The Trial of Louis XVI

Hello, and welcome to Revolutions.

When the National Convention convened in September 1792, it was ostensibly meeting for one single purpose: write a new constitution for France. But writing that constitution was absolutely not the first priority for the Convention delegates when they arrived. No, the first priority was deciding what to do about the King. 

As we saw last time, the Convention voted in its very first session to abolish the monarchy. But that did not solve the problem of what to do with Louis, the man who had been held captive since the insurrection of August 10. For the first four months of the Convention, the debate over the King dominated the agenda. And that debate would help sharpen the political lines that would divide revolutionary France in the bloody months to come.

Now, luckily for the delegates of the Convention, they were allowed to turn the fate of the King into a factional struggle for power without fear of foreign invasion. I’m going to double back on the warfront next week, because today I want to focus exclusively on the death of the King. But just know that after the miraculous victory at Valmy turned the allied armies around, general Dumouriez put the French army in motion, invaded the Austrian Netherlands, and successfully overran the territory. We’ll talk about all the details next week. But all that good news from the front meant that there was plenty of room for the Girondins and the Mountain to try to destroy each other. 

After the insurrection of August 10, Louis and his family had been transferred to the Temple, a fortress on the outskirts of Paris, so called because it had been built by the Knights Templar back in the 1200s. Though he was mostly well treated, his guards were encouraged to treat him with studious contempt and to knock him off his lofty royal perch they started referring to him as Citizen Louis Capet, assigning him the family name of Hugh Capet, the long, long ago founder of the Capetian dynasty, of which the Bourbons were a descendant branch. Louis hated it

Once the Tuileries Palace was vacated, a hastily organized committee of representatives from the Insurrectionary Commune, the various Paris sections and the soon to be defunct Legislative Assembly started combing through the royal apartments, collecting every piece of paper they could find, searching for definitive proof of the treason they all knew Louis Capet had been engaged in. This committee began a preliminary survey of the King’s papers, quickly finding evidence that Louis had not only been in regular contact with the émigrés, but that he had sent them money to boot. The bulk of the work of sifting through the papers, though, would be left for the coming National Convention. 

Now, as we saw last time, after the Convention voted unanimously to abolish the monarchy, the Girondins then hijacked the agenda for the rest of that first week in an attempt to tear down Robespierre and his allies in the Mountain for their alleged role in the September Massacres. To help change the subject, Robespierre’s friends in the Commune announced that they had just discovered evidence in the seized documents that Louis had been making regular payments to close to 200 delegates of the Legislative Assembly, no doubt bribes meant to muddy the pure waters of revolutionary government. The Mountain used this revelation to demand an end to the scurrilous attacks on Robespierre so that the Convention could move on to the far more important business of the king’s fate, which they further argued ought to be swift execution for treason

But the vast majority of the Convention delegates were not ready to move that swiftly, and a Committee was appointed to take over the seized evidence, sift through the contents and report back. As the Girondins had already placed their men in all the key administrative posts of the Convention, this committee was, not surprisingly, chaired and staffed by Girondins allies. The Evidence Committee then came back with a report on October 4 announcing that after an initial scan of the documents, it was clear that the King had been up to some shady stuff and we’ll get back to you with a more detailed report later. No deadline was set for that second, more detailed report.

And so right away, the battle lines between the Mountain and the Girondins was drawn. Both sides agreed that the King was guilty of treason. Everyone in the Convention believed the King was guilty of treason. I mean, it was practically a prerequisite to getting elected to the Convention in the first place. So the real dividing line was about what to do next

The Mountain, as we’ve just seen, wanted to execute the King for his crimes without further delay. For the Revolution to live, the King must die. The Girondins, however, were already now doing everything in their power to stall, delay and avoid executing the King. Now, there was never any coherent or universally held rationale for sparing the King among the Girondins, just a vague sense that the Revolution would have more options if Louis was kept alive. Mostly, though, it seems like it came down to the fact that the Convention was fast ascending into a power struggle between the Girondins and the Mountain. And if the Mountain said, hot, the Girondins said cold. If the Mountain set up, the Girondins said, down. So with the Mountain saying, kill the King now, the Girondins had to say, hold on, let’s talk about this

The first big battle fought along these lines was whether the King deserved a trial. Did he deserve a chance to respond to the accusations against him, see the evidence, publicly defend himself? Sticking to their hardline, Robespierre and the Mountain said: No. The King had already faced his trial on August 10, and he had lost. All that was left for the Convention to do was dole out the punishment. 

