Sunday, January 20, 2008

Abbé Edgeworth

Abbé Edgeworth de Firmont was the last confessor of Louis XVI and accompanied the king to the guillotine, at risk of his own life. It was on this day 215 years ago that the brave Irish priest visited the king in the Temple prison to help him prepare for death, as is told in the novel Trianon. He had previously been confessor to the king's sister, Madame Elisabeth, and in exile he became the spiritual director of Louis' daughter, Madame Royale, who was at his side when he died in 1807. According to Thomas Carlyle's The French Revolution:
As the clocks strike ten, behold the Place de la Revolution, once Place de Louis Quinze: the Guillotine, mounted near the old Pedestal where once stood the Statue of that Louis! Far round, all bristles with cannons and armed men: spectators crowding in the rear; d'Orleans Egalite there in cabriolet. Swift messengers, hoquetons, speed to the Townhall, every three minutes: near by is the Convention sitting,--vengeful for Lepelletier. Heedless of all, Louis reads his Prayers of the Dying; not till five minutes yet has he finished; then the Carriage opens. What temper he is in? Ten different witnesses will give ten different accounts of it. He is in the collision of all tempers; arrived now at the black Mahlstrom and descent of Death: in sorrow, in indignation, in resignation struggling to be resigned. "Take care of M. Edgeworth," he straitly charges the Lieutenant who is sitting with them: then they two descend.

The drums are beating: "Taisez-vous, Silence!" he cries 'in a terrible voice, d'une voix terrible.' He mounts the scaffold, not without delay; he is in puce coat, breeches of grey, white stockings. He strips off the coat; stands disclosed in a sleeve-waistcoat of white flannel. The Executioners approach to bind him: he spurns, resists; Abbe Edgeworth has to remind him how the Saviour, in whom men trust, submitted to be bound. His hands are tied, his head bare; the fatal moment is come. He advances to the edge of the Scaffold, 'his face very red,' and says: "Frenchmen, I die innocent: it is from the Scaffold and near appearing before God that I tell you so. I pardon my enemies; I desire that France--" A General on horseback, Santerre or another, prances out with uplifted hand: "Tambours!" The drums drown the voice. "Executioners do your duty!" The Executioners, desperate lest themselves be murdered (for Santerre and his Armed Ranks will strike, if they do not), seize the hapless Louis: six of them desperate, him singly desperate, struggling there; and bind him to their plank. Abbe Edgeworth, stooping, bespeaks him: "Son of Saint Louis, ascend to Heaven." The Axe clanks down; a King's Life is shorn away. It is Monday the 21st of January 1793. He was aged Thirty-eight years four months and twenty-eight days. (Newspapers, Municipal Records, &c. &c. (in Hist. Parl. xxiii. 298-349) Deux Amis (ix. 369-373), Mercier (Nouveau Paris, iii. 3-8).)

A first hand account by the executioner Sanson later confirmed the testimony of other eye-witnesses of the King's courage at the moment of death.

1 comment:

May said...

This priest's story is so amazing. It seems singularly appropriate and Providential that a man whose own family had suffered religious persecution and left estates, position and country for the Faith should have been the one to console the roi-martyr in his last moments. And he certainly repaid magnificently the debt owed to the country and royal house that had granted his family refuge.