*Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
For generations, the excesses of the Bourbon royal family weighed upon the people of France. Through wars and extravagant construction projects, the kings and queens spent much of the nation’s fortune, a fact which led the populace to strike back – and imprison King Louis XVI with his wife and children after revolutionaries attacked the Tuileries Palace on August 10, 1792.
In April of 1792, seeing the intensity of passions against him, the king empowered a group of Girondins – politicians looking to dissolve the monarchy – to act as advisors. Within days, the cabinet declared war on Austria, launching the French into another expensive military endeavor. As defeats to the Austrians and their Prussian allies mounted, public unrest became more pronounced. With their capital threatened, the Legislative Assembly suggested the formation of a national guard – the Federes – to encircle Paris and prevent its capture.
King Louis XVI denied the recommendation, dismissing his Girondins and causing a split between the monarch and Legislative Assembly – especially when he installed Feuillants (constitutional monarchists) as his new team of advisors. Disgust with the royalty grew, with political clubs like the Jacobins speaking out more frequently as spring turned into summer. When General Lafayette, a Feuillant, informed the National Assembly on June 16th these voices were to be silenced, tempers flared. Four days later, after the King vetoed another round of Legislative Assembly decrees, the people took up arms to storm the Tuileries – a revolt he managed to quell.
Emboldened, monarchists began to feel as though the tension could be soothed. Lafayette, already suspected of attempting to raise his personal standing, was brushed off in his attempts to build new bridges between the two sides. The Girondins made proposals of their own, only to have Louis shut the door on fresh negotiations. Inflammatory language directed at the King flowed through the Legislative Assembly – including a fateful declaration the Tuileries should be seized.
Throughout the month of July, people began arriving in Paris from all over France. Many of the men would go on to join the Federes set to defend the city from the Austro-Prussian army, yet the Jacobins’ ranks swelled by the hundreds at the same time. A movement to capture the royal family targeted July 26th as the decisive day, but the rebellion fell apart. Frustrated but not discouraged, the Jacobins decided August 10, 1792 would instead mark the end of the monarchy.
On August 8th, the public became boiled with ideas of rebellion, with 47 sections of Paris declaring they would attack the royal residence if dissolution of the monarchy was not declared later in the day. The following night, revolutionaries captured the Hotel de Ville, the seat of the Parisian government, and established a municipal government to direct the attack on the Tuileries. Within hours, Louis inspected an army in the throes of rebellion: as he returned to his quarters after a contemptuous morning inspection, some turned their cannons to face the royal apartments. Others formed an attack formation on the Place du Carrousel.
Having broken into a local arsenal to arm themselves, the revolutionaries marched toward the royal residence. The King, realizing his family was in grave danger, installed the Swiss Guard to act as the last line of defense between himself and the mob just before fleeing with his family through the angry crowd to the National Assembly. The remaining soldiers turned their weapons on the Swiss Guard and the Tuileries Palace was soon in the hands of the people.
Six weeks of chaos ensued, with nobility murdered by the thousands – the first step in one of the most bloody periods in any nation’s history. In late January, King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette fell by the guillotine, the last of the Bourbon monarchs to reign until the Louis XVIII was installed as king in 1814.