From Book V, Chapter II
From Book V, Chapter II
- Mary Wollstonecraft
On the first of October,* in consequence of these fresh machinations, a magnificent entertainment was given in the name of the king’s body-guards; but really by some of their principal officers, at the opera-house of the castle. The affectation of excluding the dragoons,* distinguished for their attachment to liberty, seemed to show, but too plainly, the end in view, rendered still more conspicuous by the unusual familiarity of persons of the first rank with the lowest soldiers.
When their heads were heated by a sumptuous banquet, by the tumult of an immense crowd, and the great profusion of delicious wines and liqueurs, the conversation, purposely turned into one channel, became unrestrained, and a chivalrous scene completed the folly. The queen, to testify her satisfaction for the homage paid to p. 341↵her, and the wishes expressed in her favour, exhibited herself to this half-drunken multitude; carrying the dauphin in her arms, whom she regarded with a mixture of sorrow and tenderness, and seeming to implore in his favour the affection and zeal of the soldiers.
This acting, for it is clear that the whole was a preconcerted business, was still more intoxicating than the wine.—The exclamation vive le roi, vive la reine, resounded from all sides, and the royal healths were drunk over drawn swords, whilst that of the nation was rejected with contempt by the body-guards. The music, the choice could not have been the effect of chance, played the well known air—O Richard! O my king! the universe abandons thee!1 and during this moment of fascination some voices, perhaps bribed for the occasion, mingled execrations against the assembly. A grenadier even darted from the midst of his comrades, and accusing himself of having been unfaithful to his prince, endeavoured, several times, to plunge his sword into his bosom. His held arm was not indeed allowed to search for the disloyal heart; but some blood was permitted to flow—and this theatrical display of sensibility, carried to the highest pitch, produced emotions almost convulsive in the whole circle, of which an english reader can scarcely form an idea. The king, who is always represented as innocent, though always giving proofs that he more than connived at the attempts to recover his power, was likewise prevailed on to show himself at this entertainment. And some of the same soldiery, who had refused to second the former project of the cabal, were now induced to utter insults and menaces against the very authority, they then supported. ‘The national cockade,’ exclaimed Mirabeau, ‘that emblem of the defenders of liberty, has been torn in pieces, and stamped under foot; and another ensign put in it’s place.—Yes; even under the eye of the monarch, who allowed himself to be styled—Restorer of the rights of his people, they have dared to hoist a signal of faction.’*
The same scene was renewed two days after, though with less parade; and invitations for a similar treat were given for the following week.
The rumour respecting them, which reached Paris, contained many exaggerated circumstances; and was regarded as the commencement p. 342↵of fresh hostilities, on the part of the court. The cry now was, that the stunned aristocracy had again reared it’s head; and that a number of old officers, chevaliers of St Louis,* had signed a promise to join the body-guards in a new attempt. This list was said to contain thirty thousand signatures; and idle as the tale was, it seemed to be confirmed by the appearance of white and black cockades, which inconsiderate individuals displayed at the risk of their lives. These, said the parisians, are the first indications of a projected civil war—the court wish only to have the king safe to head them before they speak out:—he ought, therefore, to be removed to Paris, inferred the politicians of the palais royal. The exasperating of the people in this manner was certainly the most absurd blundering folly that could have ruined a party, who apparently saw the necessity of dividing the people in order to conquer them. It was, in fact, a species of madness, and can be accounted for only by recollecting the ineffable contempt really felt by the court for the canaille* which made them still imagine the revolution to be only a temporary convulsion, not believing it possible, in spite of the daily events, that they could be crushed by the mass they despised. Their presumption proceeded from their ignorance, and was incurable.
The queen was supposed to be at the head of this weak conspiracy, to withdraw the soldiery from siding with the people. She had presented colours to the national guards of Versailles, and when they waited on her to express their thanks, she replied, with the most winning affability, ‘the nation and the army ought to be as well affected to the king as we ourselves are. I was quite charmed with what passed on thursday.’* This was the day of the feast.
