.15pm on the afternoon of the 16th October 1793, Marie Antoinette was executed by guillotine in the Place de la Revolution in Paris. Found guilty of treason earlier that morning, she was transported to her death in an open cart and later buried in an unmarked grave.

Following the execution of her husband, the former King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette had continued to be held prisoner in the Temple along with her children. Following the creation of the Committee of Public Safety during the Terror, calls for her trial grew louder and this become the National Convention’s preferred policy following the fall of the Girondins at the end of May.

After her son was sent to live with a Jacobin cobbler as a form of revolutionary re-education, Marie Antoinette was moved to an isolated cell in the Conciergerie from which she plotted a failed escape attempt known as “The Carnation Plot”. It’s argued by some that it was this that convinced the CPS to bring her to trial in front of the Revolutionary Tribunal on the 14th October.

Although the guilty verdict was a foregone conclusion, Marie Antoinette had expected a sentence of life imprisonment or exile. Despite this she showed courage throughout the remaining hours of her life including the verbal abuse she suffered on the hour-long journey to the guillotine. On climbing the steps to the scaffold she accidentally stepped on the foot of the executioner, reacting by saying, “Pardon me, sir, I meant not to do it”.

These were the last words she said before the blade fell.

The French Revolution: The Reign of Terror

This podcast episode explores the situation in France following the execution of Louis XVI in 1793, and seeks to explain why the Convention introduced the Terror.  It considers both the external and internal pressures facing France at the time, and goes on to explore how and why the Convention chose to respond in such an extreme way to the situation.  The role of Maximilien Robespierre is considered, along with an exploration of the reasons for his downfall.

          

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The Reign of Terror and Counter-revolution

Cult of the Supreme Being

The Cult of the Supreme Being

This short podcast presents an overview of the Cult of the Supreme Being, established by Robespierre on 7th May 1794 as the new national religion of France.

Establishment of the Directory

Establishment of the French Directory

On the 2nd November 1795, the Directory was established in France. Created as a result of the Thermidorean Reaction that ended the dominance of the Committee of Public Safety, the Directory survived for four years before it was overthrown by Napoleon in the coup of the 18th Brumaire.

The Thermidorean Reaction that began on the 27th July 1794 had seen the National Convention turn against the Jacobin leaders of the French Revolution, leading to the arrest and execution of Robespierre and 21 others. This was followed by a purge of other radicals in what became known as the White Terror.

Having alienated itself from the radical left-wing, the National Convention also faced threats from the right that culminated in the Royalist attack on the 13th Vendémiaire which was put down by Napoleon Bonaparte with a whiff of grapeshot.

Prior to the Royalist uprising, the National Convention had ratified a new constitution known as the Constitution of the Year III. This established a bicameral legislature and a five-man Directory that wielded executive power. However, the Directory was unsuccessful at dealing with the domestic problems facing France and even the military victories against foreign enemies were not enough to secure much support. In response the Directory used the Army to repress its opponents, which served to fuel the opposition even further and give the Army increasing power within France.

By 1799 even the government realised that it could not continue for much longer. On the 9th November Napoleon began a coup that replaced the Directory with the Consulate and effectively brought the French Revolution to an end, ten years after it began.

The French Revolution: The Directory

This A Level and IB History revision podcast charts the rise and fall of the Directory from 1794 to 1799.  Beginning with the execution of Robespierre, the Thermidorean Reaction and the onset of the White Terror, it goes on to explore the terms of the Constitution of Year III.  The challenges to the Directory are described, and the government’s various failures and successes are explained.   The episode finishes with Napoleon and the Coup of Brumaire.

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The Directory and Napoleon