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: