A Royal History

This 1790 article from the Journal Universel, a leading radical newspaper, recounts the long desperate history of the monarchy that ironically led the revolution.


The philosophers who study the causes of important events have said that, in some way, each century carries within it the century that will follow. This bold metaphor covers an important truth that has been confirmed by the history of Athens: the century of laws and virtues prepared that of valor and glory, in turn producing a century of conquests and luxury, which finished with the destruction of the republic.

The deeply philosophic thought can be applied to the history of all peoples. The tyrannical humiliations and bloodthirsty barbarity of Richelieu laid the groundwork for the despotism of Louis XIV. That century of great men was the work of the literary and religious debates that had preceded it. It is in the eye of the storm that the nature and policy of empires, the laws and all human institutions are regenerated, and that the sciences grow with renewed vigor. The nation, sagging beneath the weight of its misfortunes, crushed by its disgrace and caught up in terror and superstition, whimpered for a fragile and fleeting glory which it acquired at the cost of the people's future, the price of their blood, and the prosperity of the empire. Its gloomy silence evidenced its pain. For a few years, the call of the monarchy relieved the nation of this distressing state, only to deliver it up to the convulsions of madness and cupidity. The squanderings of Louis XIV gave birth to this system. The French, bent beneath the yoke, nevertheless endured the vices and errors of the government with incredible patience. The sacred and inalienable rights of the People were relegated to the museums of science and art as if they were curiosities to behold, things rendered useless by the long period of slavery. Thus was the reasoning that suspended any public demands during the entire reign of Louis XV. During the final years of that monarch the nation lost almost all of its morality. Corruption spread out from the base of the throne to almost all classes of society. Finally, the limit of arbitrary excesses of power had been reached. The horrible financial disarray rendered the required severe reform inevitable. This is how the course of events is played out: not by fortuitous syntheses, but by a primary and irrefutable impulse. It is very true that extremes come full circle.

Source: Journal Universel, no. 169 (10 May 1790), 1350.