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This webpage reproduces a portion of
Royal Memoirs

on the
French Revolution

as translated by
John Wilson Croker
and published by
John Murray, Albemarle Street, London,

the text of which is in the public domain.

This text has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!

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p9 Narrative
of the
Journey to Varennes
Louis XVI and his Family,
in June, 1791

Madame Royale, Duchess of Angoulême

p11 Notice

This Narrative must have been written by the Princess shortly after the event. It was given by her to Mr. Weber, her mother's foster-brother, who, after escaping the massacre, both of the 10th of August and the 2d of September, reached England in the latter end of 1792, and he incorporated it in his Memoirs.

No single event, perhaps, ever had such important consequences as the arrest of the King at Varennes: other and perhaps as great consequences might probably have followed his escape, but they, at least, would not have been the events which followed his arrest — the 20th of June, the 10th of August, the 2d September — the execution of the King, of the Queen, and of Madame Elizabeth — the anarchy, the republic, the consulate, the empire, and the double restoration — could never have occurred: what else might, would be a vain and idle conjecture; but it is highly interesting to contemplate the progress of this affair, on which the destinies of the whole world hung, and to observe by what an extraordinary, by what an almost miraculous combination of petty accidents the design was defeated — and defeated only at the moment and at the place where the danger might have been considered, according to all calculation and reasoning, as past.

The Narrative of Madame is very characteristic; it is marked by the simplicity and naïveté of the age and sex of the young and inexperienced traveller; and excites our p12feelings even without reference to the abstract importance of the events related.

But besides any individual interest which may belong to this work, it is curious on another account. The journey to Varennes affords an extraordinary instance of the difficulty of ascertaining historical truth, and the strongest encouragement to historical scepticism. There have been published at least nine or ten narratives by eye-witnesses of, and partakers in these transactions, viz. the Duchess herself — the two Messrs. de Bouillé — the Duke de Choiseul, and his servant James Brissac — Messrs. de Damas and Deslons, two of the officers who commanded detachments on the road — Messrs. de Moustier and Valori, the two gardes-du‑corps who accompanied the King. To which may be added a detailed narrative drawn up by M. de Fontanges, Archbishop of Toulouse, who, though not himself a party to the transaction, is supposed to have written from the information of the Queen; and finally the notes which Madame Campan collected from her Majesty.a All these narratives contradict each other, some on trivial and some on more essential points, but, in every case, in a wonderful and inexplicable manner.

The translator has noticed some of these variances in the following notes; but the Duchess's narrative does not involve the most important of the contradictions alluded to. They are now the subject of a somewhat polemical discussion between the Messrs. de Bouillé and the Duke de Choiseul, and create a considerable interest in Paris:— those who would go deeper into this vexata questio will find the materials in considerable detail in the series of Revolutionary Memoirs now in the course of publication.

p13 Narrative,

During the whole of the 20th of June, 1791,1 my father and mother seemed very p14busy and much agitated, but I did not know the reason. After dinner, they sent my brother and me into another room, and shut themselves up alone with my aunt (Madame Elizabeth). I have since learned, that it was then that they communicated to my aunt their intention to escape. At five o'clock, p15my mother took my brother and me, with a Madame de Maillé,2 her lady of honour, and Madame de Soucy,3 sub-governess, to Tivoli, M. Boutin's house4 at the end of the Chaussée d'Antin.

While walking there, my mother took me aside, and told me not to be alarmed, whatever might happen; that we never should be long p16separated, and would soon meet together again. My mind was confused, and I did not understand what she meant — she kissed me, and then told me, that if those ladies should ask me why I was so much agitated, I should tell them that she had scolded me, but that we had made it up again. At seven o'clock we came home, and I retired to my own apartment very melancholy; for I was amazed, and could not comprehend what my mother had said to me.

