The King Seeks Foreign Assistance (20 November 1790)

Despite a show of support for the Revolution, by the fall of 1790, the royal family and its entourage increasingly felt that the changes of the past eighteenth months had cost them their dignity and power. Unable to stop or even control the changes being wrought in the Constituent Assembly, the King and Queen began to seek assistance from other European monarchs to help them regain their lost power in France. In this letter, Louis authorizes the Baron of Breteuil, his former foreign minister who had already fled the kingdom, to find out secretly if any other government might be willing to intervene in France against the revolutionary government. The King and his court were already making moves to unravel the new constitution, even as the Constituent Assembly was still at work drafting it.


Monsieur le Baron de Breteuil, knowing the full extent of your zeal and fidelity and wishing to give you renewed proof of my confidence, I have chosen to confide the interests of my crown to you. Since circumstances do not allow me to give you my instructions on this or that matter or to have a continuous correspondence with you, I am sending you this letter as a symbol of plenipotential powers and authorization vis-à-vis the various powers with whom you may have to deal on my behalf. You know my intentions and I leave it to your discretion to make such use of these powers as you deem necessary for the good of my service. I approve of everything that you do to achieve my aims, which are the restoration of my legitimate authority and the happiness of my People. Upon which, Monsieur le Baron, I pray God that He keep you in His holy protection.

Source: "Letter from Louis XVI to the Baron de Breteuil (20 November 1790)," in Annales Historiques de la Révolution française, no. 40 (1962), 40.