A scarcity of bread, the common grievance of the revolution, aggravated the vague fears of the parisians, and made the people so desperate, that it was not difficult to persuade them to undertake any enterprize; and the torrent of resentment and enthusiasm required only to be directed to a point to carry every thing before it. Liberty was the constant watch word; though few knew in what it consisted.—It seems, indeed, to be necessary, that every species of enthusiasm should be fermented by ignorance to carry it to any height. Mystery alone gives full play to the imagination, men pursuing with ardour objects indistinctly seen or understood, because each man shapes them to his taste, and looks for something beyond even his own conception, when he is unable to form a just idea.
p. 343↵The parisians were now continually brooding over the wrongs they had heretofore only enumerated in a song; and changing ridicule into invective, all called for redress, looking for a degree of public happiness immediately, which could not be attained, and ought not to have been expected, before an alteration in the national character seconded the new system of government.
From the enjoyment of more freedom than the women of other parts of the world, those of France have acquired more independence of spirit than any others; it has, therefore, been the scheme of designing men very often since the revolution, to lurk behind them as a kind of safeguard, working them up to some desperate act, and then terming it a folly, because merely the rage of women, who were supposed to be actuated only by the emotions of the moment. Early then on the fifth of october a multitude of women by some impulse were collected together; and hastening to the hotel-de-ville obliged every female they met to accompany them, even entering many houses to force others to follow in their train.
The concourse, at first, consisted mostly of market women, and the lowest refuse of the streets, women who had thrown off the virtues of one sex without having power to assume more than the vices of the other. A number of men also followed them, armed with pikes, bludgeons, and hatchets; but they were strictly speaking a mob, affixing all the odium to the appellation it can possibly import; and not to be confounded with the honest multitude, who took the Bastille.—In fact, such a rabble has seldom been gathered together; and they quickly showed, that their movement was not the effect of public spirit.
They first talked of addressing the committee appointed by the municipality to superintend the operations necessary to obtain provision for the city, and to remonstrate respecting their inattention or indifference to the public calamity. Mean time a new cord was fixed to the notorious lamp-iron, where the amusement of death was first tolerated. The national guards, forming a hedge of bayonets to prevent the women from entering the hotel, kept them in suspense a few moments.—When, uttering a loud and general cry, they hurled a volley of stones at the soldiers, who, unwilling, or ashamed, to fire on women, though with the appearance of furies, retreated into the hall, and left the passage free. They then sought for arms; and breaking open the doors of the magazines, soon procured fusils, p. 344↵cannons, and ammunition; and even took advantage of the confusion to carry off money and notes belonging to the public. In the interim some went to search for the volunteers of the Bastille, and chose a commander from among them to conduct the party to Versailles; whilst others tied cords to the carriages of the cannons to drag them along.—But these, being mostly marine artillery, did not follow with the alacrity necessary to accord with their wishes; they, therefore, stopped several coaches, forcing the men to get out and the ladies to join them; fastening the cannons behind, on which a number of the most furious mounted, brandishing whatever weapon they had found, or the matches of the cannons. Some drove the horses, and others charged themselves with the care of the powder and ball, falling into ranks to facilitate their march. They took the road by the Champs Elisées about noon, to the number of four thousand, escorted by four or five hundred men, armed with every thing on which they could lay their hands.
Mean time the tocsin sounded from all parts; the french guards, still urged on by wounded pride, loudly declared, that the king ought to be brought to Paris; and many of the citizens, not on duty, concurred with the rest of the national guards in the same opinion, particularly those accustomed to attend the harangues at the Palais Royal. La Fayette, refusing to accompany, endeavoured to calm them. But finding, that the tumult increased, and that prayers were giving place to menaces, he offered to make known to the king, at their head, the wishes of the capital, if the municipality gave him orders to this effect. Their council was now assembled; yet prolonging the deliberation till between four and five o’clock in the afternoon, the people became so very impatient, that it was thought prudent to allow them to set out: and the exclamations of the populace proved how easy it was to govern, or lead them astray, by every fresh hope.