The Girondins, meanwhile, argued that some kind of trial was necessary, if for no other reason than to make it look like what we’re up to is legally legit. As I said last time, well over half the delegates were lawyers, and they were not at all comfortable with the arbitrary justice advocated by the Mountain. So they were sympathetic to the argument for holding a trial. 

But there was a huge problem. There was no precedent for trying a king. Strictly speaking, you couldn’t try a king. The Constitution of 1791 was explicit that the King had sovereign immunity and was thus sacred and inviolable. So though the delegates wanted to maintain the rule of law, it was clear that somebody was going to have to do some pretty fancy thinking to get around the insurmountable hurdles to bringing Louis to trial. And even if you cleared those hurdles, who would even have jurisdiction? Who would prosecute? Who would sit in judgment? 

To settle these questions, the Convention appointed a lawyer from Toulouse named Jean-Baptiste Mailhe to chair a committee to investigate what procedures and rationales might guide the Convention. Mailhe was one of those reelected members from the Legislative Assembly, and though he was on good terms with the Girondins, he was independent enough to avoid getting swept up in the coming purges. 

In order to figure this thing out, Mailhe then spent the rest of October doing some pretty fancy thinking. It was while the Convention waited for Mailhe’s report that most of the stuff we talked about last week played out: the attacks on Danton’s Bookkeeping and then the further attacks on Robespierre and Marat and the rest of the Mountain. This round of fighting culminated with Robespierre’s speech on November 5. That was the speech we ended with last week, when he asked in fierce exasperation:

Do you want a revolution without a revolution?” 

In response to Robespierre’s rhetorical triumph, the Girondins pushed their evidence committee to make their second report. And hopefully that would keep up the momentum for a trial, rather than allowing Robespierre to lead the Convention into killing the King and killing him now. But that second report only served to undercut the Girondins case further. It was vague, it revealed nothing new, and just kind of made it look like the Committee hadn’t actually been doing much of anything to dig up final proof of Louis’s crimes. 

But just as the delegates were starting to get restless, the Mailhe Committee came back with its report, which put the case for trial back on track. Mailhe argued that Louis’s immunity had been given to him by the people, who were the true sovereigns of France and could thus be revoked by them at will. As the Convention represented the sovereign will of the people, they could go ahead and revoke the King’s alleged immunity at any time. So that got them over that hurdle. 

Mailhe’s report then went on to outline the way forward. Louis obviously couldn’t be tried by a regular court of law, but he could be tried by the Convention itself. So he advised the delegates to drop a list of accusations, present those accusations to the King, allow Louis to see the evidence against him, and have an attorney appointed to help him build a defense. Then, after the King had presented that defense, the Convention should hold an open roll call vote on his guilt. 

The structure of Mailhe’s proposed trial was, of course, totally improvised and had no basis in any existing criminal code. But to most of the delegates, it felt legal-ish enough to get the job done. But with this proposal now on the table, two big arguments against holding a trial emerged, though they were proposed for very different reasons. 

The first came from a guy who was basically a closet royalist. He said, look, there is a clause in the Constitution of 1791 that deals with high crimes committed by the King. There were, in fact, three such crimes, explicitly enumerated: refusing to swear to uphold the Constitution, leading a foreign army against France and fleeing the country. And even if Louis were found guilty of any one of those, you could just skip to the bottom and see that the prescribed punishment was forced abdication, period. That was it. And Louis had already been forced to abdicate, so what is a trial going to accomplish? It was then, and remains now, a very fair point. 

To respond to this argument, the Mountain sent down the youngest member of the Convention to make his debut performance in the French Revolution, 25 year old Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, soon enough to be known as the Angel of Death, for reasons that will become clear in the episodes to come. 

Saint-Just had been born in 1767 to a retired cavalry officer. His father died when he was ten, but his mother managed to scrape together enough money to send her young son off to a good school. But as Saint-Just grew up, a few things became clear. He was super smart, super handsome, and super egotistical. He was flippant, arrogant, and just did not believe the rules applied to him. Basically the epitome of the obnoxious teenager, every adult utterly despises. When he was 19 and possibly heartbroken over losing a woman to another man, Saint-Just stole all his mother’s silver and two pistols and disappeared off to Paris. The police managed to track him down, and he was stuck in a reformatory for six months. After getting out, he briefly studied law, but it didn’t take. Instead, he decided that he was a literary genius. In 1789, he published a long satirical poem that brazenly attacked just about every key institution of the Ancien Régime: the monarchy, the church, the aristocracy. And those sustained attacks were broken up only by scenes of graphic pornography, because, of course, they were. 

