Stories of the French Revolution - Walter Montgomery

The September Massacres

After the sack of the Tuileries and the destruction of the Swiss JLJL Guard, the king and his family were sent in Mayor Petion's carriage, not to the palace of the Luxembourg, but to the tower of the Temple, a very gloomy-looking place indeed. Here the king was kept under close observation, and was subjected to many indignities which he must have felt very keenly. How often now he must have wished that he had got away from Paris when such a thing was possible! But he may yet have cherished a hope of being rescued by the Duke of Brunswick and the Austrians. The kings of the countries round about France were highly incensed at the treatment of their brother Louis, and the King of Prussia drew his sword to rescue him from the clutches of the fierce patriots of Paris.

The month of September, 1792, was a very remarkable one. Two things are especially to be noticed in it. One is the gallant manner in which the French people formed themselves into armies, and marched, full of cheerful courage, against the invaders of their country;, the other is the murderous hate shown by those in the cities, especially Paris, against the upper classes, whom they regarded as the cause of all their troubles. Let us recall what was done in Paris in this month of September, 1792. On the motion of the president the Assembly was dissolved, and a new National Convention ordered to assemble; and on Sunday, the 2nd of September, the electors began to choose their deputies, to the number of seven hundred and forty-four, who were to meet at the Tuileries.

Until they could get together, the country, now left without a government, was guided by the Paris municipals, or Commune,—all men of very revolutionary minds, dressed in tricolor sashes, passing a hundred decrees daily, sitting ever with food in their pockets and loaded pistols always at hand. There were Robespierre, Marat, and others, raging and foaming against the thirty thousand aristocrats of Paris. A new high court of justice was also organized by Danton, with four fiery men from each section. Four days after this court was set up, Dr. Guillotin's new instrument of death began its work. The first victim condemned by the new court and executed by the guillotine was the royalist Collenot d'Angremont. Others followed, and the appetite of Paris for horrors grew daily stronger. On the 28th of August Danton came to the Commune, and asked for a decree to search every house in Paris for arms. He got his decree granted, and two thousand muskets were soon ferreted out, and, more than that, four hundred suspected persons were hurried off to one of the prisons. Guards were stationed at the end of every street, and the door of each house was broken open, if not opened willingly at the dread knock of Danton's officials. A great terror now fell on all the respectable classes of Paris, and every day saw the prisons getting fuller of Royalists.

Dumouriez was now the general of the army; and such an army!—mere raw recruits, almost beggars! On Sunday, September 2, the news came of the arrival of the Duke of Brunswick at Verdun, with sixty thousand men. General Beaurepaire, who held Verdun, blew his brains out with a pistol, because the municipals bade him surrender the place.

The Duke of Brunswick had engaged to dine in Paris on a certain day, and the other kings and powers were advancing; and France was in a state of terror, almost of despair. We must remember all this when we read of the September massacres. No one can find an excuse for murder; but France, and especially Paris, was then as nearly mad as a country can be, with great armies girding her round, and breathing out threats of what they meant to do when they came. What a Sunday that was!—huge posters on the walls; storm-bells sounding; men and women offering to shoulder musket and mount guard! Then it was that Danton made one of his mighty speeches, which set every heart on fire.

So far, so good. But what was Marat doing that Sunday, and cruel Billaud, and others like-minded? No man knows exactly; but it is supposed they had much to do with the fearful scenes which soon afterward steeped this Sunday and the next few days in innocent blood. The infamous massacre of helpless victims began about three o'clock, and in this manner. A number of priests who would not take the oath were being carried in six coaches along the streets to the Abbaye Prison. Many people were standing about cursing the priests to their hearts' content, scowling and shaking their fists at them. Some of the more violent got on the carriage-steps and pulled down the window-blinds, which the priests had drawn up. One of the priests, a man of quick temper, struck one of the mob with a cane. This was a fatal act; for as soon as it was done the carriages were stopped, and the priests dragged out into the street and brutally murdered, close to the prison gate.

This was the beginning of the September massacres, which lasted from that Sunday afternoon until Thursday evening. The dreadful tragedy was enacted in .this manner. A rude court of justice was formed in every prison. Before this the prisoners were tried one after another. If they were declared innocent, they were set free with loud cries of "Vive la Nation!" But if, as more frequently was the case, they were doomed by the court, they were liberated at the outer gate, but without the words "Vive la Nation!" They were liberated, indeed, but to what?" The condemned man was conducted," says the historian, "into a howling sea, under an arch of wild sabres, axes, and pikes." He sank, hewn asunder. Then another sank, and another; and there was a heap of corpses.

Pleading for Father's life.


Among those who were thus murdered, let us single out one noted for her beauty and virtues, the Princess Lamballe. She had escaped to England at the time when the king made his attempt to get away in the summer of 1791; but she returned to die miserably just outside the Abbaye Prison. The princess had thrown herself upon a bed to rest, when one of the prison turnkeys came in and told her that she was to be removed to another place.

"I am well enough here," said she; "I do not wish to remove."

"But you must."

"Then," said she, "I will arrange my dress a little."

"You will not have far to go," the jailer replied.

The princess was led to the gate. She was not even tried, being so well known a friend of the queen. She was led to the awful gate and pushed forcibly into the street; for at the sight of what was awaiting her, she shrank back with horror. But there was no help for her; she must go forward into the "howling sea, under the arch of wild sabres, axes, and pikes." Her head was cleft with the cruel axe, and her body was cut in pieces. Her head was then fixed on a pike and carried before the windows of the Temple, that the queen might see it and be agonized at the sight.

Old Monsieur de Sombreuil had a daughter. She pleaded for him in so touching a manner that he was spared; but one horrible condition was made,—she had to drink aristocrats' blood, to show that she and her father hated aristocrats.

Several very thrilling accounts were written by men who were then in one of the prisons, and who were among the saved ones. Carlyle has given us some account of three of these men; namely, the Abbe Sicard, Advocate Maton, and Jourgniac. Jourgniac's little book is called "The Agony of Thirty-eight Hours." He speaks of Sunday night in the Abbaye, and how they waited for death hour by hour, "gazing on the pavement of their prison, on which lay the moonlight checkered with the triple stanchions of the windows." At two o'clock he says: "The Abbe Lenfant and the Abbe de Chapt Rastignac appeared in the pulpit of the chapel which was our prison. They said to us that our end was at hand; that we must compose ourselves, and receive their last blessing. We threw ourselves on our knees and received it. Half an hour afterward they were both massacred, and we heard their cries."

Maton says, among other things: "Baudin de la Chenaye was called. Sixty years of virtues could not save him. He passed the fatal outer gate, gave a cry of terror at the heaped corpses, covered his eyes with his hands, and died of innumerable wounds. About seven o'clock in the morning four men entered with bludgeons and sabres. Four sabres were crossed over my breast, and I was brought to their bar. The judge was a lame man, of tall, lank stature."

Jourgniac gives us an account of the tribunal. The president, in a gray coat, with a sabre at his side, stood leaning with his hands on a table. Some ten persons were around, seated or standing; and two men in bloody shirts guarded the door of the place. While I was being tried, a prisoner was brought in. It was one priest more whom they had ferreted out of the chapel. After a very few questions they said, "A la Force." The priest flung his breviary on the table, and was driven out and massacred. Jourgniac got off, and so did Maton and Sicard; but one thousand and eighty-nine were murdered, and carts went along the streets, filled with human corpses to be buried in the cemeteries. Of these victims two hundred and two were priests. When Danton was taken to task about these and other horrors under his authority as Minister of Justice, he said, "Are they not guilty?" and turned his back on the speaker.