Charges read against Louis XVI (now called Louis Capet to discredit him after the abolition of the monarchy) began in December 1792. Accusations against the French king were read by Charles Jean Marie Barbaroux, a French politician from Marseilles. There were 33 charges and after each principal charge was read, it was “followed by a list of the pieces on which the proofs were to be founded.” As the charges were read, several new charges were also proposed. However, charges that appeared to “have little weight or to be ill-founded, were expunged.”
The National Convention then decreed that the accusations should serve as the basis for the questions that were to put be before the discredited king. After each charge — charges that described duplicity, treachery, or lack of leadership — the President, Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac, was to ask the accused Louis, “What have you in answer?” Depending on his answer, Barère was then authorized to propose new questions.
On 11 December 1792, when Louis Capet arrived, the President, Barère, announced to the Convention that he was at the door and requested “the Representatives of the People to assume dignity worthy the grandeur of their function.” He reminded them that “they formed a tribunal on which the eyes of Europe were fixed and [that the proceedings] … would be judged by prosperity.” Additionally, Barère forbade the representatives from showing any signs of “approbation or disapprobation,” and he mentioned the “coolness and silent dignity” with which they received Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette after their failed escape to Varennes.
When Louis Capet stood at the bar, the proceedings began with Barère stating:
“Louis! — the French nation accuses you. The National Convention decreed on the 3rd of December that you should be tried by them: and on the 9th, that you should be brought to the bar, to hear the accusation read, and to give your answers.”
Barère then mentioned the decrees by which the National Convention established the tribunal against him. This was followed by Jean-Baptiste Mailhe, one of the secretaries, reading each accusation and after each one Barère then asked Louis what he had to say in his own defense. Unlike Charles I of England, who refused to acknowledge the authority of the Convention, Louis delivered no speech, answered each question curtly with “great readiness” and appeared chagrined at certain accusations.
Here are the proceedings provided (almost ) verbatim:
Q: The French people accuse you of having on the 20th of June, 1789, insulted the sovereignty of the people, in the person of their representatives.
A: At the above period there was no law respecting that object.
Q: On the 23d of June, you wished to dictate laws to the nation; you surrounded the representatives with guards; and you ordered them to separate.
A: At the above period there was no law respecting that object.
Q: You ordered troops to march against the citizens of Paris, &c. and the blood of the citizens was shed?
A: I had a right at that time to order troops to march, but it never was my intention to shed blood.
Q: You persisted in your designs; you prevented the execution of the decree of August 11th, which abolished personal servitude, &c. you long refused to acknowledge the rights of man; you permitted, and authorized by your preference, an orgie, in which the national cockade was trod under foot, while the white cockade was publicly worn.
A: I made observations on the decrees; with regard to the cockade, the fact is false, it never took place before me.
Q: You took a solemn oath at the Federation on the 14th July 1790, at the same time that you were endeavouring to corrupt the minds of the public at Paris, by Talon—in the Provinces of Mirabeau.
A: I do not recollect what then passed; but all this is prior to the establishment of the constitution and my acceptance.
Q: You long meditated to effect your escape. On February 28, a great number of armed men entered the apartments of Thuilleries. You attempted to escape, when you pretended to go to St. Cloud. You wrote foreign powers that you freely accepted the Constitution. You fled on the 24th of June. You lavished away the money of the people.
A: I recollect nothing of that. — With regard to my journey to Varennes, I must refer to the answers I gave to the Constituent Assembly.
Q: After you were arrested at Varennes, and while the exercise of the Executive Power was suspended in your hands, you conspired with La Fayette, and a few days after a massacre of citizens took place in the Champs de Mars, you paid for journals and pamphlets which tended to corrupt the minds of the people, to discredit assignats, &c.
A: What passed in the month of July can have no reference to me.
Q: When you accepted the Constitution you knew of the Convention of Pilnitz and concealed it.
A: I informed the National Assembly of it as soon as it came to my knowledge. Besides, that business, according to the Constitution, it concerned the Ministers.
Q: You favoured the revolt at Arles, the Commissioners whom you sent thither tended to encrease the evils.
A: The instructions of the Commissioners will prove what order they had. I was entirely ignorant of them when they were presented to me by the Ministers.
Q: You occasioned the misfortunes at Avignon and in the Comtat-Venaissin, by retarding for a month the Decree for uniting it to France.
A: I don’t remember any thing of that delay. It concerns those who had the charge of that business.
Q: Montauban, Nimes, Mendes, and Sales, were agitated by troubles from the commencement of the Revolution, and you did nothing to put a stop to them.