I was alone: my mother had arranged that Madame de Mackau5 should go to the Convent of the Visitation, where she often went; and she had sent into the country a young person6 who was my usual attendant. I was hardly in because, when my mother came; she had desired me to send every body away, under pretence of being indisposed, and to p17keep but one woman with me. My mother came and found us alone: she told this woman and me that we must set off instantly, and told us how to proceed. She told Madame Brunier (that was the name of the woman who was with me), that she certainly wished her to accompany us; but that if she had any reluctance to leave her husband,7 she might stay behind. This woman replied immediately, and without hesitation, "that my mother did quite right to escape; that she had borne her misery too long, and that for her own part, she was ready to leave her husband, and follow my mother wherever she should go." My mother was very much affected by this expression of attachment: she then went down to her own room to receive Monsieur and Madame, who had come as usual to sup with my father. Monsieur was acquainted8 with the intended p18journey; when he got home, he went to bed as usual, but he got up again immediately, and set off with M. d'Avaray, a young gentleman, who carried him through all the difficulties of his journey, and who is still with him.

As for Madame,9 she knew nothing of the journey; it was only when she was in bed, that Madame Gourbillon, who was her reader,10 came and told her that she was p19desired by the Queen and Monsieur to assist her in escaping out of France.

Monsieur and Madame met at a poste11 on the road; but they took care not to show that they knew one another, and they arrived safely at Bruxelles.

My brother was wakened by my mother, and Madame de Tourzel12 brought him down to my mother's apartment, where I p20also came: there we found one of the bodyguard, called Monsieur de Malden,13 who was to assist our departure. My mother came in and out several times to see us. They dressed my brother as a little girl: he looked beautiful, but was so sleepy, that he could not stand, and did not know what we were all about. I asked him what he thought we were going to do; he answered, "I suppose to act a play, since we have all got these odd dresses."

At half-past ten, when we were all ready, p21my mother14 herself conducted us to the carriage in the middle of the court;15 which was exposing herself to great risk. Madame de Tourzel, my brother, and I got into the carriage; M. de Fersen16 was the coachman. p22To deceive any one that might follow us, we drove about several streets; at last we returned p23to the Little Carousel,17 which is close to the Tuilleries. My brother was fast asleep in the bottom of the carriage, under the petticoats of Madame de Tourzel. We saw M. de la Fayette go by,18 who had been at my father's coucher. There we remained waiting a full hour, ignorant of what was going on: never did time appear so tedious!

[image ALT: A map of the Tuileries Palace in Paris and the area immediately around it, including the Grand Carousel, the Petit Carousel, and the Pont Royal.]

p24 Madame de Tourzel was to travel under the name of the Baroness de Korff:19 my brother and I were to be her two daughters, under the names of Amelia and Aglaë; my mother was to be Madame Rocher,20 our governess; my aunt a female companion, called Rosalie: and my father was to be our valet-de‑chambre, under the name of Durand.

At last, after waiting a long hour,21 I observed a woman loitering about the carriage. I was afraid that we should be discovered; but I was made easy by seeing our coachman p25open the carriage-door, and that the woman was my aunt; she had escaped alone with one of her own attendants.22 In stepping into the carriage she trod on my brother, who was lying in the bottom of it, and he had the courage not to cry out.

My aunt told us that all was quiet, and that my father and mother would be with us presently. My father, indeed, arrived very soon after, and then my mother,23 with one p26of the body-guards who was to accompany us.

p27 We then proceeded, and reached the barrier without any event: there a travelling-carriage p28had been prepared for us; but M. de Fersen did not know where it was, so that we were obliged to wait a long while, and my father24 even got out to look for it, which alarmed us very much: at last M. de Fersen found the other carriage, and we got into it. M. de Fersen took leave of my father, and made his escape.

The three gentlemen of the body-guard were Messieurs de Malden, De Moustier, p29and Valori:25 the last acted as the courier, the other two as servants, one on horseback, and the other on the front of the carriage. They had taken false names: the first was called St. John; the second, Melchior; the last, Francis.26 The two waiting women, who had set off long before us, met us at Bondy27 in a little carriage, and we all p30proceeded on our journey, day beginning to dawn.

[and if you need it, here's help in using the map,
including my own symbols & added information.]

During the morning nothing particular occurred, except that about ten leagues from Paris, we observed a man on horseback, who seemed to follow the carriage: at Etoges, we thought we were known. At four o'clock we passed through Chalons-sur‑Marne,28 a large town; there we were certainly known. Several persons thanked God for the pleasure of having seen the King, and expressed their anxiety for his escape.29

p31 At the next post30 to Chalons, we were to find some cavalry to escort the carriage to p32Montmedi; but when we arrived, we found nobody. We waited in the hopes of finding these troops until eight o'clock.31

p33 At the close of the day we passed through Clermont: there, indeed, there were troops; but the village was in a state of commotion, and they would not suffer the cavalry to march. An officer recognized my father, and coming close to the carriage, whispered to him that he was betrayed. Here we also saw M. Charles de Damas,º32 but he could nothing for us.

We, however, continued our journey: neither was come on, and, notwithstanding all our agitation and anxiety, every one in the carriage fell asleep. We were awakened by a dreadful jolt, and at the same moment they came to tell us, that they did not know what p34had become of the courier who preceded33 the carriage: judge of our terror, we thought we were discovered and taken. We were now at the entrance of the village of Varennes, which contains scarce a hundred houses;34 there is in this place no regular post,35 and pp35‑36travellers generally have horses sent from the next post in advance. They had taken this precaution for us, but the horses had been unfortunately placed near the castle, at p37the other side of the river, and at the other end of the town, and no one with us knew where to find them.

At last our courier came back, bringing with him a man36 whom he believed to be in the secret, but who, I suppose, was a spy of p38Fayette's; he came to the carriage-door in a nightcap and bedgown. He almost threw himself into the carriage, and told us that he had a great secret, but that he would not tell it. Madame de Tourzel asked him, if he knew Madame de Korff; he answered, No! And from that moment I never again saw or heard of this person.

After a great deal of trouble, the postillions were persuaded that the horses were waiting at the castle, and they proceeded that way, but slowly. When we got into the village, we heard alarming shouts of stop! stop! The postillions were seized, and in a moment the carriage was surrounded by a great crowd, p39some with arms, and some with lights. They asked who we were; we answered, Madame de Korff and her family. They thrust their lights into the carriage, close to my father's37 p40face, and insisted upon our alighting: we answered, that with would not; that we were p41common travellers, and had a right to get on: they repeated their orders to alight on pain of being put to death, and at that moment, all their guns were levelled at the carriage. We then alighted, and in crossing the street, six mounted dragoons passed us, but unfortunately they had no officer with them; if there had been, six resolute men38 p42would have intimidated them all, and might have saved the King.

J. W. Croker's Notes:

1 On the 6th Oct. 1789, the King and his family were brought by a triumphant mob from Versailles to the Tuilleries, where they were, in fact, prisoners from the first moment; but the restraint upon them became gradually more scandalous and alarming; and in the course of 1790, plans of escape were pressed upon the King, which, however, produced no result. In February, 1791, the mob made an irruption into the palace, and insulted, disarmed, and maltreated the King's attendants and several gentlemen who had come thither to pay their respects to the monarch, and the palace was, in truth, placed in a state of siege. Soon after this, the King, who had been ill, was anxious to go to St. Cloud, a country house about four miles from Paris, for quiet and change of air: Easter was also approaching, and the pious Louis wished to be able to perform the religious duties of that season in tranquillity. On the evening of the 18th of April, having gotten into his carriage to proceed to St. Cloud, he was arrested by the mob, and neither the popularity nor even the military power of General La Fayette could operate his release; he was obliged to submit to this monstrous insult and cruelty. This event determined the unhappy monarch to pursue the plan which had been already in agitation for endeavouring to escape from the humiliating and alarming situation in which he and his helpless family were placed. He resolved to make his escape to Montmedi, the only asylum that he could depend upon, short of quitting France, which he was so scrupulously determined not to do, that he would not even consent to shorten the danger of his journey by crossing the frontier, though to enter France again the next day.

2 This lady, by a strange combination of accidents, and after a woman of the name of Maillet had been guillotined instead of her, escaped the scaffold by the overthrow of Robespierre.

3 Daughter of Madame de Mackau, the Princess's governess. Madame de Soucy escaped the reign of terror, and was selected to accompany the Princess on her liberation in 1795.

4 M. Boutin was one of that class of men called, under the old regime, financiers, who indulged themselves in the most extravagant luxury of all sorts. The gardens of Tivoli, now so well known as a place of public amusement, were, before the Revolution, the residence of this gentleman, who there combined all the beauties of a town and country residence. M. Beaujon, another financier, had erected a paradise of the same kind in the gardens, in the Avenue de Neuilly, which still bear his name, and which are so remarkable for their Montagnes Russes.

5 The Princess's governess.

6 This probably was Ernestine Lambriquet, an orphan whom the Queen's charity had adopted, and whom she brought up with her daughter. (See Hue's Journal, p189).

7 M. Brunier was chief physician to the Royal Children.

8 Monsieur (Louis XVIII) had planned an escape much earlier than the King, but was induced to postpone it, by representations of the danger to which it would leave the rest of the Royal Family exposed. See the following Narrative for all the details of this journey.

9 Mary Josephine Louise of Savoy. It would seem that her easy and indolent character rendered her family unwilling to intrust her in any way in this secret, till the very moment of execution. Monsieur, as it will be seen by his own confession, chose another female confidant. Mary of Savoy died at Hartwell, 13 November, 1810.

10 It may be as well to remark, that all the Princesses of France had an attendant called lectrices, readers. Madame Campan came into the royal household as reader to the daughters of Louis XV. Madame de Staël was the reader of the Duchess du Maine.

11 Le Bourget; the first poste on the road to Flanders. This incident appears in the Narrative of Louis XVIII.

12 Madame de Tourzel was the governess of the Children of France, and a most amiable and respectable woman; but a generous anxiety on her part to accompany the Royal Family had a considerable share in defeating the enterprise. It had been settled by those who knew the King's reserve, indecision and inexperience of travelling, that some one capable of acting and commanding along the road should accompany him, and the Count (Annibal) d'Agoult was fixed upon, as un homme de tête, who could give directions, and who would overcome trifling difficulties. M. d'Agoult would not have been stopped at Varennes! — but Madame de Tourzel claimed, as the right of her office, to accompany the Children; and to this etiquette were sacrificed the important reasons that weighed for M. d'Agoult.

13 Three of the gentlemen of the late body-guard had been selected by M. d'Agoult for this interesting duty: M. M. de Valori, de Moustier, and de Malden. Of M. de Valori, who had published an account of the journey, some notice will be found hereafter. The two latter gentlemen are said to be still alive, and in the service of Russia. It seems very surprising that they should receive from a foreign power the reward of their fidelity to the brother of Louis XVIII. M. de Moustier also published, in 1816, a narrative of his share in this affair.

14 It seems strange that Madame should be mistaken in so remarkable a fact, and one on which she reasons, yet, all the other evidence goes to show that the Queen did not conduct the Children to the carriage. We should not have a moment's hesitation in preferring the testimony of Madame to all the rest, but that it seems contradicted by that of the Queen herself — who on her trial distinctly stated, "that her children, under the care of Madame de Tourzel, left the chateau an hour before her, and waited for her on the Little Carousel." The Archbishop of Toulouse states that Madame Elizabeth accompanied the Children in the first instance. This is certainly a mistake.

15 Here again is another variance in the evidence. All the other persons state that the carriage was waiting in the Great Carousel, and it certainly seems rather imprudent to have brought it into the very court of the Tuilleries.

16 A young Swedish nobleman in the French service, much in the Queen's society and confidence, which latter he justified by his prudence and firmness. The Duc de Levis, in his "Souvenirs," expresses a generous envy that a foreigner was employed on this interesting occasion; and a foreigner, too, "who had more judgment than wit; who was cautious with men, reserved towards women; serious, but not sad: whose air and figure were those of a hero of romance; but not of a French romance, for he was not sufficiently light and brilliant." With submission to M. de Levis, it seems that M. de Fersen's character was exactly suited to this occasion, in which levity and brilliancy would have been misplaced. M. de Fersen's fate is most extraordinary; having escaped the horrors of the French Revolution, he was murdered in Stockholm, in 1810, at the funeral of the Prince Royal, Charles Augustus, with circumstances of ferocity and cruelty on the part of the mob, and of apathy or cowardice on the part of the magistrates, quite worthy of the capital of France. The pretence of this murder was, that Fersen (who as grand marshal of the kingdom was leading the funeral) had been accessaryº to the death of the Prince, whose death was probably natural. He was dragged from a guard-house, where he had taken refuge at the beginning of the tumult, and before the eyes of the troops and magistrates, who did not make the slightest effort to save him, beaten to death with umbrellas; and this happened on the 20th of June, the very anniversary of his rescue of the King of France. The body was afterwards most indecently maltreated, à la mode de Paris.

17 The majority of the accounts agree with Madame in placing the carriage on the Little Carousel, at the corner of the Rue de l'Echelle; the others, on the Great Carousel, at the corner of the Rue de St. Nicaise. See the plan, which, on account of the great changes made in this part of the town, it has been thought advisable to prefix to this volume.

18 La Fayette's carriage drove through the court as the Queen was crossing it; it passed so near her, says one account, that by an impulse, for which she could not account, she made an effort to touch it with a switch which she carried in her hand. — Its very lights, says another account, so alarmed her, that she fled to a considerable distance to avoid them. These statements cannot be reconciled, and even that of Madame is not easily to be explained; for M. de la Fayette came and went out by the arcades and the Cour Royale; and therefore, as the local then stood, not within sight or hearing of persons standing at the corner of the Rue de l'Echelle.

19 This was not a fictitious name. There was really a Russian lady of quality of this name about to leave Paris, and Count Fersen obtained a duplicate of her passport.

20 It is curious that the assumed name of the Queen was, in fact, the real name of a person who was afterwards one of her greatest persecutors; and that taken by the King was that of one of his Conventional judges.

21 This delay was always calculated upon. The Children went off about half-past ten — their parents did not intend to follow till half-past eleven. But an unexpected delay occurred, as it is said, afterwards.

22 The other accounts state, that the person who attended Madame Elizabeth was not one of her own household, but M. de Malden. Madame is, however, likely to be right, as M. de Choiseul (who had his information on this part of the expedition from the relation of the Royal Family) states Madame Elizabeth to have been attended by M. de St. Pardoux. It is singular, however, that this gentleman should have been unnecessarily, as it would seem, admitted to a secret otherwise so strictly kept. M. de St. Pardoux is now one of the King's honorary equerries.

23 In this point occurs one of the greatest difficulties of the whole narrative. The delay of the departure was a main cause of the failure; and the majority of the statements concur in attributing to this period of the transaction a delay of one hour. The archbishop, whose account seems derived from the Queen, and is on the whole the best (though probably erroneous in this point), states, as to the Queen's escape, "that all went well as far as the great gate of the Cour Royal,º but at that spot, she meets the carriage of M. de la Fayette, with his usual accompaniments of guards and torches. After escaping this danger, she told the garde-du‑corps, on whom she was leaning, to conduct her to the Little Carousel, corner of the Rue de l'Echelle, that is about two hundred paces from where she stood; her guide knew, it seems, less of the topography of Paris than she herself did, and it was too dangerous to ask their way in that neighbourhood; they turned to the right instead of the left, as they ought to have done, and passing the southern arcade of the Louvre, crossed the Pont Royal, and found themselves bewildered along the quays and streets at the other side of the water: they were obliged at last to ask their way. A centinel on the bridge directed them, and they were obliged to return the way they came, and pass along the front of the Tuilleries to the Rue de l'Echelle."

Now it seems incredible that the Queen, and still more that the garde-du‑corps, should not have known the Little Carousel, which was close under the windows of the Palace, and not above two hundred yards from the Great Carousel, on which they were standing. It is still less credible that they should have turned to the right by mistake, for they had just come from that side. But it seems nearly impossible, that under any delusion, they should pass through the wicket, and under the arcade, and across the quay, and over the bridge, and finally lose their way on the other side of river; but what adds to the wonder of all this is, that M. De Moustier, the garde-du‑corps, who is stated by his colleague, M. de Valori, to have accompanied the Queen, denies that he so accompanied her, and says, in his relation, "that the same garde-du‑corps who attended Madame Elizabeth (viz. M. de Malden), also returned twice over to fetch the King, and at last, the Queen;" and that the Queen and M. de Malden lost their way. In part of this M. de Moustier must be mistaken; because M. de Valori states, that he himself accompanied the King, and although he may be in error as to which of the two others conducted the Queen, he knew at least what he himself did; and allowing an equal confidence to M. de Moustier, we are obliged to suppose that M. de Malden (who has not published any account of the affair) attended the Queen: but in any case, what shall we say of the supposed ignorance of the streets and the crossing of the river, to which the archbishop and M. de Moustier attribute the loss of near an hour; a loss which turned out to be the loss of the whole enterprise? It seems most probable that all this story of the Queen's losing her way is an exaggeration of the few steps she took to avoid La Fayette, and that she, in fact, as Madame implies, and as M. de Choiseul asserts, was but a few minutes after the King.

24 This additional cause of delay is not mentioned in any other account; but it is stated in some, that M. de Fersen was so ignorant of the streets of Paris, as not to know the direct way from the Tuilleries to the Porte St. Martin; and that he lost half an hour by taking the circuitous route of the Boulevard. This seems a mistake — M. de Fersen appears to have taken the way by the Boulevard on calculation, and not through ignorance. His whole conduct was marked by firmness and sagacity.

25 Francis-Florent, Comte de Valori, was born at Toul in 1763. He had distinguished himself in the defence of the royal apartments at Versailles, on the 6th Oct. 1789: and though the gardes-du‑corps were dissolved after that event, he still continued his duty to the King, and had the honour to be selected for this interesting service. After the return from Varennes, the King had great difficulty in saving his life, and he commanded him to emigrate. M. de Valori then entered the service of Prussia; in 1814, he returned with Louis XVIII, and was appointed an officer in the revived companies of the gardes-du‑corps. During the 100 days, still faithful to his duty, he accompanied the King to Ghent; and at the second restoration, received the doubtful honour of the cross of the Legion. He died in April, 1822.

26 It seems, from M. de Valori's account, that these were the Christian names of these gentlemen.

27 The first poste out of Paris, distant about eight miles. The two women were Madame Neuville, the Dauphin's first attendant, and Madame Brunier, already mentioned.

28 The Queen had herself undertaken to arrange the preparations for the journey as far as Chalons — by much the most perilous part of the way — and we see that she succeeded perfectly. The troops advanced by M. de Bouillé as far as the post next Chalons created, wherever they appeared, uneasiness and commotion.

29 We believe that Madame is mistaken in thinking that the King was generally recognised at Chalons, and that she confounds what really occurred here with an incident which she erroneously attributes to Clermont, namely, that a person approached the carriage, and told the King he was betrayed. This event all the other accounts concur in placing at Chalons. What misled Madame was, perhaps, that at Clermont M. Charles de Damas took an opportunity to approach the King's carriage, and exchanged a few words with his Majesty; and this conversation she may have confounded with what happened at the preceding stage.

30 Pont de Sommevelle; the troops here were under the orders of the Duke de Choiseul, and a M. de Goguelat, but the complicated delays which made the King some hours too late, and the rising impatience of the populace, induced these gentlemen to leave their post. This was always severely reproached to the Duke, under whose orders Goguelat was, and is at this moment the subject of a warm discussion between him and the sons and grandson of M. de Bouillé. On an impartial review of the whole matter, we think the Duke retreated too hastily; and that he ought, at least, to have left some one behind to tell whither he had gone. In his defence, lately published, he shows very clearly, not only that his absence did not occasion any delay to the King, but that his presence might have excited suspicion, and that in fact the King got through every where rather in spite of than by the precautions taken. All this is true, so far as relates to the particular post of Pont de Sommevelle; but if M. de Choiseul had waited a little longer, he would have seen the King pass, and his Majesty would have been informed of the spot where M. de Goguelat had placed the relay of Varennes — the ignorance of which was the immediate cause of failure. And even if any untoward event had occurred, by marching a short distance in the rear of the royal carriage, as he was ordered to do, M. de Choiseul would, by the time he had arrived at Varennes, have collected a force that would have enabled him to overcome all opposition. Madame Campan tells us, that the Queen attributed the failure to M. de Goguelat; and no doubt he was the person who, having placed the relay at Varennes, should have taken especial care to let the travellers know where to find it: but as Messrs. de Bouillé very well observe, he was a junior officer to the Duke de Choiseul, and the latter is therefore wholly irresponsibleº for his error. It is impossible to read the account of this journey without wondering at the extraordinary combination of circumstances, which, after a beginning apparently so prosperous, defeated the King's attempt at the very moment when its success might be considered as complete.

31 This delay at Pont de Sommevelle is not stated in any other of the accounts as being considerable. The King was undoubtedly much disturbed at not meeting the troops here; and his anxiety on this point led him, as we are told, to expose his person subsequently.

32 The state of excitement of the whole population of the country was so great, that the presence of troops every where created instead of preventing tumult; and M. de Damas, after a long and painful struggle, was obliged to escape alone to Varennes.

33 The inexperience of the gardes-du‑corps in the office of couriers and postillions was — notwithstanding their exemplary zeal and fidelity — one of the many unfortunate circumstances, the combination of which defeated the enterprise: had they had the habits and experience of couriers, they might have prevented the difficulty which occurred at Varennes; but, on the contrary, their ignorance of the duties of their apparent station excited suspicion in more places than one, and particularly at St. Menehoud, where the royal fugitives narrowly escaped arrest.

34 It now contains about fifteen hundred inhabitants.

35 The travellers might now have thought themselves out of all danger — they were within reach of M. de Bouillé's army — they had no postmaster to fear — no difficulty in getting horses to apprehend, for their own horses were ready for them — it was late at night — the whole village was asleep — strong detachments of troops were placed in advance and others were following them; interruption seemed impossible; yet here, in the only spot of the whole road where no danger was to be expected, they were arrested, and the destinies of the world changed. At this post M. de Bouillé had placed his own younger son with two other officers:— these young men acted with strange heedlessness, if not with absolute negligence. The misplacing the relay of horses, and the stationing the troops on the wrong side of the town, may be attributed to M. de Goguelat; but the personal conduct of the three young officers was, as appears to us, extremely reprehensible. They made in their defence the same excuse that M. de Choiseul had done, and to which M. de Damas's peril gives some validity, namely, the jealousy and bad spirit of the villages, to appease which they thought it right to remain concealed within their quarters. He says, also, that the horses for the relay were stationed at the spot of which the officers at Pont de Sommevelle were to have apprised the travellers. This is true, and makes the proceedings at Sommevelle more lamentable; but what excuse can be made for not leaving some one at the entrance of Varennes to watch the King's arrival and guide him to the relay? All the accounts represent the whole town as buried in sleep, so much so that the courier, and even the King and Queen, were obliged to go from house to house knocking up the inhabitants to inquire for their horses: in the meanwhile Drouet arrives by a cross road from St. Menehoud, alarms the town, assemble the magistrates, takes measures for obstructing the passage of the bridge, and, finally, arrests the carriage.b In all these proceedings he was assisted by one Billaud, afterwards so remarkable in the Convention for his ferocity, and who called himself de Varennes from this his native town. One would have thought it impossible, that all this could have been done without the knowledge of troops and postillions stationed close by for a particular purpose; but so it was: and it was not till the whole town was alarmed and illuminated that the Chevalier de Bouillé and M. de Raigecourt awoke, either from sleep or apathy, and, instead of making the slightest attempt with sixty hussars to relieve the King, rode away to tell the Marquis de Bouillé that all was lost; and M. de Rodwick, a young sub-lieutenant, who had the immediate command of the dragoons, also rode off. Ill news, they say, flies fast — it did not, however, in this case; for, though the distance was only eight or nine leagues, these gentlemen were four hours and a half in reaching the Marquis's head-quarters at Stenay. It would have been natural that on so important an occasion he should have been on the alert; it was, however, an hour, i.e. five in the morning before he marched with a regiment of cavalry, and he arrived in front of Varennes about nine; an hour and a half after the King's departure for Paris.

36 This was a Major de Prefontaine, whose house was on the road side, at the entrance of the town, and whom the travellers knocked up to inquire for the horses which were to have stood opposite his house. The poor man seems to have been quite bewildered, and to have conducted himself with equivocation, timidity, and lukewarmness; but there is no reason to imagine that he had any thing to do with La Fayette. Indeed, except apprizing the travellers that there was a ford by which they might avoid the bridge, it is hard to see what Prefontaine could have done; and at the time he saw the King the bridge was not yet barricaded. On the subject of the transaction with M. de Prefontaine, the accounts of the archbishop and of the two gardes-du‑corps differ in several curious and important particulars. Numerous accidents, as we have shown, combined to produce the fatal results; but the direct and immediate cause was, the not knowing where to find the relay at Varennes; for it was during the time lost in seeking the horses that Drouet arrived and alarmed the town. This mischief was caused, first, by the Duke de Choiseul's and M. de Goguelat's quitting the post of Pont de Sommevelle without leaving any one to apprize the King; and by M. M. de Bouillé, junr. Raigecourt, and Rodwick, not having any one on the look out at Varennes.

37 His Majesty's anxiety had made him expose his countenance at St. Menehoud, where he made some indiscreet inquiries as to the road; he was by these means recognised by Drouet, who had seen him at the Federation, and had happened that very morning to receive from Paris some new assignats on which the king's head was very well engraved. A short sketch of this man's extraordinary history will not displease the reader. He was the son of the postmaster at St. Menehoud, and was born in 1757. The celebrity he obtained by the arrest of the Royal Family ensured his election to the Convention next year, where he voted for the death of the King; and, even in that assembly, distinguished himself for the vulgarity of his manners, and the atrocity of his disposition. It was he who gravely proposed to put to death every native of England who might happen to be in France: this perhaps gave Buonaparte the mitigated idea of putting them all into prison. In 1793, he was sent as commissioner, with pro-consular powers, to the army of the North, where he happened himself to be made prisoner by the Austrians, as he was endeavouring to escape from Maubeuge; and, by a still more curious retribution, he was afterwards exchanged for the Duchess of Angouleme, whom he had himself arrested. After his return, he distinguished himself in the desperate party called Robespierre's tail, and was imprisoned for his share in Baboeuf's conspiracy. As he owed his fortune to having prevented the King's escape, he owed his life to succeeding in his own. He escaped the guillotine by escaping from prison, and after some desperate attempts with his faction, he was finally glad to escape to Switzerland, hidden under some straw in a milkman's cart: hence, he projected an escape to India, but got no farther than Teneriffe, where he was present at Lord Nelson's attack, and taken prisoner. In 1797, he was acquitted, by a mock trial, for his share in Baboeuf's conspiracy, and he returned to France, where the Directory appointed him sub-prefect of St. Menehoud. Buonaparte continued him in this office, and, with a discernment which belonged to him, distinguished Drouet with marks of imperial favour. On the restoration in 1814, the Bourbons, who, we are told, forgot nothing and forgave nothing, inflicted no other vengeance on this execrable wretch, than removing him from the office for which his ignorance as well as his villany disqualified him so completely, that even Buonaparte, on his return, did not venture to restore him; but such lenity was thrown away upon Drouet: he procured himself to be elected into Buonaparte's chamber for the department of the Meuse, a pretty pregnant proof of the excellent composition of that chamber. Waterloo dissolved the chamber, and the King's ordonnance, which banished (not the regicides, but) such regicides as, ungrateful for former bounty, had again taken part with Buonaparte, relieved France from the presence of the most odious, and at the same time, the most contemptible of the revolutionists. — It is not known what has become of him.

38 The Chevalier de Bouillé, M. de Raigecourt, and M. de Rodwick, had sixty dragoons; the Duke de Choiseul should have had twice as many. Another detachment, under M. Deslons, arrived from the opposite quarter before the King was removed; but the surprise, the difficulties, the tremendous importance of the crisis, distracted and paralyzed the minds of every one; and it must, in justice to all the officers engaged in the affair at this critical moment, be confessed, that the irresolution and timidity of the King himself almost, if not entirely, justified their conduct. Even the high spirit of the Queen herself seems to have failed before the strenua inertia of the King. No one present except Louis had any right to command; and Louis's only orders were, to do nothing. In the mean while arrived an aide-du‑camp of La Fayette with an order for the King's arrest. This officer M. de Choiseul's party should have intercepted; his coming accelerated the removal of the King, who was an hour and a half on the road to Paris before M. de Bouillé and his advanced guard arrived at Varennes.

It was then too late to attempt a pursuit, and the captivity of the unfortunate monarch was irrevocably accomplished.

We shall conclude by stating, that such a series of fatal accidents, all tending to one point, cannot, we believe, be paralleled in the history of unfortunate princes.

Thayer's Notes:

a Mme. de Campan's notes were incorporated into her Memoirs of the Court of Marie Antoinette.

b Drouet's account, abridged and translated into English, is online on the French Revolution site of George Mason University.

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