Author Archives: Madeline Finnen

Death of Louis XVII; comte de Provence become pretender to French throne (Louis XVIII)

After the execution in 1793 of Louis XVI in the midst of the French Revolution, his son Louis-Charles became Louis XVII at age 7 and the young “King of France” in the eyes of the royalists. However, Louis XVII had been imprisoned by revolutionaries and died from illness at age 10 in 1795. At this time France was a republic, therefore the monarchy was not acknowledged as legitimate and to non-royalists Louis XVII was never king at all (Shusterman, 245).

According to Comte de Provence, Louis XVI’s brother, Louis XVII had reigned as king from prison, in fact he served as his nephew’s regent. Therefore, to Comte de Provence he reigned under the name of Louis XVIII after his nephew’s death (Shusterman, 245). Louis XVIII was labeled as “the pretender” to the French throne before and after Louis XVII’s death. Being “the pretender” meant that Louis XVIII declared himself as king even before the death of his nephew. Considering the young age of Louis XVII, Comte de Provence saw it necessary to take over the duties of king as the young king’s regent. These claims are often seen as confusing and “delusional” considering the monarchy was not in order, but were supported by royalists nevertheless (Shusterman, 245).

Louis XVIII had been out of Paris for 25 years because of the revolution and finally returned in 1814 (Dwyer and McPhee, 193). Louis XVIII officially reigned as king during the Bourbon Monarchy when the constitutional monarchy was restored and the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte allowed him to take the throne as long as he agreed to a constitution (Shusterman, 252).

Dwyer, Philip G, and Peter McPhee. The French Revolution and Napoleon: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge, Inc., 2002.

Shusterman, Noah. The French Revolution: Faith, Desire, and Politics. New York: Routledge, Inc., 2014.

Massacre on the Champ de Mars

Unsure of how to deal with the growing revolution and seeking protection, Louis XVI and the royal family escaped Paris in the Flight to Varennes. Upon a forced return, the National Assembly decided the king would remain involved with the government if he signed a constitution. On July 17, 1791 the Cordeliers (a radical, populist group) created a petition calling for the abdication of Louis XVI. Parisians supported this because they disagreed with the constitution allowing the king to remain in power, for they no longer trusted Louis XVI after his flight. An estimated 50,000 people appeared at the plain of Champ de Mars insisting the king give up his right to rule (Dwyer & McPhee, 57).

Lafayette, commander of the National Guard and supported by both the royal family and the people of Paris, noticed that the crowd was becoming violent and called in the National Guard. When the soldiers arrived they reported the crowd as “peaceful people on their Sunday promenades” (Shusterman, 98). The unarmed petitioners were shocked and unprepared when the soldiers began to fire at them. The origins of the order to fire remains unclear, however most suspicions lie with Lafayette (Dwyer & McPhee, 55).

The National Guard’s shooting resulted in around 50 casualties and several injuries (Shusterman, 98). The significance of this massacre does not lie within its victims, but in the ideas it solidified. A divide in the rich and poor, the shooters and the victims, suggested a foreboding civil war in France (Shusterman, 101). The Massacre on the Champ de Mars marked the first massacre on the Third Estate and only furthered Parisian motivations to revolt, and to do so violently (Dwyer & McPhee, 56).

Dwyer, Philip G, and Peter McPhee. The French Revolution and Napoleon: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge, Inc., 2002.

Shusterman, Noah. The French Revolution: Faith, Desire, and Politics. New York: Routledge, Inc., 2014.