Few events have happened at Paris, that have not been attributed by the different parties to the machinations of the leaders on the other side; to blacken whose characters, when they had the upper hand, the most audacious falsehoods have been industriously circulated; the detection of which has induced many calm observers to believe, that all the accounts of plots and conspiracies were fabricated in the same manner; not considering, that even the universality of these suspicions was a proof of the intriguing character of the p. 345↵people, who from a knowledge of themselves became thus mistrustful of others. It was currently reported, that very considerable sums had been distributed amongst the mob, before it marched to Versailles; and, though many fabulous stories of showers of gold have since been retailed by the credulous, this seems, from their subsequent conduct, to have had some foundation: for nothing like the heroism, the disinterestedness, appeared, which, in most other risings of the parisians, has formed a striking contrast with their barbarity; sometimes sufficient to oblige us, lamenting the delusions of ignorance, to give the soft name of enthusiasm to cruelty; respecting the intention, though detesting the effects. Now, on the contrary, acting like a gang of thieves, they gave colour to the report—that the first instigators of the riot were hired assassins.—And hired by whom?—The public voice repeats, on every side, the despicable duke of Orleans, whose immense estates had given him an undue influence in the bailliages,* and who still exercised all the means that cunning could devise, and wealth produce, to revenge himself on the royal family. He was particularly incensed against the queen, who having treated him with the contempt which he doubtless merited, and even influenced the king to banish him to one of his country seats, when he uttered some popular sentiments, he continued to nourish the most implacable hatred to her person, whilst the changing sentiments of the nation respecting the present branch of his family excited in him hopes, that would at once have gratified both his revenge and his ambition.
There is no calculating the mischief which may be produced by a revengeful cunning knave, possessing the forcible engine of gold to move his projects, and acting by agency, which, like a subterraneous fire, that for a long time has been putting the combustible matter into a state of fusion, bursts out unexpectedly, and the sudden eruption spreads around terrour and destruction.
The agents of despotism, and of vengeful ambition, employed the same means to agitate the minds of the parisians; and covered as they now are with foul stains, it is an acknowledgement due to their original good disposition, to note, that at this period they were so orderly it required considerable management to lead them into any gross irregularity of conduct. It was, therefore, necessary for the duke’s instruments to put in motion a body of the most desperate women; some of whom were half famished for want of bread, which p. 346↵had purposely been rendered scarce to facilitate the atrocious design of murdering both the king and queen in a broil, that would appear to be produced solely by the rage of famine.
The shameless manner in which the entertainment of the officers of the body-guards had been conducted; the indiscreet visit of the queen to interest the army in the cause of royalty, coming in artfully after the rabble of soldiers had been allowed to enter; together with the imprudent expressions of which she afterwards made use; served as pretexts, nay, may have been some of the causes of these women suspecting, that the dearth of bread in the capital was owing to the contrivance of the court, who had so often produced the same effect to promote their sinister purposes. They believed then, that the only sure way to remedy such a grievous calamity, in future, would be to implore the king to reside at Paris: and the national militia, composed of more orderly citizens, who thought the report of a premeditated escape was not without foundation, imagined, that they should nip a civil war in the bud, by preventing the king’s departure, and separate him effectually from the cabal, to whom they attributed all his misconduct.
Whilst the multitude were advancing, the assembly were considering the king’s reply to their request to sanction the declaration of rights, and the first articles of the constitution, before the supplies were granted. The reply was couched in terms somewhat vague, yet it’s meaning could not be misunderstood.—He observed, that the articles of the constitution could be judged of only in their connection with the whole; nevertheless he thought it natural, that at the moment the nation was called upon to assist the government by a signal act of confidence and patriotism, they should expect to be reassured respecting their principal interest.—‘Accordingly,’ he continues, ‘taking it for granted, that the first articles of the constitution, which you have presented to me, united to the completion of your labours, will satisfy the wishes of my people, and secure the happiness and prosperity of the kingdom, conformably to your desire I accept them; but with one positive condition, from which I will never depart; namely, that from the general result of your deliberations the executive power shall have it’s entire effect in the hands of the monarch. Still it remains for me to assure you with frankness, that, if I give my sanction of acceptance to the several articles, which you have laid before me, it is not because they p. 347↵indiscriminately give me an idea of perfection; but I believe it laudable in me to pay this respect to the wishes of the deputies of the nation, and to the alarming circumstances, which so earnestly press us to desire above all things the prompt re-establishment of peace, order, and confidence.
‘I shall not deliver my sentiments of respecting your declaration of the rights of man and of citizens. It contains excellent maxims proper to direct your deliberations; but principles susceptible of application, and even of different interpretations, cannot be justly appreciated, and have only need of being so when their true sense is determined by the laws, to which they ought to be the basis.’*
In the subterfuge employed in this answer, the profound dissimulation of the king appears; and that ‘pitiful respect for false honour,’* which makes a man boggle at a naked untruth, even when uttering a number of contemptible prevarications. Thus did he at first struggle against every concession, against granting any real freedom to the people; yet afterwards unable to maintain his ground, he impotently gave way before the storm he had raised, every time losing a part of the authority which depended on opinion.
