William Godwin's Diary


Although royal authority had been destroyed after the sacking of the Tuileries in August 1792, there remained the thorny issue of what precisely to do with Louis XVI. While the more moderate Girondins wanted to keep him incarcerated indefinitely, the more radical Montagnards pushed for a trial and Louis was indicted on 11 December 1792. While 693 of the 749 deputies entitled to vote found him guilty and none voted for acquittal, there was more division over the question of an ‘appeal to the people’ – that his punishment should be decided by referendum. This was proposed by Girondins and the vote was much closer with 283 for the motion and 424 against. On 16 January voting on the sentence began and of the 721 deputies present, 394 voted for death in one form or another (Godwin’s figure of 366 is closer to the 361 that voted for unconditional execution) and 321 for imprisonment and/or banishment. Thomas Paine, refugee from England, suggested that Louis be sent to America to rehabilitate himself to the fury of the Montagnards and a final vote on a reprieve was defeated, albeit more narrowly. Louis XVI, or ‘Louis Capet’, as he was known during the trial, was executed by guillotine at the Place de la Concorde in front of 20,000 spectators. This provoked an immediate response by Britain which expelled the Marquis de Chauvelin, French Ambassador, from the country. The Times recorded: ‘M. le Brun, in his answer to Lord GRENVILLE’S Note, expresses his surprise that the BRITISH CABINET should refuse to acknowledge M. de CHAUVELIN in quality of Minister Plenipotentiary from France, when the COURT of MADRID had no difficulty in receiving M. Bourgoing in that capacity. This observation only proves, that Great Britain knows better how to preserve her dignity than Spain does, whose feeble and tottering Government, stoops to a very different and more humiliating line of conduct’. France declared war on Britain and Holland on 1 February.

Chauvelin, it was reported in the Star for 15 May 1793, sent political remarks on the constitution of a free people given to him in London by Godwin to the National Convention.

See Simon Schama, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (London: Penguin, 2004) pp. 554-69 and The Times, 23 January 1793.