Louis XVI, King of France, from a painting by Dumenil

On 21 June 1791, we read in the Journal of Louis XVI:

“Left Paris at midnight, arrived and was arrested at Varennes-en-Argonne at eleven o’clock at night.”

In this solstice period, when daylight hours are about to be shortened, Louis XVI puts an end to his reign by sacrificing himself on the nation’s altar.  For the man was executed on 21 January 1793, but the king died that night, on the road leading to Varennes.  He had been brought down in flight.

The many caricatures of the “pig king” which are born of this episode, reproach him pitilessly with this.  The farm pig must be killed, then eaten.  Such is its destiny.  And if it betrays its own, it hastens its judgement… and pronounces its own sentence.

In the same way, the head of the nation must offer his life.  And if he fails his duty, his subjects do not pardon him.  He must then leave the stage.  With no appeal, and no remission.

A few hours before his death, the King would repent of this weakness before the only master whom he loves and respects.  He writes:

“I would not have the temerity, oh my God, to want to justify myself before you;  but you know that my heart has always been submissive to the Faith and to morality;  my faults are the fruit of my weakness and seem worthy of your great misericord.  You pardoned King David, who had been the cause of your enemies blaspheming against you;  you pardoned Manasses, who led his people into idolatry.  Would you be inexorable today for a son of Saint Louis who takes these penitent kings for models, and who, following their example, wishes to repair his faults and become a King after your own heart?”

The repentance is touching and sincere.  But it comes too late.  And anyway, did time really play a decisive role in this story?  Who can say?  It would seem that other forces were in play.  The Prince’s childhood led to the worst kind of unhappiness, which could be attributed to a mysterious “bad luck”.  As soon as someone becomes kind, illness takes him away.  As soon as a ray of sunshine appears, a cloud covers it.

There are those who believe in signs.  And those who don’t.  Perhaps this episode could incite us to adopt an intermediary attitude.  We must definitely not give in to the easy temptation of accusing fate or determinism here.  But it has often been remarked that certain destinies are doomed from birth, and their burden becomes heavy with the weight of events.  It is as if a certain habit gradually insinuates itself… and slowly gangrenes the whole being.  The scapegoat gradually takes on all of the world’s problems, as he travels through life… finally succumbing under their weight.  The innocent victim of a pitiless game of massacre between Destiny and his destiny.

By continually bathing in suffering, we become accustomed to unhappiness.  There comes a point, when there is nothing left but flight.

The bells start to toll.  The whole village of Varennes awakes and treason explodes into the open.  The road is cut.  The King is delivered.  Behind him – far behind – eight centuries of absolute power disintegrate.  In the dust of a doomed carriage that wanted to escape the ruses of an inexorable destiny.

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