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Jacques de Molay, tu es vengé!

January 21, 1793: Louis XVI is executed.

Louis XVI’s trial, which began in December of 1792, came to an end when (despite the king’s best efforts) the National Convention unanimously affirmed his guilt and convicted him of treason. In some ways he was lucky to have been tried in the first place; most Jacobins in the Convention opposed granting the king a trial, including Maximilien Robespierre, who claimed that to put Louis on trial would mean undermining the entire Revolution itself:

Louis cannot be judged, he has already been judged. He has been condemned, or else the republic is not blameless. To suggest putting Louis XVI on trial, in whatever way, is a step back towards royal and constitutional despotism; it is a counter-revolutionary idea; because it puts the Revolution itself in the dock. After all, if Louis can still be put on trial, Louis can be acquitted; he might be innocent. Or rather, he is presumed to be until found guilty. But if Louis is acquitted, if Louis can be presumed innocent, what becomes of the Revolution?

But the trial took place anyway, even if it ended the same way. It seemed as though regicide, even during a revolution, was not an undertaking many were willing to plunge straight into - at least not without a trial first. Of the 721 voters who were to determine the king’s fate, 334 voted for imprisonment versus 387 for death, and this relatively narrow margin decided that the pitiable former king (stripped of his titles and now called “citizen Louis Capet”) would become the first and last King of France to be executed by his own people. His overthrow and death meant the end, at least temporarily, of the Capetian Dynasty, which had ruled France continuously since the 10th century. 

On the morning of January 21, 1793, “Louis Capet” was taken to Revolution Square, which had once been named after his own grandfather, Louis XV. According to eyewitness accounts, the king declared his innocence up until his beheading by guillotine, whereupon one of his executioners lifted the king’s freshly severed head by the hair and displayed it to the crowd, who burst into cheers at the sight. The crowd’s cheers and the artillery salute that rang out in celebration were supposedly loud enough to reach the ears of the surviving members of Louis’ family, imprisoned in Paris’ Temple fortress. The same year, Louis’ widow, Marie Antoinette, was executed by guillotine as well.  

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