Monday, January 21, 2008

Death of Louis XVI

January 21, Saint Agnes day, is the dies natalis of the Roi-Martyr, when two hundred and fourteen years ago, Louis XVI was taken from the Temple prison to be guillotined. The previous night he had said farewell to his family, and their reaction was so hysterical that he decided not to see them again in the morning, for fear of faltering in his own courage. His fifteen year old daughter fainted. He rode to his death in a coach accompanied by the Irish priest, Abbé Edgeworth de Firmont, who had been Madame Elisabeth's confessor and who had refused the oath to the government. Together they recited the seven penitential psalms.

Arriving at the scaffold, the executioner tried to bind Louis' hands behind his back but he resisted, not wanting to be treated like a criminal who might try to run away. Abbé Edgeworth, fearing the king might be struck, convinced him to submit to the indignity by saying that it was one more way in which he resembled his Master. Louis raised his eyes to the sky as if seeing beyond this world and then with hands bound he ascended the scaffold unassisted. The drummers drowned out his last words to his people.

As the blade fell, some pranksters let the air out of a pig's bladder which sounded like a shriek, in order to mock the king at the moment of his death. Some observers later reported that Abbé Edgeworth cried out,"Ascend to heaven, son of St Louis!" although the priest said he did not remember, being overwhelmed. Many ran forward with handkerchiefs to dip in the king's blood, as the executioner raised the head aloft, making obscene gestures. Some of the handkerchiefs were later preserved as holy relics.

The king's last words were:

“I die innocent of all the crimes imputed to me. I pardon the authors of my death, and pray God that the blood you are about to shed will never fall upon France.”

The forgiveness of Louis XVI.

His widow.

John Zmirak on the King's death.

The Vow of Louis XVI.

Memoirs of Abbé Edgeworth

Attempt to Canonize Louis XVI.



Simon ( said...

I am curious, and thought you would know. Has his cause, or Mare Antoinette's, ever actually been introduced? Also, I had never heard the pig's bladder story --- is there a source I can look into? And finally (questions, questions!), what is the last picture in the post? I assume that is Louis in the hat?

Thanks! Also, this is out of order, but Belmont Abbey College holds a great many of Abram Ryan's papers.

julygirl said...

And the blood bath that France suffered after Louis’ murder was followed by the blood shed of millions all across the continent of Europe due to Napoleon. A tragic time.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you for the great questions, Simon! Marie-Antoinette's cause has never been introduced in any way, shape or form, as far as I know. The Queen's reputation has been damaged almost beyond repair. It is difficult for people to overlook her fleeting youthful frivolities, which one would think would be overshadowed by her later commitment to her duties. And of course, there is the Fersen myth, which keeps reappearing in pop novels, films and bios, in spite of the serious lack of proof that any liaison occurred. Even if it had occurred, our faith teaches us that martyrdom washes away past sins (especially the martyrdom of someone who went to confession and received Communion before death.) As Maxime de la Rocheterie said of Marie-Antoinette: "She was not a saint until she became a martyr."

As for Louis XVI, over the years there have been attempts to introduce his cause, but they never went anywhere. Perhaps someday they will. I always remind people that it took an extraordinary saint like Joan of Arc 500 years to get canonized. It will happen in God's time, if it is meant to be.

I will attach a link to the original blog post about an attempt to canonize Louis.

I am pretty sure that the pig bladder thing was in Vincent Cronin's "Louis and Antoinette," although I do not have a copy on hand to check the reference.

The last picture is of Louis XVI (on throne with hat) bestowing a chivalric order upon his cousin Orleans, the one who later cast the deciding vote in favor of Louis' death.

I would love to learn more about Fr. Ryan. I am glad his papers are preserved at the college.

Yes, Julygirl, the king's death was the beginning of many sorrows.

J.K. Baltzersen said...


This was indeed a tragic event in history.

36 years later, though, on the same day, a King to be was born.

Terry Nelson said...

If the revolution ever ends, I believe the King will be canonized.

julygirl said...

Since my historic acumen is limited please enlighten me regarding your reference to the birth of a 'King to be'36 years after Louis XVI went to the guillotine.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Mr. Balterzen, yes, king Oscar II of Sweden and Norway was born.

You are so right, Terry. I think that the culmination of the on-going Revolution was the destruction if the sacred liturgy. Perhaps now the tide is beginning to turn.

Janne said...

King Oscar II was my great-great grandfather. My hubby, children and me find it kind of amusing, really, although it has not affected our life at all.

My great-great grandmother was a dancer at the Swedish royal ballet, and was one of his many mistresses. Later in life, he had many of his mistresses moved to Norway, to get rid of them.

Your blog is wonderful for we who love Marie Antoinette and her family.

elena maria vidal said...

Interesting, Janne! Thank you for commenting!