Stories of the French Revolution - Walter Montgomery

A Year After the King's Flight

When the king was brought back to the Tuileries, he was at first watched more closely than before. Even outside the bedroom door a sentinel was stationed; and one night, when the queen could not sleep, a National Guard offered to sit by her bedside and have a little chat with her.

But in a while the king's friends had contrived to surround him with eighteen hundred loyal men, selected from various districts of France, all under command of the Duke de Brissac. Beside these, Louis had his Swiss Guards stationed in or about the palace. By and by, too, the flight to Varennes seemed more or less forgotten, and Lafayette obtained a general amnesty; that is, a forgiveness of all past faults on all sides. The king and queen might now be seen sometimes at the Opera; and vivats—that is, cheers—were sometimes raised as the royal equipage rolled through the streets. On the 30th of September the old Assembly was dissolved, after sitting nearly twenty-nine months, and a new one began its labors the next day. The streets were illuminated, and two very popular deputies named Robespierre and Petion were carried home on men's shoulders amid much shouting. So the twelve hundred who had met in the Tennis Court, and there had vowed to complete their work in spite of all, were broken up and went their ways.

The new Parliament consisted of seven hundred and forty-five men, and they were mostly of a patriot turn of mind. No less than four hundred of them were lawyers. The king had some friends in this Parliament, but they were lovers of liberty too. The extreme revolutionary men sat on the left side of the president, on some benches high up, and so got the name of "The Men of the Mountain."

The country, though fairly quiet upon the whole, was in an explosive state, and a riot broke out every now and then. La Vendee had to be carefully watched all the winter long by General Dumouriez, a very able soldier. The Mayor of Etampes, who hung out a red flag (the same as reading the Riot Act), was trampled to death. As for the navy and army, they were in a wretched state; and the law was slack to punish crime. The king's party worked very hard to keep up an appearance of loyalty. Some of the leading Republicans (Danton, for instance) were hushed by presents of money; and men were actually hired to applaud the king when he appeared in public. Some of the lowest of the Paris populace were also hired to applaud speeches favorable to the king in the Assembly. Men, too, were paid to "write up" the monarchy.

The king's friends who had emigrated hoped, of course, for the restoration of the past. It was said that Coblentz had become a second Versailles; for there the princes and nobles chiefly gathered and enrolled themselves in a little army, ready when the time came to invade France and punish the rebellious people; and letters written in cipher frequently passed to and fro between these emigrants outside France and the king's friends at home. A certain newspaper called the "Friend of the King" (Ami du Roi) was able to name the number of those who were biding their time for the invasion of France. There were, according to that paper, four hundred and nineteen thousand foreign soldiers and fifteen thousand emigrants. All this was enough to incense highly the French people; for they knew if the king's foreign friends came down on them, they would be punished horribly for behaving as they had to their sovereign. It was therefore a very anxious time for both people and ruler.

In the month of June, 1792, the Duke of Brunswick declared openly that it was high time to march on Paris and deliver Louis from his troubles. A camp of twenty thousand national volunteers was thereupon decreed by the French Government for the needful defense of the city, each man to be a picked patriot. It was also decreed that the priests, as presumed friends of the king and favorers of Brunswick, should be banished. What did the king now do? He placed his veto ("I forbid") on each of these decrees. He was remonstrated with by Roland, the Minister of the Interior, in a very plain letter; but the king stuck to his veto, and all his ministers resigned in consequence. This happened on the 13th of June, 1792. Both the decrees were hateful to the king, for he knew the twenty thousand volunteers would be violent Jacobins, and the priests were his friends; and so he said "Veto" to both. But as he did it he was pulling the house down upon his head; he was raising a storm which swept him from the palace to the prison of the Temple.

Paris was now in a state of frenzy. The Duke of Brunswick was just about to march, and yet the king forbade their raising a garrison of twenty thousand patriots for the defense of their homes and wives. It was now that every patriot who had the courage of a man screwed that courage to the sticking-point, and resolved to do or die. One deputy after another came to the Parliament to entreat it to alter the king's power of veto. It was now that Barbaroux, a fiery south-countryman, wrote to Marseilles for "six hundred men who knew how to die!"

The 20th of June arrived; it had already become a memorable day, for it was the anniversary of the Tennis Court Oath. Some of the citizens of Paris had resolved to celebrate the day by planting a tree of liberty near the Tuileries, and by also, perhaps, having a word or two with the king himself, if they could see him, on the subject of the veto.

On the morning of this eventful day the tree of liberty was ready. It was a Lombardy poplar, and it was lying quietly on a sort of car, ready to be moved when the time came. The authorities, fearful of riot and bloodshed, attempted to stop the affair; but the people assured them that they had the most peaceful intentions, and only wished to plant a tree and have a word with their king. So the procession set forward, each moment swelled by hundreds from every alley and court of the suburb of St. Antoine. A curious banner was borne aloft." It was no less than a pair of old black silk breeches, with these words as a motto in French: "Tremble, tyrants! here are the Sansculottes!" (Sansculotte was a cant name given to the poorest patriots by the Royalists; it means "destitute of breeches.")

Once more the authorities tried to stop the crowd; but the leaders answered them: "We are as peaceable as doves; we mean no harm. We cannot stop now; and you would better come with us." And so the patriot stream followed on until it reached the Riding School, where the Parliament was met for business. Here an address was read; and then the multitude surrounded the palace, all the gates of which had been carefully closed. Within the courts were ranked the National Guards. The Swiss were at their posts, and the palace itself was crowded with Royalists in black clothes, who had come to support their king. Every man of this sort had a "ticket of entry," which he showed to the sentinel at the gate.

Marie Antoinette


The Lombardy poplar was planted,—not where they wished, for the place was closed, but in a garden not far off; and now, as the king would not come out to them, they resolved to force their way in to him. In this they were helped by the National Guards inside. Those men, never very loyal, yielded to the speech of the mob leaders, and opened the gate. The multitude poured through, and were soon surging up the grand stairs into the interior of the Tuileries. It was a repetition of the insurrection of women at Versailles. Loud were the knockings on the door behind which the poor distracted monarch stood,—knockings that could not be overlooked, for soon the panels were smashed in. Louis opened the door and asked them hastily, "What do you want here?" Loud shouts of "Veto!" "Remove the veto!" answered his question. Others shouted, "Bring back the patriot ministers!" Louis answered with much dignity, "This is not the time to do it in, nor is this the proper way to ask me."

A few soldiers managed to get the king into the bow of a window, and there he stood for some time. One man thrust a red cap into his hand, and he set it upon his head. Another offered him a bottle, and he put it to his lips. The queen sat in an inner room with her children and sister-in-law, behind a barricade of tables, in tears and terror of heart. And this went on for fully three hours. The gentlemen had all disappeared, fearful of doing more harm than good to the king's cause. After a time the Mayor of Paris (Petion was his name), a very advanced patriot who had just now much influence with the mob, persuaded the people to retire. They obeyed his voice; and as they passed through the room where the queen sat behind her tables, a woman presented her with a red cap, which she put on her little son's head. It was not until eight o'clock that the palace was clear of the people, and the king and queen, much agitated, were able to embrace each other with many tears after enduring such terrors.