A Celebration of Women Writers

"Journal of the Tower of the Temple, Chapter III." by Cléry,the King's Valet de Chambre; translated by Katherine Prescott Wormeley.
From: The Ruin of a Princess. translated by Katherine Prescott Wormeley. New York: The Lamb Publishing Company, 1912. pp. 175-206

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 175] 


The King's Trial–His Will–The Decree of the Convention condemning the King to Death–Last Meeting with his Family–Leaves the Temple for his Execution.

DECEMBER 14, M. Tronchet had, as the decree permitted, a conference with His Majesty. The same day M. de Malesherbes was brought to the Tower. The king ran forward to meet that respected old man, whom he tenderly pressed in his arms. The former minister burst into tears on seeing his master, whether because he recalled the past years of his reign, or, more probably, because he faced at that moment a virtuous man in the grasp of misfortune. 1

As the king had permission to confer with his counsel in private, I closed the door of his room that he might speak more freely with M. de Malesherbes. A municipal blamed me, ordered the door to be opened, and forbade me to shut it again; I opened the door, but the king was already in the tourelle.

On the 15th, the king received the reply regarding his family, which was, in substance, as follows: the queen and Madame Élisabeth could not communicate with the king during the course of his trial; his children might go to him if he desired it, but on condition that they should not see their mother or their aunt until the trial was over. As soon as it was possible to speak to the king freely, I asked his orders. "You see," he said, "the cruel alternative in which they place me; I cannot resolve to have my children with [Page 176]  me; as for my daughter, it is impossible; as for my son, I feel the grief it would occasion to the queen; I must consent to this fresh sacrifice." His Majesty then ordered me for the second time to have the dauphin's bed sent up to the queen's room, which I did immediately. I kept his linen and his clothes, and every second day I sent up what was necessary as agreed upon with Madame Élisabeth.

On the 16th, at four in the afternoon, came another deputation of four members of the Convention, accompanied by a secretary, a sheriff, and an officer of the Gardes. They brought the king his arraignment, and certain documents on which the accusations were based; most of them found at the Tuileries in a secret closet of His Majesty's apartment, called by the minister Roland as "the iron closet."

The reading of these documents, one hundred and seven in all, lasted from four o'clock till midnight; all were read to and signed by the king, and copies of each were left in his hands. The king was seated at a large table; M. Tronchet beside him, the deputies opposite. His Majesty interrupted the long session by asking the deputies if they would sup; they accepted, and I served them a cold chicken and some fruit in the dining-room. M. Tronchet would take nothing, and remained alone with the king in his room.

A municipal, named Merceraut, then a stone-cutter and lately president of the Commune of Paris, though a porter of sedan chairs at Versailles before the Revolution, was on guard that day in the Tower for the first time. He wore his working-clothes in tatters, with a very old round hat, a leather apron, and his three-coloured scarf. The man affected to stretch himself out in an arm-chair beside the king, who was in a common chair; he thee'd and thou'd, with his hat on his head, all who spoke to him. The members of the Convention were amazed, and while they supped, one of them [Page 177]  asked me several questions as to how the king was treated. I was about to answer when a commissioner told the conventional it was forbidden to speak to me, and that they would give him in the council-chamber all the details he could require. The deputy, fearing no doubt to compromise himself, said no more.

Among the bundles of documents were plans for the Constitution, annotated by the king's own hand, sometimes in ink, sometimes in pencil. There were also police registers in which were denunciations made and signed by the king's own servants; this ingratitude seemed to affect him much; these accusers rendered an account of what occurred in the king's room and the queen's room at the Tuileries in order to give a more truthful air to their calumnies.

From the 14th to the 26th of December, the king saw his counsel regularly. They came at five in the evening and retired at nine. M. de Sèze was added to them. Every morning M. de Malesherbes brought the newspaper to his Majesty with the printed opinions of the deputies relating to his trial. He prepared the work for the evening, and remained with the king for one or two hours. His Majesty deigned to sometimes let me read those opinions; once he asked: "What do you think of that man's opinion?" adding, "I have learned how far the malignancy of men can go; I did not believe that there were such men." His Majesty never went to bed without reading all the different papers, and, in order not to compromise M. de Malesherbes, he took the precaution to burn them himself in the stove in his cabinet.

By this time I had found a favourable moment to speak to Turgy and send news to Madame Élisabeth about the king. The next day he told me that in giving him her napkin after dinner she had slipped in a little note in pin- [Page 178]  pricks asking the king to write her a line himself. The day after, I took the note to Turgy, who brought me the answer inside a ball of cotton, which he threw on my bed as he passed it. His Majesty took great comfort in the success of this means of communicating with his family. The wax-candles which the commissioners gave me came tied up with twine in bundles. As soon as I had twine enough I told the king that we could give greater activity than before to the correspondence, by sending up a part of it to Madame Élisabeth whose room was directly over mine, with its window perpendicularly above that of a little corridor upon which my room opened. During the night the princess could attach letters to the string and lower them down to the passage window. The same means would serve to send answers to the princess, also paper and ink, of which she was deprived. "That is a good project," the king said to me; "we will use it if the other means become impracticable." In point of fact, he soon used it exclusively. He always waited till eight in the evening; I then shut the door of my room and that of the corridor, and went to talk to the commissioners or get them to play cards, which diverted their attention.

After his separation from his family the king refused to go into the garden, and when it was proposed to him to do so he answered: "I cannot resolve to go out alone; walking was only agreeable to me when I enjoyed it with my family." But, in spite of being thus parted from objects so dear to his heart, no complaints or murmurs escaped him; he had already pardoned his oppressors. Each day he gathered in his reading-room the strength that maintained his courage; when he left it he entered the details of a life always uniform yet embellished by him with little traits of kindness. He deigned to treat me as if I were more than his servant; [Page 179]  he treated the municipals who guarded his person as if he had no reason to complain of them; he talked to them, as formerly with his subjects, on matters relating to their condition, their family, their children, the advantages and duties of their profession. Those who listened were astonished at the accuracy of his remarks, at the variety of his knowledge, and at the manner in which it was all classified in his memory. His conversations did not have as their object the distraction of his mind from his troubles; his sensibility was keen and deep, but his resignation rose superior to his sorrows.

On the 19th of December the king said to me while dining: "Fourteen years ago you got up earlier than you did to-day." I understood His Majesty at once. "That was the day my daughter was born," he continued tenderly, "and to-day, her birthday, I am deprived of seeing her!" A few tears rolled from his eyes, and a respectful silence reigned for a moment.

The day for his second appearance before the bar of the Convention was approaching. He had not been able to shave since they took away his razors; he suffered much in consequence, and was obliged to bathe his face in cold water several times a day. He asked me for scissors or a razor; but he was not willing to speak to the municipals about it himself. I took the liberty of remarking to him that if he appeared in his present condition before the Convention the people would see with what barbarity the council of the Commune had acted. "I ought not to try to interest persons in that way in my fate," replied the king; "I will address the commissioners." The following day the Commune decided to return the razors to the king, but for use only in presence of two municipals. 1

During the three days that preceded Christmas, 1792, the [Page 180]  king wrote more than usual. There was then a project of making him stay at the Feuillants for two or three days in order that he might be tried continuously. They had even given me orders to prepare to follow him and to get ready all that he might need; but that plan was changed.

It was on Christmas Day that the king wrote his will. I read it and copied it at the time it was handed over to the council of the Temple; it was written entirely by the king's own hand, with a few erasures. I think I ought to give here this monument, already celebrated, of his innocence and his piety:–


In the name of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This day, twenty-fifth of December, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-two, I, Louis, sixteenth of the name, King of France, being for the last four months shut up with my family in the Tower of the Temple by those who were my subjects, and deprived of all communication whatsoever since the eleventh of the present month with my family; involved moreover in a trial of which it is impossible to forsee the issue, because of the passions of men, and for which no pretext or means can be found in existing laws; having God as the sole witness of my thoughts and the only being to whom I can address myself, I here declare in his presence my last will and sentiments.

I leave my soul to God, my Creator; I pray him to receive it in his mercy; not to judge it according to its own merits, but by those of our Lord Jesus Christ, who offered himself a sacrifice to God, his Father, for us men, however unworthy we may be, and I first of any. [Page 181] 

I die in the union of our Holy Mother, the Catholic, Apostolical, and Roman Church, which derives its powers by an uninterrupted succession from Saint Peter to whom Jesus Christ confided them.

I believe firmly and confess all that is contained in the symbol and the commandments of God and of the Church, the sacraments and the mysteries such as the Catholic Church teaches and has always taught them. I have never pretended to make myself a judge of the different manners of explaining the dogmas that rend the Church of Jesus Christ; but I have relied, and shall always rely, if God gives me life, on the decisions which the ecclesiastical superiors of the holy Catholic Church give and will give in conformity with the discipline of the Church, followed since Jesus Christ.

I pity with all my heart our brothers who may be in error; but I do not pretend to judge them, and I do not love them, one and all, less in Jesus Christ, following what Christian charity teaches.

I pray God to forgive me all my sins; I have scrupulously tried to know them, to detest them, and to humiliate myself in his presence. Not being able to have the ministry of a Catholic priest, I pray God to receive the confession which I have made to him, and, especially, the deep repentance which I feel for having put my name (though against my will) to acts which may have been contrary to the discipline and the belief of the Catholic Church, to which I have always remained sincerely united in heart. I pray God to receive the firm resolution in which I am to employ, if he grants me life, as soon as I can, the ministry of a Catholic priest to confess all my sins and to receive the sacrament of repentance.

I beg all those whom I may have injured through inad- [Page 182]  vertence (for I do not remember to have knowingly injured any one), and those to whom I may have set a bad example or caused offence, to forgive me the wrong they may think that I have done them; I beg all those who have charity to unite their prayers to mine to obtain of God the pardon of my sins.

I pardon with all my heart those who have made themselves my enemies without my having given them any cause, and I pray God to pardon them, as well as those who, from false zeal or misdirected zeal, have done me much harm.

I commend to God my wife and my children, my sister, my aunts, my brothers, and all those who are attached to me by ties of blood, or by any other manner whatsoever. I pray God especially to cast the eyes of his mercy on my wife, my children, and my sister, who have suffered so long with me; to support them by his grace if they lose me, and for as long as they remain in this perishable world.

I commend my children to my wife; I have never doubted her maternal tenderness for them; I entreat her, above all, to make good Christians and honest beings of them, to teach them to regard the grandeurs of this world (if they are condemned to experience them) as dangerous and perishable benefits, and to turn their eyes towards the only solid and durable glory of eternity. I beg my sister to continue her tenderness to my children, and to stand to them in place of a mother should they have the misfortune to lose theirs.

I beg my wife to forgive me for all the ills she has suffered for me, and the griefs I may have caused her in the course of our union; just as she may be sure that I keep nothing against her should she think she has anything for which to blame herself.

I request very earnestly of my children, after what they owe to God who comes before all, to remain united with each other, submissive and obedient to their mother and grateful

[Facing Page]

The Dauphin and Madame Royale

[Page 183]  for all the care and trouble she gives herself for them, and in memory of me. I beg them to regard my sister as a second mother.

I beg my son, if he has the misfortune to become king, to reflect that he owes himself wholly to the welfare of his co-citizens; that he ought to forget all hatred and all resentment, especially that which relates to the misfortunes and griefs that I have borne; that he cannot make the happiness of the people except by reigning according to the laws; but, at the same time, that a king cannot make the laws respected and do the good which is in his heart to do unless he has the necessary authority; otherwise, being fettered in his operations and inspiring no respect, he is more harmful than useful.

I commend to my son to take care of all the persons who have been attached to me, so far as the circumstances in which he may be placed will give him the ability; to remember that this is a sacred debt contracted by me towards the children and relatives of those who have perished for me, and towards those who are unfortunate for my sake.

I know that there are several persons among those who were attached to me who have not acted towards me as they should have done, and have even shown me ingratitude; but I pardon them (often in moments of trouble and excitement persons are not masters of themselves), and I beg my son, should the occasion come to him, to remember only their misfortunes.

I wish that I could manifest here my gratitude to those who have shown me a veritable and disinterested attachment; if, on the one hand, I have keenly felt the ingratitude and disloyalty of persons to whom I had never shown anything but kindness (to them, or their relatives, or to the friends of both), I have had the consolation of seeing the [Page 184]  gratuitous attachment and interest that many persons have shown me; I beg those persons to receive my thanks. In the condition in which things now are, I should fear to compromise them if I spoke more explicitly, but I specially request my son to seek occasions of being able to recognize them.

Nevertheless, I think I should calumniate the sentiments of the nation if I did not commend openly to my son MM. De Chamilly and Huë, whose true attachment to me led them to shut themselves up in this sad place, and who came so near being also the unfortunate victims of it. I likewise recommend to him Cléry, whose care I have every reason to praise since he has been with me; as it is he who will remain with me to the end, I beg the gentlemen of the Commune to give him my clothes, my books, my watch, my purse, and whatever little property has been deposited with the council of the Commune.

I pardon once more, very willingly, those who guard me for the ill-treatment and the annoyances they have thought it their duty to practice towards me. I have met with some compassionate and feeling souls; may they enjoy in their hearts the tranquillity that their way of thinking will give them.

I beg MM. de Malesherbes, Tronchet, and de Sèze to receive here my thanks and the expression of my feelings for the cares and trouble they have taken for me.

I end by declaring before God, and about to appear before him, that I do not reproach myself with any of the crimes laid to my charge.

Done, in duplicate, at the Tower of the Temple, the twenty-fifth day of December, one thousand, seven hundred and ninety-two.

LOUIS. [Page 185] 

On the 26th of December, the king was taken for the second time before the bar of the Convention. I had warned the queen, lest the noise of the drums and the movements of the troops should frighten her. His Majesty started at ten in the morning and returned at five in the afternoon. His counsel came that evening just as the king was finishing dinner; he asked them to take some refreshment; M. de Sèze was the only one who accepted the offer. The king thanked him for the pains he had taken in making his speech.

The next day His Majesty deigned to give me himself his printed defence, after asking the commissioners if he could do so without impropriety. Commissioner Vincent, a contractor for buildings, who had done the royal family all the services in his power, undertook to carry a copy secretly to the queen. He took advantage of the moment when the king thanked him for this little service to ask for the gift of something that had belonged to him. His Majesty unfastened his cravat and gave it to him. At another time he gave his gloves to a municipal, who desired to have them from the same motive. Even to the eyes of several of his guards, his remains were already sacred.

On the 1st of January, 1793, I went to the bedside of the king and asked him in a low voice to be allowed to offer my earnest wishes for the end of his troubles. "I receive those wishes," he said affectionately, holding out his hand, which I kissed and wet with my tears. As soon as he rose, he begged a municipal to go from him to inquire news of his family and give them his wishes for the new year. The municipals were much moved by the tone in which these words, so heart-rending in view of the king's situation, were said. "Why," said one of them to me after the king had gone into his cabinet, "why does he not ask to see his family? Now that the examinations are over there would [Page 186]  be no difficulty; but it is to the Convention that he ought to make the request." The municipal who had gone to see the queen returned and announced to the king that his family thanked him for his good wishes and sent him their own. "What a New-Year's day!" exclaimed His Majesty.

That same evening I took the liberty of telling him I was almost certain of the consent of the Convention if he asked to be permitted to see his family. "In a few days," he replied, "they will not refuse me that consolation; I must wait."

The nearer the day for the verdict approached,–if one can use that term [jugement ] for the proceedings the king was made to undergo,–the more my fears and anguish increased. I asked a hundred questions of the municipals, and everything I heard added to my terror. My wife came to see me every week, and gave me an exact account of what was going on in Paris. Public opinion seemed to be still favourable to the king; it was shown in a startling way at the Théâtre Français and at the Vaudeville. At the first, they were playing "L'Ami des Lois;" all the allusions to the trial of the king were seized and applauded vehemently. At the Vaudeville, one of the personages in "La Chaste Suzanne" says to the two old men, "How can you be accusers and judges both?" The audience insisted on the repetition of that speech many times. I gave the king a copy of "L'Ami des Lois." I often told him, and I also almost brought myself to believe it, that the members of the Convention, being opposed to one another, could pronounce only for the penalty of imprisonment or transportation. "May they have that moderation for my family," said the king; "it is only for them that I fear."

Certain persons sent me word through my wife that a considerable sum of money, deposited with M. Pariseau, editor [Page 187]  of the "Feuille du jour," was at the king's disposal; they requested me to ask his orders and say that the money would be paid to M. de Malesherbes if the king wished it. "Thank those persons much, for me" he replied. "I cannot accept their generous offer, it would be to expose them." I begged him at least to mention the matter to M. de Malesherbes, and he promised to do so.

