Louis XVI’s weakness leads to the massacre of his Swiss guards

January 30, 2014

Massacre of the Swiss Guards. Painting by Henri-Paul Motte

Massacre of the Swiss Guards. Painting by Henri-Paul Motte

“Lay down your arms, place them in the hands of the National Guard. I do not wish brave men to perish,” Louis told [Captain Durler] and, taking a piece of paper, he wrote “the King orders the Swiss to lay down their arms immediately and to retire to their barracks.” Louis had signed the death warrant of the Swiss….

[T]he disarmed Swiss were set upon by the mob. Two hundred Swiss had been killed already; another 400 were massacred…. The bodies of the dead were torn to pieces by the enraged citizens of Paris. Next day, John Moore saw their naked bodies lying on the ground, some lying singly, some in heaps, objects of curiosity to crowds of spectators….

Lion of Lucerne Monument which commemorates the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution.

Lion of Lucerne Monument which commemorates the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution.

When she was told of the fate of the Swiss, Marie Antoinette burst into tears. Louis hung his head. “What, wretched man, have you no cannon to sweep out this rabble,” remarked Lieutenant Bonaparte as he watched the triumphant citizens invade the palace.

The Swiss people did not blame Louis XVI for the murder of their sons. In after years they raised at Lucerne a monument, a colossal stone lion, to their memory. The lion, struck by a lance and lying down, hold tightly within its claw the royal escutcheon engraved upon a shield adorned with the fleurs-de-lis. Beneath the sculpture are inscribed the names of 800 Swiss soldiers who died in the defense of the monarchy to which they had given loyalty beyond the price of their service.

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Rupert Fourneaux, The Last Days of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI (New York: The John Day Company, 1971), 34-5.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 355

 

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