It turned out, though, that Saint-Just was not a literary genius. When sensors caught wind of the poem and set to work tracking down copies to confiscate, they had trouble finding any because nobody actually bought the thing. But when the revolution hit, Saint-Just found his calling. Unemployed in 1790, he joined his local National Guard unit, showed an amazing capacity for enforcing military discipline, and was soon promoted to lieutenant colonel, despite being just 23 years old. During this period, he took up a correspondence, first with Camille Desmoulins, now a major literary celebrity, and Maximilien Robespierre, the incorruptible leader of the Jacobins. Saint-Just lavished praise on Robespierre, and Robespierre reciprocated with a kind of long distance mentorship. Saint-Just was still too young to fully participate in the real action in Paris, so he wrote a book called The Spirit of the Revolution, that reflected on the new political principles that ought to now govern France. But it too, went totally unread. 

Saint-Just’s stymied ambitions, though, suddenly caught a break with the insurrection of August 10, because he cleared the minimum age requirement to stand for election to the National Convention by one month. Thanks to his prominence in the local National Guard when he was elected he was elected by far the youngest member of the new assembly. 

Saint-Just’s maiden speech on November 13 was an immediate sensation. In an era that loved great oratory, it was apparently a masterwork. Even Brissot admired the performance. In a blistering speech, Saint-Just condemned to this man, Louis Capet, not as a criminal or even a traitor, because treason implies betrayal of your own people and Louis is a stranger among us. He is an enemy alien in our midst. Legal minutiae was irrelevant. Specific charges were irrelevant. Louis’s real crime was simply being King. Saint-Just concluded with prophetic words that he himself would soon come to fully and truly internalize:

No man can reign innocently. There should be no trial. Louis was guilty and so Louis must die. 

Just a few days after this electrifying performance, an even more electrifying revelation hit the Convention. Interior Minister Roland came forward on November 20 and revealed that a secret safe had been discovered in the Tuileries Palace. Roland had opened it and gone through the 600 plus documents contained therein and found some pretty damning stuff, written proof in the King’s own hand that Louis had repeatedly tried to obstruct the National Assembly and then the Legislative Assembly, that he had encouraged his ministers to lie, engaged in shadow diplomacy that contradicted his public statements, that he encouraged emigration and, in his own words, hated the Revolution. Contained also in this safe was the shocking proof that the great Mirabeau, first revolutionary hero interned in the Panthéon, had in fact been a bought and paid for Royal stooge

After railing against Roland for rooting around in the safe alone to hide or plant God knows what, the Mountain asserted that the documents in the secret safe only further proved that a trial was unnecessary. But the Convention delegates were still clearly leaning towards a trial on the basis of Mailhe’s recommendations. Robespierre made one last attempt to talk them out of it by arguing that if Louis was presumed innocent, as he must be for a trial to work, then what does that say about the Revolution? But the Girondins carried the day. The Convention voted on December 6 to establish a committee to draw up a formal list of accusations. The King would have his day in court

When that list came back, it took the form of a revolutionary history of events from May 1789 to August 1792. Louis had frivolously bankrupted the nation, called the Estates-General to bail him out and then offered mere token reforms in return. When the Third Estate resisted his will, he ordered troops to bar their meetings and declared a Royal session, which led to the Tennis Court Oath. Then the King trampled the tricolor cockade and started massing troops in Paris, which led to the fall of the Bastille. He later delayed the promulgation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and through it all he bribed delegates and conspired with counterrevolutionaries. Then, after the Legislative Assembly convened, he obstructed the will of the people by continuously vetoing their legislation. He then tried to make a run for it in the flight to Varennes with the plain intention of returning at the head of an Austrian army. When that failed, he encouraged the Austrians to invade on their own. And then, on the morning of August 10, the King had massed an armed force inside the Tuileries Palace to launch a violent coup. This accusation was complete. The convention ordered Louis to appear the next day to respond to the charges. 

Louis was escorted down to the Ménage on the morning of December the 11th, and he was brought before a chamber overflowing with spectators who had lined up all night for a chance to get inside and see the show. After reading the accusations through in full, one of the Convention secretaries then went through it all point by point and demanded Louis respond to each charge. 

