View from the Top: the October Days

In this letter to a friend, Madame Elizabeth, Louis XVI’s younger sister, takes an upbeat approach to the October march on Versailles. Even though the demonstrations clearly threatened the royal family, even forcing the Queen to flee her chambers, the outpouring of support obviously swayed the princess’s views. The actions of the crowd clearly indicated their split view that allowed a rage focussed against royalty to be combined with vocal approbation.


To Madame de Bombelles:

. . . . But, to return to my account of Tuesday, the women and the people in courtyards demanded that the King should come to Paris and this was decided upon at eleven o'clock. Then the King and the Queen showed themselves on the balcony of the King's room. There were shouts of Vive le Roi! La Reine! La Nation! Le Roi à Paris, and others I could not distinguish.

M. de La Fayette in an eloquent address to the people made them renew their oath of allegiance in the presence of the King. At last, at one o'clock we got into our carriages. Versailles greeted our departure with demonstrations of joy. We went on our way, surrounded by the whole of the National Guard and by several gentlemen of the Bodyguard on foot, who had exchanged their hats with the forage caps of the Grenadiers. I forgot to say that after the King had appeared on the balcony of the Palace, they had also shown themselves and had thrown away their bandoliers and their hats as a sign of peace. The King had asked the people to leave them alone and not to chase them any longer. I keep on thinking of them and always with pleasure, for no troops could have behaved themselves better. They really acted like angels. The shouts of Vive le Roi! Vive la Nation! and down with the priests began at dawn and continued until we had reached the Hôtel de Ville. At Paris there are only the King, the Queen, Monsieur, Madame, the children and I. My aunts are at Bellevue. My rooms look on to the courtyard. On Wednesday a crowd assembled beneath my windows calling for the King and the Queen! I went to fetch them. The Queen spoke with the charm you know so well and the way she conducted herself that morning did her good with the people. The whole day they had to show themselves at the windows, for the courtyard and the garden continued to be crowded. At present there are fewer people and the National Guard are keeping order. On Thursday there was some excitement at the Mont-de-Piété, because the press had published something about the Queen having promised to pay for all pawned objects on which less than a louis had been advanced—that would have been a matter of three million francs. You can guess the motive for spreading this rumour. It would be impossible for anyone to show more grace and courage than the Queen has done during the last week.

Source: Georges Pernoud and Sabine Flaissier, The French Revolution, translated by Richard Graves (New York: Capricorn Books, 1970), 68–9.