Story of the French Revolution - Alice Birkhead

The Hostages

The royal family were lodged henceforward in the Tower of the Temple, which had once been a residence of the Count of Artois. The master had fled the country, leaving a man in charge for whom some rooms were furnished. These were in the Tower, a high and narrow building added in the later Middle Ages to the ancient Temple. There were four stories and many small rooms which would serve for these captives, since the pretence of freedom was abandoned henceforth. No bodyguards were brought to protect the royal household. They had to be watched by men sent from the city by Santerre the brewer, who directed the military forces. These municipal officers were changed regularly, and varied in their attitude toward the State prisoners.

At Versailles there had been always softness and luxury to atone for uneasy warnings from the country. There had been splendor all around them which served to blind them to the nakedness of the poverty without. Few at that Court could understand the remote, suffering people—a wall of etiquette was between them and the world where there was hardship. The life in the Tuileries had been a rude shock to Queen and Princess. In that barracks-palace they had seen and heard the life of the Parisians, no longer awed by the presence of royalty. They had come into contact with fear and cruelty and the passions of an uncontrolled multitude. The Temple stripped them of the last pretence of separation from the Third Estate, for whom they had contemptuously decreed a lowly costume. They were soon living in small rooms with one valet-de-chambre to attend on all of them. He had been the attendant of the Dauphin, and begged to be allowed the privilege of remaining with him in misfortune. He dressed the hair of the King and also of the Queen and the princesses. He was the companion of the little boy in his hours of play and exercise, making him enter into games of battledore and shuttlecock, and seeking to diversify the walks in the horse-chestnut alley by quoits or football when running was too wearisome.

[Illustration] from Story of the French Revolution by Alice Birkhead


Clery was not the only servant of the fallen monarchs. They had at first a dozen of one sort and another, highly paid and skilled in cooking dainty dishes and such work of rich men's households. Twenty courses for each meal were served by the diminished retinue. The King had costly wines to drink and a library of many hundred volumes. He did not feel keenly the hardships of this imprisonment, being of simple tastes and easy nature. He was occupied in teaching the Dauphin to color maps and recite passages from Corneille and Racine. He had his old interest in geography, and made it interesting to the little boy, who took to his lessons readily, since there were no children of his own age now to amuse him. The Queen, for her part, instructed Madame Royale and spent long hours in weaving tapestry with Elizabeth, who was her companion. The Princesse de Lamballe and the royal governess accompanied the family to the Temple but did not remain long in that gloomy prison. The faithful Princess had been content to sleep on a truckle-bed outside the Queen's chamber, but she was sent away to the prison of La Force, for it was decreed by the people, "There must be no one here but Capets." The very title of the King had passed out of use now in Paris. He was Louis Capet and his sword was taken from him, an indignity that wounded him most cruelly.

Two spies were introduced into the restricted household of the Temple, Tison, a hard, malignant man, and his wife, who seemed of gentler nature. They were to watch the prisoners more closely than was possible for the municipal officers—and were also to denounce those same officers if they were guilty of any act of treachery.

It was difficult to disarm the suspicion of the people, alert to see treason in the most innocent acts. Even the little Dauphin would whisper his prayers for the Princesse de Lamballe and Mme de Tourzel, his governess, lest the municipals should be offended. The Queen was in the habit of reading the history of France to her children in the morning. It was said that she tried to inspire her son with feelings of vengeance against France because she read of the Constable of Bourbon taking up arms against the country. Simon the shoemaker was charged with the duty of inspecting the works and expenditure of the Temple. He never left the Tower, and was insolent to the inmates, saying to Clery loud enough for the King to hear, "Clery, ask Capet if he wants anything, for I can't take the trouble to come a second time." The very tapestry worked by the princesses was not allowed to leave the Tower, because it was feared that they were trying to communicate in the designs with the friends to whom they wished to send it.

On the 2nd of September the royal family were allowed to walk outside the building of their prison. They heard the clamor of the people in the distance and were hurried within by the municipals. Matthieu, once a friar, came to them with threats of vengeance. "You are ignorant of what is going on," he said to Louis; "the country is in the greatest danger; the enemy has entered Champagne; the King of Prussia is marching on Chalons; you are answerable for all the harm that will come of it. We, our wives and children, may perish, but you first before us; the people will be avenged."

"I have done all for the people," said the King; "I have nothing with which to reproach myself."

News was hard to gain for the unfortunate hostages, waiting anxiously to hear that Brunswick and the emigrants were coming to their rescue over the vanquished bodies of the French, their former subjects. Clery told them all he knew as he dressed their hair for the evening toilette. A street-crier came to the Temple enclosure and called out every evening a summary of what took place in the Armies and the Assembly. It was the valet's care to listen from the King's cabinet, where there was always silence. He could not always break the tidings of disaster. It was announced sometimes in a manner much more terrible.

On the 3rd of September the captives were not allowed to walk in the garden They sat together in the rooms where they had dinner, and the King watched with schoolboy interest the workmen pulling down the houses near the Temple and the wall of the gardens. Danjou, the guard for the day, stood with him, noting the great beams that fell amid clouds of dust. He was afraid of what was doing in the city that fair autumn day. He was a zealous patriot, but he did not love wanton cruelty. He was brave, and full of hope and energy. It seemed to him that the sounds he heard were sinister while he listened through that careless conversation with the King in the high window of the Temple.

There was the noise of songs and mocking voices, and presently the crash of gates and onrush of a crowd from Paris. They were within the gardens, intoxicated with wine and lust for blood. The massacre of the aristocracy had begun as soon as the fear of victory for the royal allies seized them. They bore a trophy of their victories over the royalist prisoners with them—the head of the Princesse de Lamballe on a pike, and they trailed her body on the ground.

Tison's wife screamed loudly, seeing the outrage from a lower window. The mob thought it was the Queen, and exulted laughingly. They raised the head farther, and the King saw it with horror. He recognized the beautiful face with the hair still powdered. He called out that Marie Antoinette must not look at it. She sat a long way from the window, but a man in the uniform of the National Guard tried to insist on the prisoners all appearing before the people. "They want to prevent your seeing the Lamballe's head, which has been brought here to show you how the people avenge themselves on tyrants," he said coarsely; "I advise you to appear."

The Queen fainted, and the children burst into tears, caressing their mother as she lay unconscious. Clery and Madame Elizabeth tended her while Danjou exercised all his eloquence and courage in persuading the mob to leave the Temple. He had been afraid of a massacre of the royal hostages, and fought hard against their lust for killing. "The head of Antoinette does not belong to you," he told them; "the department has rights; France confided the keeping of these great criminals to the city of Paris; it is for you to help us to keep them until national justice avenges the people." He had to keep them at bay for an hour, the hardest of his life, perhaps. But he succeeded, and the Queen was saved—to the pain and bewilderment of seeing in dreams that beloved head, and to the torture of constructing for herself the whole sad tragedy.

On the 20th September there was a chance of delivery, for Dumouriez, the leader of the Girondin forces, was turned, and Prussian and Austrian troops were only four days' march from Paris. But that day the rescuers were put to rout near the windmill of Valmy. They had to turn and abandon the monarchs who were to be saved by Europe. They had been most strangely, most ignominiously beaten. It was a fine military achievement of Dumouriez, the light-hearted gallant whose nature Mme Roland so distrusted.

A Republic was declared the following day by the people. There should be no talk now of King and Queen. The proclamation was heard quite clearly in the Temple. The King went on reading, undisturbed by the voice he heard, and the Queen bent over her embroidery, wondering how far away were those armies. She sickened now for news of the emigrants. Surely they would save the Tower captives from the fate of pretty, helpless De Lamballe, whose rank alone had doomed her. She could hardly have believed, had she known it, that those highly trained Prussians had failed before the new soldiers of the Republic.