Though he was hearing all this for the first time, the deposed king had an answer for everything. “What law did I break when I ordered the royal session? Moving troops around is my right as king. The story about the trample cockade is a lie. I only delayed the promulgation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man because I had some revisions I wanted made. The Constitution of 1791 specifically gave me the right to veto legislation, so how could exercising that veto be a crime? And as for the events of August 10, the idea that I gathered troops to launch some kind of attack is absurd. Paris had gone into revolt. An armed mob was on the way. As the legal executive, I gathered my legally appointed bodyguards to defend the legal constitution.” 

But though Louis had an answer for everything, some of his answers were obviously lies, as when he asserted that the flight of Varennes had been a harmless family vacation that had just been wildly misinterpreted. He also routinely blamed bad advice from bad ministers rather than accepting responsibility for his own decisions. But the most maddening bit came when Louis started being handed the various pieces of paper that proved this or that charge, papers often written in his own hand. Louis refused to acknowledge that he had drafted them. I mean, he had. Of course he had. But Louis was going to make them prove it, which, if it was possible at all, was going to take forever. So throwing a giant wrench into things, Louis just kept blandly saying that, “I’ve never seen this piece of paper before in my life.” It drove everyone crazy. 

When it was all over, Louis asked for a lawyer to help him prepare a defense – a request that was, for the moment, ignored. Instead, the King was dismissed back to the Temple at about 6.30, ending the first of only two times that he would appear before the convention in the whole four month ordeal of his trial. The next day, a delegation came over to the Temple to tell the King that they had voted to allow him counsel, and in the end, he wound up defended by three lawyers, one of whom Louis requested. The other two volunteered. 

When Louis huddled with his team, there were essentially three strategies open. He could go the full King Charles and refuse to acknowledge the competency of the Convention to try him. He could go in the opposite direction and beg for mercy. Or he could accept the legitimacy of the trial and fight it out. 

Given his performance on December 11, it was clear the direction Louis wanted to go. He intended to present himself as a wrongly accused constitutional monarch. The framework of his defense would be that he could not be held responsible for anything that had happened before he accepted the Constitution of 1791. And since his acceptance, he had broken no laws, committed no crimes, and done nothing to break his oath to uphold that constitution. 

Meanwhile, back in the Convention, the delegates decided to bypass the legal conundrum created by Louis’s refusal to recognize his own handwriting. They simply voted on December 15 that all the documents were authentic. Problem solved. Now, this solution was, of course, wildly at odds with some of the most cherished legal doctrines held by the lawyer delegates. I mean, you’re not supposed to be able to just declare evidence authentic. But they were all now getting a lesson in just how quickly expedience can come to trump principles. No one, it seems, can reign innocently. 

The Convention then dumped the evidence in the King’s lap on December 17 and said, “Look it over and have your defense ready by December 26.” Surveying the mountains of paperwork, the King’s lawyers pointed out that this was clearly not giving them anything resembling adequate time to prepare a defense, which was another one of those cherished legal doctrines. But the Convention ignored the complaint, so Louis’s lawyers basically didn’t sleep for a week and a half as they tried to cobble together some kind of coherent defense. 

On December the 26th, Louis once again made the coach ride to a packed Ménage to present that defense. The session began at 9:00 a.m., and after a few preliminaries, the youngest of Louis’s lawyers took the floor. The hours-long oration he delivered covered a lot of the ground we’ve already discussed, so there’s no need to go into too much detail here. But he said, “You know, whatever the King’s crime, the only punishment prescribed in the Constitution of 1791 is forced abdication, and that has already happened. Also, this whole proceeding is illegal and has flagrantly ignored rights granted to the accused, rules of evidence, access to witnesses. I mean, everything we say, we believe in.” 

The meat of the oration, though, was a royalist spin on the history of the revolution. Louis had voluntarily given up his powers after calling the Estates-General. Nothing he had done since accepting the Constitution of 1791 had been illegal. Vetoing legislation, that wasn’t a crime. That was his explicit right and, frankly, his duty. Sure, he had sent money to friends in need, but that just showed that he was a generous man. And as for this business about August 10. I mean, my God, how much can you twist that story? Louis was going to march out at the head of 900 Swiss Guards and seize control of Paris. Are you joking? Louis was merely trying to defend himself as the constitutional sovereign from an illegally armed mob!