The assembly manifested an universal discontent. One of the members remarked,* that the king withheld his acceptance of the declaration of rights; and only yielded to circumstances in accepting the constitutional articles: he, therefore, moved, that no taxes should be levied, before the declaration of rights and the constitution should be accepted, without any reservation.—Another asserted,* that the king’s reply ought to have been counter-signed by one of the ministers. What an absurdity! yet the inviolability of the king standing in their way, it seemed to be necessary to secure ministerial responsibility, to render it null; not only to prevent the ministers from finding shelter behind it, but to make it utterly useless to the king, who was thus, literally speaking, reduced to a cipher. Mirabeau, however, after alluding with energy to the entertainment, which, out of derision, had been termed patriotic, made three or four motions. One was, ‘that no act emanating from the king should be declared without the signature of a secretary of state.’—So inconsistent was the man, who argued with such eloquence for the absolute veto:—Another was, ‘that his majesty would please to be explicit; and not by a conditional consent, extorted by circumstances, leave any doubt of his sincere concurrence in the mind of p. 348↵the people.’* It was also noticed, to corroborate the inference, that the king was only yielding, for the moment, to opinions which he hoped to see exploded, that the decree for the circulation of grain had been altered before the publication, and the usual preamble, for such is our pleasure, formed a strange contrast with an acknowledgement of the legislative rights of the nation. Robespierre, particularly, maintained, that the nation had not any need of the assistance of the monarch to constitute itself—that the king’s reply was not an acceptance, but a censure; and, consequently, an attack on the rights of the people.*
This seemed virtually the opinion of the assembly, though Mirabeau’s soft style of expressing their will was adopted. It was particularly in this decision, that the deputies displayed a great degree of the weakness, which mistakes temerity for courage, and the shadow of justice for verity.—And affecting to say, to reconcile a contradiction, that the authority of kings is suspended as often as the sovereign is occupied in framing the elements of the constitution, or altering fundamental laws, they demonstrated the inconsistency of their own system, and acknowledged it’s absurdity; which is still more flagrantly shown in Mirabeau’s irrational declaration, that, ‘by a pious fiction of the law, the king cannot himself deceive; but the grievances of the people demanding victims, these victims are the ministers.’*
At this juncture of the debate the tumultuous concourse of women arrived at Versailles: but it must not be unnoticed, that there was a number of men with them, disguised in women’s clothes; which proves, that this was not, as has been asserted, a sudden impulse of necessity. There were besides men in their own garb armed like ruffians, with countenances answerable, who, swearing vengeance against the queen and the body-guards, seemed to be preparing to put their threats in execution. Some barbarians, volunteers in guilt, might perhaps have joined, spurred on solely by the hope of plunder, and a love of tumult; but it is clear, that the principal movers played a surer game.
The women had taken two routes; and one party, without arms, presented themselves at the gate of the assembly, whilst the other clustered round the palace waiting for them. The avenues were already filled with body-guards, the flanders regiment was drawn up in ranks; in short, the soldiers were gathered together quickly in one p. 349↵quarter, though the people of Versailles were exceedingly alarmed, and particularly by the appearance of the vagabonds, who followed the female mob.
With some difficulty the women were prevailed on to allow a few to enter orderly into the assembly, with a spokesman to make known their demand; whilst crowds, taking refuge in the galleries from the rain, presented there the strange sight of pikes, fusils, and tremendous sticks bound with iron. Their orator represented the grievances of the people, and the necessity of continually providing for their subsistence: he expressed the concern of the parisians on account of the slow formation of the constitution, and attributed this delay to the opposition of the clergy. A bishop then presided in the absence of Mounier, the president, who had been dispatched by the assembly with their expostulatory petition to the king. A deputy, to spare him the embarrassment of a reply to the insinuation against his order, reprimanded the petitioner for calumniating that respectable body. He accordingly made an apology, yet justified himself by declaring, that he only reported the purport of the discontentment of Paris. They were informed, in reply, by the vice-president, that a deputation was already sent to the king, requesting his sanction of a decree to facilitate the interiour circulation of grain and flour: and finding, that it was impossible to attend to the business of the day, he adjourned the assembly, without waiting for the return of the president.
The women about the palace entered into conversation with the soldiers, some of whom said, ‘that were the king to recover all his authority, the people would never want bread!’ This indiscreet insinuation exasperated them; and they replied in the language, that is proverbial for being the most abusive. A fray also ensuing, brought on by a dispute relative to the affair of the cockades, one of the bodyguards drew his sword, which provoked a national guard of Versailles to give him a blow with his musket, that broke his arm.
The national troops were eager to convince the mob, that they were equally offended at the disrespect paid to the emblem of liberty; and the flemish regiment, though they were in battle array, made the women let their rings drop into their guns, to be convinced that they were not charged: saying, ‘It was true, they had drunk the wine of the body-guards; but what did that engage them to do? They had also cried, vive le roi, as the people themselves did every day; p. 350↵and it was their intention to serve them faithfully, but not against the nation!’—with other speeches to the same effect;—adding, ‘that one of their officers had ordered a thousand cockades; and they knew not why they were not distributed!’ Enraged by the tenour of this discourse, a body-guard’s man struck one of the soldiers talking thus, who, in return, fired on him, and fractured his arm. All was now confusion; and every thing tended to render the body-guards more odious to the populace.
The king arrived in the midst of it from hunting, and admitted at the same time the deputation from the national assembly, and an address from the women. He received the latter with great affability, testified his sorrow on account of the scarcity of bread at Paris, and immediately sanctioned the decree, relative to the free circulation of grain, which he had just received from the assembly. The woman who spoke, attempting to kiss his hand, he embraced her with politeness, and dismissed them in the most gentleman-like manner. They immediately rejoined their companions, charmed by the reception they had met with; and the king sent orders to the guards not to make use of their arms. The count d’Estaing,* the commander in chief, announced likewise to the militia of Versailles, that the body-guards would the next day take the oath of allegiance to the nation, and put on the patriotic cockade. ‘They are not worthy,’ was the indignant growl of the multitude.
Some women now returning to Paris, to report the gracious behaviour of the king, were unfortunately maltreated by a detachment of body-guards, commanded by a nobleman; and the volunteers of the Bastille coming to their assistance, two men, and three horses, were killed on the spot. These same irritated women meeting, likewise, the parisian militia, on their way to Versailles, gave them an exaggerated description of the conduct of the guards.
The court now taking the alarm, fearing that their plan would be defeated, by the king’s being obliged to go to Paris, urged him immediately to set out for Metz,* and the carriages were actually prepared. It is scarcely credible that they would have gone so far without his concurrence.
One loaded coach had been permitted to go out of the gate; but the national troops beginning to suspect what was going forward, obliged it to re-enter. The king then, with his usual address, finding p. 351↵his escape at that time impracticable, and not wishing to shed blood in forcing his way, made a merit of necessity, and declared he would rather perish than see the blood of frenchmen streaming in his quarrel! So easy is it for a man, versed in the language of duplicity, to impose on the credulous; and to impress on candid minds a belief of an opinion that they would gladly receive without any doubting allay, did not other circumstances more strongly contradict the persuasion. This declaration, however, which was re-echoed with great eagerness, was considered as a manifest proof of the purity of his intentions, and a mark of his fixed adherence to the cause which he affected to espouse. Yet, to prove the contrary, it is only necessary to observe, that he put off the acceptance of the declaration of rights, and the first articles of the constitution, till after the attempt to escape was frustrated: for it was near eleven o’clock* when he sent for the president, to put into his hands a simple acceptation, and to request him to convoke the assembly immediately, that he might avail himself of their counsel at this crisis; alarmed by the mob without, who, exposed to all the inclemency of the weather, it being a very wet and stormy night, were uttering the most horrid imprecations against the queen and the body-guards.
A drum instantly summoned the assembly; and La Fayette arriving with his army in less than an hour after, the president was again called for, who returned to the assembly with the king’s assurance, that he had not even thought of leaving them, nor would he ever separate himself from the representatives of the people.
La Fayette had previously assured the king of the fidelity of the metropolis, and that he had been expressly sent by the municipality of Paris to guard his august person. A rumour had prevailed, ever since the arrival of the women, that the parisian militia were coming to second them; but as the commune of Paris* had not determined till late in the afternoon, the messenger from La Fayette to the palace could not have reached Versailles long before him: but the court supposing that they would come, and having heard of the wish of the parisians to bring the king to Paris, where they had always spies to give them the earliest notice of what was going forward, pressed him to set out without loss of time; still they were actuated solely by the desire of getting him away, and not from any apprehension that his life was in danger.
p. 352↵After tranquilizing the king, La Fayette joined the parisian militia in the avenue, to inform them, that the king had sanctioned the decree of the assembly for expediting the more speedy circulation of provisions; that he accepted, without any reservation, of the declaration of rights, with the first articles of the constitution, declaring at the same time his unshaken resolution to remain among his people; and that he consented also to have a detachment of the national troops of Paris to contribute to guard his person.
Joy now took place of dread at Versailles; and the citizens distributed their addresses amongst the soldiers, offering them lodgings; they having been previously requested, by the beating of a drum, to receive as many of the parisian militia as they possibly could. The rest, after passing several hours in arms round the palace, sought for shelter, as the morning began to dawn, in the churches. Every thing appearing quiet, the harassed king and queen were prevailed on to seek the repose they needed; and La Fayette, about five in the morning, retired to his chamber, to write to the municipality an account of his proceedings, before he likewise endeavoured to snatch a little rest.
Scarcely an hour after, the restless mob, great part of which had taken refuge in the hall and galleries of the assembly, began to prowl about. The most decent of the women, who had been pressed into the service, stole away during the night. The rest, with the whole gang of ruffians, rushed towards the palace, and finding its avenues unguarded, entered like a torrent; and some among them, most probably, conceived, that this was the moment to perpetrate the crime for which they had been drawn from their lurking-holes in Paris.
Insulting one of the body-guards who opposed their entrance, he fired, and killed a man. This was a fresh pretext for entering to search for the murderer, as he was termed by these rioters; and driving the guards before them up the grand stair-case, they began to break into the different apartments, vowing vengeance against the body-guards, in which were mingled the bitterest curses, all levelled at the queen.
Catching one unfortunate guard by himself, he was dragged down the stairs; and his head, instantly severed from his body, was mounted on a pike, which rather served to irritate than glut the fury of the monsters, who were still hunting after blood or plunder.
p. 353↵The most desperate found their way to the queen’s chamber, and left for dead the man who courageously disputed their entrance. But she had been alarmed by the tumult, though the miscreants were not long in making their way good, and, throwing a wrapping-gown around her, ran, by a private passage, to the king’s apartment, where she found the dauphin; but the king was gone in quest of her: he, however, quickly returning, they waited together in a horrid state of suspence. Several of the guards, who endeavoured to keep back the mob, were wounded; yet all this happened in a very short space of time.
The promptitude and rapidity of this movement, taking every circumstance into consideration, affords additional arguments in support of the opinion, that there had been a premeditated design to murder the royal family. The king had granted all they asked the evening before; sending away great part of the multitude delighted with his condescension; and they had received no fresh provocation to excite this outrage. The audacity of the most desperate mob has never led them, in the presence of a superiour force, to attempt to chastise their governors; and it is not even probable that banditti, who had been moved by the common causes of such insurrections, should have thought of murdering their sovereign, who, in the eyes of the greater number of frenchmen, was still shrouded by that divinity, tacitly allowed to hover round kings, much less have dared to attempt it.
La Fayette was quickly roused; and, sending his aides-de-camp to assemble the national guards, he followed the ruffians with equal celerity. They had actually forced the king’s apartment at the moment he arrived; and the royal family were listening to the increasing tumult as the harbinger of death,—when all was hushed,—and the door opening a moment after, the national guards entered respectfully, saying they came to save the king;—‘and we will save you too, gentlemen,’ added they, addressing the body-guards, who were in the chamber.
The vagabonds were now pursued in their turn, and driven from room to room, in the midst of their pillage, for they had already begun to ransack that sumptuously furnished palace. From the palace they repaired to the stables, still intent on plunder, and carried away some horses, which were as quickly retaken. Every where they pursued the body-guards, and every where the generous p. 354↵Parisian troops, forgetting their piqued pride and personal animosity, hazarded their lives to save them.—Till, at length, order was perfectly established….