The correspondence between Their Majesties continued. The king, informed of Madame Royale's illness, was very uneasy for some days. The queen, after much entreaty, obtained permission for M. Brunier, her children's physician, to come to the Temple; this seemed to tranquillize him.

On the 16th of January, at six in the evening, four municipals entered the king's chamber and read to him a decree of the Commune, the substance of which was "that he be guarded night and day by four municipals; two of whom were to pass the night beside his bed." The king asked if his sentence had been pronounced. One of them (Du Roure) began by sitting down in the arm-chair of the king, who was standing; he answered that he did not trouble himself to know what went on in the Convention, but he had heard some one say they were still calling the votes.

A few moments later M. de Malesherbes arrived and told the king that the call of the votes [l'appel nominal ] was not yet ended. While he was there the chimney of a room in the palace of the Temple took fire. A considerable crowd of people entered the courtyard. A commissioner came in alarm to tell M. de Malesherbes that he must go away immediately. M. de Malesherbes withdrew, after promising the king he would return to inform him of his sentence. "Why are you so alarmed?" I asked the commissioner. "They have set fire to the Temple," he said, "in order to rescue Capet in the tumult; but I have surrounded the walls with a strong [Page 188]  guard." The fire was soon out, and it was shown to have been a mere accident.

Thursday, January 17th, M. de Malesherbes came at nine in the morning; I went to meet him. "All is lost," he said; "the king is condemned to death." The king, who saw him coming, rose to receive him. The minister threw himself at his feet, his sobs choked him, and it was some time before he could speak. The king raised him and pressed him against his bosom with affection. M. de Malesherbes told him of his condemnation to death; the king made no movement that showed either surprise or emotion; he seemed to be affected only by the grief of the old man, and tried to comfort him.

M. de Malesherbes gave an account to the king of the voting. Denouncers, relatives, personal enemies, laymen, ecclesiastics, absent deputies, all had voted, and, in spite of this violation of the forms, those who had voted for death–some as a political measure, others on pretence that the king was guilty–carried it by a majority of only five votes. Several deputies voted for death with respite [sursis]. A second vote was taken on this latter point, and it is to be presumed that the votes of those who wished to retard the commission of the regicide, joined to the votes of those who were against the death penalty, would have formed a majority. But, at the doors of the Convention, assassins devoted to the Duc d'Orléans and to the deputation of the Paris Commune, terrified by their cries and threatened with their knives whoever refused to listen to them; and whether it was stupor, indifference, or fear, no one dared to undertake anything further to save the king.

His Majesty obtained permission to see M. de Malesherbes in private. He took him into his cabinet, shut the door, and was alone with him for about an hour. His Majesty then [Page 189]  conducted him to the entrance door, and asked him to come early that evening, and not to abandon him in his last moments. "The sorrow of that good old man has deeply affected me," said the king, returning to the room where I waited for him.

From the moment of M. de Malesherbes' entrance a great trembling had seized me; nevertheless I prepared what was necessary for the king to shave himself. He himself put the soap on his face, standing before me while I held the basin. Forced to control my grief, I had not yet dared to raise my eyes to my unfortunate master; by chance I looked at him and my tears flowed in spite of myself. I do not know if the state in which I was reminded the king of his position, but a sudden paleness overspread his face; his nose and his ears blanched suddenly. At that sight my knees gave way under me; the king, who noticed my fainting state, took me by both hands, pressed them hard, and said in a low voice "Come, more courage." He was watched; a mute reply showed him my affection; he seemed to feel it; his face recovered its tone, he went on shaving tranquilly, and then I dressed him.

His Majesty remained in his chamber till dinner-time reading or walking up and down. In the evening I saw him go towards his cabinet, and I followed him, under pretext that he might need my services. "Have you read the report of my sentence?" asked the king. "Ah, Sire!" I said, "let us hope for a respite. M. de Malesherbes thinks it cannot be refused." "I seek for no hope," replied the king; "but I am much grieved that M. D'Orléans, my relative, should have voted for my death. Read that list." He gave me the list of the call of the House [appel nominal ] which he held in his hand. "The public are murmuring loudly," I said to him. "Dumouriez is in Paris; they say he is the bearer of [Page 190]  a request from his army against the trial that has just taken place. The people revolt against the infamous conduct of the Duc d'Orléans. There is a rumour that the ambassadors of the foreign Powers are to assemble and go before the Convention. They say that the members are in fear of a popular uprising." "I should be very sorry if it took place," said the king; "there would be more victims. I do not fear death," he added, "but I cannot contemplate without a shudder the cruel fate that I leave behind me for my family, for the queen, for my unfortunate children!–and those faithful servants who never abandoned me, those old men who have no other means of subsistence than the modest pensions that I gave them, who will help them? I see the people given over to anarchy, becoming the victim of all the factions, crimes succeeding one another, perpetual dissensions rending France!" Then after a short silence: "O my God! is that the price I must receive for all my sacrifices? Did I not do all to procure the happiness of Frenchmen?" As he said those words he clasped my hand. Filled with a sacred respect I watered his with my tears. I was obliged to leave him in that state.

The king waited vainly all that evening for M. de Malesherbes. At night he asked me if he had come. I had asked the same question of the commissioners, and they answered no.

Wednesday, 18th, the king, hearing nothing of M. de Malesherbes, became very uneasy. An old "Mercure de France" falling into his hands, he there read a riddle which he gave me to guess. I tried in vain to make it out. "What! you cannot find it out?" he said; "yet it is very applicable to me at this moment. The word is Sacrifice." He ordered me to look in the library for the volume of the History of England that contained an account of the death of Charles I. [Page 191]  On this occasion, I discovered that the king had read two hundred and fifty volumes since his imprisonment in the Temple. That evening I took the liberty of saying to him that he could not be deprived of his counsel, except by a decree of the Convention, and that he ought to ask for their admission to the Tower. "I will wait till to-morrow," replied the king.

Saturday, 19th, at nine in the morning, a municipal named Gobeau entered, a paper in his hand. He was accompanied by the porter of the Tower, named Mathey, who carried an inkstand. The municipal told the king he had orders to make an inventory of all his property and effects. His Majesty left me with him and retired into the tourelle. Then, under pretence of the inventory, the municipal began to rummage with the most minute care, to be certain, he said, that no weapon or dangerous instrument had been hidden in the king's room. Presently nothing was left to search but a little bureau in which were papers. The king was obliged to come and open all the drawers, to unfold and show every paper one after the other. There were three rolls of coin at the back of one drawer; they wished to examine them. "That money," said the king, "is not mine; it belongs to M. de Malesherbes." I had prepared it to return to him. The three rolls contained three thousand francs in gold; on the paper that wrapped each roll the king had written with his own hand, "Belonging to M. de Malesherbes."

While the same search was made in the tourelle the king returned to his chamber and wanted to warm himself. The porter, Mathey, was at that moment before the fire, holding his coat-tails up with his back to the fire. The king could not warm himself on either side of the man, and the insolent porter not moving, the king told him with some [Page 192]  asperity to stand a little aside. Mathey withdrew, and the municipals went out soon after, having failed in their search.

That evening the king told the commissioners to ask the Commune the reason why his counsel were denied admission to the Tower, saying that he desired at least to consult with M. de Malesherbes. They promised to speak of it, but one of them said they were forbidden to take any communication from the king to the council of the Commune unless it was written and signed by his own hand. "Then why," replied the king, "have I been left for two days in ignorance of that change?" He wrote the request and gave it to the municipals; but they did not take it to the Commune until the next day. The king asked to see his counsel freely, and complained of the decree which ordered the municipals to keep him in sight day and night. "They ought to feel," he wrote to the Commune, "that in the position I am in it is very painful not to have the tranquillity necessary to enable me to collect myself."

Sunday, January 20, the king, as soon as he rose, inquired of the municipals if they had taken his request to the Commune. They assured him that they had taken it immediately. Towards ten o'clock I entered the king's room; he said to me: "M. de Malesherbes has not yet come." "Sire," I replied, "I have just learned that he has been here several times, but his entrance to the Tower is always refused." "I shall know the reason of that refusal," replied the king, "when the Commune decides upon my letter." He walked about his room and read and wrote, occupying himself thus the whole morning.

Two o'clock had just struck when the door was suddenly opened to admit the Executive council. Twelve or fifteen persons came in at once: Garat, minister of justice; Lebrun, [Page 193]  minister of foreign affairs; Grouville, secretary of the council; the president and the prosecuting-syndic of the department; the mayor and public prosecutor of the Commune; the president and prosecuting attorney of the criminal tribunal.

Santerre, who advanced before the others, said to me: "Announce the Executive council." The king, who heard the noise of the arrival, had risen and made a few steps forward; but on seeing this procession, he stopped in the doorway between his room and the antechamber, in a most noble and imposing attitude. I was beside him. Garat, his hat on his head, spoke and said: "Louis, the National Convention has ordered the Provisional Executive council to make known to you its decree of the 15th, 16th, 17th, 19th and 20th of January, 1793; the secretary of the council will now read it to you." Then Grouville, the secretary, unfolded the decree and read it in a weak and trembling voice:–

Decree of the National Convention of the 15th to the 20th of January.

ARTICLE I. The National Convention declares Louis Capet last King of the French, guilty of conspiracy against the liberty of the Nation, and of criminal attempts against the general safety of the State.

ARTICLE II. The National Convention declares that Louis Capet shall suffer the penalty of death.

ARTICLE III. The National Convention declares null the act of Louis Capet brought to the bar of the Convention by his counsel, called an appeal to the nation from the judgment rendered against him by the Convention; it forbids all persons from taking it up, under pain of being tried and punished as guilty of criminal attempts against the safety of the Republic. [Page 194] 

ARTICLE IV. The Provisional Executive council will notify the present decree in the course of this day to Louis Capet, and take the necessary police and safety measures to carry out the execution within twenty-four hours from the time of its notification; rendering an account of all to the National Convention immediately after the execution.

During the reading of the decree not the slightest change appeared on the face of the king. I noticed only that in the first Article, when the word "conspiracy" was uttered, a smile of indignation came upon his lips; but at the words "suffer the penalty of death," a heavenly look which he cast on all those who surrounded him told them that death was without terrors for innocence.

The king made a step towards Grouville, the secretary, took the decree from his hand, folded it, drew his portfolio from his pocket, and put the paper into it. Then, taking another paper from the same portfolio, he said to Garat: "Monsieur the minister of justice, I beg you to send this letter at once to the National Convention." The minister seeming to hesitate, the king added, "I will read it to you," and without any change of tone he read what follows:–

"I ask for a delay of three days that I may prepare myself to appear before God. I demand for the same purpose to be able to see freely the person I shall name to the commissioners of the Commune, and that the said person shall be protected from all anxiety about the act of charity which he will do for me.

"I ask to be delivered from the incessant watching which the council of the Commune established recently.

"I ask to be able, during that interval, to see my family when I ask it, and without witnesses.

"I much desire that the National Convention shall at once concern itself with the fate of my family, and that it [Page 195]  will permit them to retire freely wherever they may wish to go.

"I commend to the beneficence of the Nation all the persons who have been attached to me. Many have put their whole fortunes into their offices, and now, receiving no salaries, they must be in need; the same must also be the case with those who had only their salaries to support them; and among the pensionaries, there are many old men, women, and children who have nothing but their pensions to live upon.

"Done in the Tower of the Temple, January 20, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three. LOUIS."

Garat took the king's letter and assured him that he would take it to the Convention. As he was leaving, the king drew another paper from his pocket and said: "Monsieur, if the Convention grants my request for the person I desire, here is his address." That address, in another handwriting than that of the king 1 was as follows: "Monsieur Edgeworth de Firmont, No. 483 rue du Bac." The king then walked a few steps back; the minister and those who accompanied him went away.

His majesty paced for a moment up and down his room; I stood leaning against the door as if deprived of all feeling. The king came to me and said, "Cléry, ask for my dinner." A few moments later, two municipals entered the dining-room; they read me an order which was as follows: "Louis is not to have knife or fork at his meals; a knife is to be given to his valet de chambre to cut his bread and meat in the presence of two commissioners, and the knife will then be removed." The two municipals told me to inform the king. I refused.

On entering the dining-room the king saw the basket in [Page 196]  which was the queen's dinner. He asked why they had made his family wait an hour; adding that the delay might have made them anxious. He sat down to table. "I have no knife," he said. The municipal Minier informed His Majesty of the order of the Commune. "Do they think me so cowardly as to take my own life?" said the king. "They impute to me crimes, but I am innocent and I can die without fear; I would that my death might make the welfare of Frenchmen and avert from them the evils I foresee." A great silence fell. The king cut his beef with a spoon, and broke his bread; he ate little, and his dinner lasted only a few minutes.

I was in my room, given over to frightful grief, when, about six in the evening, Garat returned to the Tower. I went to announce to the king the arrival of the minister of justice. Santerre, who preceded him, approached His Majesty and said in a low voice, with a smiling air, "Here is the Executive council." The minister, advancing, told the king that he had taken his letter to the Convention, which charged him to deliver the following answer: "Louis is at liberty to call for any minister of worship that he thinks proper; and to see his family freely and without witnesses; the nation, always grand and always just, will concern itself with the fate of his family; the creditors of his house will be granted just indemnities; as to the three days' respite, the National Convention passes to the order of the day."

The king listened to the reading of this reply without making any observation; he returned to his room, and said to me: "I thought, from Santerre's air, that the delay was granted." A young municipal, named Boston, seeing the king speak to me came nearer. "You seem to feel what has happened to me," the king said to him; "receive my thanks." The man, surprised, did not know what to answer, [Page 197]  and I was myself amazed at the expressions of His Majesty, for this municipal, not twenty-two years of age, with a sweet and interesting face, had said a few moments earlier: "I asked to come to the Temple that I might see the grimaces he will make to-morrow" (meaning the king). "And I, too," said Merceraut, the stone-cutter of whom I have already spoken. "Everybody refused to come; but I would not give up this day for a great deal of money." Such were the vile and ferocious men whom the Commune of Paris appointed to guard the king in his last moments.

For four days the king had not seen his counsel; those of the commissioners who had showed some feeling for his misfortunes, avoided coming near him; of all the subjects whose father he had been, of all the Frenchmen whom he had loaded with benefits, one single servant alone remained to him as confidant of his sorrows.

After the reading of the answer of the Convention, the commissioners addressed the minister of justice and asked him how the king was to see his family. "In private," replied Garat; "that is the intention of the Convention." The municipals then told him of the decree of the Commune ordering them not to lose sight of the king "day or night." It was agreed between the Commissioners and the minister that in order to combine these two opposing decrees, the king should receive his family in the dining-room where he could be seen through the glass partition, but that the door should be shut so that he could not be heard.

The king here recalled the minister of justice to ask if he had notified M. de Firmont. Garat replied that he had brought him in his carriage, that he was then in the council-room, and would come up immediately. His Majesty now, in the presence of Garat, gave to a municipal, named Beaudrais, who was talking with the minister, the sum of 3000 [Page 198]  francs in gold, requesting him to return it to M. de Malesherbes to whom it belonged. The municipal promised to do so; but he took the money to the council-room, and it was never returned to M. de Malesherbes. M. de Firmont appeared; the king took him into the tourelle and closed the door. Garat having gone, no one remained in his Majesty's apartment but the four municipals. At eight o'clock the king came out of his cabinet and told the commissioners to take him to his family. They replied that that could not be done, but they would bring his family to him if he desired it. "Very well," said the king, "but I can, at least, see them alone in my room." "No," replied one of them, "we have arranged with the minister of justice that you shall see them in the dining-room." "You have heard the decree of the Convention," said His Majesty, "which permits me to see them without witnesses." "That is true," said the municipal, "you will be in private, the door will be shut, but we shall have our eyes upon you through the glass partition." "Bring down my family," said the king.

During this interval, His Majesty went to the dining-room; I followed him. I drew the table to one side and placed the chairs at the farther end of the room to give more space. "Bring some water and a glass," said the king. There was then on the table a bottle of iced water; I brought only a glass and placed it beside the water-bottle. "Bring water that is not iced," said the king. "If the queen drank the other it might make her ill. Tell M. de Firmont," added His Majesty, "not to leave my cabinet; I fear the sight of him would make my family too unhappy."

The commissioner who was sent to fetch the royal family was absent a quarter of an hour; during that time the king went back to his cabinet, returning several times to the entrance-door, with signs of the deepest emotion. [Page 199] 

At half-past eight the door opened; the queen appeared first, holding her son by the hand; then Madame Royale and Madame Élisabeth; they ran to the arms of the king. A gloomy silence reigned for several minutes, interrupted only by sobs. The queen made a movement to draw the king into his room. "No," he said "let us go into the dining-room, I can see you only there." They went there, and I closed the door, which was of glass, behind them. The king sat down, the queen on his left, Madame Élisabeth on his right, Madame Royale nearly opposite to him, and the little prince between his knees. All were bending towards him and held him half embraced. This scene of sorrow lasted seven quarters of an hour, during which it was impossible to hear anything; we could see only that after each sentence of the king the sobs of the princesses redoubled, lasting some minutes; then the king would resume what he was saying. It was easy to judge from their motions that the king himself was the first to tell them of his condemnation.

At a quarter past ten the king rose first; they all followed him; I opened the door; the queen held the king by the right arm; Their Majesties each gave a hand to the dauphin; Madame Royale on the left clasped the king's body; Madame Élisabeth, on the same side but a little behind the rest, had caught the left arm of her brother. They made a few steps towards the entrance, uttering the most sorrowful moans. "I assure you," said the king, "that I will see you to-morrow at eight o'clock." "You promise us?" they all cried. "Yes, I promise it." "Why not at seven o'clock?" said the queen. "Well, then, yes, at seven o'clock," replied the king. "Adieu–" He uttered that "adieu" in so expressive a manner that the sobs redoubled. Madame Royale fell fainting at the king's feet, which she clasped; I raised her and helped Madame Élisabeth to hold her. The king, [Page 200]  wishing to put an end to this heart-rending scene, gave them all a most tender embrace, and then had the strength to tear himself from their arms. "Adieu–adieu," he said, and re-entered his chamber.

The princesses went up to theirs. I wished to go too to support Madame Royale; the municipals stopped me on the second stair and forced me to go back. Though the two doors were shut, we continued to hear the sobs and moans of the princesses on the staircase. The king rejoined his confessor in the tourelle.

Half an hour later he came out and I served the supper. The king ate little, but with appetite.

After supper, His Majesty having returned to his cabinet in the tourelle, his confessor came out an instant later and asked the commissioners to take him to the council-room. This was for the purpose of obtaining the sacerdotal robes, and other things necessary to say mass on the following morning. M. de Firmont obtained with difficulty the granting of this request. It was to the church of the Capuchins in the Marais, near the hôtel de Soubise, which had lately been made a parish church, that they sent for the articles required for divine service.

Returning from the council-room, M. de Firmont went back to the king. They both re-entered the tourelle, where they remained until half an hour after midnight. Then I undressed the king, and as I was about to roll his hair, he said to me, "It is not worth while." When I closed the curtains after he was in bed, he said, "Cléry, wake me at five o'clock."

He was hardly in bed before a deep sleep took possession of his senses; he slept until five o'clock without waking. M. de Firmont, whom His Majesty had urged to take a little rest, threw himself on my bed, and I passed the night on a [Page 201]  chair in the king's room, praying God to preserve both his strength and his courage.

I heard five o'clock strike on the city clocks and I lit the fire. At the noise I made, the king awoke and said, opening his curtain, "Is it five o'clock?" "Sire, it has struck five on several of the city clocks, but not here." The fire being lighted I went to his bedside. "I have slept well," he said; "I needed it, for yesterday tired me very much. Where is M. de Firmont?" "On my bed." "And you, where did you sleep?" "In this chair." "I am sorry," said the king. "Ah Sire!" I exclaimed, "how can I think of myself at such a moment?" He held out his hand to me and pressed mine with affection.

I dressed the king and did his hair; while dressing, he took from his watch a seal, put it in the pocket of his waistcoat, and laid the watch upon the chimney-piece; then, taking from his finger a ring, which he looked at many times, he put it in the same pocket where the seal was. He changed his shirt, put on a white waistcoat which he had worn the night before, and I helped him on with his coat. He took from his pockets his portfolio, his eye-glass, his snuff-box, and some other articles; he laid them with his purse on the chimney-piece; all this in silence and before the municipals. His toilet completed, the king told me to inform M. de Firmont. I went to call him; he was already up, and he followed His Majesty into the tourelle.

I then placed a bureau in the middle of the room and prepared it, like an altar, for the mass. At two o'clock in the morning all the necessary articles had been brought. I took into my own room the priest's robe, and then, when everything was ready, I went to inform the king. He asked me if I could serve the mass. I answered yes, but that I did not know all the responses by heart. He had a book in his [Page 202]  hand which he opened, found the place of the mass, and gave it to me, taking another book for himself.

During this time the priest robed himself. I had placed an arm-chair before the altar and a large cushion on the floor for His Majesty. The king made me take away the cushion, and went himself into his cabinet to fetch another, smaller and covered with horsehair, which he used daily to say his prayers. As soon as the priest entered, the municipals retired into the antechamber, and I closed one half of the door.

Mass began at six o'clock. During the august ceremony a great silence reigned. The king, always on his knees, listened to the mass with deep absorption, in a most noble attitude. His Majesty took the communion. After mass, he went into his cabinet, and the priest into my room to remove his sacerdotal garments.

I siezed that moment to enter the king's cabinet. He took me by both hands and said in a touching voice: "Cléry, I am satisfied with your services." "Ah, Sire!" I cried, throwing myself at his feet. "Why can I not die to satisfy your murderers and save a life so precious to good Frenchmen! Hope, Sire,–they dare not strike you." "Death does not alarm me," he replied. "I am quite prepared; but you," he continued, "do not expose yourself; I shall ask that you be kept near my son; give him all your care in this dreadful place; remind him, tell him often, how I have grieved for the misfortunes he must bear: some day he may be able to reward your zeal." "Ah! my master, my king, if the most absolute devotion, if my zeal and my care have been agreeable to you, the only reward I ask is to receive your blessing–do not refuse it to the last Frenchman who remains beside you."

I was already at his feet, holding one of his hands; in [Page 203]  that position he granted my prayer and gave me his blessing; then he raised me, and pressing me to his bosom said: "Give it also to all who are attached to me; tell Turgy I am content with him. Now, go back," he added; "give no cause for complaint against you." Then, calling me back and taking a paper from the table, he said, "See, here is a letter Pétion wrote me at the time of your entrance to the Temple. It may be useful to you for remaining here." I caught his hand again and kissed it, and went out. "Adieu," he said to me again, "Adieu."

I returned to my chamber, where I found M. de Firmont praying on his knees beside my bed. "What a prince!" he said to me as he rose; "with what resignation, with what courage he looks at death! he was as tranquil as if he were hearing mass in his palace in the midst of his Court." "I have just received the most affecting farewell," I said to him. "He has deigned to promise me that he will ask to have me remain in the Tower to wait on his son. Monsieur, I beg of you to remind him, for I shall not have the happiness to speak to him in private again." "Be at ease about that," replied M. de Firmont as he turned to rejoin His Majesty.

At seven o'clock the king came out of his cabinet and called me; he took me into the embrasure of the window and said: "You will give this seal to my son–and this ring to the queen; tell her that I part from it with pain and only at the last moment. This little packet incloses the hair of all my family; you will give her that also. Say to the queen, to my dear children, to my sister, that although I promised to see them this morning, I wish to spare them the pain of so cruel a separation.–How much it costs me to go without receiving their last embraces!" He wiped away a few tears; then he added, with a most sorrowful accent, [Page 204]  "I charge you to take them my farewell." He immediately re-entered his cabinet.

The municipals who were close at hand had heard His Majesty, and had seen him give me the different articles which I still held in my hands. They told me to give them up to them; but one of their number proposed to leave them in my hands for a decision of the council about them, and this advice prevailed. 1

A quarter of an hour later the king came out of his cabinet. "Ask," he said to me, "if I can have scissors;" and he went in again. I made the request of the commissioners. "Do you know what he wants to do with them?" I said I did not. "You must let us know." I knocked at the door of the cabinet. The king came out. A municipal who followed me said to him: "You have asked for scissors, but before we take your request to the council we must know what you wish to do with them." His Majesty replied, "I wish Cléry to cut my hair." The municipals retired; one of them went down to the council-chamber, where, after half an hour's deliberation, they refused the scissors. The municipals returned and announced that decision to the king. "I should not have touched the scissors," said His Majesty; "I should have requested Cléry to cut my hair in your presence; inquire again, monsieur; I beg you to take charge of my request." The municipal returned to the council, which persisted in its refusal.

It was then that I was told to be ready to accompany the king and undress him on the scaffold. At this announcement I was seized with terror; but collecting all my strength I was prepared to render this last duty to my master, to whom this service done by the executioner would be repugnant, when another municipal came to tell me that I was [Page 205]  not to go; adding, "The executioner is good enough for him."

Paris was under arms from five o'clock in the morning; nothing was heard outside but the beating of the générale, the rattle of arms, the tramp of horses, the movement of cannon, which they placed and displaced incessantly. All this echoed through the Tower.

At nine o'clock the noise increased, the gates opened with a crash; Santerre, accompanied by seven or eight municipals, entered at the head of ten gendarmes, whom he ranged in two lines. At this disturbance the king came out of his cabinet. "Have you come to fetch me?" he said to Santerre "Yes." "I ask you for one minute." The king entered his cabinet and came out again immediately, his confessor with him. He held his will in his hand, and, addressing a municipal, Jacques Roux by name, a priest who had taken the oath, who was the man nearest to him, he said: "I beg you to give this paper to the queen, to my wife." "It is not my business," replied the priest, refusing to take the document. "I am here to conduct you to the scaffold." His Majesty then addressed Gobau, another municipal. "Give this paper, I beg you, to my wife. You can read it; it contains dispositions which I desire that the Commune should know." Gobau took the document.

I was behind the king, near the chimney; he turned to me and I offered him his overcoat. "I have no need of it," he said, "give me only my hat." I gave it to him. His hand touched mine, which he pressed for the last time. "Messieurs," he said, addressing the municipals, "I desire that Cléry should remain near my son, who is accustomed to his care; I hope that the Commune will accede to my request." Then, looking at Santerre, he said, "Let us go."

Those were the last words that he said in his apartment. [Page 206]  At the top of the staircase he met Mathey, porter of the Tower, and said to him: "I was a little hasty to you day before yesterday; do not bear me ill-will." Mathey made no answer; he even affected to turn away when the king spoke to him.

I remained alone in the room, my heart wrung with sorrow, and almost without sensation. The drums and the trumpets announced that His Majesty had left the Tower. An hour later salvos of artillery and cries of Vive la nation! Vive la république! were heard. The best of kings was no more!


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


[Page 175]

1 Lamoignon de Malesherbes, aged 78, was guillotined just before the 9th thermidor (July 27, 1794), the end of the Reign of Terror.–TR.

[Page 179]

1 See Appendix III.

[Page 195]

1 Doubtless that of Madame Élisabeth.–TR.

[Page 204]

1 See Appendix V.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom