“The Execution of the King. January 21, 1793 ”, by Jean-Clément Martin, Perrin, 414 p., € 21, digital € 15.
The paradox of Jean-Clément Martin’s new book consists in putting its own title into perspective. Because, from January 21, 1793 and the death of Louis XVI, guillotined on the Place de la Révolution – the current Place de la Concorde -, during a ceremony regulated in great detail by the nascent Republic, it will not be finally that little question, one chapter out of ten, thirty pages written in a deliberately sober and neutral style. But it is a fruitful paradox, since it confers political depth on the event.
“January 21 is very exceptional, it does not stop the flow of time, writes the historian. It is not appropriate to submit to a surprise invented later in order to judge the whole Revolution at this moment. “ It is the term “execution” which then takes on its full meaning. As one “executes” a carefully considered plan, the result of negotiations, calculations, compromises, alliances, in short the culmination of a political process. The project of this book consists in stretching the time of the death of the king from one day to six months, and to reread the verbatim as a complex, contradictory, highly flammable material.
A new era of the Revolution
On the morning of August 10, 1792, Louis XVI fled the Tuileries Palace, besieged by the crowd, to take refuge in the National Assembly. By doing so, the king entrusts his fate to the deputies, opening the time for uncertainty: what will they do with him? The deputies, who first place the monarch out of the“Sacred enclosure of political power”, await the outcome of the struggle, still uncertain, which takes place at the Tuileries, until the final victory of the people and the abolition of the monarchy. This is indeed entering a new epoch of the Revolution: the Republic will judge the king during a trial conducted by the deputies themselves and not delegated to the revolutionary tribunal. He will be the only one to be judged and sanctioned by the representatives of the nation, not by a judicial body. Everything has to be invented in the matter and, for several months, the deputies hesitate to determine the fate of the deposed sovereign, debate, engage in politics by tearing each other apart, first of all to define the modalities which will allow judging “Louis Capet ”, then to know if they will kill him.
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