Sunday, 5 May 2019

Two letters of Louis XVI to Archbishop de Juigné

Here are two, retrospectively poignant, letters from 1789 addressed to the Archbishop of Paris by Louis XVI.   They reflect Louis's good will, his attempts at conciliation but, even at this point, his sense that events are running desperately out of control.

1. Letter dated 2nd July 1789.

On 2nd July the Archbishop led a deputation from the Assembly to ask the King to pardon the Gardes françaises who had been forcibly liberated from the Abbaye prison on the night of 30th June.  In his letter, which was read to the Assembly, Louis condemns the violence of the occasion but grants the pardon;  he will not reproach himself for lack of clemency on the first occasion that the deputies have requested it.  He expresses his fear that the spirit of "licence and insubordination" will end up destroying not only the happiness of the people but the work that the Representatives of the Nation have set themselves.

The liberation of the Guards from the Abbaye prison on 30 June 1789
According to Bertrand de Molleville, the letter and the Archbishop's account pleased most members of the Assembly, who greeted it with cries of Vive le roi!  But the term "Estates-General", repeated in the letter, and in the King's verbal response to the deputation, irritated  a number of deputies, who refused to applaud.  
Bertrand de Molleville, Histoire de la Révolution de France.

Although this letter was previously known and published, the manuscript, signed by Louis, only came recently to light, when it was sold as part of the Collection Beauchesne auctioned in Paris in 2015.  

Olivier Coutau-Bégarie  Noblesse & royauté. souvenirs historiques: archives sur l’histoire de France collection du Vicomte Alcide de Beauchesne (1804-1873) 
 - Exhibition catalogue
Lot 217: 
Letter from Louis XVI to the Archbishop of Paris Antoine-Éléonor-Léon Leclerc de Juigné, signed Louis and dated 2nd July 1789.

2.  Letter dated 3rd September 1789

 On 3rd September the King sent to all Archbishops and Bishops of France a letter requesting public prayers for the salvation of the kingdom. The letter is published in the collected  Mandements of Archbishop de Juigné, and those of several other bishops. Louis refers to the unrest sweeping the countryside. In concert with the National Assembly, he has employed all the means in his power to stop the disorder; he now wishes to implore publicly the help of Divine Providence.   Already the Church and nobility have offered sacrifices. The King now reiterates his own commitment to the relief of the people: 

 In order to restore order in finances, I will make all the personal sacrifices ("les abandons personnels") which are judged necessary or convenient;  it is not only at the expense of the pomp and pleasures of the throne, which for some time have become bitter to me, but by great sacrifices,  that I wish to be able to give my subjects peace and happiness.  Come to my aid, come to the aid of the State by your exhortations and by your prayers, I urge you to do this, and count on your zeal and obedience.

On 11th September 1789 Mgr de Juigné circulated the letter with the last Mandement he was to write in France.

May it please God, we do not wish to make the people responsible for the violence that we suffer.  The good people, the true French people, are no less afflicted than us.  But how can we hide the general disquiet which has taken hold of spirits, the odious suspicions, the mutual threats which divide citizen from citizen, the ease with which  faith is given to the wildest rumours, and the most absurd and atrocious slanders (for never are lies more bold than at a moment of crisis, and never is the public more credulous.)  Can it be that even the most peaceful and virtuous citizens are dupes and victims of these miserable illusions?

Mgr. Leclerc de Juigné, Collection d'ordonnances, mandements et lettres pastorales de Monseigneur l'Archevêque  de Paris depuis 1781, jusques et compris 1790  (1790), p.256-268.
See  Odéen Jean Marie Delarc, L'église de Paris pendant la révolution française, 1789-1801, Vol.1  (1895), p.158.

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