When the lawyer finished up, the King was given the last word. Louis reiterated his horror at being blamed for spilling the blood of his people, which he had never intended and certainly never ordered. Then he said simply that his conscience reproached him for nothing. In his heart, Louis truly believed that he was innocent. And then the King was escorted back to the Temple. He would not appear before the Convention again. 

Back in the Convention, the Mountain called for an immediate vote. Saint-Just came down and argued that whoever Louis the man was, whatever his version of the story was, we need to kill the King to cement the foundation of the republican revolution. Forget about the man. Focus on the symbolism. But the Convention was clearly wavering about what its next move ought to be. And that’s when the Girondins drew the next great battle line in the sand, when they proposed an appeal to the people. 

The gist of the appeal was that the Convention’s ruling ought to be ratified in the tens of thousands of primary assemblies across the nation. The logic of the appeal, as presented by the Girondins was simple. The Convention was deliberating under the dangerous eye of the Paris radicals, and their final verdict couldn’t help but reflect the influence of that dangerous eye. For the true will of the nation to be known, the question must be put to the nation. 

The Mountain, of course, went crazy. Robespierre led the opposition by saying that this has nothing to do with high minded Republicanism or taking the pulse of the nation. This is a naked stall tactic. It will take months just to get the primary assemblies together, and then for them to make an informed decision, they’ll need to see all the evidence, which will take forever. I mean, you got your trial, you made your accusation. The King has made his defense. What more do we need? The faction from the Girondins is just trying to get Louis off the hook. And don’t think that we don’t see this all for what it really is

For the next two weeks, the Convention raged back and forth over the appeal to the people. By the first week of January, though, the majority of the delegates were exhausted from the debate. It was clear that this was as much about the Girondins and the Mountain taking shots at each other as it was deciding the fate of the King. So that exhausted majority cut through the bickering, and a set of decisive roll call votes was scheduled to begin January 14

After even more wrangling, the questions that those decisive votes would answer were laid down. First, is Louis guilty? Yes or no? Second, will there be an appeal to the people? Yes or no? Third, what should the King’s punishment be? This last was not a yes or no question, which, as we’ll see in a second, added even more confusion to the proceedings. 

Now, the first vote was easy. Louis was guilty. Everyone believed that. That had been decided before the trial. So on that first roll call on the evening of January 14, 693 delegates voted yes, 26 voted some qualified version of yes, and no one voted no. Louis was guilty

That led to the second vote on the appeal to the people. And this was a real test of strength between the Girondins and the Mountain. It took all night to get through the role, as delegates now wanted to explain themselves and their votes for the record. But when it was all said and done, 283 voted for the appeal and 424 voted against. After not having its way for months, the Mountain suddenly won an utterly decisive victory over the Girondins. And this vote is indeed a key bit of proof that the Girondins were not a coherent party at all, because many of the men assumed to be in the Girondin inner circle broke ranks and voted against the appeal, and all for their very own particular reasons. 

After that all night session, the Convention adjourned and came back on January 16 to start the final vote. What would the King’s punishment be? But the very first guy to vote, Jean-Baptiste Mailhe, as it turned out, said, “I vote for death, but I believe the execution should be delayed.” This set off an agitated flutter through the Convention because it meant that if enough delegates backed this delay amendment, they would all have to take another vote on whether to delay the execution, if execution was indeed the verdict. 

Now, the vote on punishment took even longer than the other two votes, as every delegate now really super wanted to be on the record about why they were voting the way they were voting. When Robespierre came forward to vote for death, even though he was a notorious opponent of capital punishment, he justified his vote by saying,

I do not recognize a humanity that massacres the people and pardons despots.”

As dawn approached, the voting remained extraordinarily tight. It was basically a race to see if death without qualification could hit the 361 votes needed for an outright majority. It wasn’t until the very last departmental delegation voted that death without reservation received its 361st vote. 

In all the exhausted chaos of the voting, though, there were questions about the final tallies. And so it wasn’t until January 18 that the final vote was announced. 28 delegates had abstained. 319 voted for some punishment other than death, mostly imprisonment or exile. Twelve voted for death with a reprieve. 26 voted for the so-called Mailhe amendment: death with a delayed execution. But the necessary 361 votes for death without reservation still stood, so execution it would be

But then, oh, God, the votes for death with a reprieve and the Mailhe amendment forced a fourth and final final vote on January 19: would Louis be granted a reprieve? This time, things moved quite a bit quicker. 310 said yes reprieve. 380 said no reprieve. And that was finally that. At 3:00 a.m., on January 20, the Convention approved its proclamation, announcing the votes and saying that Louis was sentenced to death and that he would face his punishment within 24 hours. The Convention had just spent four months debating his fate, and there would be no further delays. 

