Marie Antoinette - Alice Birkhead

"The Steeples at Midnight"

The flight to Varennes had brought contempt upon the King and Queen that made their sojourn in the Tuileries a time of sore-felt shame to them. One day the people of Paris pressed into the palace—it was the 20th of June again. Over thirty thousand had been marching through the town, singing "ca ira" as they went along. Louis invited them to enter the Tuileries and, protected by a guard, seated himself upon a table. He drank wine when it was offered him, and placed the red cap of liberty upon his head that the throng outside the door might see his patriotism. They thought him courageous, but in Marie Antoinette's opinion he was degraded by such familiarity with the subjects of his realm.

Behind a barricade of furniture the Queen sat with Princess Elizabeth. Both were alarmed for the safety of the royal children till Petion, now Mayor of Paris, came, as evening fell, and rid the palace of the ragged band that had invaded it. But the red cap was passed to her before the crowd retired, and she accepted it. Later, she wept to feel her world upset and all the chivalry fled from France. She had obeyed the rebels and pledged her son to them.

Fiercely the "Austrian "looked toward the frontiers whence revenge would come to satisfy leer pride. Without scruple she urged the King not to keep faith with subjects who wished to rule themselves. She counselled him to accept decrees that took away his powers. Meantime, she worked for an invasion of Paris by the Allied troops. She had seen Fersen and made a second plan for flight, but that, too, had been futile, and Fersen, going to Sweden to gain help, was greeted by the awful news that his King, Gustavus III, had been shot at a masked ball at Stockholm, in the prime of life.

Paris was roused by rumours that their city would be destroyed by fire and sword if any one of the Royal Family in the Tuileries were harmed. The Duke of Brunswick threatened it, inspired, no doubt, by Marie Antoinette, who longed for vengeance and the restoration of the authority of the Crown. Insults would be wiped out in blood when the invaders came. Only by believing this could she endure the sight of Louis submitting always to the people's whims.

The Tuileries was defended by a mighty bodyguard of Swiss, all valiant fighting men who would give their lives for any cause which they upheld. Mercenaries they might be, but they were faithful in the earning of their wage. Discipline made them staunch to Royalty, if patriotism were but a name. They filled the mighty palace with a sense of power. The Queen exulted when she saw them standing upright at the doors. The populace would fall back in panic on encountering soldiers. They who thronged the Paris streets were but a pack of cowards.

The country was declared in danger when Brunswick was known to be about to march. He had a goodly army of Allies who would espouse the cause of Marie Antoinette. Eighty thousand Prussians, Hessians, and Emigrants from the French nobility—were mustered in a fell array. There was confusion in Paris, where all patriots were determined to resist Brunswick. Bold Barbaroux, Deputy for Marseilles, made a desperate appeal to his townsfolk to set out to the capital and show the invading force that the people of France would die for liberty.

Six hundred men answered the appeal and marched to Paris to the tune of the martial hymn which was to be sung upon so many battlefields. They were welcomed enthusiastically as they neared their journey's end. Patriots came out to meet them and bade them sup merrily that night. They entered Paris publicly on the 30th of July, to be embraced by Mayor Pétion and feted by the citizens.

The National Assembly discussed helplessly whether the King should be forced to abdicate or not. Their debates were interrupted by petitioners who had scant patience with the tardy action of the legislature. Pétion, with the Municipality, petitioned for the King's forfeiture, and wore the tricolour openly when they came with this request. The forfeiture were not pronounced by the National Assembly on August 9th, the people began to murmur that they would pronounce it themselves.

The Marseillais were in barracks; they had ammunition now. Insurrection could not be put off much longer when these men of the South were preparing to meet death. The 9th of August 1792 saw them roused to act.

The Tuileries had been warned of ominous preparations for attack, and courtiers listened at the palace windows for the signal that would call the patriots to arms. The Swiss stood in gallant order when the hour of midnight came, and thought of the Eve of St Bartholomew when they heard the sound of bells.

A king had ordered the bells to ring in 1572, and had planned the death of subjects who were his guests that day. It was the order of the people that filled the air with sounds on the fateful 9th of August, before the day which was to see the storming of the palace of the king.

From steeple to steeple the alarm rang out, the peal of St Anthony, the tocsin of St John. From the Cathedral and the Abbey Tower the booming echoed. The Queen heard the sounds from her window and remained there to watch the rising of the sun. The Princess Elizabeth joined her, and the Dauphin was roused from childish slumbers. The two women knew that the bells had been the signal for a desperate move against the royal prerogative. They could not sleep while they were so uncertain what the day would bring.

At daybreak the Queen went to her husband and bade him show himself to the men who would defend the palace at the danger of their lives. Louis obeyed; he was tired and disheveled, and wore an unbecoming violet coat; and as he passed down the line of soldiers, the red-coated Swiss paid little homage to the Bourbon King. They were loyal and would fight against his enemies, but they were not roused to enthusiasm by the review which the Queen had so eagerly advised.

As soon as the 10th of August came, the mob swarmed into the courts before the Tuileries. Those within the building held their muskets ready to discharge, but the Marseillais had not arrived as yet, and there was time for the King and Queen to hasten to the Riding School, where the National Assembly held debate. The Royal Family were seated in a kind of box high above the level of the floor that they might not take part in any business that was done. The children became very restless as the day wore on, and the King and Queen listened sadly to the sounds of a fierce assault on the palace they had left.

The assault had become a massacre of the defending force when the brave Swiss leader gave the order to retreat. He had received a message from King Louis that his men should lay down their arms, but he would not convey it till he knew that the royal cause was doomed. By ten o'clock the fight was over and the Tuileries in the possession of the mob.

Louis XVI sat patiently to hear that the Capet kings had fallen from their high estate. It was made clear to him that he was a State prisoner and would he lodged, henceforth, in the Temple Tower, which had once been part of Artois' palace. Lights blazed there magnificently as the new occupant entered with his family. The Queen shrank back, remembering the banquets of her headstrong youth and feeling that her first dread of that gloomy building had been justified. The statues of the King in Paris were cast down that day.