The king is dead

On a cold January day in 1793, a middle-aged man, dressed in none of his former splendor, made his way to the guillotine. They brought him by carriage through hostile crowds to the former Place de Louis XV, named for his grandfather, but recently renamed Place de la Révolution for the new republic. The three guards accompanying him reluctantly allowed him to undress himself, untie his neckcloth, open his shirt and arrange it himself. He met the dreadful day with resigned dignity as he addressed the republican military, the cannons, the drums and the people who had all gathered to watch him die.

“I die innocent of all the crimes laid to my charge. I pardon those who have occasioned my death, and I pray to God that the blood you are going to shed may never be visited on France,” he said to the crowds.

Some say he desired to speak further but a man on horseback in the national uniform ordered the drums to drown out his regal voice. In a fleeting moment, the crowds shouted for his death and he was swept off his feet by the guards and forced under the guillotine’s blade. And so, the blade fell before anyone had a moment to draw in the ferocious scene. So quick was his death that no one accurately remembered if the blade fell once or required a second go at his princely neck. Gleefully, some later claimed quite falsely that a blood curdling scream erupted from his mouth upon his death, but was in fact impossible as the blade would have severed his spinal cord right away.

King Louis XVI died on January 21, 1793, stripped of all his titles. He died a simple man known to the new republic as Louis Capet.

A moment passed as his execution registered. Then, as his headless body was taken away, people came to the scaffold with handkerchiefs to mop up his blood. Gruesome and heartless, the people rejoiced in his death by taking his blood for their own souvenirs. This gourd still allegedly contains his blood.

 

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