Now, Louis had known since the unofficial tally came through on January 17 that he was a dead man, and he started making preparations. He requested that he’d be allowed a priest to come and pray with him and give him his last rights, a request that was granted. He also asked for his copy of David Hume’s History of England so he could study up on Charles I, just about the only other man in history who could possibly know what Louis was going through. He spent his final night with his family and even managed to get a few hours sleep. 

At 8:00 a.m., on the morning of January 21, 1793, the executioner of Paris escorted King Louis XVI into a waiting carriage. The carriage then embarked on a slow and deliberate journey from the Temple to the Place de la Révolution, formerly known as the Place de la Louis XV, and now known as the Place de la Concorde. To prevent anything from even considering possibly, maybe going wrong, soldiers were lined up for deep the entire route. The gates and walls of Paris were heavily fortified, and every Section was ordered to have guards in place everywhere. In all, something like 80,000 men were underarms that day. Nothing went wrong

The carriage arrived at the Place de la Révolution. At about 10:00 a.m., 20,000 Parisians were crammed in for the most unprecedented execution in the history of France. Carpenters had erected a scaffold near the center of the square, facing the Champs-Élysées, and the machine – the guillotine – sat silently atop the scaffold, blade poised. The executioners attempted to strip Louis of his overclothes, but the King shook them off and with great dignity, took them off himself, and he climbed the scaffold. Upon reaching the top, he spoke his final words. “I die innocent”, he said. “I pardon my enemies and hope that my blood will be useful to the French, that it will appease God’s anger.” But before he could say anymore, the general in charge of the day’s events ordered the drummers to start up and cut the King off. The executioner then laid Louis on a plank, stuck his head through the fatal hole of the guillotine, and then zip, thud, the end. The King is dead. Long live the Revolution

Louis XVI was not a bad man. He was not a tyrant. He wasn’t even a particularly bad King. As I mentioned way back when, had Louis lived in less tumultuous times, he probably would have gone down in history as a perfectly forgettable placeholder. Liked but not loved, certainly not hated. But he lived in very tumultuous times, and so the characteristics that would have made him forgettable, sort of a benevolent cluelessness, left him utterly unable to handle the tidal wave that crashed down on Versailles in 1789. Nothing he did caused the French Revolution. The pieces were already in place when he showed up. And as we saw through the early episode, his ministry made numerous attempts to patch the ship before it sank. But Louis just didn’t have the spine to do what needed to be done. 

Now, Charles I’s great sin was inflexibility, just maddening and damning inflexibility. I mean, my God, Charles, nobody wanted to kill you. Louis XVI’s great sin was over flexibility. The slightest pushback and he bent whichever way you wanted him to bend. He could have forced through all those judicial and administrative reforms his ministers were pushing for back in the 1770s and 1780s. And had he stuck to his guns and had their back, maybe things would have turned out different. But any time things got rough, Louis put his guns down. This running indecisiveness made a mess of things once the Revolution got going. One minute he was embracing the Revolution, the next minute he was rejecting it, and he was tragically prone to taking the wrong advice at any given moment. He was soft when he should have been hard, hard when he should have been soft. 

I think the most revealing incident was that Royal session that was finally held after the drama of the Tennis Court Oath. That session was supposed to be about offering an olive branch to the Third Estate, and Louis instead listened to his arch conservative brothers and made it about waving the sword in all of their faces. Then, when the Third Estate delegates openly defied his order to disperse, he said, well, let them stay. I mean, Louis was a really bad crisis manager in the middle of what can only be described as one of the greatest crises in the history of the world. There was just no consistency at the center, and so the whole thing spun wildly out of control. 

Did Louis XVI caused the French Revolution? No, he did not. Did he make it damn hard to keep under control with all his mixed signals and hypocrisies and vacillations? Yes. Yes, he did. And they killed him for it. 

Next week, we will double back a bit and cover the news from the war front, which, as I said, had given the National Convention the space it needed to focus on killing Louis. And then we will move forward towards the spring of 1793, when the bitter struggles between the Girondins and the Mountain will soon lead to yet another popular insurrection.

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