A: I ordered all those measures to be pursued which the Minister proposed to me.
Q: You sent twenty-two battalions against the Marseilles, who were marching to check the Counter-Revolution at Arles.
A: I must have certain papers before I can give an answer to that question.
Q: You gave the command in the South to Wegnestein, who wrote to you on the 21st of April, 1792, after he had been recalled [saying].—”A few moment more and I shall rally for ever around your majesty’s throne millions of Frenchmen become worthy of the witness which they form for your happiness.”
A: The letter was posterior to his recall; he has not been employed since; I do not remember it.
Q: You paid your ci-devant Guardes-du-Corps at Coblentz; Septeuil’s memorandums prove several orders signed by you, and stating that you sent considerable sums to Bouille, Rochefort, la Vaugnyon, Choiseul Beaupre, d’Hamilton, and Dame Polignac.
A: As soon as I knew that my body guards were assembly on the other side of the Rhine, I forbade them to be paid: farther do I not remember.
Q: Your brothers, enemies to the State, called emigrants around their standards; they raised regiments; made loans and contracted alliances in your name, you did not disavow them till the moment when you was very certain you could not injure their plans. You correspondence with them is proved by a note in the hand-writing of Louis Stanislas-Xavier, signed by both your brothers as follows:
“I have written to you, but it was by post, and I could say nothing. We are here two who make only one; the same sentiments, the same principles, the same ardour to serve you; we observe silence; by breaking it too soon we should expose ourselves; but we shall speak out when we are sure of general support and that moment is near. If they speak to us on the part of the those people, we will not listen. If it is on yours, we will listen; but we will go straight on your own way. If they with, therefore, that you should make us do something, be under no restraint. Be easy respecting your safety, we exist only to serve you; we will exert ourselves for that purpose with ardour, and every thing will go well. Even our enemies have too much interest in your preservation, to commit an useless crime, which would complete their ruin. — Adieu [my brothers]”
A: I disavowed all the steps of my brothers, according as the Constitution prescribed, as soon as I knew them. I have no knowledge of that note.
Q: The army of the line which ought to have been raised to the war complement, consisted at the end of December of no more than 100,000 men. You neglected therefore to provide for the external safety of the State. [Louis de] Narbonne, your agent, asked leave to raise 50,000 more troops, but he stopped recruiting when 26,000 were raised, assuring you, that everything was ready. After him, [Joseph Marie Servan de Gerbey] proposed to form near Paris a camp of 20,000 men. This was decreed by the Legislative Assembly, but you refused your sanction.
A: I gave the Minister all the necessary orders in the month of December last, for raising the troops to the war establishment: The state of them being laid before the Assembly, and if the Ministers were deceived, I am not to blame.
Q: From a fervor of patriotism, citizens hurried to all quarters to Paris. You issued a Proclamation tending to stop them on the road, yet our armies were destitute of every thing; [Charles François Du Périer] Dumourier, (Servan’s successor) had declared, that the nation had neither arms, ammunition, nor provisions; and that the fortresses were not in a state capable of making a defence. You waited till you were pressed by a requisition made to the Minister [Pierre August] Lajard, who was requested by the Legislative Assembly to point out what were the proper means of providing for the external safety of the state, before you proposed by a message, the raising of 42 battalions. You [also] gave orders to the commanders of the troops to disorganize the army, to incite whole regiments to desert and to pass the Rhine, in order that they might commit themselves to the disposal of your brothers and Leopold of Austria, with whom you corresponded.–This fact is proved by the letter of Toulongeon, the Commandant in France-Comte.
A: I know nothing of what you mention.—There is not a word of truth in that accusation.
Q: You charged your Diplomatic Agents to favour the coalition of foreign powers with your brothers against France, and particularly to establish peace between Austria and the Ottoman Porte, that the former might not be obliged to employ many troops on the Frontiers towards Turkey, and to enable that power to send a great number against France. This fact is established by a letter of Marie-Gabriel-Florent-Auguste de Choiseul-Gouffier, Ambassador at Constantinople.
A: M. de Choiseul has not spoken the truth. Such a thing never existed.
Q: The Prussians advanced towards our frontiers on the 8th of July. Your Minister was ordered to give an account of our political relations with Prussia. You replied on the 10th, that 50,000 Prussians were marching against us and that you gave information to the Legislative Body of the formal acts of these imminent hostilities according to the terms of the Constitution.
A: I had no knowledge of such a fact till that period. All the correspondence passed through the hands of the Minister.
Q: You entrusted the War Department to Charles d’Abancour, the nephew of
Charles Alexandre de Calonne; and such was the success of your conspiracy, that the towns of Longwy and Verdun were given up as soon as the enemy appeared.
A: I did not know that d’Abancour was the nephew of Calonne. It was not I who left these places in a defenceless state. I should never have been guilty of such a thing. If they were so, I have no knowledge of it.
Q: You destroyed our navy. A number of officers belonging to it had emigrated. There scarcely remained so many as were sufficient for the service of the Ports. Yet Barère every day granted passports — and when the legislative Body, on the 8th of March, exposed to you his criminal conduct, you replied that you were satisfied with his answers.
A: I did every thing I could to retain the officers — With regard to Barère, as the National Assembly brought no specific charge against him, I did not think proper to dismiss him.
Q: You favoured the colonies the maintenance of absolute Government. Your agents there every where fomented disturbances and a Counter-Revolution — which was effected at the same time that it was intended to have been brought about in France, which sufficiently indicates that you conducted the plot.
A: If there are any persons who have said that they were my agents, they have not spoken the truth. I had no connection with the events you mention.
Q: The interior parts of the country were agitated by fanatics; you declared yourself their protector — by manifesting an evident intention of recovering through them your former power.
A: This is a charge deserves no answer; I had no knowledge of such a plan.
Q: The Legislative Body, on the 23d of September, passed a decree against refractory Priests; you suspended the execution of it.
A: I had full power by the Constitution to sanction decrees or not.
Q: The troubles encreased, and the Minister declared that he knew no existing laws, by which the guilty could be punished. The Legislative body passed a new decree–and you suspended the execution of that also.
A: I had full power by the Constitution to sanction decrees or not.
Q: The incivism of the guards, given by you by the Constitution, rendered it necessary that they should be dismissed. Next morning you wrote a letter of thanks to them. You continued their pay. This fact is proved by the accounts of the Treasurer of the Civil List.
A: I continued their pay only until they should be renewed as the decree required.
Q: You kept near your person the Swiss Guards — This was forbidden by the Constitution, and the Legislative Assembly expressly ordered that they should be dismissed.
A: I executed all the decrees passed on that subject.
Q: You had in Paris private companies commissioned to excite commotions useful to your plans of a counter-revolution; Louis Collenot d’Angremont and Gilles were two of your agents, and they were paid from the Civil List. The receipts of Gilles, who was ordered to organize a company of sixty men, will be presented to you.
A: I have no knowledge of the plans with which I am charged — The idea of a counter-revolution never entered my head.
Q: You endeavoured, by the considerable sums, to bribe several Members of the Constituent and Legislative Assemblies. This is proved by the letter of St. Leon and others.
A: Several persons presented such plans to me but I rejected them.
Q: Who are the persons who presented these plans.
A: They were so vague that I do not at present remember.
Q: You suffered the French nation to be insulted in Germany, Italy, and Spain; Since you did nothing to procure satisfaction of the bad treatment which the French experienced those countries.
A: The diplomatic correspondence will prove the contrary. Besides, that business concerned the Ministers.
Q: On the 10th of August you received the Swiss at five in the morning, and the Swiss fired first on the citizens.
A: I saw all the troops who were collected near the Palace that morning. The constituent authorities were with me — the members of the Department — the Mayor, and the Municipality. I even begged the National Assembly to send a deputation to me, and I afterwards repaired to it with my family.
Q: Why did you assemble troops at the Palace?
A: All the constituted authorities know, the Palace was threatened; and as I was one of the constituted authorities, it was necessary I should be defended.
Q: For what reason did you order the Mayor of Paris to go to the Palace, on the night between the 9th and 10th of August.
A: On account of the reports which were spread.
Q: You caused the blood of Frenchmen to be shed.
A: No sir. I was not I.
Q: Did you authorize Septeuil to carry on a considerable traffic in corn, sugar, and coffee, at Hamburg: This fact is proved by a letter of Septeuil.
A: I have no knowledge of what you say.
Q: Why did you put a veto on the decree ordering a camp of 20,000 men to be formed?
A: The Constitution gave me full power to sanction decrees or not; and at that time I ordered a camp to be formed at Soissons.
Barère announced he had no more questions and noted that some of the letters ascribed to Louis Capet were sealed with the arms of France. Louis pointed out that many people had such seals with such arms. Barère then asked him if he had anything to add, and Louis replied:
“I desire to have copies of the act of accusation, as well as of all the papers intended to serve as proofs, and that I may be allowed Council for my defence.”
His wish for council was granted. He was then presented with “several letters and papers,” some of them were apparently written or signed by himself. However, he denied having knowledge of any of them.
- “France,” in The Dublin Evening, 27 December 1792