Story of Modern France - Helene Guerber

Mobs Raid the Tuileries

The old adage, "Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do," is well exemplified by the actions of the Paris mob at this time. When the news suddenly came that Prussian and Austrian forces had beaten the French army, all France was instantly in a turmoil. The clubs in Paris cried that treason was at work, and the mob, always ascribing everything evil to king and queen, immediately rushed off to the Tuileries to call them to account. Instead of banners,—the red flag of liberty now generally replaced the white of royalty,—they brandished aloft on this occasion a pair of trousers, with the inscription "Sans Culottes,"  an ox heart marked "Heart of an Aristocrat," and a miniature gallows, from which dangled a doll boldly labeled "Marie Antoinette". Roaring out at the top of their lungs the popular "ca ira", and dancing the "Carmagnole",—a wild jig interspersed with all manner of rough cries and oaths,—they rushed on to the palace, where they soon broke in and scattered in search of their Majesties. Discovering the king alone in one room, the mob immediately began to demand this and that, to which Louis XVI. calmly replied, "I will do all the constitution prescribes," but would promise nothing further. Thinking he might feel frightened,—and any one might under such circumstances,—one man, who had given the king a red cap to put on, said reassuringly, Fear nothing, Sire, I will protect you!" But he was greatly surprised when he received the prompt reply: "Do you think I fear? Place your hand upon my heart. You will find no quick beatings of terror there." Still, the king good-naturedly accepted the glass of wine which another man offered him, and stood patiently for hours while the mob filed past him.

He was not the only brave person in the palace, however. The mob, having found his sister, began to insult her, thinking she was the queen, and when some one near her attempted to explain the mistake, Madam Elizabeth imploringly whispered, "Do not undeceive them!" for she hoped to spare one pang at least to the poor sister-in-law whom she loved so dearly. The mob, pressing ever onward, finally discovered their error, and crowded angrily around the queen and her two children. To protect them and herself from the repulsive throng, Marie Antoinette placed her son on a table, behind which she and her daughter could stand, and with hands that did not tremble, fitted a red liberty cap on the Dauphin's golden curls. It was then and there that the following pathetic dialogue took place:—

Marie Antoinette. "Have I ever done you any harm?"

Woman. "No, but you are the cause of the misery of the nation!"

Marie Antoinette. "You have been told so, but you are mistaken. As the wife of the King of France, and the mother of the Dauphin, I am a Frenchwoman. I shall never see my country again. I can be happy only in France. I was happy when you loved me."

Woman. "I beg your pardon. It was because I did not know you. I see that you are good."

This raid on the Tuileries was witnessed by a young officer, Napoleon Bonaparte, who, gazing at the wild mob from a street corner near by, is said to have muttered: "Why have they admitted all that rabble? They ought to sweep off four or five hundred of them with cannon; the rest would run fast enough!" As you will see, this officer never hesitated to mow down people with grapeshot, for he was never troubled with too great sympathy for others, and could easily kill a few hundred without remorse,—a thing kindly Louis could never countenance.

The news of the invasion of the palace, and of the royal family's danger, roused the utmost indignation abroad, where talk of a coalition of all the European nations was now frequently heard. The French, realizing therefore that they were likely to be attacked on all sides at once, immediately declared the country in danger, and called for volunteers, who, fired by patriotism, enlisted in hosts.

It was shortly after the second celebration of the Federation Festival (three years after the fall of the Bastille) that the Marseilles troops marched into Paris, singing "the Marseillaise," just in time to take part in a second invasion of the Tuileries (Aug. 10, 1792), instead of maintaining order in the capital, as had been expected. This time, as there had been some warning of the mob's coming, cannon were set in place and loaded, while eight hundred Swiss guards and twelve hundred nobles stood ready to defend the royal family at the king's order. But Louis XVI., knowing how ignorant and misled the majority of the rioters were, had not the heart to use decisive means and to shed blood. He therefore again forbade using the cannon, and allowed the mob to invade the palace.

As the rabble, this time, seemed even more excited than the last, the king announced that he and his family would leave the palace by the rear, cross the garden, and place themselves under the protection of the Legislative Assembly, to prevent bloodshed. Some say that Louis XVI. sent word to his Swiss guards that he was leaving, bidding them offer no resistance; others declare that the order was forgotten or transmitted only to part of the force. However that may be, the inrushing mob slew most of the king's defenders, who died fighting bravely. Their heroic death is commemorated by the "Lion of Lucerne," in Switzerland, carved in the living rock by the Danish sculptor Thorvaldsen.

Meantime, the royal family had crossed the garden,—the little Dauphin playfully kicking the dead leaves before him,—and had entered the Legislative Assembly, where they were kept waiting some time in the corridor, although the king announced immediately on arriving, "I have come here to prevent a great crime." Then they were finally allowed to sit in the reporter's box, where they suffered from heat, confinement, hunger, and thirst, until the Assembly announced that the king should be "suspended," and that, for safe keeping, he and his family should be committed to the great fortress called the Temple.

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


There, instead of occupying the luxurious apartments recently inhabited by princes, they were put in the prison tower, where every comfort was lacking, and whence only one of them was to come out again free. Five days later Lafayette, who had hitherto done his best to maintain order and discipline; secretly left France, and it was well he did so, for hundreds of the king's friends were now being thrown into prison. House-to-house visits were being made to discover and imprison all "suspects"; that is to say, all aristocrats, and the priests who maintained their allegiance to the Pope and Church, and who might hence be inclined to give aid or information to the foe.

These people, and the few faithful subjects who had followed the king and queen to the Temple only to be parted from them, were locked up in various prisons, where, on the first few days of September, a terrible massacre took place, hundreds of priests and aristocrats being cruelly butchered by volunteer assassins hired by the city government of Paris—part of the mob which had twice invaded the Tuileries. These "September Massacres" were suggested by Danton, whose motto was, "Dare, dare again, dare ever," and were brutally urged by Marat, for the people had declared, "We must leave no traitors behind us when we hasten to the frontier," and every priest and aristocrat loyal to the king was now viewed as a traitor to his country.

Only the most rudimentary trial was given to these unfortunates, nearly all of whom were led out and promptly put to death by four hundred tiger-like cutthroats! Madame de Lamballe, the queen's virtuous and beautiful friend, was hacked to pieces, and her head was borne off on a pike to be exhibited in triumph to the prisoners in the Temple. But a merciful fainting fit saved Marie Antoinette from this ghastly sight, which horrified the king when he gazed curiously out of a window to discover the cause of the sudden tumult.

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


Many thrilling stories are told of the courage and devotion shown during these awful days. One daughter, it is said, saved her father by pleading with the judges, offering her own life in exchange for his; and another young lady, having no alternative, saved her father by drinking a glass of the blood of one of the freshly slain victims!

But popular rage was turned to delirious joy when, a few days later, the French general Dumouriez won the battle of Valmy, just as the Legislative Assembly was ending its work and the National Convention entered upon its duties. The latter body had been elected to frame a new constitution for France, and it remained in control of the government for three years. This Convention—which had the honor of founding a School for Arts and Crafts, a Normal School, and a Polytechnic School, of introducing the metric system and the signal telegraph (semaphore), besides giving France a new calendar—began its sittings by formally deposing Louis XVI. and proclaiming the First French Republic (Sept. 21, 1792) "one and indivisible." A decree of perpetual banishment was passed against the émigrés, who were forbidden to return to France on pain of death.

A few days later French armies conquered Savoy and Nice, and the allies, beaten on all sides, were forced to withdraw from France. Then patriotic hearts soon after were gladdened by the news of another victory at Jemappes (1792), a triumph which secured Belgium, and went to the heads of the Revolutionists to such an extent that the Convention now boldly declared, "The French will treat as enemies any nation which, refusing liberty and equality, desires to preserve its princes and privileged castes, or to make any compromise with them!"

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber