The Trial of Louis XVI was the criminal prosecution carried out by the Nation Convention against Louis Bourbon, the deposed King of France, from December 11, 1792, to January 15, 1793, during the French Revolution. With 33 charges brought against him, which included high treason and crimes against the State, the final verdict was 361 of the Deputies voted for Louis’s immediate death, and 288 of the Deputies voted against death. At the end, Louis XVI was sentenced to be executed by guillotine, which was carried out on January 21, 1793. The Jacobin Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, Robespierre’s supporter, was the main advocate for the King execution; he spoke at the Trial of Louis XVI, "As for me I see no middle ground: this man must reign or die! He oppressed a free nation; he declared himself its enemy; he abused the laws: he must die to assure the repose of the people…"
Background to the Trial of Louis XVI
Right after the event of August 10, 1792, when the Tuileries, the palace where the King and his family resided, was attacked by the insurrectionary Paris Commune, Louis XVI had been arrested and sent to the Temple, which was an ancient fortress in Paris that was used as a prison. On September 21, the National Assembly had declared France to be a Republic and abolished the Monarchy. The Girondins had been in favor of keeping the deposed king under arrest, both as a hostage and a guarantee for the future. However, more radical members, such as the Jacobins and the Paris Commune, had argued for Louis’s immediate execution. The legal background of many of the deputies had made it difficult for a great number of them to accept an execution without the due process of law of some sort, and it was voted that the deposed monarch be tried before the National Convention, the organ that housed the representatives of the sovereign people.
Summary of the Trial
The Trial of Louis XVI began on December 11, 1792. That day, among crowded and silent streets, the deposed King was brought from the Temple to stand before the Convention and hear his indictment, an accusation of high treason and crimes against the State. Louis made his entrance into the Convention chamber then: "Citizen Louis Capet," said Barère de Vieuzac, the Convention’s president, "the Nation accuses you, the National Assembly decreed on December 3 that you would be judged by it; on December 6, it decided that you would be brought to the dock. We shall read you the act giving the offences with which you are charged…you attacked the sovereignty of the people by suspending the assemblies of its representatives…At the federation of July 14 you took an oath which you have not kept…An agreement was made at Pillnitz, on 24 July, between Leopold of Austria and Frederick William of Brandenburg, who pledged themselves to restore to France the throne of the absolute monarchy; and you were silent on that agreement up to the time when it was known to all Europe…
On December 26, his counsel, Raymond de Sèze, delivered Louis’s response to the charges, with the assistance of François Tronchet and Malesherbes. On January 15, 1793, the Convention, composed of 721 deputies, voted on the verdict. Given overwhelming evidence of Louis’s collusion with the foreign invaders, the verdict was a foregone conclusion – with 693 deputies voting guilty, none for acquittal, with 23 abstaining. 361 of the Deputies voted for Louis’s immediate execution. 288 of the Deputies voted against death and for some other alternative, mainly some means of imprisonment or exile.
On Monday, January 21, 1793, when Louis mounted the scaffold, he appeared dignified and resigned. He delivered a short speech in which he reasserted his innocence and he pardoned those responsible for his death. He declared himself willing to die and prayed that the people of France would be spared a similar fate. Stripped of all titles and honorifics by the Republican Government, citizen Louis Capet was beheaded by guillotine on the Place de la Révolution. The executioner, Charles Henri Sanson, testified that the former King had bravely met his fate.
Execution of Louis XVI (Video)